China is an anti-Muslim predator, chant pro-Uyghur protesters in Maldives


Maldives Foreign Minister and UNGA president-elect Abdulla Shahid meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: IANS)

Once welcoming them as honoured guests, people in Maldives are rapidly turning against China. They are angered by Beijing's two national habits—oppressing Uyghur Muslims in the remote Xinjiang region and snaring poor countries into debt traps and leveraging them for illicit political influence. Akin to the South China Sea in the Pacific, anti-China sentiment has cascaded in the heart of the Indian Ocean as well. 

On Friday, Maldivians protested in front of the Chinese embassy in the archipelago, flashing placard some of which read:  'Loan Sharks', Uyghur Lives Matter' and 'China Out'.

The protestors raised concerns about the Maldivian government's debt to China, which had given extensive loans to the Maldives under former president Abdulla Yameen’s rule. Current President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih launched an investigation into those loans in 2018, which are shrouded in paperwork and opacity, and had been provided sovereign guarantees. The investigations also led to the imprisonment of Yameen over charges of money laundering and other financial irregularities.

The protest has caused a political kerfuffle in Maldives with allegations that the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), led by former president and current Speaker, Mohamed Nasheed is behind the protest. 

Read More: Are Male Opposition parties trying to jeopardise relations between India and the Maldives?

An expert told India Narrative that Nasheed, a liberal politician and a strong advocate of democratic principles, is considered close to India and is trying to wean his country away from its proximity to China, which is not acceptable to some of the opposition parties.

Member of Parliament for Henveiru constituency, Hussain Shaheem too denied allegations of having organised the protest. He dismissed the allegations as political rumours.

The protests were held after President Solih held a phone call with President Xi last week to strengthen relations between the two countries. The expert said, "this fuelled fears that the tiny nation, which depends entirely on tourism for its revenue, could fall into the Chinese debt trap diplomacy which might force it to hand over its islands--just as it has happened in Sri Lanka. China has earlier put pressure on Maldivian businessmen, and indirectly on the government, to cough up the loans with interest, leading to the current unease”, says the expert.

China is also under global condemnation for its suppression of the Uiyghur Muslim minority—sending them to mass detention camps, preventing them from following their religion, forcing re-education and communist indoctrination as well as using mass surveillance on the community. 

A handful of European countries as well as the US have labelled Chinese actions in Xinjiang as "genocide". Though few Muslim nations hold China accountable for the cultural genocide, Muslim masses keep raising the issue in support of their embattled brethren in Xinjiang.