Maldives has 'more robust' ties with China, admits leader amid strain with India | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Maldives has 'more robust' ties with China, admits leader amid strain with India

Jan 10, 2024 03:47 PM IST

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu is currently visiting China. He has appealed to the communist nation to increase tourism to the Maldives.

Male: Fayyaz Ismail, the Opposition leader in the Maldives and the chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party, said on Wednesday the country's government should have made a stronger statement against disparaging remarks for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to repair the two countries' strained bilateral relations. However, amid allegations that the objectionable comments over PM Modi's recent Lakshadweep trip represent the Maldives pro-China tilt, he admitted his country currently has stronger ties with the Xi Jinping-led nation.

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and his wife Sajidha Mohamed being welcomed on his arrival at Xiamen, in Fujian on Monday. (ANI Photo)
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and his wife Sajidha Mohamed being welcomed on his arrival at Xiamen, in Fujian on Monday. (ANI Photo)

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu is currently visiting China. Amid boycott calls in India, he has appealed to the communist nation to send more tourists.

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Reacting to the visit, Ismail admitted the current government is holding more robust engagements with China rather than India.

“Well, first of all, there is no doubt that the current government has a more favourable or stronger relation with China. The Maldives has always maintained friendly relations with all countries, except for Israel. So with the change in the political spectrum in Maldives, with the change in political parties, there will always be shifts in the intensity of engagement with different partners, obviously. And in this case, you're seeing more robust engagement with China rather than India,” he was quoted as saying by an ANI report.

Also read: Why New Delhi cold shouldered Maldives plan for Prez Muizzu’s India visit

He said the Maldives had been maintaining an India-first policy; however, the current government has what he called "different approaches to its foreign policy".

"Until now, we have always, all parties in the Maldives maintained an India-first policy, and that is also very crucial for our security and stability as well. But this government may have different approaches to its foreign policy, and maintaining good relations with China is not an issue that any party in the Maldives would also want," he noted.

Ismail talks about repairing strained ties

The Maldives government has suspended three deputy ministers over the remarks. It had distanced itself from the comments saying the utterances were "unacceptable" and don't represent the country's official position.

Ismail called for more urgent efforts to repair the relationship with India.

"I personally believe the government should take a tougher stand on that because this goes beyond government to government. Now, because of the easy accessibility of social media, this has reached a lot of Indians and to a lot of Maldivians. And as arguments take over from both sides, there has been a lot of insults coming back and forth. So the government needs to show that there was no intention on the part of the government. These were just isolated individual opinions of these people who, unfortunately, were given positions in the government. So that needs to be clearly shown to the Indians, to the Maldivians, and to the entire world at large," he said, reported ANI.

Also read: Amid row with India, Maldives President tells China to ‘send more tourists’

The remarks made by the ministers have upended decades old bilateral relations. Several Indian celebrities have called for boycotting visiting the Maldives.

The economy of Maldives largely depends on tourism. With 11 percent share, India is the country's largest market.

China, with a 10 percent market share, is the Maldives' third largest partner after Russia.

Ismail said a few tweets by individuals can't derail the entire relationship.

"This relationship between India and Maldives has been nurtured and fostered over a long period of time by very mature leaders, past leaders of our country and yours as well. So just one or two tweets derailing this entire relationship is very sad," he said.

"But now this has reached the people, and that is something I am more concerned about--how to repair that. So to repair that from our side, our government has to come up with a stronger statement or action on that. And I would hope that from the Indian colleagues, that there will be more restraint as well to try to diffuse this," he added.

Pro-China tilt allegations

Syed Tanveer Nasreen, the former director of the Indian Cultural Centre in Male, said the remarks represent anti-India sentiments fostered by foreign powers.

She was the director of the Indian Cultural Centre at the High Commission of India in Male, Republic of Maldives, from 2019 to 2023.

"What has been going on is very unfortunate, and I condemn the remarks made by the now-deposed three Maldivian ministers. But I would say this is not a sudden or isolated incident. This anti-India build-up has been ongoing for quite some time at the instigation of foreign powers," she told PTI.

“It was an aggressive anti-India campaign that was going on, they not just wanted the Indian military out but also wanted India out culturally and socially. Earlier in Male, we had very easy access to parks and community centres for holding cultural events, but after Mohamed Muizzu, the present president of Maldives, became the mayor of Male, this easy access was curtailed to a large extent,” she added.

On Monday, Congress leader Manish Tewari said the Maldives was in the Chinese sphere of influence.

"Maldives is now in the Chinese sphere of influence. Sri Lanka has bent to the Chinese wind. China is gobbling up territory in Bhutan. China has accumulated disproportionate influence over the polity in Nepal. The Military Junta in Myanmar for decades has been beholden to the Communist Party of China (CPC). Pakistan is a client state of China. China has developed proximate ties to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Chinese economic influence in Bangladesh is also on the ascendant. What is India‘s influence in South Asia currently? Folks need to take a reality check," he wrote on X.

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