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How Maldives’ Port Clearance to Chinese Ship Adds Diplomatic Dimension to India Dispute

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The Maldives government has granted port clearance to a Chinese ship, the research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3. This development comes amidst an ongoing spat between the Maldives and India, with potential implications for regional relations.

The Maldives foreign ministry confirmed the clearance in response to a diplomatic request from China for the vessel’s port call, personnel rotation, and replenishment. However, the ministry emphasized that the ship would not engage in research activities during its stay at the Male port.

In a statement, the Maldives foreign ministry highlighted the nation’s history of welcoming vessels from friendly countries for peaceful purposes, both civilian and military. The announcement did not specify the arrival date of the Chinese research vessel.

The decision to grant clearance to the Chinese ship adds a layer of complexity to the diplomatic dispute between the Maldives and India. The disagreement began when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared images on social media featuring him walking and snorkeling in Lakshadweep, an Indian archipelago that closely resembles the Maldives.

India views Lakshadweep as having untapped tourism potential due to its pristine white sand beaches. However, some in the Maldives interpreted Modi’s actions as an attempt to divert tourists away from their nation’s renowned beaches and resorts. The controversy intensified when Maldives Deputy Ministers posted derogatory remarks about Modi on social media, prompting calls in India to boycott the Maldives.

The dispute deepened further when Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu visited China, signaling a shift away from dependence on India for health facilities, medicines, and staple imports. Muizzu, elected in November, aims to diversify tourist sources by increasing Chinese visitors, who constituted a significant portion before the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Muizzu indirectly referenced India, asserting that the Maldives’ smaller size did not grant any country the right to bully it. He also emphasized China’s respect for Maldives’ territorial integrity.

The strategic importance of the Maldives has drawn the attention of both India and China, leading to competition for influence in the Indian Ocean. India has traditionally considered the Maldives within its sphere of influence, while China, through its Belt and Road initiative, seeks to strengthen economic ties and expand its global influence.

Muizzu, seen as pro-China, has expressed intentions to remove Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives. His proposal for a meeting with Indian officials to discuss the withdrawal of troops by mid-March has added another layer to the ongoing diplomatic discord.

Approximately 75 Indian military personnel are reportedly stationed in the Maldives, with accusations against Muizzu’s predecessor of compromising national sovereignty. The activities of the Indian military in the Maldives include operating aircraft and participating in rescue operations at sea.

Sri Lanka, another neighboring island nation, recently imposed a year-long moratorium on research ships docking in its ports, raising concerns over China’s planned visit. These developments underscore the complex geopolitical dynamics in the region, with the Maldives emerging as a focal point in the struggle for influence between India and China.

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