Speaking at the Republic Summit 2024 in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, former President and Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed made it clear that he prefers India over China concerning development aid and support for the Maldives.

Amidst a backdrop of geopolitical shifts and the nuanced dynamics of regional politics, Nasheed’s statements not only illuminate the Maldives’ foreign policy considerations but also highlight the underlying tensions with China’s approach to development assistance.

Nasheed’s remarks come at a sensitive juncture in the Maldives’ relations with India, underscoring a commitment to choosing India as a primary ally. His critical tone towards China’s development aid strategy, which he characterises as predatory lending practices leading to loss of sovereignty, contrasts sharply with his appreciation for India’s method of aid, emphasising projects with tangible impacts on citizens’ lives over grandiose infrastructural endeavours.

Addressing the controversy stirred by President Dr Mohamed Muizzu’s comments on India’s influence over Maldives, Nasheed rebuffed the notion of India as a ‘bully’, instead praising India’s respectful response to the Maldives’ requests regarding military personnel. This response, according to Nasheed, epitomises India’s role as a responsible superpower, a status he openly supports in light of the safety and security ties between the two nations.

The discourse around Maldives-China relations took a critical turn as Nasheed voiced concerns over a recent military cooperation contract with China, which he believes might not serve the Maldives’ best interests, suggesting it might be limited to a supply contract for non-lethal equipment rather than signifying a profound defence partnership.

“I don’t think it’s a defence agreement. I think that Muizzu wanted to buy some equipment mainly rubber bullets and tear gas,” Nasheed said. “It is very unfortunate that the government thought there is a need for more tear gas and more rubber bullets. Governance is not through the barrel of the gun,” he added. 

In addition to geopolitical alliances, Nasheed touched upon the economic repercussions of strained relations, specifically mentioning the impact of an Indian tourist boycott on the Maldivian economy. Expressing apologies on behalf of the Maldivian people, he articulated a desire to mend fences and restore the flow of Indian tourists to the islands, indicating the economic and social importance of Indian visitors to the Maldives.