Maldives Signals Pro-China Shift with Military Assistance Pact, Alarming Regional Dynamics

Last Updated on March 7, 2024 12:54 pm

In a significant geopolitical development, the Maldives has signed an agreement with China for “military assistance,” signaling a notable shift in the Indian Ocean nation’s foreign policy. The Maldivian Defense Ministry announced the pact on social media, highlighting that the deal, given “gratis” or for free, aims to strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries.

The details of the military assistance were not disclosed, but the move follows a broader pro-China trajectory initiated by President Mohamed Muizzu, who took office in November. Muizzu’s election campaign included promises of an “India Out” policy, advocating the removal of Indian troops from Maldivian soil and asserting national sovereignty.

The Maldivian Defense Ministry’s announcement on social media stated that the agreement with China is geared towards fostering “stronger bilateral ties.” This move is part of President Muizzu’s strategy to enhance relations with China, marking a departure from the pro-India stance of his predecessor, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Earlier in January, President Muizzu set a deadline for the complete withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the archipelago by March 15. The negotiations surrounding this withdrawal have progressed, with reports suggesting a staged departure, with the first batch leaving before March 10 and the rest before May 10.

Currently, there are 77 Indian soldiers and 12 medical personnel from the Indian armed forces stationed in the Maldives, according to Reuters. India has also provided the Maldives with two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft, primarily used for marine surveillance, search and rescue operations, and medical evacuations.

The Maldives, known internationally for its picturesque white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons, holds strategic importance due to its location in the Indian Ocean, encompassing vital shipping lanes. Historically, India has been a close partner for the Maldives, viewing the region as part of its traditional sphere of influence.

However, the recent alignment with China represents a geopolitical tug-of-war, with both India and China vying for influence in the strategically important region. The Maldives’ pivot towards China could have broader implications for regional dynamics, raising concerns and prompting close scrutiny from neighboring nations.

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