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Maldives Govt Asks India To Withdraw Military As Prez Muizzu Speaks To Rijiju, Chinese Envoy

The Government of Maldives formally requested India to withdraw its military personnel from the country during a meeting between Maldives President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu and Union Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju, an official statement issued by the Maldives President’s Office said. The meeting took place at the President’s Office on Saturday, a day after President Dr Mohamed Muizzu assumed office. 

“President Dr Mohamed Muizzu formally made the request when he met the Minister of Earth Sciences of India, H.E. Mr. Kiren Rijiju, at the President’s Office earlier today,” the statement read.

President Muizzu told Rijiju that the people of Maldives had given him a “strong mandate to make the request to India” in the Presidential election held in September this year, adding that he hoped India would “honour the democratic will of the people”. “President Dr Muizzu also acknowledged the significant role of the two helicopters in providing numerous emergency medical evacuations,” the statement read.

Muizzu and Rijiju also reviewed the progress of the various projects Maldives is executing with India’s support. According to the statement, Muizzu stressed the importance of expediting the Greater Male’ Connectivity Project, and “highlighted the importance of addressing and overcoming the issues delaying the project”.

While Maldives seeks the withdrawal of Indian military personnel, China, through its Special Envoy Shen Yiqin, expressed readiness to promote Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects and enhance bilateral ties with the Maldives. Shen assured President Muizzu of China’s commitment to strengthen political guidance, deepen development strategies, and expand cooperation in various fields, news agency PTI reported.

Rijiju, meanwhile, said the conversation aimed to underline India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ and foster positive relations between the two nations, and that he reiterated India’s commitment to strengthening bilateral cooperation and people-to-people ties while conveying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s greetings to President Muizzu. 

“Privileged to call on President H.E. Dr. Mohamed Muizzu. Conveyed greetings from Hon’ble PM @NarendraModi and reiterated India’s commitment to further strengthen the substantive bilateral cooperation and robust people-to-people ties,” Rijiju posted on social media after the meeting.

President Muizzu, who assumed office on Friday, defeated his India-friendly predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the September election. He had previously indicated the need to address the withdrawal of Indian military troops as one of the issues between the two countries.

ALSO READ | India To Reach Out To Maldives As Pro-China Muizzu Comes To Power

Significance Of India And Maldives’ Ties

Maldives, a key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), holds strategic importance for India’s ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) initiative and ‘Neighbourhood First Policy.’ India has historically assisted Maldives, especially during the 2004 Tsunami and the water crisis in Male in December 2014.

The proximity of Maldives to the west coast of India, its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, and its significance in the SAGAR vision make it crucial to India’s strategic interests. Despite the diplomatic challenge posed by the request for troop withdrawal, both countries aim to recalibrate and advance their relationship for mutual benefit.

“This high-level Ministerial representation from India at the inaugural ceremony underscores India’s commitment to further deepen the substantive cooperation and robust people-to-people ties between the two countries,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs had stated prior to the Union Minister’s visit to the island nation.

Maldives’ new Foreign Minister, Moosa Zameer, expressed eagerness to collaborate on issues of mutual interest and enhance the enduring relationship between the two nations. 

“I look forward to working with you on issues of mutual interest and concern, and to recalibrate and advance the time-tested relationship between our two countries for the betterment of our people,” Zameer replied to Indian counterpart S Jaishankar’s tweet congratulating him for his new post.

China Pushes For New Progress In Ties In Talks With Muizzu 

President Xi Jinping’s message to Muizzu conveyed China’s interest in deepening ties, recognising the Maldives as a partner in joint development and common prosperity. The election of President Muizzu, seen as a close associate of former pro-China Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, suggests a shift towards pro-Beijing policies, diverging from the incumbent’s India-first approach.

During the meeting Shen, a State Councillor, said China “attaches great importance to its relations with the Maldives and is willing to work with the country under the new circumstances to strengthen high-level political guidance, deepen synergy of their development strategies, and further expand cooperation and exchanges in various fields”, state-run news agency Xinhua reported from Male.

“China is also ready to promote high-quality Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation, and push for new progress in the future-oriented, all-round friendly and cooperative partnership between the two countries,” she added.

Notably, Muizzu expressed Maldives’ support for the one-China policy as it actively seeks to strengthen practical cooperation with Beijing in various domains, including jointly building the BRI.

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