India refuses meeting with Maldives envoy, further worsening diplomatic ties

By Vipul Gupta

It hasn’t been long since India refused a meeting with the special envoy sent by Maldives President Abdulla Yameen. The special envoy wanted first to meet the Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and then with the Pakistani, Saudi and Chinese counterparts. However, Indian authorities thought that returning the envoy would help create pressure on the Maldives to uplift the undemocratic emergency declared by President Yameen—with whom India has not enjoyed a good diplomatic relation.

A case of poor diplomacy?

Soon after India failed the litmus test of the Maldivian Emergency crisis, the still strategising nation was taken aback by yet another bad news. This time it was the Maldives rejecting an offer extended by the Indian side— India’s invite for a 16-nation naval exercise ‘Milan’. Moreover, Chinese authorities reported that China and Maldives were planning to establish a Joint Ocean Observation Station in Maldives’ Makunudu Island—the closest one they have from India.

According to the political leaders of Maldives, the agreement for this observatory was signed long before last year, and the observatory is likely to have a submarine base, opening doors for China to establish a maritime front against India. The proposed observatory lies on the most important Indian Ocean shipping route, giving China’s One Belt, One Road initiative the access to the Indian Ocean, which India has been openly resisting. Moreover, in case diplomatic tensions ever rise between the two nations, this underwater station can help China impose a probable trade block against India. To add to the Indian worry, President Yameen, who has been visibly leaning towards China since the past three years, has given several key infrastructure projects to state-owned Chinese firms. It was also reported by Maldivian sources that President Yameen has already given China unmonitored access to seventeen of its thousand-plus islands, and the activities happening there might not be something India would ever hope for.

India, which currently has one Indian military base in the Maldives, has been waiting for the Maldivian President to respond to their queries regarding this new underwater observatory. What is more unfortunate is the fact that the best India could do is warn Maldives and China of any military establishment in the area.

China’s increasing hold over South Asia

China has already been lobbying support for it’s strategically ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. After Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Maldives is the fourth SAARC nation that will go on the success list of China. It is unfortunate that India, which used to dictate the terms in the region has missed several opportunities to counter the Chinese threat. The first being the 19th SAARC Summit, which India boycotted in a bid to demonise Pakistan over its involvement in Uri attacks of 2016. A year and a half later, Pakistan hasn’t yet toned down its rhetoric against India, and almost all the SAARC nations, including Pakistan, have drifted towards China—which was already ready with a better deal for these South Asian nations.

In a bid to strengthen its hold over the region, China today has left India with no all-weather ally. Moreover, despite a strong military and a stable economy, India is left with no choice but to deal with the diplomatic tantrums of China as they continue to come along with the Chinese rise in the region. It is essential for India to counter the Chinese rise through lucrative initiatives like OBOR, or continue dealing with Chinese tantrums until it becomes the world power it has been dreaming of.

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