Lawmakers in the Maldives have voted to allow foreign ownership of land for the first time, triggering concern over a possible landgrab in the honeymoon islands.
Dozens of foreign companies already run luxury resorts on islands that they lease from the government of the atoll nation for a maximum of 99 years.
The new law, which has yet to be ratified by the president, would allow foreigners who invest more than $1 billion to own land in perpetuity, provided 70 percent of it is reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.
The bill passed easily on Wednesday after a brief debate, with 70 members voting in favour and 14 against, the assembly said in a statement.
But opposition lawmakers reportedly expressed fears that the move could clear the way for the Chinese to set up bases in the Maldives, which straddles vital international east-west shipping routes.
Regional superpower India is already wary of increased Chinese involvement in the area, which it considers to be within its sphere of influence.