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Maldives: Descent into Chaos
Gaurav Kumar
2018-07-16
Region : South Asia, India, North East Asia, China, South East Asia,
Issue : Security, Democracy, Politics,
The hallmark of nearly all the recent political crisis in South Asian countries has two prominent elements in it- first, growing imprints of China; and second, cultivation of some kind of political distantiation from India. The overlapping of the two unfolding phenomenon is so distinct, that it is impossible not to conclude that one impacts the other. If Nepal and Sri Lanka are examples where we have nearly let the two countries slip out of our hands, Maldives is fast turning out to be another country where our lack of strategic direction is fast pushing it into the laps of China.
Indo-Maldivian relations
In the past, India’s engagements with Maladies have been tremendously shaped by its strategic vision for the Indian Ocean. Due to lack of any competition from any other South Asian countries, it has enjoyed unfettered dominance in the island nation. India was among the first to recognize Maldives after its independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations with the country. India is a leading development partner of Maldives and has established many of the leading institutions of Maldives. Currently, India has provided US$100 million Stand-by Credit facility (SCF) to Maldives, including long-term loans and revolving credit for trade. New Line of Credit worth US$40 million has been offered by the Government of India to Maldives. India-Maldives bilateral trade now stands at Rs.700 crores.
At the time of political crisis during the 1988 coup d'état by the Sri Lankan Tamil militants on behalf of the Maldivian businessman Abdulla Luthufi, India through its military intervention had saved the then president of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. However, relations started to deteriorate after the unofficial Chinese pivot to South Asia. The political crisis in Maldives since 2013 has only made the situation worst for India.
The events of 2018 have been of major significance for India and China. President Abdulla Yameen declared 15-days Emergency and since then has tightens his grip on power. The root of the current crisis was the Supreme Court order that declared the annulment of the anti-defection; which would have meant reinstatement of a dozen lawmakers who were unceremoniously ‘evicted’ from their seats for their earlier ‘betrayal’ for swapping sides . Seeing imminent danger, President Yameen, backed by the country’s military, declared Emergency, and later ordered the arrest of two Supreme Court judges. The top court had also overturned conviction of exiled former President Mohammad Nasheed, who is considered to be very close to India, and eight other opposition MPs in a February 1 verdict.
In a possible huge blow for pro-India forces, the Election Commission announced in May that it would reject the presidential candidacy of anyone convicted of criminal charges, effectively banning the four main opposition leaders from running for the election. The commission also threatened to dissolve the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) .
Since the declaration of Emergency, India has acted with restraint and has been forcing Maldives through diplomatic and political channels to abide by the constitution. India refrained from acting militarily, in order not to provoke China and at the same time gain time and space to analyse the short and long term impacts of the recent turmoil.
However, China had out rightly made it explicitly clear that it would be forced to act in case of any external interference, alluding to India’ military intervention. According to many analysts, in order to avoid any force projection by India during the constitutional crisis, eleven Chinese warships sailed into the East Indian Ocean in February.
Growing Chinese Footprints in Maldives
In the first week of July, the Chinese-financed project of 2-km-long China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, linking Maldives' capital Malé to the island of Hulhulé, where an international airport is located was completed. The bridge was officially launched during the Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit in 2014. The completion of bridge is only going to strengthen Chinese relations with Maldives. China is investing heavily on the infrastructure project, including the largest Chinese investment projects in an $830 million up gradation of the airport. However there is darker side to the Chinese benevolence, according to the opposition parties, these Chinese projects account for some 70 percent of the total Maldivian debt, and $92 million a year in payments to China, roughly 10 percent of the entire budget . A country with limited resources and deeply dependent on tourism sector might not be able to pay back the Chinese investment. Tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives, accounting for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. What is feared is that Maldives is in line with other South Asian economies that have been caught in the debt trap of the Chinese cheque-book diplomacy. Chinese investment portends not only economic and political crisis in Maldives, but a major security and strategic crisis in making in Indian Ocean.
India’s response till now has been limited and calculated. Recently, it has lowered the limits on export of certain commodities like potatoes, onions and eggs to Maldives. The current change dramatically reduces the quota to Maldives by more than 90% . However India has suggested that it will continue with people-to-people contact. India at the same time can build pressure on current regime with the help of other democratic countries like the EU and the western countries. European Union is expected to sanction the Maldives, following months of concern and condemnation over the worsening political and human rights situation. Similarly, Human Rights Watch has condemned action of the Maldivian government and the election commission. On July 15, mass protest was organised in Male City calling to release all the political prisoners to make the 2018 Presidential election free and fair. This is the right time for India to support democratic forces in Maldives, if it doesn’t want Maldives to turn into Chinese puppet.


End Notes:
"Maldives Presidential Election 2018, More Mirage than Real? ." Maldives Times. May 09, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://maldivestimes.com/maldives-presidential-election-2018-more-mirage-than-real-avas-mv/.
"Maldives: Opposition Candidates Barred From Election." Human Rights Watch. May 30, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/29/maldives-opposition-candidates-barred-election.

Manning, Robert A., and Bharath Gopalaswamy. "Is Abdulla Yameen Handing Over the Maldives to China?" Foreign Policy. March 21, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/03/21/is-abdulla-yameen-handing-over-the-maldives-to-china/.

"India Reduces Export Limit to Maldives, But Assures 'Strong People-to-People' Ties." News18. June 25, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://www.news18.com/news/india/india-reduces-export-limit-to-maldives-but-assures-strong-people-to-people-ties-1789567.html.

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