China has been accused of buying off the the strategic Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives with a million bottles of water from melting Tibetan glaciers.

“The Chinese Xizang [Chinese name for Tibet] Autonomous Region has extended a generous donation of 1500 [tonnes] drinking water to the Maldives, aimed at alleviating water shortages on the islands,” Public Service Media, the state broadcaster of the Maldives, reported on March 27.

However, some social media users alleged that China’s donation was for the personal use of Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu.

“It wasn’t announced officially because Muizzu wanted to use this at Muleeaage [the official residence of the Maldives president],” one user from the Maldives said on X, formerly Twitter.

“We are not aware of the specifics you mentioned, and please refer to competent authorities for your specific question,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., told Newsweek in a reply by email.

The Maldives’ foreign ministry didn’t reply to Newsweek‘s request for comment by publication time.

Muizzu, who came to power last year, has increasingly adopted a pro-China position while relegating the Maldives’ traditional ties with India. The U.S. has taken note of Beijing’s growing influence in the Maldives, a strategic island nation that sits on the critical waterways connecting the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and Africa.

The Maldives’ foreign ministry has denied the allegations, saying that the drinking water was a donation by Yan Jinhai, the chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, rather than a gift to Muizzu, AFP reported on March 29.

Yan, a senior Chinese politician in charge of Tibet, visited the Maldivian capital, Malé, in November 2023 to boost ties between China and the Maldives, the Maldivian President’s Office said last year.

“Produced within the pristine mountains of the Xizang Autonomous Region, the bottled water donation signifies a gesture of solidarity and support from China to the Maldives during times of need,” Public Service Media, Maldives’ state broadcaster reported on March 27.

The U.S. opened its first embassy in the Maldives in 2023 to boost its presence in the Indian Ocean region, while recognizing the importance of Maldives.

“The United States is committed to strengthening cooperation with the Maldives, a key partner in ensuring a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Donald Lu, told the Press Trust of India in February.

The Maldives faces a shortage of fresh water while also living with the threat of rising sea levels caused by global warming.

“The only available natural water resources are rain and groundwater, both of which are highly vulnerable to climate change,” Abdulla Naseer, the Maldives’ former Minister of State for Environment, Climate Change and Technology, told the United Nations in March 2023.

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