China has firmly rejected claims suggesting its influence over the Maldivian government’s decision to request the withdrawal of Indian troops. This move by the Maldives, set against a complex geopolitical backdrop, has brought into focus the intricate dance of diplomatic relations involving major regional powers.

President Dr Mohamed Muizzu’s request for India to withdraw its 88 military personnel from the Maldives by March 15 has stirred considerable speculation within the Indo-Pacific region. This request, articulated during the first meeting of the India-Maldives High-Level Core Group, aligns with President Muizzu’s campaign pledge to end foreign military presence in the country.

Amidst rising conjectures, particularly in Indian circles, about China’s possible role in this decision, the state-affiliated China Daily issued a strong rebuttal. The publication, known for its ties with the Chinese Communist Party, emphasised that the Maldives’ actions were not influenced by Beijing. It highlighted President Muizzu’s independent stance on ensuring a foreign military-free Maldivian territory.

This clarification from China Daily comes in the wake of President Muizzu’s state visit to China, which had fuelled further speculations. The editorial in the Chinese newspaper suggested that the Maldivian leader’s decision was influenced more by a desire to assert national sovereignty and reduce dependence on India, rather than external pressures from Beijing.

The article further shed light on the Maldives’ evolving relationship with China, mentioning commitments from China to support Maldivian priorities, including tourism and people-to-people exchanges. The paper also pointed out the historical dependence of the Maldives on India for essentials like rice, vegetables, and medicines, framing it as a contributor to a perceived “colonialist mentality” from New Delhi.

In parallel, the Maldivian government has been actively countering allegations of clandestine military agreements with China, particularly concerning Makunudhoo Island. The administration reaffirmed that no such agreement was made during the President’s recent visit to China, where several Memoranda of Understanding were signed focusing on development and bilateral cooperation.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs acknowledged the troop withdrawal discussion, underscoring ongoing cooperation in various domains, including humanitarian services. Both India and the Maldives have expressed a willingness to expedite the withdrawal process while maintaining strong bilateral ties.