India and Maldives
The India-Maldives relationship encounters fresh turbulence due to the impending arrival of the Chinese ship Xiang Yang Hong 03. This comes in the aftermath of disputes over derogatory remarks, the call for an Indian tourist boycott, and disagreements regarding Indian troops in the Maldives. Amidst concerns about Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and a strained atmosphere, both countries face challenges that demand a diplomatic approach.
GS – 02 (Bilateral Groupings & Agreements, Regional Groupings, Indian Diaspora)
Maldives, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Indian-Ocean, China, Greater Male Connectivity Project.
Examine the recent challenges in India-Maldives relations, focusing on the impact of evolving geopolitical dynamics, changing national priorities, and the role of diplomatic engagements. (150 words)
Geographical Relationship Between India and Maldives:
- Covering 99.6% of its area with the vastness of the sea, the Maldives consists of over 1,200 islands spanning 90,000 square km.
- Alarming predictions by experts suggest that 80% of the Maldives may vanish by 2050 due to the effects of ‘Global Boiling.’
- In this geographical context, India emerges as the closest neighbor, positioned merely 70 nautical miles away, making it the primary and solitary ally ready to assist the Maldives in times of need.
- As the Tunisian philosopher Ibn Khaldun asserted, destiny is often intertwined with geography, a sentiment profoundly applicable to the close ties between these two nations.
Dimensions of the Article:
- Navigating Diplomatic Waters
- Unpacking the Dynamics
- Diplomatic Responses
Navigating Diplomatic Waters:
- Prevailing Controversies: Recent events, including verbal spats, tourism tensions, and military disagreements, have added another layer of complexity to the India-Maldives relationship. The presence of the Chinese ship Xiang Yang Hong 03 in Male raises eyebrows, considering India’s reservations about Chinese vessels in the Indian Ocean.
- Backdrop of Setbacks: President Muizzu’s election victory, marked by an “India Out” campaign, and subsequent actions such as plans to remove Indian personnel and prioritizing ties with Türkiye, the UAE, and China, contribute to the existing concerns. This backdrop intensifies worries about the trajectory of bilateral relations.
Unpacking the Dynamics:
- China’s Maritime Activities: The impending visit of the Chinese ship underscores India’s unease about China’s growing maritime presence in the region. Previous objections to Chinese research vessels in Sri Lanka resulted in Colombo banning all foreign research ships from docking. India sees these activities as potential data collection for both military and civilian purposes.
- Changing Priorities of Maldives: The altered priorities of the Muizzu government, demonstrated through the scrapping of the India-Maldives hydrography agreement and the welcoming of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, highlight a shifting geopolitical landscape. The government’s inclination towards diverse international partnerships adds complexity to India’s regional interests.
- Engagement Despite Tensions: Notably, India continues to engage with the Maldivian government despite the strained relationship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Muizzu in December and the establishment of a high-level core group for bilateral negotiations demonstrate India’s commitment to dialogue. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s recent meeting with his Maldivian counterpart further emphasizes diplomatic efforts.
- Neighbourhood First Approach: India’s “neighbourhood first” policy underscores its commitment to addressing the priorities of neighboring countries. However, challenges arise when India’s military actions, aimed at humanitarian operations, are perceived as imposing rather than supportive.
- Concerns for Maldives: The Maldivian government, grappling with internal political dynamics, faces the risk of the animosity with India influencing upcoming parliamentary elections. Balancing sovereignty and the need for external support in economic and regional security matters becomes a delicate task.
- Need for Detente: Both India and the Maldives must recognize that their current tensions are symptomatic of deeper issues. The regional power dynamics and the archipelago’s dependency on external forces necessitate a shift from confrontation to détente. Balancing sovereignty considerations with mutual benefits should be the common goal.
- Quiet Diplomacy’s Significance: The decision by the Maldives to permit the Xiang Yang Hong 03 for a routine port call, rather than an extended stay, signals the potential success of quiet diplomacy. A rational and behind-the-scenes approach is more likely to navigate bilateral ties out of turbulent waters.