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Maldives’ new president officially requested Saturday that India withdraw its troops from the country, a move seen as an effort to bring the archipelago closer to China, the Associated Press reported.

President Mohamed Muizzu made the announcement shortly after he was sworn in. His statement also implied that withdrawing would signify India’s respect for Maldivian democracy.

Muizzu was elected in September and made the eviction of Indian military personnel a key campaign promise. He also pledged to balance trade, which was heavily in favor of India under his predecessor, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

The number of Indian soldiers in the country is unknown. Some opposition politicians even told the Times of India there were none, apart from the personnel sent to operate two helicopters that India had gifted the Maldives.

The helicopters are a delicate point as they assist Maldivian authorities with ensuring the security of tourists and tackling drug trafficking. India is also collaborating with the Maldives on a number of infrastructural projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, for which Muizzu expressed support.

The Maldives is strategically located south of India, at the crossroads of Eastern and Western trade routes. This makes it a valuable partner for India and China, which are battling for influence in the region.

Observers described the September presidential election as a referendum on which power gets to have the biggest influence in the Maldives. Muizzu’s pledge to oust India was seen as a pro-Chinese stance by international media.

His ally, former President Abdulla Yameen, made the archipelago join the Belt-and-Road Initiative during his presidency that ran from 2013 to 2018. This China-led project aims at developing infrastructures in participating states to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe, and is a crucial part of China’s geopolitical strategy.

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