Home » Explainers » Why Pro-China President Muizzu is Committed to Oust Indian Troops from Maldives | EXPLAINED

Why Pro-China President Muizzu is Committed to Oust Indian Troops from Maldives | EXPLAINED

Curated By: Majid Alam


Last Updated: November 19, 2023, 10:27 IST

New Delhi, India

Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu looks on after reading the oath during his inauguration ceremony in Male on November 17, 2023. (Credits: AFP)

Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu looks on after reading the oath during his inauguration ceremony in Male on November 17, 2023. (Credits: AFP)

Maldives new President Mohamed Muizzu is a close associate of former President Abdulla Yameen, who is known for his pro-China approach

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu on Saturday formally requested India to withdraw its military troops from the country saying the Maldivian people have given him a “strong mandate” to make this request to New Delhi.

The statement comes within 24 hours after Muizzu, an engineer-turned-politician, took oath on Friday as the eighth president of the strategically-located archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean.

Maldives President had a meeting with Union minister Kiren Rijiju, where he maintained that he would keep his election promise of evicting Indian military personnel from his country.

The request to withdraw Indian personnel didn’t surprise many as Muizzu, during the election campaign, had repeatedly indicated that the withdrawal of Indian military troops from the island nation is among the issues that need to be resolved by the two countries.

Who is Mohamed Muizzu?

President Mohamed Muizzu was elected Maldives’ eighth president last year, after receiving 54 per cent of the vote against his predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s 46 per cent.

The election was seen a virtual referendum on which regional power – China or India – will have better relations with the island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Muizzu, from the Progressive Alliance – a coalition of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the People’s National Congress (PNC), is considered pro-China. His opponent former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had good ties with New Delhi and the bilateral relations progressed between the two nations under Solih’s rule.

Muizzu, a former mayor of the capital Male and a construction minister for seven years, is a close associate of former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen. Yameen is known for his pro-China approach and repugnance for India as he believes that New Delhi played a role in his defeat during the 2018 Presidential elections.

Muizzu also promised to cultivate “strong ties” with China like his ally Yameen, who forged close ties with Beijing during his Presidency from 2013 to 2018.

During the election campaign, he not only indicated the withdrawal of Indian military troops but also asserted that he was firmly committed to ensuring that his country remains “free” of any “foreign military presence” to preserve its independence and sovereignty.

How did Maldives become a geopolitical hotspot?

Famously known as one of the most expensive holiday destinations in South Asia, with pristine white beaches and secluded resorts, Maldives has also become a geopolitical hotspot as it is located strategically on the shipping route connecting East and West.

Maldivian foreign policy become a partisan domestic political issue, with parties either leaning toward China or India. Maldives leaned towards China under President Abdullah Yameen Gayoom, who was in office from 2013 to 2018.

In 2017, during Yameen’s visit to China, the island nation agreed to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The development initiative is meant to build railroads, ports and highways to expand trade — and China’s influence — across Asia, Africa and Europe. Since then, Maldives has reportedly borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from China.

However, after the 2018 elections, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s came to power and rebuild strong ties with India. India, which sees the island nation as a key part of the Indian Ocean, has provided about $2 billion in development assistance to the country, according to BBC.

However, when Muizzu won the presidential poll, it was seen as a setback for India-Maldives ties as the progress made under Solih since 2018 suddenly backtracked.

Before winning the elections, Muizz told the Chinese Communist Party a year ago that he wanted stronger ties with Beijing should his Progressive Party win the 2023 elections.

How Many Indian Soldiers are Present in Maldives?

The number of Indian troops in the Maldives is not publicly known. Muizzu’s Progressive Alliance has portrayed Solih’s India-first policy as a threat to the Maldives’ sovereignty and security.

As per experts, the secrecy in the agreement between India and Solih’s government regarding the role and number of Indian military personnel has led to suspicion and rumours.

In 2021, the Maldivian defence force said about 75 Indian military personnel were based in the country to operate and maintain the Indian aircraft. India reportedly operates two Indian-donated helicopters and assists in search and rescue operations for people stranded or facing calamities at sea.

first published:November 19, 2023, 10:23 IST
last updated:November 19, 2023, 10:27 IST