Sweetlin Brahmachary Writes: Maldives is an island country located in the Indian Ocean. It lies to the south of India’s Lakshadweep Island in the Indian Ocean and south west of Sri Lanka. It’s an archipelago located atop the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge– a vast submarine mountain range in the same ocean. It became a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and also hosted the 17th SAARC Summit, 2011. Maldives is a presidential republic. It was in 2008 that the introduction of the new constitution called for the direct election for the President for a period of five years. The president tenure can be for a maximum of two terms. Its economy depends mostly on tourism and fishing. India and Maldives established its diplomatic relations ever since the latter’s independence from the British colonization in 1966. India has maintained close strategic, economic and military cooperation with the nation. This has grown in the recent years due to Maldives geo-strategic significance in the Indian Ocean region and the efforts by China to increase its influence over Maldives. The country’s first democratically elected President from 2008 to 2012 Mohammed Nasheed, was arrested on 22 February 2015 on terror charges. Around this time Indian PM Modi had also scheduled a visit to the however, owing to the political unrest in Maldives, Modi omitted the visit to the nation from his tour.
In the recent past, China has been seen making moves in the Indian Ocean Region(IOR) as a part of its Maritime Silk Road initiative under President Xi. Thus, after Modi’s step to maintain distance from Maldives’ political turmoil, China tried to influence it in the ensuing months. It made a mark with the first ever visit of China to Maldives since its independence. This visit by the Chinese President Xi was seen as a success. This was indicated by Maldives President Abdulla Yameen’s statement saying, “I am confident that this is the beginning of an era of heightened and sustained cooperation between the Maldives and China.” This was also followed by the inauguration of the landmark “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” project. China was also trying to establish a military base in the Marao area of Maldives. Indian officials said that China engaged two American and three European companies to conduct aerial and deep-sea surveys to assess Maldives’ suitability for a base. Contrary to this, an article in the People’s Daily newspaper in China quoted a senior military officer saying that, “China did not own any military base abroad, nor did it seek military expansion.” These remarks were in tune with China’s military White Paper presented in May 2015. Seeing these there was an urgent need for India to take an immediate initiative for rejuvenating the friendly relation with its immediate neighbor. This was indeed required for the strategic importance of the IOR to India. On April 11, 2016, Maldives and India revitalized their bilateral relation by signing the significant ‘Defence Action Plan’. It is an important component of India- Maldives bilateral relationship and the shared strategic and security interests in the Indian Ocean Region. It envisages an institutional mechanism at the level of the ‘Defence Secretaries’ to further the bilateral defence cooperation. India realizes the importance of Maldives in the IOR and decided to develop a strategic and security cooperative mechanism with this country. The Action Plan comprises maritime surveillance, training, capacity building, supply of equipment and port development. This is very crucial for India at this stage as China’s footprint is increasing in this island country. Modi also said that, “We are conscious of security needs of Maldives. President Yameen agreed that Maldives will be sensitive to our strategic and security interests. It is clear that the contours of India-Maldives relations are defined by our shared strategic, security, economic and developmental goals.” This directly links India’s national interests and Maldives’ stability and security. Finally, Maldives president Yameen expressed his acknowledgement towards India for protecting Maldives during the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) deliberations. He also further stressed on the fact that Maldives pursues “India-first foreign policy”. This can be taken as a reassurance as it came from the top leadership of Maldives
To conclude, it can be predicted that the recent development in India-Maldives relationship is one of the milestones that India has achieved to strengthen its position in the IOR. The signing of the defense Action Plan apart from the five other agreements is thus to check the Chinese influence in this country. Thus, it can be predicted that the agreements signed in April between India-Maldives has stood as an obstacle in the growing Sino-Maldives bilateral relations.
BY SWEETLIN BRAHMACHARY