Maldives: India first or India out?
Relations between one of the largest countries in the world and one of the smallest inevitably brings sensitivities.
Recent protests in Maldives against India’s influence in the country calling for “Indian military out” has led the Maldives government to respond by reiterating its “India First” policy. This has highlighted the difficulties that both countries face in building a stable strategic partnership while also addressing popular sensitivities. It’s not something that India has been good at elsewhere in the neighbourhood.
Maldives is a small island state located right in the centre of the Indian Ocean. Despite a population of only 500,000, its location, astride the main sea lanes of the Indian Ocean, gives it considerable strategic significance. For centuries big powers have sought to build influence there and deny its use to rivals.
The National Security College (NSC), with the support of the Department of Defence, is leading a two-year research project on Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy in the Indian Ocean. As a part of this project, this paper argues that the failure to celebrate the help that the Indian military provides to Maldives communities may be a lost opportunity. This paper first appeared in the Lowy Institute’s ‘The Interpreter’ on 24 November 2021.