Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

Maldives President Muizzu has changed his mind and now refers to India as his ‘closest ally’. Here’s why

Maldives President Muizzu has changed his mind and now refers to India as his 'closest ally'. Here's whyMaldives President Muizzu has changed his mind and now refers to India as his 'closest ally'. Here's why

Maldives President Muizzu: Following a time of rocky relations with India, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has extended an olive branch, citing India’s critical role as the Maldives’ “closest ally,” according to PTI. In a recent interview with local media, Muizzu emphasized the importance of India’s sustained cooperation, particularly in reducing the Maldives’ debt problem.

In an interview with the local Dhivehi language publication ‘Mihaaru,’ his first since taking office last November, he emphasized, “India will undoubtedly remain the Maldives’ most steadfast ally.” Excerpts from this interview were also published in the affiliated publication, as reported by PTI.

The Maldives owed India almost $400.9 million at the end of the previous year, underscoring the need for financial collaboration between the two countries.

Muizzu’s Diplomatic Shift?

Muizzu’s conciliatory position comes after a period of strain characterized by calls for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the island nation in December 2023, alongside a perceived leaning towards China since taking office in November of the same year.

Recognizing the crucial role India plays in supporting the Maldives, Muizzu emphasized the significance of the ongoing projects facilitated by India and expressed appreciation for their contributions.

Amidst the significant burden of loans from India weighing on the Maldivian economy, Muizzu appealed for flexibility in loan repayment terms, aiming to alleviate the financial pressure on his nation.

The Indian Ocean’s strategic importance

For the past few years, India has been offering humanitarian aid and conducting medical evacuations for the people of the Maldives, utilizing two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft. The strategic significance of the Maldives stems from its proximity to India and its location within crucial sea routes in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The circumstances we’ve inherited entail significant loans obtained from India. Therefore, we’re engaging in discussions to investigate options for flexibility in the repayment terms of these loans. Rather than suspending any ongoing projects, we aim to accelerate their progress, so I anticipate no negative impact on Maldives-India relations,” Muizzu elaborated.

Before the parliamentary elections set for mid-April in the island nation, gestures of conciliation towards India have been observed.

Muizzu laid out plans for expediting projects and suggested establishing high-level committees to ensure quick decision-making, emphasizing his dedication to enhancing bilateral cooperation.

Debt Control for Maldives

The Maldives’ economy cannot support the size of the loans that the country has received from India. As a result, he is currently talking with the Indian government about ways to return the loans as much as possible using the Maldives’ economic resources, according to a news portal that quoted him.

Muizzu, expressing optimism that India would “aid in facilitating debt relief measures for the repayment of these loans,” also conveyed his gratitude to the Indian government for their contributions.

I also conveyed to Prime Minister Modi during our meeting at COP28 that I have no intention of halting any ongoing projects. Instead, I expressed my eagerness to enhance and expedite them. I proposed the establishment of a high-level committee dedicated to swift decision-making, particularly for projects like the bridge and the Hanimaadhoo Airport, to ensure rapid progress,” he added.

Taking Charge of Military Presence

In addressing concerns regarding the presence of Indian military personnel, Muizzu emphasized the significance of national security while reaffirming the pursuit of a diplomatic resolution to the issue.

He further noted that this was “the sole point of contention” that emerged with India, and emphasized that India has acknowledged this fact and agreed to withdraw the military personnel by May 10.

“It’s inappropriate to dismiss or belittle aid from one country to another. I haven’t taken any actions or made statements that could strain the relationship between our nations. Even if they are troops from another country, we will handle them in the same manner. I’ve made this stance very clear. It’s not personal; it’s a matter of our national security,” he emphasized.

“I believe that everything can be accomplished through discussions and deliberations,” he remarked.  Maldives President Muizzu

Turn in the direction of China

Despite recent gestures of goodwill towards India, Muizzu has also sought to strengthen ties with China, as evidenced by agreements signed during his visit to Beijing and subsequent statements regarding sovereignty in the Indian Ocean.

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During his visit to China, he formalized a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership and inked 20 agreements aimed at bolstering Maldives’ infrastructure following discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Additionally, China pledged a $130 million grant and committed to sending more Chinese tourists to the tourism-reliant Maldives.

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