The Indian Ocean island nation passed legislation last week to allow foreigners to own land within a project site on condition at least 70 percent of the area is reclaimed from the sea.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said, ”The bill could give unprecedented access to foreign parties to operate in the Maldives". One party member said the government was facilitating a more robust Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

China's Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to reporters, stated the vote was an internal matter for the Maldives, but that China wanted good relations with the country, best known for its luxury diving resorts. "China has always respected and supported the Maldives' efforts to maintain its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity", the ministry cited.

"What the relevant people said about China building bases in the Maldives is totally baseless," it added. India, which traditionally has strong ties with the Maldives and Sri Lanka, has been concerned about China's growing involvement in the Indian Ocean as it opens its purse strings and builds a network of ports dubbed the String of Pearls.

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