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Business News/ News / World/  Wooing China? How Maldives is swiftly reducing its dependence on India
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Wooing China? How Maldives is swiftly reducing its dependence on India

After returning from China last week, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu announced some projects, reportedly aimed at freeing the archipelagic nation of its dependence on India.

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzus peaks at the Invest Maldives Forum, at the Fuzhou Strait International Convention and Exhibition Centre, in Fuzhou, China, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (PTI)Premium
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzus peaks at the Invest Maldives Forum, at the Fuzhou Strait International Convention and Exhibition Centre, in Fuzhou, China, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (PTI)

Less than six months into power, the new Maldives government, led by President Mohamed Muizzu, seems to have already taken steps to reduce — what many in social media call — "India's influence in Maldives". On Sunday, Muizzu set a "deadline for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel stationed within Maldivian territory".

But this is not it. After returning from China last week, the Maldivian President announced some projects, reportedly aimed at freeing the archipelagic nation of its dependence on India. A few of these measures include:

In healthcare services

Several Maldivians come to India and Sri Lanka for healthcare services under the government-sponsored free health program. However, in his recent statement, Muizzu said Maldivians will now be able to also go to hospitals in Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

ALSO READ: Maldives sets 15 March deadline for India to pull out its troops

A press release by the Maldives President's office on January 13 said, “President Dr Mohamed Muizzu has announced improvements to the Government’s universal healthcare insurance scheme, Aasandha, with an imminent expansion of coverage to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Thailand." 

He was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that medicines will be imported directly from manufacturers in Europe and the United States.

ALSO READ: Indian vs Chinese tourists in Maldives: The rise and fall in last 10 years

Without naming India, the press release added, “The President conveyed that the enhancements would diminish reliance on confined medical facilities in a select group of countries, enabling patients to pursue finer healthcare."

On January 15, the Maldives President officially inaugurated the Minimum Medical Requirements Facility "as a part of his initiatives to create facilities equipped with healthcare services at locations hosting major national and international sporting events".

According to India Tourism statistics 2022, Maldives contributed 1.7 per cent to the total Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India during 2021, and occupied 11th position. Out of the total arrivals from Maldives, 85.8 per cent were for the purpose of Medical - the highest among all the other puposes mentioned in the India Tourism statistics 2022.

Reducing import of staple foods

In another press release on January 13, Muizzu announced that agreements to assist the Maldives in expanding agricultural growth to cater to food security were signed with the Chinese government. "The President further remarked that the Government would end its dependence on one country for imported staple foods such as rice, sugar, and flour," the release said.

"Speaking on the agreements signed between the China and Maldives, President Muizzu stated that deliberations were conducted to initiate a specific agricultural scheme at Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF)," the press release added.

Many of the country’s staple foods are imported from India, the Associated Press reported. According to OEC data (till 2021), the exports of India to Maldives increased at an annual rate of 10.4 per cent — from $31.6 million in 1995 to $416 million in 2021. However, data release by Indian authorities show that India exported products worth $317.35 million in 2021.

Here's a look at India-Maldives Trade Figures

India’s Exports To Maldives (in million US$)

Source: High Commissions of India (hci.gov.in)
View Full Image
Source: High Commissions of India (hci.gov.in)

 

ALSO READ: India-Maldives row: Why does Maldives want Indian troops out | Explainer

A move to woo China?

Muizzu and the First Lady of Maldives paid their state visit to China from January 7 to 13. While speaking to reporters at Velana International Airport (VIA) upon his return to the Maldives, the President said that China-Maldives relations are based upon four principles: mutual respect, sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and non-interference in internal matters.

In his address on Sunday, he added that his county's small size is not a license for anyone to bully the Maldives. His comments were an apparent response to social media calls in India to boycott Maldives tourism. He added that “the Maldives' ties with all countries are based on the aforementioned four principles".

 

Moreover, "...the President noted that despite the small size of the Maldivian islands, the Maldives occupies one of the most substantial shares of the Indian Ocean in terms of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Emphasising that no one country owns the ocean, and with this significant share, he reiterated that the Maldives is an independent and sovereign state," a press release said.

At the Invest Maldives Forum on January 9, Muizzu had said, "We have no doubt that China will be our closest partner in development...Having established diplomatic relations in 1972, China remains one of our closest allies and development partner."

India-Maldives row

The India-Maldives row escalated when three Maldives deputy ministers made derogatory posts on social media against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the latter's Lakshadweep visit. Some in the Maldives saw it as an attempt to lure tourists away from its sandy white beaches and luxury island resorts. In response to the objectionable remarks, '#BoycottMaldives' trended on X.

One of the Maldivian political leaders who had posted derogatory remarks against PM Modi clarified later saying, “...I have nothing personal against India, Indians or Prime Minister HE Narendra Modi. My sentiments were expressed in the context of growing Indian influence in our political affairs in the past 5 years- with former ruling @MDPSecretariat to blame for that."

Maldives swiftly resorted to control the damage, with Moosa Zameer, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives saying, “The recent remarks against foreign leaders and our close neighbours are unacceptable and do not reflect the official position of the Government of Maldives." The Maldives government had also suspended three of its deputy ministers on Sunday after they criticised PM Modi.

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Published: 16 Jan 2024, 06:18 AM IST
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