Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s 'India-out' policy and pro-China tilt | World News - Hindustan Times

'Boycott' Maldives call: President Mohamed Muizzu’s 'India-out' policy and pro-China tilt

Jan 07, 2024 03:48 PM IST

'Boycott' Maldives call: Mohamed Muizzu, who took over as president last year, took a pledge to remove Indian soldiers and alter Maldives's India-first policy.

A tweet by Maldives deputy minister of youth empowerment Mariyam Shiuna days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Lakshadweep has triggered a massive social media backlash, with many Indian celebrities, including actor Akshay Kumar and ex-cricketer Aakash Chopra, joining the calls to boycott the island nation.

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu. (ANI Photo)(The President's Office, Maldives)
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu. (ANI Photo)(The President's Office, Maldives)

Zahid Rameez, a member of the Progressive Party of Maldives Senate, also made controversial remarks on Modi's recent Lakshadweep visit. In one of his social media posts, he asked if India could offer better services than the Maldives.

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The Maldives government later on Sunday distanced itself from derogatory remarks made by Shiuna against Modi, after former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed urged President Mohamed Muizzu to distance the government from such comments. He said India is "instrumental" in Maldives' security and prosperity and asked Muizzu to give assurance to New Delhi that the comments don't reflect government policy.

Muizzu, who in November last year took over as president of the Indian Ocean nation made up of more than a hundred islands dotted with luxury resorts, had issued an election pledge to remove a small contingent of some 75 Indian military personnel in the country and alter the Maldives's "India-first" policy. Live Updates on row over Maldives minister's remarks

Maldives president to visit China on January 8

Muizzu is scheduled to visit China on Monday, January 8, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. Chinese President Xi Jinping invited him, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Friday.

Asked to comment on Thursday about talk of President Muizzu making a state visit to China, New Delhi said the matter was out of its hands.

"It is for them to decide where they go and how they go about their international relations," ministry of external affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said, adding that he had no update on the removal of Indian military personnel from the islands.

While both New Delhi and Beijing are vying for influence in the region, Muizzu's government is considered to be leaning towards China.

The Maldives owes China about $1.3 billion, according to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) data. China is the Maldives's largest external creditor, accounting for about 20 per cent of its total public debt.

"President Muizzu seems disinclined to continue engaging India. His actions seem directed at creating distance between Male and Delhi. He also seems keen on a close friendship with China, which should be concerning to India," Abhijit Singh, head of the Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi, told news agency Reuters.

"The president's trip to Beijing, before a visit to New Delhi, is a signal - as clear as any - that India is low on priority for this regime," he added.

'India-out’ policy of President Muizzu

Unlike most of his predecessors who have visited India first after being elected, Muizzu has opted for an ‘India-out’ policy by choosing Turkey as his first foreign destination.

He later met Modi in the United Arab Emirates on the sidelines of COP28. The two countries have set up a core group to discuss the withdrawal of Indian troops.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with foreign minister Zameer on Thursday, the state department said in a statement.

"The Secretary reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to strengthening cooperation with the Maldives, a key partner in a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region," it said.

Actions taken by Maldives under Muizzu's leadership

  • In a departure from its usual participation, the Maldives abstained from attending a meeting of the NSA-level Colombo Security Conclave, despite being a member-state alongside India, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius.
  • Muizzu, in a reversal of his predecessor Solih's 'India First' policy, pledged to alter the Maldives' stance and opted to withdraw Indian military personnel from the island nation.
  • Further signalling a shift, the Maldives chose not to renew the hydrography cooperation agreement with India, allowing it to expire on June 7, 2024.
  • Originally signed in 2019, this agreement permitted India to conduct hydrographic surveys in the Maldives' territorial waters, encompassing mapping of underwater surfaces and studying reefs, lagoons, coastlines, and other physical features.

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    Have 11 years' experience in print and digital media. Write on politics, defence and world affairs, and have a keen eye for human-interest stories.

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