China this week will hold the second conference of its Indian Ocean Region Forum, an initiative to bring together several countries in the region in an attempt to solidify its influence in the strategic waters adjacent to India's backyard.
Last year the China International Development Cooperation Agency, an organisation part of the ruling Communist Party of China's Leadership Group, held a meeting of the China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwest China.
CIDCA is headed by Luo Zhaohui, the former vice foreign minister and ex-ambassador to India.
The CIDCA claimed 19 countries including Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Djibouti, Australia took part in the conference.
Australia and Maldives subsequently denied their participation. India was not invited to the meeting.
The Chinese forum is apparently aimed at countering India's strong influence in the Indian Ocean region where India-backed organisations like the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which has a membership of 23 countries, have taken strong roots.
China is a dialogue partner in the IORA formed in 1997.
Besides IORA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed “Security and Growth for All in the Region” in 2015 for active cooperation among the littoral countries of the Indian Ocean region.
The Indian Navy-backed ‘Indian Ocean Naval Symposium' seeks to increase maritime cooperation among navies of the region.
While there is no official announcement here about this year's meeting, an official press release put out by the Maldives Presidential office said vice president Hussain Mohamed Latheef will take part in the ‘China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation' and hold talks with Chinese officials.
The previous Maldives government headed by Ibrahim Mohammad Solih, which pursued an India-first policy, skipped last year's meeting of the Forum.
Currently, the political scene in Maldives looks hazy as the new President Mohamed Muizzu has fallen out with former pro-China President Abdulla Yameen soon after his election in September and seeks to pursue his own foreign and domestic policy.
Under Yameen's Presidency, China carried out major infrastructure projects amid allegations of debt traps by some influential politicians of the Maldives.
Yameen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for corruption, quit the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and formed his own political party called People's National Front from jail to oppose Muizzu.