Mohamed Muizzu, the President of the Maldives, has been claiming that his country’s sovereignty is being violated by India’s so-called military presence on its soil of 77 personnel operating a couple of Dornier aircraft for humanitarian purposes. However, now he is not even pretending to be the head of a sovereign, independent nation when accepting China’s overlordship. He has firmly ensconced himself in the lap of Beijing and the latest manifestation of this is the Chinese spy ship Xiang Yang Hong 3 racing towards the Maldives for docking, so that it can carry out a hydrographic survey of the ocean bed surrounding the archipelago. The research activity of the ship is actually about gathering data on ocean conditions for the movement of Chinese submarines. Sri Lanka refused the docking of the submarine, keeping India’s strategic and security concerns on mind, so now the ship will dock in the Maldives.
This is a case of Muizzu brazenly ignoring India’s unhappiness with such a major security threat in its immediate neighbourhood. For the man who has come to power because of a China-inspired “India Out” campaign, this could be another means to ensure that his party performs well in the upcoming parliamentary elections, at a time when the pro-India Opposition has the majority in the Maldivian Parliament. His strident anti-India stance and his ministers’ all-out attack on India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have resulted in a backlash from Indians, that may hurt Maldives’ tourism economy, which is one of the main revenue pillars of that country.
Indians comprise 11% of Maldives’ tourist footfalls and Chinese tourists have to more than double their presence in the Maldives—a statistical impossibility—to compensate for the loss of Indian tourists. This has made Maldives’ travel and tourism industry unhappy, and it is possible that this was the primary reason why Muizzu’s candidate lost capital city Male’s mayoral election to the Opposition in less than two months of Muizzu being elected President. Muizzu was Mayor of Male before being elected President, and the defeat was a major loss of face for him. Maldives has a minuscule population of 5 lakh, out of which over 2 lakh stay in Male, so in a way the mayoral election was a verdict of sorts on Muizzu’s tenure as President, during which, all that he has done is to heckle India, while ingratiating himself to China. No wonder the Opposition is now baying for his blood and introducing an impeachment resolution against him. It is not every day that a popularly elected leader faces an impeachment move inside three months of winning an election.
But that Muizzu has made an impossible possible, proves his unbridled tilt towards China, without any thought for the possible consequences. The brawl that Maldivian Parliament witnessed this week, where Muizzu’s party representatives physically attacked Opposition members—who are in a majority there—for not approving four ministers to Muizzu’s Cabinet, could be the portent of things to come. It is unlikely that Muizzu, China’s man in Male, would abide by the Constitution if impeached. In fact, China too would not like him to step down. Hence, Maldives, could be staring at a loss of democracy cheered on by a totalitarian Communist Party of China.
In the Maldivian public’s perception, China does not impact their daily lives—yet. China will become a factor when the Chinese debt trap that Maldives is falling into, starts haunting them. For an economy of the size of a measly $6 billion, Maldives owes China as much as $1.3 billion and counting. In India’s neighbourhood, both Sri Lanka and Pakistan have fallen into China’s debt trap. Pakistan is now leading a hand to mouth existence, while Sri Lanka has gone belly up, and is now slowly recovering because of Indian help. India has been extending enough help to the Maldives, be it material or monetary, but none of it has come on usurious terms, unlike China’s.
In fact, if the experiences of other countries are anything to go by, even the infrastructure development that China undertakes in these countries, are actually a means to create jobs for the Chinese population. The local population is not on China’s radar. China is as self-centred as any country can be, and even if it comes with a benevolent face of providing aid or building infrastructure, it always shows its fangs, to the extent that it starts controlling both the policy and resources of the vassal state. And that is what Maldives is becoming—China’s vassal state, paying tributary to the mainland.
Compounding Maldives’ economic problems is the strong Wahhabi streak in a country which holds the dubious distinction of providing the highest per capita foreign terrorists to ISIS. It seems that Muizzu, with China’s help, tapped into the radicalised section of the Maldivian population to incite the rest of the people into believing that India was a threat to their sovereignty. Muizzu’s hatred for India has religious overtones. But the problem of hobnobbing with radicals is that they will soon try to control government policy. Maldives has already banned Christmas, and let a yoga festival be disrupted. How long before such moves escalate and then start impacting tourist arrivals to the Maldives, including Chinese tourists? Now that Muizzu is the latest entrant to the Sino-Wahhabi alliance, New Delhi needs to get tough with Male and make it clear to Muizzu and Co that India will not allow its interests to be compromised in its own backyard.