July 18, 2024

Maldives signs defense deal with China amid India’s planned withdrawal

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The Maldives has entered into a “military assistance” agreement with China following the decision to expel Indian troops stationed in the strategically significant archipelago, officials confirmed on Tuesday.

President Mohamed Muizzu, who assumed power with a pro-China stance, has ordered the departure of 89 Indian military personnel by May 10, marking a significant shift in regional dynamics.

The Maldivian defense ministry disclosed the signing of the agreement with Beijing late Monday, stating it was a “gratis” arrangement without elaborating further on the specifics. This move underscores President Muizzu’s aim to strengthen bilateral ties with China, signaling a departure from the nation’s previous alignment with India.

India’s concerns over China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in both the Maldives and neighboring Sri Lanka are well-documented. With the Maldives strategically located along crucial east-west international shipping routes, both countries hold significant geopolitical importance.

Since President Muizzu’s electoral victory in September, relations between Male and New Delhi have cooled considerably. Despite assertions from Male denying any intention to shift the regional balance by inviting Chinese forces, the nation has increasingly gravitated towards China, its largest external creditor.

In response to these developments, India has announced plans to reinforce its naval presence on the Lakshadweep islands, situated approximately 130 kilometers north of the Maldives. This move aims to enhance operational surveillance in the region, underscoring India’s strategic interests amidst shifting alliances.

President Muizzu has reiterated his commitment to the withdrawal of Indian troops from Maldivian soil by May 10, pledging a definitive shift in military presence. The anticipated departure of Indian troops, previously tasked with operating reconnaissance aircraft gifted by India to patrol the maritime boundary, marks a significant milestone in the evolving geopolitical landscape of the Indian Ocean region.

Furthermore, the Maldives’ decision to permit a Chinese research vessel, previously denied entry by Sri Lanka due to objections from India, underscores the nation’s diplomatic realignment towards Beijing. China’s recent donation of electric ambulances to the Maldives further highlights the burgeoning ties between the two nations, signaling a broader shift in regional dynamics with potential implications for longstanding alliances.

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