Comment: Maldives moving away from India, tilting towards China?

As 2012 draws to a close, the question uppermost in the minds of Maldives watchers is if the country was moving away from the strategic sphere of Indian influence, and has begun tilting towards China, as is often suspected in the case of other nations in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood, near and afar.

There are no ready answers that are convincing.  But there is nothing to suggest that a ministerial visit here or a bilateral issue of commercial consequences for India there has the potential to effect that change.

There are not as many Maldives watchers the world over as there are international tourists. And most tourists are apolitical holidayers who enjoy the quiet and the sun and sand for which they return year after year, when their pockets are full.

When the economy back-home economy is stifling for no fault of theirs, but that of their governments, holidaying in Maldives faces the axe. It is a terrible thing for the archipelago-nation’s economy, which found new sustenance in resort-tourism decades ago, and is unable to – or unwilling to – diversify. The scope and options are also limited.

Thus, the arrival of Chinese budget-tourists to Maldives also makes news in strategic circles. They have accounted for 25 percent of all arrivals these past years, but their spending-style does not encourage high-cost resort-tourism; yet, it keeps the sector going in troubled years.

But it is bilateral visits by political and military leaders from one country to the other that makes for greater news for the strategic community. How it could be different from any such visit between leaders of Maldives and other countries, barring the immediate Indian neighbour and Sri Lanka, too, is the unasked – and hence, unanswered – question.

India has had a relatively longer strategic and security ties with Maldives in the contemporary era, compared to China and other extra-territorial players, barring the UK.  As a British Protectorate, as different from a British colony that India and Sri Lanka were, Maldives prides itself at having the Royal Air Force (RAF) quit at their bidding in 1965.

Independence for Maldives was triggered, incidentally, by a row over extending the runway of the Male airport, connecting the national capital to the rest of the world, mostly through Colombo, Sri Lanka.  This was followed by the RAF exit from the Gan Airport in the southernmost extreme, where it had a refuelling base since the Second World War.

Until Indian armed forces intervened at the behest of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – and left promptly afterwards – to quell a coup-bid, there has not been any foreign military presence in the way it is understood.

Today, India has minimal IAF presence at Gan, training and helping its Maldivian counterpart in combing the seas for Somali pirates, and linking up their search and rescue facilities by networking the same with Indian bases. Other foreign forces on Maldivian territory are even fewer in numbers, often assigned to specific programmes to train personnel of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) or the Maldivian Police Service (MPS), through funding by their respective governments.

The fact that neither MNDF, nor the MPS is permitted by law to carry weapons other than a baton, without prior clearance by the Executive President, is not lost on the hosts.

There are fewer Indian tourists in Maldives than Chinese. But there are more Indians working in Maldives than Chinese at present.  However, there are fewer Indians than Bangladeshis, owing to cheaper wages and easy availability of unskilled personnel.

There are fewer still strategic observers of Maldives in India, though whenever there is a crisis, the whole of India rises as one man and in one voice, as if all had already been lost. The year 2012 marked such a turnaround in the Indian approach for the first time since 1988.

Thanks to a hyperactive media that had dried up for the day otherwise, Indians came to witness the power change-over in Maldives on February 7. President Mohammed Nasheed, the first elected head of state and government under the multi-party democracy scheme of 2008, resigned under mounting political pressure and street-protests, with last-hour participation by some in the security forces.

He was replaced by his Vice President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, under the US-model constitutional scheme, though it had all along been known that there was no love lost between the two almost from day one.

That was when the talk of a Maldivian tilt in foreign and security policy in favour China began doing the rounds. This was followed more recently by the “GMR row”, when the Government of India, according to some in the Maldivian government, was seen going all out to back the Indian infrastructure major, that too in an unprecedented way, in the concession contract for the Male airport, in what they saw only as a commercial deal unaffected by long-standing bilateral relations.

The Indian media that went out over the airport row, accusing the Chinese of instigating it, until GMR bowed out at the end of the Maldives-appointed seven-day deadline, upheld by the Singapore court, chosen as arbitrator under the contract.

They were relatively silent when Maldives Defence Minister Mohammed Nazim, a retired army colonel, visited China later, met with his counterpart in Beijing, visited military training institutions and signed an agreement for aid to build maritime ambulances for the thin populations dispersed over scattered islands back home.

Yet, there is nothing to show as yet that Maldives is moving away from the sphere of Indian strategic influence, concern and care. For the Maldivian policymaker, influenced as they are by public opinion, the timely Indian intervention during the 1988 coup-bid and the subsequent rush of aid and assistance at the height of the unprecedented Boxer Day tsunami of 2004 are a reflection on the reality of the regional situation and the limitations of extra-territorial sovereign partners in the nation’s growth and development.

In recognition of both, the two countries have continued with their post-coup, bi-annual ‘Dhosti’ series of Coast Guard exercises, in which they have since roped in Sri Lanka too in the eleventh edition of March 2012, thus creating an early regional footprint for what could ultimately emerge as a “South Asian security umbrella”, even if confined to the southern seas.

