February 24, 2024

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Maldives orders Indian forces to withdraw to China

NEW DELHI – The Maldives has asked India to withdraw its troops by March 15, media in the island nation reported on Sunday, as a weeks-long spat escalated across social media over India and China's struggle for influence in India. Ocean.

For years, India, a regional power, has deployed about 80 military personnel, ships and aircraft in the Maldives to carry out surveillance and rescue operations. Relations between India and the Maldives have been tense since Mohamed Moizo became president of the Maldives in November after a tense election campaign in which he promised to push “India abroad” if he wins.

The Maldivian delegation proposed the March 15 deadline during the first meeting between high-level representatives of the Indian and Maldivian governments in Male on Sunday, according to local media citing senior officials in Moiso's office.

Official statements issued by the two countries after the meeting did not mention a deadline, but the Maldives Foreign Ministry said, “Both sides expressed their willingness to intensify cooperation and agreed to accelerate the withdrawal of Indian military personnel.”

India's statement said they were seeking “a mutually workable solution to enable the continued operation of Indian aviation platforms providing humanitarian and medical services to the people of the Maldives.”

The latest development marks a new low in relations between India and the Maldives after decades of close cooperation. In 1988, the Indian Army thwarted an attempted coup in the Maldives and rescued the then president in one of the most famous operations in Indian military history.

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Now, the small country, with a population of just over half a million, has become the latest site in the geopolitical competition between India and China, two Asian giants who are also vying for influence in Sri Lanka, another island nation.

During his campaign, Moiso vowed to expel the Indian army. He visited China on January 8 in his first state visit, in a departure from tradition. Historically, every democratically elected President of the Maldives has chosen India as their first state visit abroad as a recognition of the close relations between the two countries. India is its second largest trading partner and sends the largest number of foreign tourists to its many scenic islands.

in Joint statement In an announcement issued on Thursday during Moizu's visit, China extended its support to the Maldives “to uphold its national sovereignty, independence and national dignity.” About 20 agreements were signed between the two countries over five days, and the visit raised concerns in India about Moiso's tilt toward Beijing.

The Indian military presence in the Maldives became a bone of contention between the two countries in 2018 as well. But tensions faded after the change of Maldivian leadership at that time.

On Saturday, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar stressed the importance of tensions between the two countries and blamed internal politics for the prevailing anti-India sentiment in the Maldives.

“The people of this country generally have good feelings towards India and realize the importance of good relations,” he said.

Diplomatic tensions have been inflamed through social media. Last week, Indian nationalist social media accounts called for a boycott of the Maldives as a tourist destination after three deputy ministers in Moiso's government made disparaging remarks about India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on X, formerly known as Twitter. At least one Indian travel company has suspended bookings to the Maldives following the controversy.

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“We have put nation first over business,” said Prashant Betty, co-founder of Indian online travel booking company EaseMyTrip. television interview. This is a proxy war between India and China. “And those insulting remarks were part of this.”

The Maldives government immediately suspended the three ministers and distanced itself from their statements. But on social media, many Indian celebrities continued calls for a boycott and used the hashtag “#ExploreIndianIslands” in posts asking fellow Indians to visit Indian islands like Lakshadweep instead.

This controversy prompted Mwizo to speak out against attempts to “bully” his country, without mentioning India by name.

Jerry Shih contributed to this report.