In a u-turn, pro-China Maldivian President calls India ‘closest ally’, seeks debt relief

Male: In an about-turn, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu called India its “closest ally” and hoped it would provide debt relief to repay heavy loans that the successive governments in the island nation have taken from New Delhi.

Further, the president with a pro-China tilt, stated that he has not taken any action or made any statements that may strain the relationship between the two countries, the Edition newspaper reported.

The total amount of loans taken from the Export and Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) stood at USD 1.4 million (MVR 22 million) and together with this, the amount owed by the Maldives to India by the end of 2023, stood at MVR 6.2 billion.

In his first interview since taking office last year with Edition’s sister publication, ‘Mihaaru’, Muizzu said: “The conditions we have inherited are such that there are very large loans taken from India. Hence, we are holding discussions to explore leniencies in the repayment structure of these loans”.

Muizzu’s remarks come weeks after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar took a veiled dig at Muizzu on his “big bullies” comment on India, saying: “Big bullies do not offer $4.5 billion aid or vaccine or food when neighbouring countries are in distress.”

The relationship between the two nations nosedived after Muizzu made a formal request to New Delhi to remove its military personnel from the island nation by March 15, 2024.

The development came a day after Muizzu returned from China, and made comments critical of India. “We might be small but that does not give you the licence to bully us,” he had said.

The first batch of Indian military personnel left the island nation this month as planned, and Muizzu has further ordered that by May 10, all 88 military personnel, manning the three Indian aviation platforms, should leave the country.

Muizzu told the Daily that in doing so, his aim was to encourage the Maldives to become “self-sufficient”, adding that “it is highly irresponsible to attempt to portray these actions as either distancing the country from India or moving the country towards China”.

“No country can do everything on its own, not even the biggest country. Even America has to depend on other countries. China does, too. India, as well. However, do Maldivians not deserve to attempt to do whatever we are able to do by ourselves, independently?”

Media reports said, citing government documents, that India has spent nearly 771 crore rupees on projects in the Maldives during this fiscal year, ending in March.

Further, the reports stated that India spent Rs 183 crore in fiscal 2022-23, and has set aside Rs 600 crore in initial allocation for the Maldivian projects next year.

The neighbouring island nation is one of the biggest beneficiaries of India’s Neighbourhood First policy and is India’s pivotal maritime partner in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Relations between the two nations hit a rough patch after three of Muizzu’s junior ministers reportedly passed unsavoury comments on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

IANS

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