The Maldives’ decision to refrain from participating in the sixth NSA-level meeting of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) in Mauritius has sparked questions over the country’s commitment to regional security cooperation mechanism. The meeting, which saw the participation of National Security Advisors (NSAs) from India, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka, along with delegates from the Seychelles and Bangladesh as observers, aimed to address the pressing security challenges in the Indian Ocean region.

The CSC, a collaborative platform involving India, the Maldives, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka, was conceived out of trilateral meetings between NSAs and Deputy NSAs from India, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka, commencing in 2011. The dialogue was instituted as an India-led initiative to bolster security cooperation, particularly in light of China’s expanding influence and presence in the Indian Ocean.

Media reports in India characterised the Maldives’ absence at the Mauritius meeting held on Thursday as a sign of the new government’s foreign policy shift towards countries like China and Turkey, and a recalibration of its ties with India. This also coincides with President Mohamed Muizzu’s request for India to withdraw its troops from the Maldives, which was one of his key electoral pledges.

The development occurred on the same day when the Maldives’ Vice President Hussain Mohamed Latheef was in China for the meeting of the ‘China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation,’ organised by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), Indian news outlets WION and The Wire reported. According to the reports, the Maldives skipped the CSC meeting in favour of the forum in China.

Despite its non-participation at the recent meeting, the Maldives had previously attended the 6th Deputy National Security Adviser level meeting held on 7 July 2022 in Kochi, India. It also joined the 7th Deputy National Security Adviser level meeting virtually on 12 July 2023, according to the President’s Office.

Initially convened as the Trilateral for Maritime Security Cooperation in 2011, the CSC was suspended between 2014 and 2020 due to strained relations between India and the Maldives’ then-President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Since its revival and rebranding as the CSC in 2020, Mauritius has been added as a member of the grouping, with Bangladesh and the Seychelles as observers. A secretariat for the group was established in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2021.

The CSC’s mandate encompasses maritime security, counter-terrorism measures, and cybersecurity. It offers India a platform to address its strategic concerns in the Indian Ocean while simultaneously providing the island and littoral nations with an avenue to tackle their unique challenges.