Maldivian Reasons to Snub India and Embrace China

India Maldives flags India Maldives relations bilateral

Operation Cactus is often remembered as one of the finest piece of military activity ever conducted by the Indian Armed Forces. It was a response move towards the open distress call made by the Maldivian government, which was about to overthrown by the mercenary force backed by the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). It was an iconic operation, showing India’s capabilities to conduct military operations in its neighbourhood, especially in the Indian Ocean region. Nearing the 30th anniversary of this event that forged a lusty bond between India and Maldives, the relationship between these two countries are taking some interesting turns. Nearly 2 decades this lustrous relationship fared well, but during the third decade this sturdy bond has started to dwindle because of the egoistic diplomacy by both countries.

Maldivian reasons to snub it’s time tested big brother        

India was a watchful big brother for decades. Maldives was in a sphere of Indian influence and, by stationing Indian military assets and personal; Maldives had an important position in India’s maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean. Recently, India’s stand on the internal issues in Maldives was not favourable to the current Maldivian government and it clearly worsened the state of the relations between these two colonial brothers. Even though this was a factor in the deterioration process of this relation, the real decay factors are more composite in nature.

1)      The Chinese Presence

New Delhi’s greatest concern in the Indian Ocean is China and its growing influence. Even though PLA Navy is nowhere near to project its South China Sea model aggressiveness in the Indian Ocean, it is actively engaged in influencing smaller and weaker countries around the Indian Ocean. Through economic investments on a mammoth scale in smaller and weaker countries, China is trying to build a sphere of influence of its own. Maldives is the latest and most important pearl of the influence string that China is trying to concoct, as Maldives had a positional strategic advantage over the Chinese trade lanes through Indian Ocean. So they are trying to make these increasing Chinese investments and the booming inflow of Chinese tourists to become an integral part of Maldivian economy. The economic benefits for Maldives from a Chinese friendship are far greater than what they can harness from an Indian oriented stand.

2)      Fear of an Indian Intervention

In addition to the economic benefits from Chinese friendship, Maldivian government now enjoys an ‘intervention free environment’ in its domestic affairs. For the current Maldivian government, India is an old friend, a friend to the former government and it is very cautious about an Indian intervention, especially in a situation of an Indian disagreement of the emergency extension in Maldives. A Chinese friendship nullifies the chance of a daring military intervention from India, as Maldives is well aware that India will try to avert a situation enabling China to further its military arm to the region. Thus the fear factor of an imminent Indian intervention can be tackled with a Chinese friendship.

3)      Power Projection and Shift in Policies by the Current Maldivian Administration

Amidst the controversy of the emergency and political imprisonment of opposition leaders, the current government is trying to prove its capabilities by flouting a larger power in the region. For the time being, Maldives consider China as a much safer power to rely upon, than India which is capable of refereeing the Maldivian domestic problems. Another big reason behind the drift away of Maldives is the change in its governance policies. One of the best ways to reflect this change is a major shift in the foreign policy, which the current Maldivian government is doing by defying a foreign power that previous governments have relied upon for decades.

4)      New Delhi’s Ego

New Delhi’s mistakes contributed heavily to the severity of the situation. New Delhi pretends to be a responsible and mature power to stay out of the Maldivian domestic situation. Recently both Male and New Delhi were exchanging diplomatic blows and New Delhi’s stand on this issue was rather stubborn and seems to be trifling Male’s statements. New Delhi lobbied in favour of Jakarta over Male in the last UN Security Council elections which resulted in a humiliating defeat for Male. Soon after this election, Male asked New Delhi to withdraw two of its helicopters and its operating personal stationed in Maldives to assist in Maldivian coastal surveillance. New Delhi continuously ignored this warning and failed to meet the deadline given by Male. New Delhi’s way of handling a smaller power in such manner of stubbornness won’t help to build any positive development in the bilateral relations. Recently some irresponsible statements from some Indian politicians asking the Indian government to militarily intervene in Maldives have escalated the severity of the relations.

5)      Reducing the dependence on India

While Maldivian government is all set to get rid of India and its supportive assets, the country is not yet ready to shake off the Indian nationals who are currently working in the government. Most of these Indian nationals are qualified professionals such as nurses, engineers, doctors etc. Replacing such a large group of qualified population all of a sudden may create some problems. More than that, India is a preferable location for many Maldivians when it comes to education and healthcare. The current Maldivian government wants to reduce this Maldivian dependence on India and Indians. The best way to do it is by creating a standoff situation in relations with both countries and introducing non-friendly long term visa regulations. The Maldivian government’s call for an ‘Indian free’ Maldives is yet to face the unseen challenges that it may face in the near future.

6)      Growth of Religious Radicalization

Growing Islamic radicalization, forces the Maldivian government to reduce the status of closeness with a country in which a so called “infamous anti Muslim and a right wing political party” is in power. This increasing religious radicalization in Maldives is a great concern for India also. According to some sources Maldives supplies the world’s highest per-capita number of foreign fighters to extremist outfits in Syria and Iraq. Any attempts to divert this pro-terrorist manpower to a country like India will be quite easy; as thousands of Maldivian expatriates are there in India. So countries like India which is exposed to religious terrorism, views the transformation of religious elements in a nearby country in a suspicious manner and this nature of suspiciousness is creating worries in the relation.

Relations between these two colonial brothers are in its worst condition in the last three decades. Any further escalation of this situation will endanger the status of relations between India and Maldives, beyond repair. Maldives is a country which holds a strategic position in the Indian Ocean. Both India and China are trying to make benefit of this strategic advantage. What will be the fate of this small island country in the power struggle between these two Asian giants is still a question of uncertainty.

(Cyriac S Pampackal, currently a post graduate student in International Relations and Politics, at the School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala.)


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