The Maldives Is a Tiny Paradise. Why Are China and India Fighting Over It?

Between a few flecks of coral in the Indian Ocean, a ribbon of highway more than a mile long swoops up from the blue. Since 2018, the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge has connected this archipelago’s hyper-dense capital, Malé, and the international airport — expanded by Chinese companies — one island to the east.

But China is not alone in chasing friendship with the Maldives. A 20-minute walk across the capital, next to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, an even longer sea bridge will link Malé with islands to the west. This one is being built by Indian workers, with money from India.

The Maldives, a tiny tourism-dependent country of 500,000 people, barely registers as a blip alongside India and China, the world’s most populous nations. Yet every blip counts in the two giants’ competition for influence across South Asia, and that has set the Maldives on a zigzagging course between them.

India, at the heart of the vast region, has long been its most powerful economic and military force. Still, China has made significant inroads with its much larger financial resources, signing infrastructure deals and securing access to ports in countries surrounding India.

Showering after a swim, with the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge in the distance.

Construction of another bridge, this one funded by India.

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