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Maldives demands India withdraw military, as new president sets closer bilateral ties with China

26th Jan 2024
Maldives demands India withdraw military, as new president sets closer bilateral ties with China

Nadine Osman

Days after Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s China visit on January 13, the Maldives has asked India to withdraw its troops from the island nation.

According to the most recent government figures, there are 88 Indian military personnel in the Muslim-majority nation.

In a press briefing, Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, the President’s Office’s public policy secretary, stated that President Muizzu has formally requested that India withdraw its military personnel by March 15. “Indian military personnel cannot remain in the Maldives.

This is the policy of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu and this administration,” he said, following Muizzu’s first state visit since becoming president in September.

The Maldivian President returned from a six-day visit to China, which saw both sides ink a number of pacts to expand ties.

In what is widely seen as a jibe at India, Muizzu said, “We may be small, but that doesn’t give you the licence to bully us.”

He also announced plans to reduce the country’s dependency on India, including securing imports of essential food commodities, medicine, and consumables from other countries.

Muizzu was invited by China for a state visit during the early days of his term. Muizzu made a pitch for greater foreign direct investment (FDI), trade and tourism at the “Invest Maldives” forum in Fuzhou, China.

He also announced the implementation of the Maldives-China Free Trade Agreement that did not come into force under the previous administration. The FTA was not mentioned in the joint conference between the two countries, but if realized, it will be a significant development in bilateral relations.

The list of key agreements signed between Maldives and China refers to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Muizzu is eager to expand Maldives’ main airport and develop a commercial port. He requested a partnership under the auspices of the BRI. Still, the Muizzu administration would be wise to avoid taking on additional loans and will need Beijing’s cooperation to address Maldives’ significant debt to China.

As an upper-middle-income economy, Maldives has seen its access to concessional loans diminish. Instead, it needs to focus on generating national income through tourism, trade and FDI, especially to boost its foreign exchange reserves.

Within India, the decision by the Muizzu administration to elevate Maldives-China bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership was seen as coming at India’s expense. Indian observers have also expressed concern about the 20 agreements signed between Maldives and China.

They cover various areas of cooperation, such as tourism, fisheries, digital economy, and disaster risk reduction.

Tensions with New Delhi flared after three of Muizzu’s junior ministers reportedly called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “clown” and a “terrorist” in since-deleted social media posts earlier this month.

Bollywood actors and some of India’s cricket greats responded with calls for compatriots to boycott their southern neighbour and instead book their next holidays closer to home.
New Delhi has yet to comment directly on the demand.

Photo: President Mohamed Muizzu (Credit: The President’s Office, Maldives)

 

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