Amid allegations of China engaging in massive land grabbing in the Maldives, the Pentagon today said it was a cause of concern for the U.S.

Asserting that the U.S. was "committed to a free and open" Indo-Pacific rules-based order, the Pentagon said anything else would cause the U.S. concern. "The U.S. is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific rules-based order. We have seen concerning developments in Maldives as far as the Chinese influence is concerned," Joe Felter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, told PTI in an interview.

"It's in India's backyard. We know it's of concern to India. So, yes, (the situation in Maldives) is a concern. We will see how it plays out. It emphasizes some of our priorities identified in our National Defence Strategy," the top Pentagon official said. He was responding to a question on the allegations of a Maldivian opposition leader and a former foreign minister, on the Chinese land grabbing activities in the island nation with the potential of developing them into a military outpost.

Felter said these developments were "a cause of concern" for all states that supported the maintenance of a rules-based order.

"If you look at similar activities across the region, it gives us some cause for concern. From Djibouti to, Gwadar put to Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, and now potentially the Maldives and then extending further east, it's of concern," he said. Other countries in the region have expressed similar concern, including India, he noted.

"We believe the interests of all states- large and small- are best served by maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based order. Some of China's activities that we've observed give us concern because they do not seem to be consistent with those interests. I suspect India shares these concerns as well," Felter said.

During a recent visit to the U.S., Ahmed Naseem, a former foreign minister of Maldives, had alleged that China was meddling in internal affairs of Maldives and had indulged itself in a massive land grabbing endeavour which if left unchecked would pose a major strategic threat to both the U.S. and India. China, he alleged, appeared to be keen on building a base in the Maldives which one day may house warships and submarines.

The island-nation's relationship with India has nose-dived in recent weeks. New Delhi has been critical of the Abdulla Yameen government for imposing emergency in the island nation earlier this year.  In recent days in a series of steps to show India its displeasure, Maldives has declined an invitation by India to send a ministerial-level delegation to the Defence Expo, a biennial exhibition of weapons and military hardware, which will be held in Chennai next week, official sources said.

In February, Maldives had declined India's invitation to participate in the eight-day mega naval exercise -- Milan -- from March 6-13. Maldives has also asked India to take back one of two naval helicopters New Delhi had gifted to Male, the latest incident in a series which clearly depicts the deteriorating ties between the two countries. The Times of India quoted a top Maldives government source as saying that the country wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) which India had gifted to Maldives.

While Male's relationship with India is on a downswing, China, which looks at Maldives as a major participant in its 21st century Maritime Silk Road plan in the Indian Ocean, has made heavy investments in the nation of islands which has 26 tropical atolls and 1,000 small islands.

China's staunch defence of Maldives president Abdulla Yameen, stonewalling international pressure and enabling him to stay in power during the current crisis has been noted by India and U.S. alike and is one of the motivations for Pentagon's observation on the events in Maldives.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Apr 07, 2018 09:46 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website