What is more, successive governments in Male in recent years have also reported to have willed away offers of military assistance, particularly Coast Guard boats, from countries of the West, too. Together, such promising decisions and perceptions should and would silence critics of Maldives, who see the nation forming yet another pearl in the highly imaginative Chinese string.

N Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


31 thoughts on “Comment: Maldives moving away from India, tilting towards China?”

  1. well done South Block experts... now this sooper power India lost Maldives friendly neighbour for this 60 years old country colonised by British over 200 years.Maldives was never under foreign rule except few years by Portugal.Give this carboard title Bharat Ratna to all Farin Palicy(foreign policy in Inglish) experts ....Indian tourists to Maldives...joking ..few Lux soap tourists arriave in the morning and leave in the evening with kilos of Lux Soaps which is a luxury commodity for this corruption and European worshiping Indians.

    If Maldives allow Indian teachers soon your younger generation will spaek INGLSIH.

  2. India can never replace China. Maldives as a country and its citizens rely too much on the aid of the Indian govt.

    It is sad that in recent months some political parties, and politicians have tried to pit Indians against Maldives, and pursue aggresive and harsh wordings towards India in public speeches.

    We have people in the govt, (state ministers such as Abbas Adil Riza) openly aggravating Indian ambassadors accusing them of conspiracy theories.

    Also, in the wake of Presidents nasheed's resignation, MDP policians such as Reeko Moosa Manik (chairman of the party) openly accused the Indian ambassador Mulay of masterminding a coup which forced President Nasheed to resign. Today, MDP's wordings have changed, and they are now on friendly terms with the person they accused of masterminding their supposed coup.

    It is sad that people stoop so low, without considering the impact their actions will have on our nations relations with India.

    Relations between MDP and Mulay have improved now, but the actions of the past have proven that all political parties (including MDP) are willing to stake the important strategic alliance Maldives has with India, so as to attain political benefit.

    Indians must understand that the callings of a few nutjobs (Reeko Moosa, Abbas Adil Riza - who most of us consider as a bit retarded) do not represent the will or the mindsets of the whole of Maldives.

    India must learn to tactifully ignore the morons who go on podiums and press speeches trying to advocate hate speech and hate rhetoric.

  3. I am sick and tired of the news of the phantom fight between China and India in Maldives.

    Nothing of the sort is happening. Amazing how some people try to inflame the passions by stepping into the gutter.

    The is nothing but devious PR.

  4. I sincerely thing the following is more news worthy.

  5. I DOUBT Maldives will grant Chinese naval bases or allow Chinese military bases especially near addu,everyone knows usa will not permit spying or military bases near to diego garcia.AS FOR CHINA TO limit india grip on the indian ocean,i dont think it is technically possible because of the logistic factors

  6. China and India are more concerned about the color of their toilet paper than about The Maldives. India doesn't need The Maldives at all, but The Maldives needs India. It wouldn't hurt realizing that.

  7. Now this is an article written by an Indian, lets also hear from a chinese author too. hehe

  8. India, Delhi, is the RAPE capital of the world.

    RAPISTS must be hanged.

    Maldivians now are copying this too... sad...

    May God crush India!!!!

  9. This writer have taken so many twists and turns with respect to our international alignment over the years. This writer felt he had the knowledge moral authority to write off our new found democracy for some sick "unity government". He does not recognize the 7/2 transfer of power as a coup d'etat. The writer is so shallow as to "know" the country's corrupt judiciary as clean! It is downright embarrassing to see such ignorance and squabbling in our politics by a supposed Indian "intellectual".

  10. This called making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    Truth is at the most strategic level, the US (which is our closest military presence in Dego Garcia) is more important than the Chinas, the Indias and the Brazils.

    But I guess N Sathimoothy thinks India is such a big deal.

    Hello, sir. There is a super power called USA in Indian Ocean pond who has excellent relations with Maldives. Do you think the US would leave Indian Ocean to theose Chinese and Indians.. hehe.

  11. @ Silly. Its not surprising at all that this man, Sathiamoorthy, is spewing the rubbish being mucked around by the likes of GoGo Latheef apologizing fr brother Samad. Most Maldivian journalists know that the GO Go is this man's puppet master. Tks.

  12. We Indians are BIGGER THAN YOU
    We Indians are BETTER THAN YOU
    We Indians are BRIGHTER THAN YOU
    Your future prosperity and political stability depends on Indian largesse.
    The sooner you retards......350,000 primitive islanders with learning difficulties......realise this the better.
    You need us...........we don't need you.

  13. With due respect to the seasoned journalist Mr. Moorthy, I would think that there was a some sort of involving elements in the well done coup of 7th February!
    If it ever were or are true, I am sure Indian authorities should take part of the blame for themselves to be questioned, even later!

    However the past is passed and the future is yet to come!

    India, without Maldives will look odd on paper or otherwise! And Maldives, without India, will lack very much in every aspect of real life! This, however is the bare fact!

    It would be rather better for strategists to comment more on this issue in terms of politics and etc., etc.

    But the real danger, especially for small countries such as Maldives is more with an arrival of a foreign power and a flotilla!

    They can become the bosses! Then, we shall be made the slaves!

    This to my belief cannot be a patriotic thought for any Maldivian!

