The Wedge Between Two Giants

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In January, the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, suspended ex-Deputy Youth Minister Mariyam Shiuna for her disparaging remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The move came as Muizzu was preparing to order Indian troops to leave his archipelago nation around 300 miles south of the Indian coast, as Al Jazeera explained.

Recently, Shiuna crossed India again when she doctored a campaign poster for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, including India’s tricolor flag and the logo of Modi’s political party, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, on social media.

“I extend my sincerest apologies for any confusion or offense caused by the content of my recent post,” she wrote, according to the Indian Express. “Maldives deeply values its relationship and the mutual respect we share with India.”

The expression of regret might help improve relations between the Maldives and India, which have nosedived recently, reported Mint, an Indian publication. Maldivian voters, however, still have a chance to express their opinions about their country’s diplomatic relations with India as well as the other giant in the region seeking to influence the country – China – when they elect a new parliament on April 21.

Muizzu won office last year on a platform of ending undue Indian influence in the Maldives, saying Indian troops stationed in the country were undermining its sovereignty, explained the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. The president has also signed an agreement to accept Chinese military assistance, however, leading observers to wonder if he’s trying to play one giant off the other. The Maldives traditionally is closer diplomatically to India. The Maldivian Democratic Party criticized the agreement.

“It’s surprising Muizzu has moved so quickly to establish military ties with China, because it’s clear this would upset New Delhi,” University of Western Australia political scientist Azim Zahir told the Guardian. “This is a very new direction that will definitely escalate tensions in the region.”

If candidates from Muizzu’s ruling People’s National Congress and their allied parties win at the polls, the president might want to expand his anti-India and pro-China policies, wrote the Wire. If opposition candidates win, they might blunt his pro-Chinese pivot.

Regardless, the election won’t alter the Maldives’ biggest challenges. Citizens are flocking to the capital city of Male for employment opportunities, but the small island city is already overcrowded, reported the New York Times. The country needs massive investment to help.

Repressive policies on human rights and towards civil society groups and journalists are concerns, as is Islamic extremism, wrote StratNews Global.

At the same time, climate change, particularly rising sea levels, are also placing enormous pressure on the country. China, for example, recently donated more than one million bottles of Tibetan water to the country to help mitigate water shortages arising from salt water commingling with fresh groundwater, added WION, an Indian news outlet.

Meanwhile, while the Maldives has been a strong voice in international forums on climate-related issues, its domestic environmental policies have been more lax, wrote Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a recent report. That’s not surprising, as HRW pointed out, because President Muizzu has expressed skepticism about the threat of climate change: Instead, he wants more development of land even though these have exacerbated erosion on islands already at risk from rising sea levels.

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