President Dr Mohamed Muizzu, accompanied by First Lady Sajidha Mohamed, will undertake a state visit to China from 7 to 12 January, on an invitation extended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the President’s Office announced on Thursday.

This is the first state visit by President Muizzu, who earlier undertook his maiden visit abroad to Türkiye and UAE on an official capacity. 

Critics have observed that President Muizzu is realigning the nation’s international relations, with recent actions hinting at a closer alignment with China. This change, marked by the President’s upcoming state visit to China, deviates from the traditional first visit to India, signaling a nuanced but notable shift in the Maldives’ diplomatic strategy.

Under the new administration, the Maldives has initiated steps to remove Indian troops from its territory, a move reflective of President Muizzu’s commitment to national sovereignty. This policy decision aligns with his electoral promise and responds to domestic political dynamics, particularly public sentiment against foreign military presence on Maldivian soil.

While indicating a lean towards China, President Muizzu maintains a “Pro-Maldives” stance, striving to balance major power influences. The recalibration of the Maldives-India relationship, marked by the non-renewal of a hydrography agreement and the removal of Indian troops, potentially opens avenues for increased Chinese involvement, especially given the historical context of infrastructure projects and financial support from China.

China’s readiness to provide assistance and cooperation in various fields was highlighted during President Muizzu’s meeting with Chinese First Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang. This meeting underscored China’s role as a significant development partner and its willingness to strengthen bilateral relations with the Maldives.

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 an earlier interview with the BBC.

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.