Why Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu Is Talking Tough: Explainer

Why Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu Is Talking Tough: Explainer

Maldives and China have signed 20 important agreements during President Mohammed Muizzu’s visit.

New Delhi:

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s demand that India withdraw its troops stationed in the country by mid-March is the newest in the anti-India rhetoric in the island nation that has started over the last few years. The number of troops — 88 — is too few to be a threat, which is what their presence is being portrayed as.

The troops have been stationed in Maldives since 2010 as part of a bilateral ties that involve training of Maldivian troops in combat and reconnaissance. They also provide help with humanitarian aid and medical evacuations for the residents of the remote islands.

Domestic politics of Maldives

President Muizzu is widely seen as a pro-China leader, a departure from his predecessors who pursued a pro-India policy. One of the key slogans for his campaign was “India Out’. The coalition government of the People’s National Congress & the Progressive Party of Maldives party is currently following the pro-China policy to remove what they call the Indian influence.

Ahead of the Presidential election held in Maldives at the end of September, supporters of the People’s National Congress of President Muizzu had pushed a narrative that the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih-led Maldivian Democratic Party was influenced by India.

The formal demand for troop removal was first made around two months ago — shortly after the Muizzu government came to power in September, riding on an anti-India agenda.

Anti-India build-up

India’s gift of two military Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters helicopters to Maldives for rescue ops have been portrayed as creation of military presence.

An agreement for the UTF Harbour Project agreement, signed in February 2021 — under which India was to develop and maintain a harbour and dockyard at Uthuru Thilafalhu near Maldives capital MalĂ© — has been a subject of intense speculation. A section of local media claimed that the project would eventually lead to the building of an Indian naval base there.

Fuelled by social media, a diplomatic row with India started as Maldivian ministers made derogatory comments following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s widely circulated post about his visit to the Lakshadweep islands. Three ministers who made harsh comments, were, however, removed.

China factor

President Muizzu’s demand for the removal of Indian troops was also made days after his visit to China, when the two nations upgraded their relationship to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.

China is interested in expanding its influence in Maldives owing to its strategic position in the Indian Ocean. The islands are located on the one of the busiest maritime trade highways through which nearly 80 per cent of China’s oil imports pass.

Maldives and China have signed 20 important agreements during President Muizzu’s visit. China has given Male an aid of 130 million dollars which will be spent on the development projects.

Should India be concerned

The foreign ministry is yet to comment on Male’s demand for troop withdrawal.

Former foreign minister Shashi Tharoor has warned about the increasing proximity between China and Maldives.

“There is no doubt about the fact that China has been attempting to expand its influence throughout our periphery. They have been increasingly influential in everyone of our neighbouring countries, everyone, without exception,” he said.

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