Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger McEnany appears on Fox in ‘personal capacity’ as Trump campaign adviser US signs satellite data-sharing pact with India, warns of Chinese threats MORE announced on Wednesday the U.S. would be establishing an embassy in the Maldives, the first since the U.S. and the archipelago initiated diplomatic relations in 1966.
Pompeo made the announcement during a five-day tour through Asia, the New York Times reported, during which he has also visited India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Indonesia. Until now, the U.S. has maintained relations with the Maldives through the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka.
The move may not help in engendering easier relations with China, with tensions between Beijing and D.C. souring as of late. The New York Times notes the Maldives is currently struggling to repay loans from Beijing given after autocratic leader Abdulla Yameen took power in 2013.
In 2018, Yameen was voted out of office in favor of the leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who has worked to rebalance diplomatic ties, deemphasizing the one it shares with China.
The Maldives’ foreign minister Abdulla Shahid said the small nation would need “more flexibility” in debt relief. Pompeo said that relations between the U.S. and the Maldives would be “different” from the relationship the nation currently has with Beijing.
The report notes the Beijing loans have made many critics concerned that difficulty in repaying them would result in “debt-trap diplomacy,” in which security concessions to China are made in order to relieve the debt. The Maldives is located over important maritime routes in the Indian Ocean.
Earlier in October, the State Department announced it was appointing a special coordinator, Robert Destro, to Tibet, the first time the role has been filled during the Trump administration. China still claims Tibet as part of its territory. Though the U.S. has called for individual rights and Tibetan culture to be respected, it formally recognizes Tibet as being under Beijing’s control.