China, India Compete for Maldives

On March 5, Malé signed a defense agreement with China

While the Maldives signed an agreement with China that provides “free” military aid from Beijing, India opened a new military base on Minicoy Island, in India’s Laccadive (Lakshadweep) archipelago, off India’s southwest coast and north of the Maldives (130 kilometers).

Known to most travelers as a tourist paradise, the Maldives is at the center of strategic East-West routes across the Indian Ocean and is also the focus of New Delhi and Beijing.

Traditionally linked to India, Malé has been moving closer to China since Mohamed Muizzu was elected president in October 2023, intending to change the country’s pro-India position. Hence the decision to ask India to demobilize its military contingent on the island, to be completed by May 2024.

The anti-India stance, supported during the election campaign, materialized with the rejection of the ritual post-election visit to New Delhi and the Security Conclave in Colombo, a summit on security in the region held in the Sri Lankan capital that also involves India, Maldives, and Mauritius. Notably, Muizzu’s first “ritual” visit was to Beijing, and in those days, India decided to “boycott” tourism in the Maldives in favor of the Laccadives, an archipelago where a new military base has been opened.

“The archipelago state, within the volatility inherent in the Great War, is trying to carve out a wider room for maneuver, relying on the aspirations of players such as China, Turkey, and the Gulf oil monarchies, particularly for electoral reasons,” wrote an article in the Italian geopolitical journal Limes. “New Delhi, for its part, is implementing countermeasures without biting off more than it can swallow or burning ties with its neighbors. Knowing that it has geography and experience on his side.”