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China-Maldives trade pact catches India off guard

Deal rushed through island nation's legislature under cover of darkness

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Dec. 7.   © Reuters

KATHMANDU -- While India's political establishment was focused on Nepal's landmark election on Thursday, China was busy wrapping up a free-trade agreement with the Maldives. The move represents a diplomatic setback for New Delhi, as Beijing expands its influence in South Asia.

Commentary in the Indian media suggests the government was shocked by how the Maldivians cleared the way for the pact on Nov. 29. The Indian Embassy in Male, the Maldives' capital, "sent a report on the development, which caught many in Delhi by surprise," the Indian Express daily noted. Another analyst in "The Quint," an online publication, was more acerbic, arguing that "India is losing the Maldives plot and China has finally demonstrated the kind of sway it holds on [the South Asian region]."

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