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The Maldives’ Geopolitics between India and China: Where is the Indo-Pacific Pearl Edging Towards?

April 5 from 20:00 - 21:30 BMT

CPG online event series on peace and security in Asia 

 

The Maldives’ Geopolitics between India and China:

Where is the Indo-Pacific Pearl Edging Towards?

 

April 5, 2024, 8:00 – 9:30 p.m. (GMT+7)

online via Zoom video teleconferencing

 


Synopsis

The Maldives holds strategic significance beyond its small population of just over half a million people. Situated southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, the archipelago serves as a crucial focal point due to its location in the world’s busiest sea lanes. This strategic positioning has drawn the attention of major regional powers, particularly India and China.

Historically, India has been a key ally and primary responder to crises in the Maldives, but recent shifts in foreign policy under President Mohamed Muizzu seem to indicate a pivot in the Maldives’ geopolitical orientation. His presidency has seen actions such as the expulsion of Indian military personnel and a preference for closer ties with China, reminiscent of the policies of his political mentor, former president Abdulla Yameen.

In response, India has taken steps to assert its influence in the region, including commissioning a naval base on Minicoy Island, located near the Maldives. This move signals India’s willingness to push back against the Maldives’ growing alignment with China.

Against this backdrop, the Maldives finds itself at a crossroads in the ongoing competition between India and China. Decisions made by its leadership are likely to have significant implications for regional stability and the geopolitical equilibrium in the Indian Ocean Region.

The upcoming webinar, organized by the CPG Peace & Security Center, aims to delve into these implications and explore the evolving geopolitical landscape in the Indian Ocean Region.

Background

The Maldives, an archipelago of nearly 1,200 low-lying coral islands, stands as the smallest state in Asia by population, hosting just over half a million people. But its strategic importance far outweighs its size: Situated southwest of Sri Lanka, this island nation lies in the strategically vital waters of the Indian Ocean, which accounts for over one-third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic, two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments, and nearly all of China’s oil supplies from the Gulf. This position renders the Maldives a focal point for both of Asia’s superpowers, India and China.

Historically, due to its geographic proximity and robust historic and economic ties, India has been the main partner and even primary responder during significant crises in the Maldives. Instances such as repelling a coup launched from Sri Lanka in 1988, providing assistance after the 2004 tsunami, managing the 2014 water crisis, and tackling the COVID-19 pandemic underscore India’s historical role in the region.

Things started to change with a shift away from pro-Indian policies under President Abdulla Yameen, elected in 2013, whose foreign policy regarding India and China leaned heavily towards deepening ties with China through increased investments and infrastructure projects. It was under President Yameen that the Maldives formally became involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative including the Maritime Silk Road component.      With the election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as president in 2018, the country has sought to recalibrate its foreign policy back to its original course, distancing itself from overdependence on China and strengthening its weakened relations with India.

The geopolitical orientation of the current president, Mohamed Muizzu, marks the latest swing of the pendulum between India and China. Muizzu, who previously served as the mayor of the capital Male, and witnessed the inauguration of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, assumed office last November following a campaign that portrayed India as an interfering “Big Brother.” Upon entering office, Muizzu fulfilled one of his core election promises – albeit reluctantly – to expel all Indian military personnel stationed on the archipelago to reassert “lost” national sovereignty. Addition actions, for example, preferring Turkey for his first foreign visit over New Delhi, skipping the Colombo Security Dialogue, and scrapping the hydrography agreement which further strained relations between India and the Maldives.

While pushing back against India, Muizzu has called for closer relations with China, resembling the policies of President Yameen – his political mentor, following the pro-India intermezzo under the Solih administration. During a state visit to Beijing, the two countries signed several agreements and upgraded their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic cooperation partnership”. Muzzi also agreed with Xi to strengthen economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, and educational opportunities, with the Maldives expressing its commitment to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. A recently signed military assistance agreement with China, although scarce in details, is arguably the most significant agreement between the two countries, at least symbolically.

While it’s plausible that the Maldives seeks to balance its relations with both countries rather than formally aligning with China, a tilt towards Beijing raises substantial concerns for India, which identifies —from the eastern coast of Africa to the Andaman Sea—as its area of priority. The apprehension revolves around the prospect of China establishing a military base in the Maldives, posing a threat to India’s maritime security and crucial sea routes, critical for its trade and energy imports.

In a move possibly designed to send a strong message to both the Maldives and China, the Indian Navy in early March commissioned a second base on Minicoy Island, which is part of the Lakshadweep archipelago, located off India’s southwestern coast and just 130 kilometers north of the Maldives. India is also building resorts and infrastructure on Minicoy Island to boost tourism, signaling to the Maldives—which has an economy that relies heavily on tourism revenue—that it can push back on Male’s growing ties with Beijing through nonmilitary means as well.

Agenda

(The event will be held in English.) 

Poster

Participation

Event registration is essential for participation; individuals interested are encouraged to do so by visiting the link or QR code provided below. For more information, please email us at events@cpg-online.de

Registration

 

Details

Date:
April 5
Time:
20:00 - 21:30 BMT
Series:
Event Category:

Other

Event Type
Panel Discussion / Roundtable
Location
Online
Registration
Required