Maldives Changing Relationship with India and China

India and Maldives had enjoyed historical and cultural ties for decades. India was the country to establish diplomatic relations with Maldives post its independence.

Recently Maldives President Mohammed Muizzu came to India to attend the swearing in ceremony of Prime minister Narendra Modi this comes after withdrawal of 75 Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives and replaced them with civilian employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and doing away with the tradition of visiting India first before other countries, instead choosing to visit Turkey post victory. Skirmishes grew post Indian Prime Minister visit to Indian Archipelago Lakshadweep. President Muizzu’s visit shows possibility of great partnership in coming times.


India and Maldives had enjoyed historical and cultural ties for decades. India was the country to establish diplomatic relations with Maldives post its independence.  Their relations underwent a change post Yameen’s formation of government, under Yameen government, Chinese ties with Maldives expanded  in terms of infrastructural, airport development and relocation of major port.When we talk of China, Maldives comes as really significant player  to position  itself right in the heart of Indian ocean. The strain in relations was resolved with the coming of president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who had a positive attitude when it came to engagement with India. During his tenure he ensured to immerse himself behind the task of clearing up the damage in ties under the previous government. Under his regime two countries signed four agreements namely- Facilitation of Visa agreement, The memorandum of Understanding on cultural cooperation, The memorandum of understanding for establishing mutual cooperation to improve ecosystem for Agria business and joint declaration of intent on cooperation in the field of information and communication technology and electronics.


Maldives is important to India to counter China’s string of pearl strategy. String of pearls strategy of China is to increase its presence in the Indian ocean, which can pose a threat to India’s national security. Strengthening bilateral relations with Maldives can help India to counter China’s growing presence in the Indian ocean region. Maldives, comes to advance maritime security, by countering piracy and ensuring smooth maritime trade. This is possible as Maldives act as, toll gate between major choke points like strait of Hormuz, gulf of Aden and strait of Malacca. Island nation can also be  a launch pad for the terror outfits, so keeping warm relations can help India to ensure its national security. Maldives is a member of SAARC, for smooth functioning of the institution, engagement with the Maldives comes as crucial. India considers Maldives as a natural ally in the Indian Ocean region. As maritime economic activity has risen in the Indian ocean, geopolitical competition has also increased and Maldives  play a key role in  that geopolitical competition  in terms of its geography. The Indian ocean is significant in terms of global trade and Maldives stands as a toll gate for the same.


 India has been providing security architecture to Maldives since decades. To exemplify the same, operation cactus in the year 1987. To strengthen defence relationship, in the year 2016, a comprehensive action plan for defence was signed between both the countries. In the year 2021, a defence line of credit agreement worth 50 million dollars was signed between both the countries. An agreement was also signed to maintain a Maldives national defence force coast guard harbour. Maldives is also part of India- Sri Lanka – Maldives security trilateral arrangement. India has also maintained many institutions in Maldives like Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Faculty of Engineering Technology and National college for law enforcement. There are a number of projects implemented on various lines of credit like the Addu Development project, water and sanitation in 34 islands and Gulhifalhu port project. Both the countries signed a trade agreement in 1981. India also comes as the largest trade partner of Maldives in the year 2022. State bank of India, played a vital role in the development of Maldives, by providing assistance for export of marine products, loan assistance for setting up business enterprises and promotion of island resorts. India also introduced the Rupay card in Maldives. India also came as the first country to assist Maldives in the 2004 Tsunami. During pandemic times, 6.2 tonnes of medical supplies were provided to Maldives under operation Sanjeevani. India provided several scholarships to Maldivian students. Several Maldivian diplomats have received training in India under Indian foreign service institute’s professional course for foreign diplomats. India and Maldives have constantly supported each other on different multilateral platforms like the UN, Commonwealth, NAM and SAARC. In the recent visit India has extended budgetary support of 50 million dollar to Maldives.The support is in the form of roll over of 50 million dollar treasury bill for an additional year with the help of state bank of India from May 13, 2024. This initiative shows India comes as significant support for the island nation.


China and Maldives relations are facing a historic opportunity to carry forward the past and move ahead in future. During Muizzu’s recent meeting with president Xi, the newly elected president looks forward to expanding its new channel of cooperation and high quality partnership when it comes to belt and road initiative. Two governments agreed to cooperate in areas like blue economy, digital economy, infrastructural projects like BRI and disaster and risk mitigation. Both the countries have agreed for greater strategic cooperation this week, meanwhile China firmly opposes any external interference in its relations with Maldives. China recently, gifted 1,500 tonnes of water from Tibetan glaciers to Maldives, for use during drinking shortage.

 China’s maritime actions are motivated by a variety of issues, including its strong reliance on resources from the Middle East and Africa, its commercial and resource interests, diplomatic considerations, military and security concerns, and more. China wants to weaken the cohesion and might of India’s regional alliances by extending its influence from the East Sea to the Indian Ocean. China has expanded trade and diplomatic ties with a number of nations, notably the Maldives, in order to secure energy routes through these regions. One major reason for Maldives tilt towards China is its 70% of debt to China, foregoing this debt may force the country to make concessions with its sovereignty

Maldives growing tilt towards China, hurts India’s geopolitical interests and Washington Indo pacific strategy. Maldives tilt brings the Indian ocean as an area of immediate concern for both India and US. India’s small neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives face the dilemma of big brother, who can act as generous and heavy handed depending on circumstances. Too much reliance on China comes with its own setbacks as there exists an apprehension of falling into debt trap like Sri Lanka and the potential for corruption in Chinese projects. Maldives is already owing debt trap to China worth 1.3 billion dollar.Muizzu coalition partner and the former president Abdullah Yameen faced backlash for his tilt towards China.It was during his leadership that Maldives became part of China belt and road initiative.


According to statistics from Maldivian tourism ministry, Indians were the top source of tourists for four years. Last year more than two lakh Indian tourists visited Maldives  which is more than that of  tourists from Russia and China. The tourism sector is very important for Maldives considering its contribution to overall GDP. There are flights between both the countries, which too can get impacted with changing relations between both the countries.


India and Maldives have shared a good bond in Solih’s tenure .During covid period, Government of India came with Vaccine Maitri to deliver vaccines to the allies. Muizzu victory and its growing tilt to China with time needs to be addressed considering it implication in the form of dominance of China in IOR.In the meantime. President Muizzu recent visit to India shows a friendly gesture which should be taken ahead.In coming times, India should prioritise diplomatic engagement, economic collaboration, and security partnerships in order to deepen its ties with the Maldives and reduce China’s influence. In order to preserve a proactive posture, protect its national interests, and reduce threats to regional security, India must also strengthen its defence cooperation with key security allies including the US, Australia, Japan, and ASEAN nations.

Julia Jose
Julia Jose
My name is Julia Jose,I graduated from University of Delhi in Political Science[ hons] and completed my post graduation from Central University of Gujarat in Politics and International relations.I worked as Research intern in MP-IDSA and presently Research intern in ICWA.