New Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was sworn in on Saturday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the highest-ranking foreign leader present. Some Indian media applauded that Modi’s attendance signaled India had regained influence over the Maldives.
In his inauguration speech, Solih attributed the country’s precarious financial situation to the previous government which pushed forward infrastructure projects “only for political reasons.” Some media hyped up his speech, which echoed Western accusations that China is using debt trap investment schemes to saddle small countries with enormous debt.
Solih is viewed as pro-India by Indian and Western media. However, pro-India does not necessarily mean anti-China. Due to close geographic distance, it is normal for India to have such a large influence on small Indian Ocean countries. China’s cooperation with these countries was never meant to replace India’s influence. Indian leadership is strengthening mutual trust with China over this issue, but some Indian and Western media have failed to follow the rhythm.
The new Maldivian government may sway its foreign policy. But given that economic cooperation between China and the Maldives is based on equality and mutual benefit, it can withstand the current political transition in the island nation.
China has no objection to neighboring countries having a close relationship with India. But we are living in an era when India can no longer monopolize foreign relations of those nations. They will unavoidably develop ties with other countries including China. Both China and India should hold an open attitude toward their own neighboring countries enhancing cooperation with the other.
If small countries such as the Maldives change their foreign policy whenever a leadership transition occurs, it will be a headache for both China and India. The two should support these small countries in adopting stable foreign policy and protecting foreign investment. The two nations can also carry out mutual third-party cooperation to seek a win-win scenario and stabilize the entire region.
After Solih had secured his election victory, he softened his stance toward China. The focus of a new government is always economic development. As China is the biggest investor in the Maldives and Chinese tourists are the main source of foreign visitors, it is expected that the Solih government will realize the importance of Chinese funds and technology and China’s friendly attitude toward the country.
China has always viewed the Maldives as an equal partner. It has never interfered into Maldivian internal affairs or attached any political conditions when offering assistance and investment. It is hoped that the Maldives government and public value such a partner as China and keep bilateral relations on the right track.
Undoubtedly, China has its own stakes in the Indian Ocean as it is an important gateway for China’s opening-up. But China’s cooperation with Indian Ocean countries is not to squeeze any other country. China remains firm in pursuing common interests.