Maldives reaches out to China

Maldives reaches out to China
On the 5th of February, Maldivian President Yameen declared a state of emergency and arrested senior members of the judiciary and opposition. Severe criticism followed..

On the 5th of February, Maldivian President Yameen declared a state of emergency and arrested senior members of the judiciary and opposition. Severe criticism followed from the international community, including India, the US, and the UK. The Maldivian Supreme Court reversed its judgement under duress.

Yameen has now sent envoys to China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, regional powers who did not issue statements condemning his actions earlier this month.

Background

The first multi-party elections held in the Maldives took place in 2008, following a 30 year rule by Maumoon Gayoom. Mohamed Nasheed was the first democratically elected President of the country. However, Nasheed’s government did not hold a parliamentary majority and did not have the support of the independent judiciary. Protests broke out in 2011 over the administration’s inability to operate effectively. After an escalation of protests in February 2012, Nasheed resigned. He later said that he was forced to resign with a “gun held to his head” in a coup.

Nasheed was succeeded by Abdulla Yameen after a highly contested election in November 2013.

In 2015, Nasheed was convicted on charges of terrorism and sentenced to 13 years in prison. The judgement was condemned by the UN. Nahseed is currently in exile in Sri Lanka.

On the 1st of February, the Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling stating that the 2015 conviction of former President Nahseed and 8 other leaders was unconstitutional. Additionally, the court ordered the release and reinstatement of 12 opposition MPs. The current administration refused to comply.

On the 5th, the Yameen government declared a 15-day state of emergency. Soon after, security forces stormed the Supreme Court. Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed Mohamed, chief justice Abdullah Saeed, and chief judicial administrator Hassan Saeed Hussain were arrested early the next morning, as well as Gayoom, now a member of the opposition who had expressed support for the ruling. “This state of emergency is the only way I can determine how deep this plot, this coup, goes,” Yameen said in an address on the 6th.

The international response was to condemn these events.

On Wednesday (7th February), the remaining Supreme Court judges rescinded the order to free the political prisoners. The country is still under a state of emergency. Elections are planned for later this year.

Analysis

India was one of the countries to issue a plea to the government to respect the rule of law and accept the top court’s ruling. On Tuesday morning, ex-President Nasheed used twitter to ask New Delhi to intervene in the situation. His request, on “behalf of the Maldivian people” was for “India to send an envoy, backed by its military” to release judges and other political detainees.

India has successfully intervened in the Maldives before as in 1988 when the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi responded to an appeal from President Gayoom.

Following the Supreme Court’s compliance to his demands, Yameen has now sent envoys to China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. An official statement on his website stated, “Members of the cabinet, on the direction of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, will visit friendly nations of the Maldives and provide updates on the current situation.”

According to the Maldives ambassador to India, Ahmed Mohamed, Yameen intended to send an envoy to India as well, however External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly both have prior commitments.

Despite assurance from the ambassador that this was not a direct snub to New Delhi, there has been speculation about what recent events mean for China’s role in the Indian Ocean.

On the 6th, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson GengShuang expressed belief that the government would “have the wisdom and the capability to deal with the current situation on their own”. “The international community should play a constructive role based on respecting the sovereignty of the Maldives, instead of taking actions that may complicate the situation,” he said.

More recently, on the 8th, Beijing cautioned that international spectators of the islands should remain as such. Shuang claimed that China’s aid to the Maldives and its economic involvement was not politically motivated. Responding to an article written by Nasheed stating that China’s involvement was a “land grab” and a threat to regional security, Shuang said, “You also certainly can’t talk about threatening the security of the Indian Ocean region.”

The Maldives is part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Beijing’s reaction to the crisis in Male may serve to strengthen their presence in the Indian Ocean. China has long since vied for influence in the region, both for security and economic reasons. The current administration’s dissatisfaction at India’s position on recent events is evident. While elections are due to be held later this year, with sections of the opposition imprisoned and apparent control of the military, Yameen’s descent from power is unlikely. We believe that given China’s strategic investment in the region, India will have to up its diplomatic posturing with the current administration and importantly be seen as not compromising its stance on human rights. 

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