Maldives signs defence pact with China; India starts pulling troops out

Days after a technical team from India arrived in the Maldives, to replace troops that President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu wanted to be removed, the Maldivian Defence Ministry announced signing of a defence pact with China.

Maldives’s Minister of Defence Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon and Major General Zhang Baoqun, Deputy Director at China’s Office for International Military Cooperation, signed an agreement on “China’s provision of military assistance gratis to the Republic of Maldives, fostering stronger bilateral ties”, the Maldivian Defence Ministry said.

The two sides also held bilateral talks on military cooperation.

The Ministry’s post on social media platform ‘X’ did not mention details of what the agreement entails.

Further, China donated 12 green ambulances to the Maldives’s Health Ministry.

The development is in line with the two countries agreeing to “elevate” China-Maldives relations to a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership”, during Mr. Muizzu’s five-day state visit to China in January this year. 

Maldivian Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer posted on X, “Delighted to host the China EXIM Bank delegation, and the Chinese military delegation for lunch today.

We had fruitful discussions on bolstering our economic and security partnerships between the two countries. Looking forward to continued collaboration.”

It also coincides with India’s apparent compromise with Male, agreeing to withdraw its troops stationed in the island nation, instead replacing them with a technical team to help operate India-gifted aircraft.

The decision was made amid Mr. Muizzu’s persistent calls for the removal of Indian troops, a campaign promise-turned-official pledge made by the leader.

Following bilateral discussions between a high-level core group, the two sides in early February reached a consensus on Indian troops leaving the Indian Ocean archipelago by May 10, 2024, in phases.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s recent comments at an event in New Delhi, where he said: “big bullies don’t provide USD 4.5 billion in aid when the neighbours are in trouble,” referring to Indian assistance to Sri Lanka during its crisis in 2022, have drawn wide attention in the Maldives. 

Interpreting it as a “swipe at” Mr. Muizzu, several Maldivian media outlets reported the remarks, linking them to Mr. Muizzu’s media comments soon after his return from China in January.

Interpreting it as a “swipe at” Mr. Muizzu, the statement has been reported widely by Maldivian media, which linked Mr. Jaishankar’s remarks to Mr. Muizzu’s comments to local media soon after his return from China in January.

“Maldives may be small, but that doesn’t  give others the licence to bully the country,” Mr. Muizzu had said. 

During his China visit, the Maldivian leader also urged Chinese travelers to reclaim their top spot in tourist arrivals to the island nation.

India was the largest source market last year, but has since moved to the sixth spot, following the “boycott Maldives” campaign that went viral on Indian social media earlier this year.

According to the Maldivian Tourism Ministry’s latest figures, China accounts for 12.8 % of the total number of visitors — 4,31,002 as of March 3 — recorded in 2024, while India accounts for 6.4 %. 

Earlier this year, Beijing said “The relations between China and the Maldives now stand at a new historical starting point.”