Maldives Fortifies Ties with China in Strategic Move Away from India
The Maldives has elevated its ties with China, marking a noteworthy move away from its historical alliance with India. The announcement came during the first state visit of newly elected Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu to Beijing, where both nations upgraded their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.” This diplomatic maneuver has been a pivotal aspect of President Muizzu’s governance, aligning with his “India Out” campaign platform, which portrayed India as a threat to the Maldives’ sovereignty.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warmly welcomed President Muizzu at the Great Hall of the People, referring to him as “an old friend.” President Xi emphasized the historic opportunity for China and the Maldives to strengthen their ties further, paving the way for increased Chinese investment in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
The Maldives, under President Muizzu, has been assertive in its pursuit of diversifying international partnerships. This move is in stark contrast to its historical reliance on India, a shift fueled by concerns over perceived Indian influence on the Maldives’ sovereignty. Notably, the Maldivian government has asked numerous Indian military personnel to leave the country, underscoring its intention to recalibrate foreign alliances.
The upgraded relations were solidified through the signing of “20 key agreements between the two countries,” according to a statement from President Muizzu’s office. During the talks, Muizzu expressed gratitude for China’s significant role in the Maldives’ economic success and infrastructure development. The Maldives, facing a public debt of $1.37 billion, with China as its largest bilateral creditor, has increasingly turned to Beijing for economic support.
China’s investment in the Maldives has been substantial, totaling $1.37 billion since the Maldives joined the Belt and Road Initiative in 2014. This financial support has become a cornerstone of the Maldives’ economic landscape, raising concerns from institutions like the World Bank, which warned against overreliance on China due to a potential “build-up of sovereign exposure” and a “lack of domestic investment opportunities.”
President Xi, echoing China’s commitment to its bilateral relationship with the Maldives, stated that China firmly supports the Maldives in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, and national dignity. Additionally, China expressed its willingness to share its experience of state governance with Male.
The strategic realignment in the Maldives’ foreign policy has broader implications for the region, as China extends its influence in areas historically dominated by India. This move mirrors a similar trend in Sri Lanka, where China has made significant inroads. The dynamics between China and India have been tense since the 2020 clash in the western Himalayas, leading to strained relations.
As part of the enhanced partnership, President Xi proposed increasing the number of direct flights between China and the Maldives. This move could potentially benefit the Maldives’ travel and tourism sector, a critical contributor to its economic growth.
The geopolitical chessboard in the Indian Ocean is evolving, and the Maldives’ recalibration of its alliances underscores the complex diplomatic landscape in the region. President Muizzu’s state visit to China and the subsequent upgrades in relations mark a transformative moment that will inevitably shape the geopolitical dynamics of the Indian Ocean archipelago in the coming years.