China rejects claim it was behind March 15 troop withdrawal demand

Maldivian President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu (C-L) with Chinese President Xi Jinping (C-R) on January 10, 2024. (Photo/President's Office)

Maldivian President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu’s request that India withdraw its troops from the Maldives by March 15 did not come at the urging of Beijing, says a newspaper backed by the Chinese Communist Party.

According to the latest government figures, there are 88 Indian military personnel in Maldives, to provide support for military equipment given by New Delhi.

The March 15 deadline was proposed during a meeting between Maldivian and Indian government officials on Sunday; the first meeting of the high-level core group set up to negotiate the withdrawal of the troops.

The meeting had come at the heels of a five-day state visit to China by the Maldivian leader – prompting speculation in India that the demand came from Beijing.

In an editorial published on Tuesday, China Daily, an English-language daily newspaper owned by the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, rejected the claims – including a report published by New Delhi-based NDTV that stated that "the number of troops — 88 — is too few to be a threat" and suggested that it was all part of a plan for China to have its own military presence in Male’.

“But those making such a claim should note that Muizzu became president vowing to ensure that the country had no foreign military presence on its soil,” wrote China Daily.

China Daily suggested that the timing of the announcement may be related to the fact that Male’ is not worried about losing Indian tourists by making the demand, “as one of the outcomes of his recent state visit to China was his hosts expressing the country's readiness to provide support in areas that the Maldives deems priorities, including strengthening people-to-people exchanges and tourism cooperation.”

It wrote that Maldives' dependence on India for humanitarian assistance and essentials such as rice, vegetables and medicines has fueled what it described as India's “colonialist mentality” toward  the island nation.

“With the country's cooperation with China improving the Maldivian people's livelihoods and that cooperation set to deepen after his visit, it is natural that Muizzu should seek to use it as a leverage to reduce New Delhi's influence so that the country can exercise greater autonomy,” reads the article.