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Interaction with a Media Delegation from the Maldives

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  • May 27, 2022

    A media delegation from the Maldives, accompanied by Mr. Karan Yadav, First Secretary, Embassy of India, Male, visited the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) on 27 May 2022, to have an interaction with the Institute. Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA; Maj. Gen. (Dr). Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA; Cmde. Abhay Kumar Singh (Retd.), Research Fellow; Col. Vivek Chadha (Retd.), Research Fellow; Dr. Smruti S. Pattanaik, Research Fellow; Dr. Adil Rasheed, Research Fellow; and Dr. Gulbin Sultana, Associate Fellow, enriched the discussion with their remarks and questions.

    Executive Summary

    The interactive discussion primarily centered around the following issues– India’s neighbourhood policy under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, the historical and contemporary ties between India and the Maldives, and the increasing and predatory Chinese presence in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in the littoral states.

    Detailed Report

    The event ensued with the Director General’s introductory remarks, welcoming the media delegation to the institute, where he recalled his most recent visit to their country in March 2020. He also mentioned the joint webinar organised by MP-IDSA in conjunction with the South East Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism, Kuala Lumpur, that had taken place earlier that morning, titled “Countering the Threat of Radicalisation in India and Malaysia.” He also laid out a detailed outline of MP-IDSA’s objectives, mandate, research agenda and its existing infrastructure that facilitates research in diverse areas.

    The Director General discussed the initiative he took during his stint at the National Security Council Secretariat, where exercise “Dosti,” between the coast guards of India and the Maldives was expanded to include Sri Lanka. He underlined that under Prime Minister Modi, India’s “Neighbourhood First Policy” has gained prominence, and its commitment to Maldives has remained intact. India’s policy towards Maldives is based on historic socio-cultural ties that the two countries have shared. It does not have a predatory attitude in its assistance as displayed by some other countries.

    Additionally, he emphasised how growth and prosperity have moved beyond the Asia-Pacific region to include South Asia and South-East Asia. Today, Bangladesh and, particularly the Maldives, are outperforming India in certain specific sectors. Due to its high standard of living and per capita income being higher than other countries in South Asia, the Maldives has done exceedingly well. Furthermore, it is at the confluence of vital sea channels through which a vast amount of global trade traverses. However, its dependence on tourism to generate revenue and its scattered geography have emerged as two crucial challenges for the island nation. Repatriation and rehabilitation of terrorist fighters returning from conflict zones, confronting foreign influences, and radicalisation are also some of the notable challenges it faces.

    The Director General even underscored how major powers such as the United States of America, France, and the United Kingdom, have maintained their presence in the Indo-Pacific region in several ways, including through their military presence. Today, Russians are also displaying renewed interest and are engaged in bilateral and trilateral exercises. He also emphasised that the current President of the United Nations General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, will significantly contribute to the international body due to his vast expertise and experience.

    The following points emerged from the floor during discussion.

    One of the central themes, specifically regarding growing Chinese influence, was taken up, and it was discussed whether or not that is a factor in determining the scale of India’s involvement in the region. It was concluded that India has always been focused on neighbourhood growth and prosperity irrespective of China's activities. Prime Minister Modi’s policy of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” reflects this. At the same time, one must understand that China’s rise is linked to its vast investments and is guided by its growing strategic interest. Its presence in the South Asian region contradicts its historical positioning and has only occurred over the past two decades. Therefore, China must be transparent about its investment and should not create a dependency-based relationship akin to Sri Lanka.

    While India has reservations about Chinese actions, it does whatever it can to support its neighbours to chart an alternative path, including extending lines of credit without any strings attached. It has built a hospital in Malé and is currently involved in 45 projects in the country, largely micro projects, in contrast to China which is only involved in grander projects like the airport and port development. Another difference between the Indian and Chinese involvement is that while the former promotes inclusive and holistic growth, the latter can be characterised as predatory, aggressive, and fomenting divisiveness. Moreover, instead of cooperation with other countries, China has chosen the path of isolation.

    In the western Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Chinese boats engage in illegal fishing in most months of the year. Therefore, the joint statement made by the QUAD partners in their recent summit even appealed to spread maritime awareness and halt illegal fishing, which has several ecological implications, including oil spills.

    Moreover, China’s rise in the IOR has to be understood by the factors driving its strategy. Overarching trade interests, access to Africa as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, and ambition to mine crucial resources like Cobalt embedded in the sea bed, for which it has taken acreage down south, require its presence in and control of the oceanic spheres. Maritime piracy has allowed it to establish its naval domination and follow a neo-colonial approach. It is necessary to realise that it wants to de-link from the global supply chains and create dependency of the international community on the Chinese supply chains through such initiatives, thereby shaping the world in their likeness.

    Transnational issues such as Islamist terrorism were also discussed. While this could be a challenge for India, it can become an existential threat for countries like Maldives due to the latter’s homogenous structure. As has been seen in the past, it becomes easier for non-state actors to stage a coup.

    The participants also took up the matter of “India Out” campaign, directed against India. It was concluded that it is a highly politicised campaign and does not reflect popular sentiment. The Maldivians are unconcerned with who invests in the developmental sectors as long as it benefits them. However, it is critical to analyse where such propaganda is originating from and who is funding such activities. It was also noted that India has no interest in maintaining a military presence in the island nation. Any such presence visible has always been at the behest of the Maldivian government, including in 1988, when the Indian Armed Forces thwarted a coup led by Abdullah Luthufi against the then President Abdul Gayoom. Indians came to his aid faster than the Americans, whose nearest military base, Diego Garcia, is located 1000 kilometres away, in far closer proximity.

    The session concluded with the possibility of future exchanges and a visit of the Indian delegation to the island country in the foreseeable future.

    Report prepared by Ms. Saman Ayesha Kidwai, Research Analyst, Counter-Terrorism Centre.