Maldives pro-China President-elect Mohamed Muizzu, who won the recent presidential elections, reiterated his campaign pledge to remove Indian troops stationed in the archipelago in his first speech after the September polls.
In his address to supporters on Monday, Muizzu said that he would not stand for "foreign military" staying in the Maldives against the wishes of the people. "The people have told us that they don’t want foreign military here," he said.
The presidential elections in Maldives turned into a referendum on which regional power, India or China, has the most influence in the country. Both India and China have been engaged in a tig-of-war to gain influence in Maldives. Muizzu has previously accused Solih of allowing India an "unchecked presence" in the Maldives and "threatening" the country's national security.
While the previous government had a friendly relationship with India, Muizzu's party, the People's National Congress, is considered to be heavily pro-China. To make matters worse, Muizzu in his campaign warned that he would remove Indian troops from Maldives and balance the trade relations that were heavily tilted in the favour of New Delhi.
The President-elect had also alleged earlier that India's military presence in Maldives was aimed at building a dockyard under a bilateral agreement and hinting that it would impact the sovereignty of the country.
How can Muizzu's stance impact India?
Muizzu's declaration comes as a serious blow to India as the President-elect is likely to lean towards China in terms of trade and investment. Muiz’s main campaign theme was about an alleged threat to the Maldives’ sovereignty by some Indian military personnel on an island, part of the party’s yearslong “India out” strategy.
His party's leader and former President Abdulla Yameen pursued a heavily pro-China strategy by building a free trade agreement with Beijing and participating in President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road project (BRI). Muizzu, the former mayor of the capital Malé, supervised a $200 million project sponsored by China.
The Maldives leaning towards China will put it at odds with other countries who are battling the rising aggression by Beijing authorities in the continent and on the South China Sea. Under ex-President Ibrahim Solih, India invested more than $2 billion in infrastructure in Maldives in partnership with the Solih government, and cooperation between New Delhi and Malé has increased in other sectors of military training and security.
Maldives holds great importance for both India and China, as it lies on the way of cargo shipping lines and is considered a gateway of geopolitical influence over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which has witnessed a growing belligerence by China in recent times. It is, however, unpredictable with rampant crime and corruption in domestic politics.
(with AP inputs)