The embattled government of the Maldives has lashed out against suggestions that India should stage a military intervention to oust President Abdulla Yameen, calling opposition appeals for New Delhi’s help “a threat to the nation’s independence and national security”.
In a statement, the Maldivian defence ministry said there was “no threat to the Maldives from being invaded by a foreign military”, despite the country declaring a state of emergency.
It said calls by exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed for New Delhi to help resolve the Maldives’ political crisis— and the debate within India over such a step — were “irresponsible”.
The Maldives has been in turmoil since last week, when Mr Yameen’s government arrested two supreme court judges rather than obey a court order to release political prisoners and re-instate disqualified parliamentarians.
The turmoil comes after a steady erosion of democracy in the Maldives, where the unpopular Mr Yameen — who is facing a revolt within his own party — had already jailed many critics and rivals, shuttered parliament and harassed the media in an attempt to cling on to power.
Although New Delhi has not publicly threatened any military response, Indian strategic hawks have urged action against a regime that is not only increasingly undemocratic, but has also forged bonds with Beijing, ignoring Indian security interests in its own strategic backyard.
In recent years, China investment in the Maldives has jumped, with a $10bn integrated development project planned for the northern part of the archipelago. New Delhi officials say the project would be within “listening distance” of military bases in India.
Since the political crisis erupted, Beijing has tacitly backed Mr Yameen’s moves, opposed international involvement and insisted that Maldivians be left to resolve their own problems.
China’s nationalistic Global Times newspaper this week warned that Beijing would counter any Indian intervention.
“China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives, but that does not mean Beijing will sit idly by if India breaks the principle,” the newspaper said in an editorial. “If India one-sidedly sends troops to the Maldives, China will take action to stop New Delhi.”
In an opinion article on Wednesday, Kanwal Sibal, India’s former foreign secretary, argued that New Delhi should concentrate on mobilising international pressure on Mr Yameen, given the lack of any clear legal rationale for military intervention.
Indian officials say that the Maldives’ elections, due later this year, provide an opportunity for a “democratic reset”, provided that they are free and fair, and that opposition leaders including Mr Nasheed and Mr Yameen’s jailed half-brother Abdul Gayoom are permitted to participate.
Meanwhile, the Maldives’ tourism dependent economy is likely to take a hit, as many countries have warned their citizens against all but the essential travel to the upmarket beach holiday destination. Moody’s, the rating agency, has warned that a protracted crisis that deters foreign visitors could force it to revise down its GDP growth forecast of 4.5 per cent for 2018.
According to Moody’s, 44 per cent of the Maldives’ foreign visitors last year were from Asian countries, including 22 per cent from China.
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