Maldives signs defence deal with China, further strains ties with India

Team India Sentinels Monday 4th of March 2024 11:56 PM

Maj Gen Zhang Baoqun of China (L) and Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon of the Maldives shaking hands after signing the defence deal. (Photo: The Maldivian defence ministry.)

New Delhi: In a move that is sure to raise eyebrows in New Delhi, the Maldives signed a defence agreement with China, on Monday. The agreement will see China provide free military assistance to the Maldives, further strengthening bilateral ties between the two nations.

This comes days after one of China’s spy ships, Xiang Yang Hong-03, left Male after docking there in February. The Chinese spy ship docked at the Maldives following Sri Lanka’s entry ban on any such ship into its territorial waters for a year.

The Maldivian defence ministry announced on X that the Maldivian defence minister, Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon, met with deputy director of the Chinese international military cooperation, Major General Zhang Baoqun, to discuss bolstering the defence ties between the two countries. It said the deal was aimed at “fostering stronger bilateral ties”.

Although the specifics of the agreement have not been revealed, the move signalled a potential shift in the atoll nation’s traditional security partnership with India, which is a close neighbour and longstanding defence partner. India has also been the first responder to the Maldives during crises, such as the 1988 coup attempt, the 2004 tsunami, the 2014 water crisis, and the 2020 measles outbreak.

Ties between India and the Maldives have been strained since Mohamed Muizzu assumed the presidency of the atoll nation. He won the election on an anti-India plank. Soon after becoming the president, he went to China for his first overseas visit as the leader of his country, where he lived up to his pro-China billing, as India Sentinels had reported then.

During that visit, Beijing and Male had inked a series of agreements, including a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership”.

Muizzu also ordered all Indian military personnel in the Maldives for carrying out aircraft-maintenance work out of his country by March 15. India has already started replacing them with civilian technicians with the first batch of them arriving in the Maldives last week. After that, the Muizzu government cancelled an agreement between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force that allowed India to carry out hydrographic surveys in the country. The surveys would have helped the Maldives to improve the safety of maritime navigation, environmental protection, management of coastal zones, economic development, and enhanced security and defence cooperation with India.

Earlier this year, a major row broke out between India and the Maldives following some Maldivian public figures making unsavoury remarks on social media against India prime minister, Narendra Modi, and Indians after Modi’s visit to the Lakshadweep islands. The visit prompted some Indian social media users to project the islands as a cheaper and “patriotic” alternative to the Maldives as a holiday destination for Indians. The row culminated with the Muizzu government suspending three of its ministers.

India has long seen the Maldives as part of its sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean. Some geopolitical observers, on social media, said this defence agreement between Male and Beijing could have significant strategic implications, potentially allowing China to establish a military presence closer to Indian shores. While the specific reasons for Muizzu’s behaviour remain unclear, analysts suggest China’s growing economic and military influence in the region may be a factor.

The Maldivian government, however, has downplayed these concerns. A Maldivian news outlet quoted a government spokesperson saying the agreement is purely for the purpose of strengthening the Maldives’ national security and does not target any other nation.

Despite these assurances, the signing of the agreement is likely to be viewed with concern in New Delhi.


About Us | Contact Us | Privacy | Cookies