The President of Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu and first lady Sajidha Mohamed departed for China on January 7, 2024 marking the beginning of state visit at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The trip comes against the backdrop with a diplomatic row with India, the closest neighbor of the island nation and a significant source of tourism.
Muizzu Visit to Beijing
Xi will host a welcome ceremony and a welcome banquet to Muizzu during his visit from January 8 to January 12, 2024. They will sign several agreements to further bolster their bilateral ties. They will hold talks and attend the signing ceremony of cooperation documents. Premier Li Qiang and the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress Zhao Leji will meet with President Muizzu. Maldives is also involved in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This will be the Muizzu’s first state visit abroad.
An international media agency said in its editorial that both China and Maldives attached great importance to the visits and the two countries are expected to reach a series of cooperative agreements in the field of politics, economy, culture and green development.
“China and Maldives boast time honored friendship. In the past 52 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the two countries have treated each other with respect and supported each other, setting a fine example of equality and mutual benefits bet wen countries of different sizes, the spokesperson said.
The Diplomatic Row
India, a crucial ally, contributes significantly to the Maldivian government economy by tourism while Indians forming the largest group of tourists to the island nation. However, relations between the two countries have been strained after Mohamed Muizzu won the elections and came to power in November 2023. The president has been perceived as pro-Chinese and his election campaign included promises to remove the small contingent of Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives.
President Muizzu, who gained power riding out his “Out India Campaign” suspended three deputy ministers Malsa Sharif, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdullah Mahzoon following derogatory comments posed on social media platform X, in response to PM Modi’s promotion of the Lakshadweep Islands archipelago for tourism.
The primary reason of criticism stemmed from the fact that PM Modi was trying to project the Union Territory as an alternative tourist destination to Maldives. In response to the social media comments, the Maldives Foreign Ministry said: “The government of Maldives is aware of the derogatory remarks on the social media platform against foreign leaders and high-ranking individuals. The opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the government of Maldives.
Impact on Indians
Some prominent Indians such as Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, cricketer Hardik Pandya expressed their dismay at the comments made by the now suspended ministers of the Maldives government. In a campaign to promote local tourism renowned persons like Sachin Tendulkar and Salman Khan have urged people to visit their own islands rather than go abroad. Many Indians are cancelling their trips and visits to the island nation after the diplomatic row.