India’s high commissioner Munu Mahawar met the foreign minister of Maldives Abdulla Shahid in Male on Wednesday signalled the willingness of both parties to strengthen their existing ties. The meeting is significant for reaffirming the commitment to the bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Male. The meeting came in the event of the inauguration of President-elect Mohamed Muizzu second half of this month.
The envoy Mr. Mahawar tweeted “Both sides took stock of accomplishments under various pillars of India-Maldives partnership”. Earlier the foreign minister of Maldives Mr. Shahid also tweeted quoting the warm courtesy call by the Indian High Commissioner. He further appreciated India’s continued commitment to consolidate the Maldives-India bilateral ties over the years.
Talks about removing India’s military personnel
The election of Mohamed Muizzu has raised the cloud of expectations in China for their pro-China policy records. President Muizzu has already pledged to withdraw the foreign military personnel stationed in Maldives. Last week, in an interview, he also stated clearly that he would start talks with the Indian government to remove its military presence. In fact, some of the analysts point out that the issue of removing the military presence from the Maldives was a key tagline for the election campaign for winning the election by Mr. Muizzu. This can create a dilemma for New Delhi’s strategic community.
Image source: Location of Maldives (World Atlas)
The defeat of former President Ibrahim Solih, who pursued the ‘India first policy’ and established close ties with New Delhi, is likely to occur as a nightmare for New Delhi’s bilateral relations with Male. China, during the presidency of Mr. Muizzu, can be hopeful that the archipelagic state, Maldive, strategically located at the chokepoint in the Indian Ocean very close to India’s southern coast to pursue its interest in this region. This is not at all a good thing for India’s security concerns.
Analysis of the meeting
The meeting has a strategic importance in the backdrop of the presidential election of Muizzu. Mr. Muizzu has pro-Beijing and it can be anticipated that his policy will put China at ease in accessing the Indian Ocean. Maldives is located in a strategic location in the Indian Ocean. While Maldives has proximity to the Indian maritime boundary, the excessive influence of China can be detrimental to India’s security concerns.
The Maldives is also a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, under which China invested in infrastructure projects in the island country. Though there is a significant presence of Indian companies, especially in the flourishing tourism sector, India has invested a huge amount to increase connectivity to bridge the gap among the isolated islands in the Maldives.
Image source: High-level meeting between India and Maldives (The Diplomat)
The strategic location of Male made it important for India’s influence over the islands. The recent takeaway of removing the Indian military personnel can be difficult to negotiate between New Delhi and Male. The return of the Pro-Chinese regime can hamper the consistency in the relationship between India and Maldives. There is already a wind blazing of China’s assertiveness in South Asia and South-East Asia region. China’s reliability, though, is a matter of appraisal, but the economic stature of Beijing is an undeniable fact.
The proximity of Maldives will facilitate China’s intention to dominate the whole Indian Ocean. The intention is visible from successive patterns of Chinese investment in infrastructure projects under the umbrella of BRI. India has to be cautious to safeguard its maritime boundary. Indian strategic community has often been concerned with its land-border borne threats, but the current scenario indicates that Indian presence in the Indian Ocean is equally important for preventing any direct or indirect surveillance activities from its neighbourhood.