As President-elect Dr Mohamed Muizzu prepares to assume office on 17 November, he has provided further insight into his approach towards the Maldives’ complex foreign policy issues. In a recent interview with the BBC, Muizzu clarified his stance on the nation’s relationships with India and China, major geopolitical players with vested interests in the region.

“Maldives is too small to get entangled with this global power struggle. We will not get entangled into this,” Muizzu told the BBC. He went on to elaborate on the sensitive issue of the presence of Indian military personnel in the Maldives, stating, “Maldivians do not want soldiers of any foreign country on Maldivian soil. That’s why Indian soldiers allegedly based here need to be removed.”

Approximately 75 Indian personnel are currently stationed in the Maldives, operating two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft donated by the Indian military. While the government refers to these individuals as humanitarian service providers, their presence has generated domestic controversy, especially considering the escalating tensions between India and China.

Muizzu confirmed in his BBC interview his intent to take action: “I will do my part to fulfill my promise to the public from day one.” He highlighted the need to review and possibly disclose defence agreements made with India. “We don’t know what’s in there. Even in parliament, some of the MPs during the debates said that they didn’t know what’s in there. I am sure we will find it out.”

During Muizzu’s tenure as Housing Minister under a previous government led by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the country fostered close ties with China, engaging in large infrastructure projects funded by Chinese loans. Despite this history and the media often labelling him as ‘pro-China,’ Muizzu has distanced himself from such characterisations. “I am pro-Maldives, and for me, Maldives comes first always. Maldivian independence comes first, and I am not for or against any country,” he clarified in the BBC interview.

In a diplomatic move that perhaps epitomises his ‘pro-Maldives’ stance, Muizzu’s first meeting with a foreign diplomat was not with representatives from China or India, but rather with the British High Commissioner. He has also indicated that his government aims to build diverse international partnerships, including with countries in the West and the Middle East.

According to Aazim Zahir, a lecturer of International Relations and Politics at the University of Western Australia, any major downgrade in relations with India and the West is unlikely. “Maldives will unlikely substantively downgrade its relationship with India and the West, despite the nationalist rhetoric,” Zahir notes.