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Maldives-China Relations: Election Win Puts Island Nation on Path Towards Closer Beijing Ties

Maldives-China Relations

Changes in Maldives’ political arena may push the country closer to China

NEW DELHI- In the recent parliamentary elections in the Maldives, President Mohamed Muizzu’s National People’s Congress party secured a landslide victory, winning 71 out of 93 seats. This victory signals a deepening alliance with Beijing and a potential shift away from traditional ally India.

The strategic location of the Maldives in the Indo-Pacific region has made it a key player in the rivalry between China and India for influence in the region. Despite this shift towards China, experts believe that India still maintains influence in the Maldives, and the geostrategic landscape of South Asia is likely to continue evolving as the Maldives strengthens its ties with China.

Key Concepts

  • President Mohamed Muizzu’s National People’s Congress party won a landslide victory in the recent Maldives parliamentary elections.
  • The victory signals a deepening alliance with Beijing and a potential shift away from traditional ally India.
  • Mohamed Muizzu’s nationalist and foreign policy strategies resonated with voters, leading to his party’s success.
  • The Maldives’ strategic location in the Indo-Pacific region makes it a key player in the rivalry between China and India for influence.
  • The “China card” is being strategically used by neighboring countries to counter India’s dominance in the region.
  • China’s foreign policy in South Asia emphasizes sovereign equality and non-interference, appealing to countries like the Maldives.
  • The recent electoral success of Mohamed Muizzu’s party has strengthened ties with China and weakened the opposition MDP.
  • Despite the shift towards China, experts emphasize the importance of continued engagement between India and the Maldives.
  • Chinese investment in the Maldives has been significant, with Chinese companies becoming the largest bilateral creditors.
  • The geostrategic landscape of South Asia is likely to change as the Maldives strengthens its ties with China.

The political landscape of the Maldives took a major turn this week, with pro-Beijing President Mohamed Muizzu’s National People’s Congress (PNC) party achieving a landslide victory in recent parliamentary elections, winning 71 of 93 seats. The election results could push the Indian Ocean archipelago nation closer to China and further away from its traditional ally, India.

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How did Muizu’s party win the parliamentary election?

The election results highlighted a deepening alliance with Beijing that followed Mohamed Muizzu’s decisive victory over former President Mohamed Saleh in a presidential runoff last September. Despite dissent within the National People’s Congress party and among supporters of former president Abdulla Yameen, who is under house arrest on corruption charges, Mohamed Muizzu’s nationalist and foreign policy strategies have resonated with voters.

“After being elected president, Mohamed Muizzu claimed that the Maldives was an independent country, tapping into ultra-nationalist sentiments, so the victory of the ACP was obvious,” said Manohar Parrikar MP and IDSA researcher Smruti Pattnaik to the media. “He has successfully diversified Maldives’ foreign policy.”

Both Beijing and New Delhi are vying for influence in the Indo-Pacific, and the Maldives’ proximity to India makes it a key player in regional politics.

Experts, including Patnaik, point out that playing the “China card” has long been a common strategy used by India’s neighboring countries to safeguard sovereignty and oppose India’s dominance. China’s foreign policy towards South Asian countries emphasizes sovereign equality and non-interference, which is attractive to countries such as the Maldives that seek to pursue independent diplomatic routes on the international stage.

Patnaik said: “China wants to have allies in the Indian Ocean, but unlike India, it is geographically far away. China is seen as a moderate power and emphasizes sovereign equality, independence, and non-interference in all joint statements with South Asian countries’ internal affairs.”

The electoral success of Mohamed Muizzu’s party not only consolidated his power but also weakened the opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP). The party’s seat count plummeted from 65 seats to just 12. While the election has been dominated by debates over domestic issues such as corruption, the economy, and public services, the impact of foreign policy has become increasingly prominent.

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Are India and China’s influences in South Asia ebbing and flowing?

While the Maldives may turn further towards China, a New Delhi-based Maldives expert who requested anonymity stressed the importance of continued engagement between India and the Maldives. “India must adapt to political changes in the Maldives and maintain engagement with Male, regardless of its anti-India stance,” the expert told the media.

The Indian government responded cautiously. Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal congratulated the Maldives on the electoral process and expressed the hope that the two countries will continue to maintain parliamentary exchanges.

As Mohamed Muizzu further distances his government from India, including opting out of the 2019 hydrographic survey agreement, and draws closer to Beijing through participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, new changes in the geostrategic landscape of South Asia are likely to emerge.

Mohamed Muizzu said his government was keen to explore partnerships under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, including the expansion of the country’s central airport and commercial ports.

World Bank data shows that Chinese companies have invested US$1.37 billion in the Maldives over the past decade, becoming the largest bilateral creditor.

However, some experts in South Asia do not believe that the Maldives parliamentary election is an “anti-India” vote.

Gulbin Sultana, an associate fellow at the South Asia Center of the Manohar-Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, said in an interview with the media that the National People’s Congress Party’s absolute majority does not mean that New Delhi has completely lost its influence in this island nation.

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“The Maldives did not vote on foreign policy only, so we cannot say it was a vote against India. People were disappointed with the performance of the Maldivian Democratic Party during the previous Ibrahim Solih government and the voters It may be hoped that giving the ruling party an absolute majority will give President Mohamed Muizzu an opportunity to fulfill his campaign promises,” he said.

Before the vote, Mohamed Muizzu urged voters to give his party a parliamentary majority to enable him to quickly fulfill campaign promises. The outgoing Maldivian parliament had previously blocked three cabinet nominees from Muizou.

David Hardingham, founder of Friends of the Maldives in London, said former Maldives President Isolih and his ally, Economy Minister Fayez Ismail (Fayyaz Ismail), were very unpopular, especially the arrogance Ismail showed toward ordinary people.

“People are disturbed by the arrogance of some politicians, especially Economy Minister Ismail,” Hardingham told the media. “Many people believe that the huge compensation paid by the government to Ismail’s family members is Symbol of corruption in the People’s Democratic Party.”

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