Male: Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu is facing the heat at home for his purported steps to distance from India and build closer ties with China, as opposition parties have rallied together to express concern over his ‘anti-India stance’. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and The Democrats issued a joint statement on Wednesday expressing concern over the new foreign policy of Maldives.
In the statement, former Deputy Speaker of Maldives Parliament Fayyaz Ismail, MDP MP Ahmed Saleem, The Democrats President Hassan Latheef and MP Ali Azim expressed concern on a number of domestic issues, including Muizzu’s latest pivot to China, the government’s spending, lack of transparency in financial status and censorship of media among others.
“The current administration appears to be making a stark pivot towards an anti-India stance. Both the MDP and The Democrats believe alienating any development partner, and especially the country’s most long-standing ally will be extremely detrimental to the long-term development of the country. Consecutive governments of the country must to be able to work with all development partners for the benefit of the people of the Maldives, as Maldives has traditionally done. Stability and security in the Indian Ocean is vital to the stability and security of the Maldives,” said the opposition parties in the joint statement.
This development came after Maldives allowed the docking of a Chinese ship, equipped to carry research and surveys. The permission to allow the Chinese ship comes amid strains in ties between India and Maldives after its new President Mohamed Muizzu came to power and broke tradition by making Beijing his first port of call early this month. The decision also seemingly ignored India’s longstanding concerns over the military use of Chinese research ships.
The Maldivian Foreign Ministry said a diplomatic request was made by the Chinese government for the necessary clearances to make a port call, for the rotation of personnel and replenishment. The statement, however, said the Chinese Research Vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3, will “not be conducting any research while in the Maldivian waters”.
Muizzu’s anti-India stance
Muizzu won the election in the Maldives in November last year, riding on an ‘India Out’ campaign, and asked India to withdraw its nearly 80 military personnel stationed there. Earlier this month, Muizzu vowed to stop the emergency helicopter services as facilitated by India and fixed March 2024 as the deadline to stop the helicopter services and for the withdrawal of Indian troops.
It is worth mentioning two advanced light helicopters– (ALH) and a Dornier aircraft– provided by New Delhi have been extensively used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Both helicopters were provided during the earlier regime which was considered as pro-India. However, the pro-China Muizzu wants to deepen ties with Beijing after concluding “successful” meetings with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. According to the joint communique released by both nations, leaders agreed to expand cooperation and signed at least 20 agreements.
A diplomatic row between the two countries when some deputy Maldivian ministers used derogatory language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his visit to Lakshwadeep. Mariyam Shiuna, Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Information and Arts, while commenting on the photos of PM Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep, called him a ‘clown’ and a ‘puppet of Israel’. This triggered a major row on social media platforms, where thousands of Indians called for ‘Boycott Maldives’, a movement supported by celebrities.
Parliamentary Minority Leader, Ali Azim, on January 8, pushed to oust the newly appointed President through a no-confidence vote in the Parliament, underscoring that the move is crucial to uphold the stability of the nation’s foreign policy and to prevent the isolation of neighbouring countries.
Muizzu also held “successful” meetings with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. According to the joint communique released by both nations, leaders agreed to expand cooperation and signed at least 20 agreements. Soon after landing at Male airport, Muizzu, in an apparent comment on the ongoing row, said that his country may be small but “doesn’t give them the license to bully us”.
Why is Maldives moving towards China?
The Maldives owes China $1.37 billion, or around 20% of its public debt, according to World Bank data, making Beijing its biggest bilateral creditor ahead of Saudi Arabia and India, which it owes $124 million and $123 million, respectively. Chinese firms have invested a further $1.37 billion in the Maldives since its decision to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2014, according to data from the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
The World Bank in an October development report on the Maldives warned further cosying up to China could spell trouble as a “build-up of sovereign exposure” had taken place during the pandemic and there was a “lack of domestic investment opportunities”.
(with inputs from agencies)