    There is a story told since time immemorial that there in the east, was a very evil character sheltered behind a bronze wall!

    If that bronze wall is the Great Wall of China, and the evil character is the Chinese!

    Allah have mercy on us!

  14. @MissIndia NewDelhi on Sun, 30th Dec 2012 3:15 PM
    Truly India is BIGGER than Maldives!
    BETTER or BRIGHTER than Maldivians is very much debatable!
    You are either just silly, or you are trying to wedge these two countries still apart!

    The fact is that if it were for the benefit of any one of these countries, they both need each other!

    If India wants to play big brother, it will need a kid brother or brothers! Without the kid brother/s, where will India end???

    Not being a big brother! Who needs who?

  15. Biggest Soooper power India has got:

    Biggest amount beggers in the WORLD
    Biggest illiterate people in the WORLD
    Biggest HIV positive in the WORLD
    Biggest rape and murder rates in the WORLD
    Biggest sick people in the WORLD

    Today visit a poorest Maldivien home they will serve Coca Cola which is a luxury for Biggest Indians.

    Any Child in Maldives speak Englsih but in Biggest India 80% can`t read and write .

    Small Maldives got color TV many many years before Sooper India and Maldives has got resorts for USD 8,000-per nite but in Biggest India go and see the conditions of the toilets in city best hotels.

    A country where majority of people are not accessable for drinking water is called Soooper power what a BIG joke he he he

  16. Today this sooper India has become like leper no one in S.E. ASIA like to go near or touch her.

    Even in Sooper Indian cities you have to walk on roads close the nose.... such a smell coming from open air toilets. & order,rules of law are not available in this sooper power India where they love to worship Europeans.

  17. India can't even govern itself. Look at all its successionist groups from Muslim bihar and Kashmir to Christian nagaland to khalistan to maoist rebel areas. Rapists rule new Delhi.

    Look at its fanatical antimuslim bjp govt that loves Israel and America, that's all you need to know why India must leave and China etc must step in.

  18. ...all the best in inviting China.

    Godless Pig eating communist chinese is the perfect companions for Maldives. Hope you have enough pigs to feed the visiting chinese. If not ....they eat dogs too. lol

  19. Maldives is poised to become a great country like ,Pakistan, North Korea,Iran..etc. We don't want to be friendly with India any more. Like above three countries we prefer Cheena.

  20. .....Indian worship cows as sacred..but sooper India is ruled by an Italian woman an ex-baby sitter with little education who love to eat pork..mutton..beef daily how is this?

    In China there is an order be it corruption or rape culprits have to face firing squad....but in DEMOK-CRAZY sooper India according to Internatioal Herald Tribune few year ago...300 members of Parliment and 700 members of state assemblies have criminal records but never charged ..this was accepted by a Bangalore based research body.Many top offenders are enjoying VIP statues in India with "Z" security criminals in prison can contest in elections and even speak in meetings via mobile phones..such ..a beautiful democracy sorry DEMOK-CRAZY ..finally even in a remote Chinese village kids go to school in uniform and study in class rooms fitted with TV and computers....go and see an Indian village school....smallest town in China has got infrastructure better than DELHI AND BOMBAY...and even they have got super speed trains....

  21. You need India more than India. India should deal with these rogue states more firmly. Note you cannot change your Geographical position.

  22. kurvi,

    you comments reflect muslim mentality which is trash and filled with hate. may allah give you more virgins in heaven. oh allah save kurvi soon.

  23. There is no logic for all of us to create misunderstanding between neighbors. Non should be hegemonic intendind to control Indian Ocean in this Century.What is better for everyone is to focus on regional cooperation. This is an era of educated generations and an extra-globalization. Who cannot see the fact that history repeats itself must step back with their limited vision for the regional stability. Both China and India are going to be big brothers in this strategic ,geopolitical arena, who can minimize the western influence and extra-regional players.
    We all enjoyed regional cooperation even before Amerca appeared on chart. India and China was richest countries in the past.
    Happy New Year and God bless you
    May Allah guide us the right path
    Maldives needs both of them.

  24. @ Shareef

    Regional cooperation?

    Lets see. Why not start with Kashmir.

  25. let bygone be bygones india cant befriend maldives coz seeing china naval activities in the IOR.India has almost lost all its neighbour where foreign policies are concerned hope 2013 changes for good orelse chinese have alredy encircled India.

  26. Tourism is very perception sensitive business. Video footage and news clips are enough to dissuade young honeymooners.

  27. whatever maldives want to befriend is up to them,but let me state future diplomacy will be governed by economic ties and benefits, currency is the new game of diplomacy rather than geopolitical considerations,hope politicians keep that in mind

  28. maldives economy is primary based on tourism and dont let pakistan based radical islam to grip your society...allow it and you can kiss goodbye to tourism...and when waterlevel rises and maldive sink to the sea the nearest coast is not china or pakistan but India.

  29. Well people of India says that we Maldivians need Indian teachers to learn english but i would like to say Maldivian baby kid even speak better english than an old Indian.Now the sooooooooooo called sooooper power indians should get know a real fact that there r doomy in every way than Maldives.


Comments are closed.