President Mohamed Muizzu has issued a firm rebuke towards India amid growing diplomatic tensions, asserting that Maldives’s small size does not give any nation the right to bully it.

This statement was made during a press briefing at the Velana International Airport following his return from a state visit to China, where he sought alternatives to the Maldives’ longstanding reliance on India.

President Muizzu’s visit to China, which coincided with a diplomatic rift with India, has been pivotal. He underscored the decision to diversify the Maldives’ reliance, particularly in areas of emergency medical services, food security, and pharmaceutical imports. 

Notably, from 1 March, the national carrier’s air ambulance will replace Indian aircraft in emergency operations. The president also announced agreements with China for sustainable food security and with Türkiye for food staples importation. Additionally, the government plans to commence importing pharmaceuticals directly from Europe and the United States, aiming to reduce dependence on Indian imports.

China, during President Muizzu’s visit, reaffirmed its support for the Maldives in safeguarding national sovereignty and dignity. A joint communique highlighted mutual support in upholding core interests, with China opposing external interference in the Maldives’ internal affairs. 

The Maldives, in turn, maintained its stance on the One China policy and opposed any actions undermining China’s sovereignty, particularly concerning Taiwan.

The bilateral discussions between Maldives and China centred on four principles: mutual respect, sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and non-interference in internal matters. President Muizzu stressed the importance of these principles in the context of the Maldives-China relations and indirectly critiqued India for its alleged interference in the Maldives’ domestic politics during previous administrations.

The diplomatic row with India has escalated recently, particularly after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video promoting tourism in Lakshadweep, seen as a direct challenge to the Maldives’ tourism industry. This was followed by controversial social media posts from Maldivian officials and a subsequent suspension of three deputy ministers. India summoned the Maldivian envoy. Tensions further escalated on social media, ultimately sparking a tourism boycott campaign against the Maldives.

President Muizzu’s administration, which came to power in November after a victory over Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, has taken notable steps in redefining its foreign policy from his predecessor’s “India-first” to a “Pro-Maldives” policy. 

This includes requesting the withdrawal of Indian troops stationed in the Maldives and notifying India of the non-renewal of a hydrography agreement. These actions reflect a significant shift in the new government’s diplomatic stance, moving away from traditional alliances and seeking new partnerships.

President Muizzu’s assertive stance encapsulates his desire for greater autonomy and diversified international relations. While the immediate future of Maldives-India relations remains uncertain, the government’s pursuit of sovereign equality and non-interference is clear.