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Maldives may Fall into the Chinese trap

Context:

India is confronted with a significant challenge in maintaining its ties with the Maldives under the leadership of the new President, Mohamed Muizzu. Muizzu’s formal request to withdraw Indian security personnel from the archipelago may suggest a long-term strategy to create strategic space for China.

Relevance:

GS2-

  • India and its Neighborhood- Relations.
  • Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests

Mains Question:

In the context of the establishment of a new regime in Maldives and its inclination towards China, discuss the challenges faced by India. (10 marks, 150 words).

Recent Developments between Maldives and China:

  • The existing policy agreements between China and the Maldives may see advancements, as evidenced by the five agreements signed during the Chinese foreign minister’s visit in January 2022.
  • Muizzu is expected to prioritize their implementation, potentially accelerating the execution of agreements covering mutual visa exemption, economic and technical cooperation, and development in key areas.
  • However, the Maldives, burdened with USD 1.4 billion in loans from China, may seek restructuring to alleviate pressure on its fragile economy.

Challenges for India:

Trade:

  • India, which has strengthened trade and initiated various projects since President Solih took office in 2018, may face hurdles in maintaining warm ties.
  • Critical areas affected by the shift in dynamics include the uncertain future of Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs), which are vital for India’s maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Hormuz, and the Strait of Malacca.
  • Additionally, India’s exports to the Maldives, valued at over USD 476.75 million in 2022-23, may be impacted, and the tourism sector, which constitutes 23% of the Maldives’ tourist source market and 74% of its GDP, could face challenges.

Defense:

  • This poses a significant challenge for India, as Muizzu’s campaign rhetoric emphasized a pro-China stance and advocated for reducing Indian military presence.
  • The implications for India include the potential jeopardy of the Maldives-India defense cooperation agreement aimed at monitoring Chinese maritime activities.
  • China’s expanding influence in the Maldives aligns with its broader strategy, particularly considering the geopolitical significance of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

Conclusion:

India responded diplomatically by sending Union Minister Kiren Rijiju to participate in the new president’s swearing-in ceremony. This gesture aligns with India’s “Neighborhood First Policy” and the vision of “Security and Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR).India must approach Muizzu’s regime with caution, recognizing the tilt towards China, and work towards establishing diplomatic ties to prevent regional imbalances.


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