Maldives, China agree to ‘elevate’ strategic cooperation

News Excerpt:

President Mohamed Muizzu of Maldives and Chinese President Xi Jinping held the much-awaited meeting in Beijing and witnessed the signing of 20 bilateral agreements. China has firmly opposed external interference in the internal affairs of the Maldives.

Key agreements during Maldivian President Muizzu's state visit to China:

  • Both countries have agreed to elevate China-Maldives relations to - 
    • Comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership
    • Better leverage the political guidance of high-level engagement
    • Expand practical cooperation between the two countries in various fields, 
    • Strengthen collaboration on international and multilateral affairs
    • Enhance the well-being of the two people
    • Work toward a China-Maldives community with a shared future.
  • Both countries agreed to draw an “action plan” for building a “China-Maldives Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership from 2024 to 2028.”
  • Both agreed to cooperate in several areas, including the blue economy, digital economy, infrastructure development projects linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, and disaster and risk mitigation.
  • China's considerable financial size may back these plans. An agreement on ‘Grant Assistance’ was also signed, but the quantum of financial assistance was not disclosed.

India-Maldives Relations:

  • Over the years, Indian assistance has covered big and small projects, including high-impact community development facilities and the Greater Male Connectivity Project worth $500 million (currently underway). 
  • Bilateral trade has risen from $156 million in 2013 to $501 million in 2022.
  • Last year, India became the country sending the highest number of tourists to Maldives. 
  • A regular cooperation programme exists, including capacity building and disaster management assistance. 
  • The presence of 75 Indian military personnel, who man and operate an aircraft and two helicopters for medical emergencies, was deliberately misconstrued for electoral purposes last year. 

Significance of the above agreements in reference to India:

  • The agreements signed mark a significant shift in Maldives’ strategic policy, away from the previous government's close defence and security collaboration with India and the United States.
    • A month after the Muizzu government decided to skip the India-led Colombo Security Conclave’s NSA-level meet, held in Mauritius in December while signalling a clear shift in Malé from the predecessor Solih government’s strategic policy of close defence and security cooperation with India and the US.
  • The visit comes amid a diplomatic spat between the Maldives and India over contentious remarks made by three Maldivian junior ministers against the Indian Prime Minister.

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