In a clarification of the Maldives’ military agreement with China, President Dr Mohamed Muizzu disclosed that the pact primarily encompasses the provision of non-lethal military equipment and training. This revelation comes amidst heightened scrutiny of the Maldives’ foreign policy shifts, particularly its realignment towards China and away from traditional ally India.

During a meeting with residents of Meedhoo, Dhaalu Atoll, President Muizzu offered insights into the specifics of the agreement, underscoring its role in enhancing the Maldives’ military technical capacity and, by extension, its national independence and autonomy. The President’s clarification aims to assuage concerns regarding the agreement’s implications for regional security dynamics, emphasising non-lethal support over combat capabilities.

The agreement, signed by Defence Minister Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon and Major General Zhang Baoqun of the People’s Republic of China, had initially sparked speculation about its contents and objectives, given the sparse details released. The president’s recent statements shed light on the nature of the military cooperation between the Maldives and China, highlighting a continuity in their military relationship but with a renewed focus on bolstering the Maldives’ defence forces through training and technical assistance.

This military cooperation initiative aligns with President Muizzu’s broader national defence strategy, which advocates for enhanced sovereignty over the Maldives’ expansive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and an independent stance in regional geopolitics. The strategy involves equipping the military with modern technology and ensuring the capability for round-the-clock surveillance of Maldivian waters, against the backdrop of a strategic pivot towards non-traditional partners like China and Turkey, and distancing from India.

However, the focus on non-lethal aid and military training under this agreement could potentially temper concerns about an arms race in the Indian Ocean region. It suggests a nuanced approach to military enhancement that prioritises technical and operational capacity over offensive capabilities, reflecting an understanding of the delicate balance required to maintain regional peace and stability while pursuing national security objectives.

The Maldives’ strategic realignment and defence policy adjustments occur in a context marked by historical ties and recent tensions with India, including disputes over Indian military presence and operations in the Maldives. By emphasising non-lethal military assistance and training from China, the Maldives appears to be navigating its path towards greater autonomy in defence matters, while attempting to mitigate the risk of exacerbating regional rivalries.