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India-Maldives row: Muizzu says Maldives won't be bullied

January 14, 2024

After coming back from a visit to China, Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu struck a defiant tone in the ongoing row with India and decried attempts to "bully" his nation.

Mohamed Muizzu
Muizzu, who accused his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by aligning with India, was elected on an "India Out" platformImage: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu asserted his country's independence amid fraying relations with India, as the island nation seeks closer ties with Beijing.

"We may be small but that doesn't give you the license to bully us," President Muizzu told the media after returning from  a visit to China on Saturday, in an apparent reference to the recent diplomatic row between the Maldives and its neighbor, India

"We are not a country that is in the backyard of another country." he said.

What caused the rift with India?

The Maldives has a population of around 520,000 and includes a total of 1,192 islands off India's southern coast, though most of them are uninhabited. It is a popular choice for Indian tourists.

Last week, three Maldivian government deputy ministers posted derogatory comments about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on X, formerly Twitter, reacting to his visit to the Indian archipelago of Lakshadweep.

Some perceived Modi's praise of Lakshadweep's natural beauty as an attempt to draw tourists away from the Maldives. In their online posts, the Youth Ministry officials had called Modi a "clown," a "terrorist," and a "puppet of Israel." The Muslim-majority Maldives has previously condemned Israel's actions in Gaza.

The insults directed at Modi sparked an immediate condemnation in India with many celebrities and ordinary Indians urging a boycott of island nation online.

Muizzu's administration reacted by suspending the three deputy ministers and released a statement emphasizing that the remarks on Modi did not reflect government policy.

On Monday, India summoned the Maldivian ambassador, while the Indian envoy went to the Maldivian foreign ministry for a "pre-arranged” meeting.

Muizzu's 'India Out' campaign

President Muizzu, who accused his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by aligning with India, was elected in September on an "India Out" platform.

The Maldivian president followed up on his election promise to cultivate strong ties with China by going to Beijing and meeting President Xi Jinping. 

According to Chinese state media, Beijing pledged to extend funding for infrastructure in the Maldives, as well as health care and agriculture, among other sectors.

President Xi also offered to support "the Maldives firmly in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national dignity", China's state news agency Xinhua said.

Indians make up around 11% of total visitors to the archipelago.  — would impact the economy of Maldives, Muizzu plans to offset this by doubling the number of Chinese tourists.

Malé also announced plans to reduce the Maldives' dependency on India, including expanding health care to Thailand and UAE, importing staples from Turkey and medicines from Europe, and the US.

Rising sea levels threaten to render Maldives uninhabitable

ss/dj (AP, Reuters)