The game of chicken in the Arabian Sea
In order to stall an Operation Cactus redux, Beijing would have had to signal India that it has the muscle to push Indian forces out of the Maldives if it so chooses
The ongoing crisis in the Maldives has acquired a particularly serious dimension over the past week. In that time, several reports have emerged suggesting China may be directly backing Abdulla Yameen’s decision to impose—and extend—the emergency in the small island state. These reports suggest that China has implicitly promised support to Yameen in the event that India moves to forcibly change the political status quo there. Several outlets have reported Chinese naval activity in the eastern Indian Ocean earlier this month, ostensibly to signal to India that the People’s Republic will not remain a disinterested spectator in the ongoing imbroglio in the Maldives. They suggest a chronology that is deeply disturbing, and potentially of serious consequence to the troubled India-China relationship. Coming, as it does, six months since the end of the Doklam standoff, any potential Chinese show of force in the Indian Ocean also stands to upturn India’s position as the pre-eminent power in that maritime space, as well as undo the diplomatic gains from India’s resoluteness during that crisis.