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June 19, 2024

Maldives Opposition and India Voice Concerns Over Chinese Research Vessel Docking as Tensions Rise

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Jan 25, 2024

Maldives’ recent decision to allow a Chinese research vessel to dock in Male port has inflamed ongoing tensions between the Indian Ocean island nation and regional power India. Opposition parties in Maldives have criticized President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government for an increasingly “anti-India stance,” further straining relations between the two countries.

Background of Maldives-India Ties

India and Maldives have traditionally had close relations and deep people-to-people ties. India played a key role in establishing democracy in Maldives and has provided extensive financial aid over the years.

However, in recent years Maldives has shown signs of drifting from India’s orbit towards China. Former Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen forged increasingly close economic and diplomatic ties with China during his 5-year rule from 2013-2018, leading to tensions with India.

When current president Solih came to power in 2018, it was expected bilateral relations would improve. But there are now concerns that Solih’s government is also embracing tighter China links to India’s detriment.

Chinese Research Vessel Docking Triggers Row

The current controversy stems from Maldives’ decision to allow Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03 to dock at Male port on January 23.

The vessel was reportedly turned away from Sri Lanka due to security concerns but granted permission by Maldives authorities. Its stated purpose is to resupply and make crew changes, though there are worries it may conduct marine research around Indian Ocean islands.

India sees the Indian Ocean region as its strategic backyard and is deeply suspicious of increasing Chinese naval activity there. New Delhi has repeatedly warned neighbors against allowing Chinese military access, though Maldives insists the vessel visit is “not for research.”

Opposition Slams Government’s Anti-India Stance

Maldives opposition parties have strongly criticized Solih’s governing coalition over the Chinese ship visit, saying it damages traditionally strong India-Maldives relations.

The main opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) slammed the government’s “tilt towards China” and openly anti-India posturing. PPM warned of detrimental impacts on Maldives’ economy and development if close India ties deteriorate.

Other opposition figures accused the government of seeking “short term economic gains over long term sovereignty” by embracing China. There are also calls for Solih to take action against officials promoting an anti-India shift.

Party Criticism
Progressive Party of Maldives Slammed government “tilt towards China” and anti-India stance
People’s National Congress Warned allowing Chinese naval access risks “long term sovereignty”
Maldives Reform Movement Accused government figures of sacrificing national interests for Chinese funds

India Closely Monitoring Chinese Presence

The Indian government is closely tracking the Chinese research ship’s activities in the Indian Ocean. There are concerns more PLA vessels may follow to map littoral waters and naval bases.

The Indian Navy has ramped up aerial and maritime surveillance around Maldives to monitor Xiang Yang Hong 03 while docked. Naval assets are also keeping watch for other Chinese ships transiting the region.

Experts say India is unlikely to overtly protest the docking due to wishes to avoid driving Maldives further into China’s orbit. But behind the scenes New Delhi will firmly remind Male that continued coziness with Beijing comes at a cost.

Further Deterioration in Ties Likely

Many observers believe Maldives granting port access to the Chinese vessel could mark a further downturn in already strained Delhi-Male ties.

There is a perception Solih’s government is playing an “India balancing game” aimed at extracting more aid and investment from New Delhi.

But India has shown less willingness to bankroll neighbors amid growing Chinese inroads, preferring a more reciprocal partnership model in its backyard.

Continued Maldivian overtures to China against India’s strategic interests may lead New Delhi to adopt a tougher posture with sanctions or withholding aid funds as leverage.

Impacts on Upcoming Election

Maldives’ next presidential election is due in late 2023, and opposition hopes to unseat Solih and his ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.

The government’s unpopularity over its handling of the economy and the pandemic have already hampered its reelection chances. Signs of an anti-India foreign policy tilt could further drag down support.

Opposition figures are seizing the Chinese vessel controversy to attack the government’s competency and harm its prospects in the upcoming polls.

Overplaying ties with China while fruitlessly antagonizing India may prove a strategic blunder if voters see regional ties being gambled for little gain. The government will have to defuse bilateral tensions to avoid becoming embroiled in a damaging diplomatic crisis months before the election.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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