Hardeep Singh

Why China benefits from the Maldives’ spat with India

President of the Maldives Mohamed Muizzu (Credit: Getty images)

Think of the Maldives and you’re likely to conjure up images of expensive honeymoons and golden beaches, but the archipelago is also the focus of an extraordinary spat with India. The Maldives’ high commissioner was summoned by the Indian government last week after three Maldivian deputy ministers published derogatory posts on X/ Twitter, labelling Indian prime minister Narendra Modi a ‘terrorist’, ‘clown’ and ‘puppet of Israel’. One message even compared India to cow dung.

The fallout from this imbroglio has been swift. The trio were suspended and the posts have now been deleted. But India is furious: the hashtags #BoycottMaldives and #ExploreIndianIslands have been trending and there have been reports of a significant drop in holiday bookings. One of India’s largest travel platforms has even suspended flights to the islands ‘indefinitely’. For the tourism-dependent Maldives, the backlash is likely to cost many millions.

It is becoming obvious that India will struggle to match China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean

Indians, along with Russians, have historically been among the largest contingent of tourists to the Maldives: last year, around 209,000 Indians visited the islands. But now that trend could well change. High-profile Bollywood stars waded into the row, promoting Lakshadweep (an Indian archipelago) as an alternative holiday destination. This is ironic, considering it was Modi’s posts promoting Lakshadweep on X that triggered the offending Maldivian posts in the first instance. But there is more to all this than a mere spat on social media.

The tensions leading up to the row have been simmering in the background ever since November’s Maldivian elections. The victor, president Mohamed Muizzu, campaigned on an ‘India out’ message promising to banish the 75 Indian troops currently stationed on the island and rebalance the archipelago’s trade relations. Soon after winning he said: ‘We don’t want any foreign military boots on Maldivian soil… I promised this to the people of the Maldives and I will live up to my promise from day one’.

His comments marked a stark contrast to those of Muizzu’s predecessor, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who maintained close diplomatic ties with Modi’s India during his five-year tenure.

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