Learning to live with a Beijing-friendly Male
It is in the interest of the Maldives to work with India to find a solution that benefits regional security.
The formal demand by the new president of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, for India to withdraw its military personnel from the Indian Ocean archipelago did not come as a surprise for New Delhi. For months, Muizzu, widely seen as a proxy for former pro-China president Abdulla Yameen, had contended during his election campaign that the people of the Maldives wanted all foreign military personnel to be ejected. Muizzu presented his demand at a meeting with Union minister Kiren Rijiju on Sunday as the “democratic will” of the Maldivian people. The Indian side has indicated that the two countries will now discuss “workable solutions” for cooperating on the operation of two helicopters and a Dornier surveillance aircraft provided by New Delhi. Yameen’s stint as president was marked by a strong tilt towards China. This included a controversial free trade agreement that was never ratified by the Maldives, and even Maldivian leaders have pointed to the unsustainable debt created by massive infrastructure projects taken up with Chinese loans.
India is believed to have about 50 security personnel in the Maldives, mainly for maintenance and operation of the three aircraft, which have played a key role in ensuring that country’s maritime security and saving more than 520 lives during medical evacuation sorties. China’s presence in the region is hardly benign, what with its spy vessels crisscrossing the Indian Ocean and its military footprint expanding rapidly.
Beijing has long eyed a presence in Male because of its proximity to important sea lanes that are crucial for China’s energy supplies. For the same reason, it has explored opportunities in Sri Lanka as well. It is in the interest of the Maldives to work with India to find a solution that benefits regional security.