NEW DELHI – In a move that could help China establish a foothold in the Indian Ocean region, the Maldives has passed a law allowing foreigners to own land.

The constitutional amendment bill passed by the Maldivian parliament Wednesday will allow foreign parties who invest at least $1 billion to lease land on the project site on a freehold basis. At least 70 percent of the land must be reclaimed. Maldives is a cluster of nearly 1,200 tiny islands.

Seventy of the 84 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, and 14 voted against it.
The Maldives government said the new law would attract megadevelopment projects and generate jobs. Parliament must approve the projects.

But a key member of the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party, who did not want to be named, told VOA the move was targeted at facilitating Chinese investment. The MDP said the law would pave the way for Chinese military facilities in the country.
China has expertise in reclamation technology and can easily make investments of that size.

Strategic affairs analyst Anand Kumar, at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, said the law could help China gain a foothold in the Indian Ocean.

“They have been creating islands in South China Sea, and they will try to replicate the same exercise in Indian Ocean,” Kumar said. “They tried to do the same thing with Sri Lanka. It appears that since they have lost political influence in Sri Lanka, they are trying to regain the same ground in Maldives.” (