Maldives-India Relations: The China Issue

There has always been a strong historical and geographical basis to the relationship between Maldives and India. The Maldives have depended on India, its nearest neighbour, for vital support and aid over the years. But as China’s influence in the area has grown, so too have the dynamics of this partnership. To guarantee that the long-standing relationship between India and the Maldives endures in the face of shifting geopolitical conditions, it is imperative to comprehend these dynamics.

What is the evolution of the relationship between India and the Maldives?

Millennia of Cultural and Historical Ties: India and the Maldives have a long history together, spanning millennia. A major cultural change occurred in the Maldives when Islam took the lead over Buddhism in the 12th century. The Maldives depended on India for communication and necessities even during the British protectorate era (1887–1965).

Geographical Destiny: The Maldives is made up of more than 1,200 islands dispersed over 90,000 square kilometres, with approximately 99.6% of its land area submerged in water. · Experts estimate that the “Global Boiling” phenomena will cause almost 80% of the Maldives to disappear by 2050. India plays a crucial role in the Maldives’ battle against climate change because of its closeness.

Security Collaboration: Defence collaboration include joint exercises such as “Ekuverin,” “Dosti,” “Ekatha,” and “Operation Shield.” India meets over 70% of the Maldivian National Defence Force’s (MNDF) requirements for defence training, offering the most possibilities for training.

Operation Cactus 1988: The Indian Armed Forces assisted the Maldivian government in neutralising the coup attempt as part of Operation Cactus. Fighting Maritime Threats: As the Maldives’ first line of defence against maritime threats, India is essential. This covers measures to combat terrorism, fight high seas piracy, stop drug trafficking, and deal with drug-related concerns.

Rehabilitation Centre: Contract signing for shore protection and Addu reclamation project. · A drug detox and rehabilitation facility constructed in Addu with help from India. India is implementing 20 high-impact community development projects, including the centre, in fields including healthcare, education, tourism, fisheries, sports, and culture.

Economic Cooperation: The Maldives’ economy depends heavily on tourism. For some Indians, it is now a popular travel destination, while for others, it is a place to find employment. An Indian business secured a contract in August 2022 for the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), the largest-ever infrastructure project in the Maldives. · In 2021, India became the third-largest trading partner of the Maldives.

The 6.74 km long Greater Male Connectivity Project would connect Male to the neighbouring islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu, and Thilafushi by a causeway and bridge. Renewable energy will be used. · An Indian Line of Credit (LOC) of USD 400 million and a grant of USD 100 million are used to finance the project. o It is the largest infrastructure project being undertaken by India in the Maldives as well as the largest project of its kind in the archipelago. Relief assistance was provided by India through Operation Neer 2014, which addressed the drinking water issue in the Maldives by providing drinking water.

Operation Sanjeevani: In order to aid the Maldives in their fight against Covid-19, India delivered 6.2 tonnes of vital medications to the country.

What worries people about China’s involvement in the Maldives?

China’s Growing Power: China’s primary purpose for being in the Maldives is to further its own interests, which makes its presence there concerning. Due to China’s frequent use of debt finance for economic involvement, worries over debt traps and the consequent influence China gains in the area have arisen. The Maldives is now a component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has received significant Chinese investment. The Maldives’ vibrant democracy may be threatened by China’s hegemonic ambitions to establish hegemony in the Indian Ocean region.

China funded and built a number of projects in the Maldives, including the construction of ports, airports, bridges, and other vital infrastructure as part of the “String of the Pearls” initiative.

Particularly in nations like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and the Maldives, China’s expanding influence in the Indian Ocean area has alarmed India. The construction of military installations and ports under Chinese control in these regions has been perceived as a threat to regional security and India’s strategic objectives.

Countermeasures by India: India’s response has been to boost up diplomatic and strategic ties with the Maldives and other countries in the Indian Ocean. Its efforts to increase its influence in the area have included infrastructural projects, economic support, and increased defence cooperation. The goal of India’s “Neighbourhood First” strategy is to offset China’s growing influence.

What is India’s viewpoint about its relationship with the Maldives?

India has constantly shown that it is dedicated to forging close ties with the Maldives. India’s commitment to the partnership is demonstrated by its emphasis on security, infrastructure development, comprehensive cooperation, and daily essential support. Despite persistent challenges like the pro-China policy and the “India out campaign,” India is steadfast in its pursuit of maintaining its relationship with the Maldives. In order to maintain peace and prosperity for everyone in the area, India views the Maldives as a crucial component of its “SAGAR Policy.” The Maldives serves as India’s first line of defence against marine crimes, drug trafficking, terrorism, and high seas piracy. China, on the other hand, entered the Maldives only for its own benefit.

What Prospects Do the Maldives and India Have?

Possibilities for India: Amid these shifts, India should proceed cautiously. The Maldives’ next administration is probably going to put its national interests first, thus India should stress that it is a development-oriented strategy. The Maldives is facing a critical problem with high rates of young unemployment, hence initiatives to improve youth employability are essential. • India’s High Impact Community Development Project (HICDP) ought to prioritise giving young people access to jobs. Infrastructure Development: o China’s Sinamale Bridge Connectivity Project is surpassed by India’s major infrastructure project in the Maldives, the Greater Male Connectivity Project, which is backed by grants and a sizeable Line of Credit. For India to increase its influence, the project’s early completion must be given top priority.

It is anticipated that the Maldives would work towards a balanced partnership between China and India after its elections. To optimise the Maldives’ developmental progress, this strategy is essential. Realising the possible consequences of deteriorating relations with India, together with pragmatic governance concerns, might direct future measures. Maintaining the historical connections and putting the greater interests of the Maldivians first are vital for both countries.

▪ Initiatives to Strengthen the Indo-Pacific Security area: To guarantee regional security in South Asia and the surrounding maritime borders, India must play a significant role within the Indo-Pacific security area. o In reaction to the expansion of extraregional powers—especially China—in India’s maritime sphere of influence, the Indo-Pacific security space was created.

Conclusion :-

Shaped by common values, geography, and culture, the long-lasting relationship between India and the Maldives provides a paradigm for durable relationships in the face of external difficulties. The security, progress, and prosperity of the Maldives are closely related to India’s ongoing assistance and partnership. The realisation of the value of historical ties and the necessity of preserving them holds the key to a promising future. There is a proverb that states, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”