Even as India has asked all countries to help return normalcy in the Maldives, China’s state-owned media has warned that Beijing will retaliate if New Delhi sends troops to restore order in the island nation. The simmering political tension in the country had evolved into a test case for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy.
While a section of the establishment strongly advocates military action to restore democracy and human rights, others recommend treading cautiously.
The Government of Maldives in a statement condemned demands from some quarters calling for Indian military intervention. The statement issued by President’s Office described such attempts as threat to nation’s independence and national security and to damage excellent relations between Maldives and India. It hoped that India would not act on such calls.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Chinese embassy in India on Tuesday refuted the Maldivian opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed’s claim that Beijing has been grabbing land and occupying islands in the nation.
In a recent interview, Nasheed had said that one of his priorities on returning to power would be to spearhead an international convention against ‘land grab’ by foreign countries in the guise of investment.
Nasheed, who is on self-exile in Colombo after being allowed to leave jail for treatment abroad, has been highly critical of President Abdulla Yameen government’s pro-China tilt. He claims that China has made unusually high investments to build resorts in 17 islands in the Maldives. Nasheed believes that the rate of investment in those projects would make them economically unviable and, therefore, these assets have a strategic role.
China’s state-run tabloid Global Times warned India not to underestimate China’s opposition to unilateral military intervention. “Without UN empowerment, there would be no righteous cause for any armed force to intervene.
China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives, but that does not mean that Beijing will sit idly by as New Delhi breaks the principle. If India one-sidedly sends troops to the Maldives, China will take action to stop New Delhi,” the daily said in an op-ed.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi following his meeting with Mohamed Saeed, Yameen’s special envoy on Thursday that “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives”.
The Global Times op-ed counselled India to “exercise restraint” in view of the “tense situation” in Male. “This is the country’s internal affairs and China firmly opposes outside interference. More than that, China should take necessary measures to stop India if New Delhi moves to intervene militarily,” the daily observed.
Many in India believe that India’s stature is at risk in the region. “If India cannot even safeguard its primary interests so close to its mainland, then it can hardly be trusted to become a security provider for the wider region,” Rumel Dahiya, deputy director of Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a New Delhi-based think tank.
Former external affairs minister and dissident BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said the Maldivian crisis poses a threat to India’s security. He asked the government not to remain a “mute spectator” with China strengthening its presence in the island nation. “What’s happening in the Maldives is a threat to India’s national security. Highest numbers of people (on per capita basis) from Maldives have joined the ISIS. These people will return to our nearest neighbour (Maldives) when ISIS is wiped out, posing threat to us,” he said.
India draws satisfaction that as compared to Chinese port Haikou which is 3400 sea miles away, Indian port of Koci is just 500 sea miles away from the Maldives. A Chinese ship will take eight to 10 days and its aircraft seven to eight hours to cover the distance, as compared to the one-and-half hour by an Indian aircraft.