In the latest snub to New Delhi by President Abdulla Yameen’s China-backed government, the Maldives has asked India to withdraw its military helicopters and personnel posted there which India has been providing them for decades. The message was conveyed by the country’s ambassador in India, Ahmed Mohamed, following the expiry of an agreement in June.
The Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, is considered a backyard of India. However, in recent years, China has moved in and started building roads, bridges, and a bigger airport backed by loans, upstaging India which has been the country’s prime provider of military and civilian aid for decades.
The Maldives’ ambassador reportedly told that two military helicopters provided by India were mainly used for medical evacuations but were no longer required as the islands had built up enough resources of its own. He said:
“They were very useful in the past but with the development of adequate infrastructure, facilities and resources we are now in a position to handle medical evacuations on our own.”
It is said that along with the helicopters, India had stationed around 50 military personnel, including pilots and maintenance crew. While their visas had expired, India has not yet withdrawn them from the island chain and the foreign ministry is said to be handling the situation.
Meanwhile, India has opposed president Yameen’s crackdown on political rivals and the imposition of an emergency in February 2018. Some of his rivals have called on New Delhi for military intervention at that time.
India has been demanding that Yameen free political rivals, including former President Abdul Gayoom and Supreme Court justices. It also criticised Yameen’s decision to hold elections in September saying the rule of law should be restored before embarking on such an exercise.
Providing helicopters, patrol boats and satellite assistance to countries such as the Maldives, Mauritius, and Seychelles has been part of India’s naval diplomacy to retain influence in the Indian Ocean.
However, China has opened an embassy in the Maldives in 2011 and has rapidly built ties with the tropical island chain as part of its Belt and Road Initiative and said that it is opposed to any country interfering in the internal affairs of the Maldives. It is reportedly said that the Maldives has also given the Chinese a few islands to develop and its president Yameen has invited China to do a lot of infrastructure building.