Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make his first-ever visit to the tropical island nation of Maldives for the swearing-in of its new president amid ongoing rivalry between New Delhi and Beijing for influence in the Indian Ocean.
The Saturday visit — the first by an Indian head of state since 2011 — is expected to reset strained ties with Maldives as Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a veteran opposition politician, takes over after successfully ousting former pro-China president Abdulla Yameen.
Solih’s new government is expected to end political uncertainty in the South Asian archipelago nation that preceded a tense election this September. Former president Yameen had locked away opposition figures and judges amid international condemnation, including unusually strident comments from India.
Yameen had also taken numerous loans from China that pushed the country into debt, like other countries in the region including Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party had taken an anti-China stance.
“India is in a position to gain some lost ground in Maldives,” said K Yhome, who specialises in India’s neighborhood at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. “The fact that Prime Minister Modi has agreed to attend the swearing-in sends a message that India supports the new government. Though it remains to be seen how Solih continues his posturing” after elections.
Solih’s triumph in the Maldives contrasts with political turmoil in Sri Lanka, where the president has tried to unilaterally sack his prime minister and appoint the country’s former pro-China strongman leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. That move, which appears uncertain amid a parliamentary vote and political upheaval earlier this week, was similarly condemned by nations including the US.
Modi’s trip comes amid a broader push by the US, India, Japan and Australia — which have struck a new partnership known as the Quad — to counter China’s cash infrastructure lending in the region.