Are India and the Maldives burying the hatchet?

Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu. (Photo: AFP) (AFP)
Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu. (Photo: AFP) (AFP)


  • Since President Mohamed Muizzu took office last year, the removal of Indian troops from the Maldives has complicated diplomatic relations.

India and the Maldives may be moving to stabilise their bilateral ties after tensions. Since President Mohamed Muizzu took office last year, the removal of Indian troops from the Maldives has complicated diplomatic relations. But bilateral ties may be settling down.

Why is there tension in the two nations’ ties?

In November, President Mohamed Muizzu took over from the staunchly pro-India Ibrahim Solih. In his campaign, Muizzu portrayed India’s military presence—at around 80 personnel—as an affront to the nation’s sovereignty and campaigned for their removal. This year, he embarked on a visit to China where he signed a slew of agreements with Beijing. In January, a major controversy erupted when three ministers made social media posts that were seen as insulting to India and PM Narendra Modi. New Delhi summoned the Maldivian high commissioner as a result and the three politicians were suspended.

What caused these tensions?

Muizzu has made clear that his administration will not follow the “India First" policy several of his predecessors. He has attempted to court a number of other powers like China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. His perceived affinity to China, which sponsored development projects when Muizzu was housing minister, has been a worry for New Delhi. He also comes from a political tradition that has been sceptical of India in the past. For example, Muizzu was considered close to former president Abdulla Yameen, who clashed with New Delhi repeatedly and attempted to get close to China.

How has China reacted to these tensions?

Muizzu’s visit to Beijing allowed a number of critical projects to move forward. The two countries also signed a defence deal just weeks before Muizzu said he would not renew a hydrographic cooperation pact with India. A Chinese research vessel, which many have termed “spy ship", spent time in Maldivian waters and docked in the country. This has India concerned.

What has changed now?

In recent weeks, there have been signs that bilateral ties are improving. President Muizzu asked India to consider providing debt relief. Last week, India’s high commission in Maldives announced that India would export essential commodities to the country, despite curbs on export on these commodities. The Maldivian foreign minister Moosa Zameer publicly thanked India for the gesture. The two countries have agreed to a formula of replacing Indian troops with technical personnel.

What will be the next steps?

It is not immediately clear how the relationship will evolve. Experts have argued that India has had trouble with neighbours before. However, the strategic logic of cooperation with India, which is the region’s largest economy, ensures animosity is not long lasting. Experts suggest that the Maldivian parliamentary elections, to be held next week, will be worth watching. The results could shore up Muizzu’s domestic position, which could affect whether he needs to criticise India and raise nationalist sentiment in his favour.


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