Chinese forces will not replace Indian troops, Maldives leader Mohamed Muizzu says

“We are going to work together with all the countries, India, China and all other countries as well,” the 45-year-old leader, who will be sworn in on Friday, said at his home in the capital Male.
Known for its pristine beaches and secluded resorts as one of the most expensive holiday destinations in South Asia, the Maldives has also become a geopolitical hotspot.

Pro-China candidate wins Maldives presidency

Global east-west shipping lanes pass the nation’s chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands, scattered around 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.

Muizzu was regarded as a proxy of pro-China former president Abdulla Yameen, who had shifted the country heavily into Beijing’s orbit till his 2018 defeat.

Muizzu said he hoped to begin formal negotiations with New Delhi on the withdrawal of an estimated 50 to 75 Indian personnel, a sensitive campaign issue.

“The people of the Maldives did not vote for me to allow any military presence in the Maldives,” the British-educated civil engineer added.

“That is why we are talking with the Indian government to remove them, and I’m sure we can do that in a peaceful and democratic manner.”

I’m not asking for the Indian troops to leave our country to make room for any other country to bring their military troops here

Mohamed Muizzu, Maldives incoming president

Muizzu said his mandate was to remove a unit of Indian security personnel, deployed to operate three aircraft gifted to the Maldives to patrol its vast maritime territory.

“I’m not asking for the Indian troops to leave our country to make room for any other country to bring their military troops here,” he said.

Regional power India had considered the Maldives with its population of about 380,000 Sunni Muslims to be within its sphere of influence, but had been worried about China’s expanding footprint during Yameen’s administration.

New Delhi has a history of entanglements with Male, including the deployment of soldiers to thwart a 1988 coup attempt.

Mohamed Muizzu will take over as Maldives president on Friday. Photo: AFP

“For the Maldives, it is very important that we put our interests first … also we want to work together with all the countries, have a good friendly relationship, cordial, candid relationship,” Muizzu said.

The party nominated Muizzu after Yameen was barred from running for office following a criminal conviction of corruption during his five-year term when the country saw a spurt of Chinese-funded construction.

Muizzu, a former housing minister, is credited with implementing Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, including the construction of 7,000 flats and a landmark bridge linking the capital island Male with the nearby airport island of Hulhule.

“We are situated in a very strategic location, in which many of the sea lanes of communication go across our country,” he said, adding that he was inviting foreign investment to develop ports and logistics as well as set up a tax-free zone.

‘India out’, ‘China in’ under new Maldives president? Not so fast

Muizzu said he was banking on completing the ambitious expansion of the international airport, in a bid to jump-start an economy that was hit by heavy debt and a decline in tourism during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He was hopeful of filling “funding gaps” for the nearly US$1 billion expansion of the Velana International Airport, which he sees as a gateway to attracting more foreign direct investment.

But the country’s public and government-guaranteed debt was about US$7 billion, or 113.5 per cent of GDP at the end of last year, according to official data.

“When we look at the economy, there’s a huge debt that needs to be addressed. The level of confidence of investors to come and invest in Maldives is really low,” Muizzu said.

He said he was keen on expanding ports and harbour-related services to increase domestic earnings, while also looking for debt-free financing for his ambitious economic expansion plans.

Mohamed Muizzu describes himself as “pro-Maldives” Photo: AFP

In addition, Muizzu said he was seeking up to US$500 million in international funding to protect beaches and coral as warming and rising waters threaten his low-lying nation.

Eighty per cent of the Maldives is less than a metre (three feet) above sea level, making it one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels linked to climate change.

The president-elect quoted a report that said 60 per cent of corals had been bleached by rising water temperatures.

“Every coral has value, every waterway that is contaminated has a value,” he said, insisting his country must be compensated for “every fish that dies due to global warming”.

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