Muizzu meets Chinse First Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang

By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, December 3:

The newly elected President of the Maldives, Dr.Mohamed Muizzu, widely reported to be pro-China, appears to have entered into a détente with rival powers India and China during his bilateral meetings on the side-lines of the COP 28 summit in Dubai on Saturday.

Muizzu met both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese First Premier Ding Xuexiang.

At his meeting with Modi, it was decided to set up a “core group” to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries, principally the continued presence of about 77 Indian military personnel attached to a couple of helicopters and a Dornier gifted by India and the details of about a hundred agreements India had signed with the previous government led by Ibrahim Solih.

The Maldivians, including the Muizzu government, grant that the helicopters and the Dornier have played a constructive role in medical evacuation and other work assigned to them. But they do not want Indian military boots on the ground to perform tasks they feel they are fully qualified to do.

However, the Indians apparently have geopolitical reasons to have a military presence in the Maldives given China’s increasing interest in the Indian Ocean.

Although Muizzu was part of the Abdulla Yameen government which launched the “India Out” campaign, he has indicated that he as President would not use such coercive methods but would, nevertheless, see to it that there are no foreign troops in the Maldives.

True to his word, he has seen to it that the “India Out” campaign is suspended.  

It is just as well that Muizz is exercising caution at this juncture because India under Narendra Modi is no pushover. This is especially so now when he is set to sweep the State-level elections in big States like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Modi and Muizzu also discussed ways to bolster economic development and people-to-people ties.

“President @MMuizzu and I had a productive meeting today. We discussed ways to enhance the India-Maldives friendship across diverse sectors. We look forward to working together to deepen cooperation for the benefit of our people,” Modi tweeted after the meeting, his first with Muizzu.

The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.

The Maldives’ proximity to India — barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep, and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast — and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean gives it a significant strategic importance to India.

At the summit when some Indian journalists asked Muizzu for his thoughts on the Indian military presence in the Maldives, the President’s answer was not specific. “There is a strong relationship between India and the Maldives,” he said according to the website Maldives Republic.

Meeting With Chinese Leader

In is meeting with the Chinese First Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang President Muizzu expressed hopes of further strengthening relations between the Maldives and China, noting that Beijing was one of the Maldives’ most important development partners.

The President further hoped that China’s assistance to the Maldives’ development and progress would continue to expand.

Ding congratulated Muizzu on his assumption of office and said that China would provide assistance and cooperation to the Maldives in various fields and would look to further strengthening bilateral relations with the Maldives.