“Maldive’s Diplomatic Alliance with China Raises Concerns Over Human Rights and Regional Stability”

Published: 17 January 2024


ইমরান চৌধুরী

 Imran Chowdhury BEM


A geo-political analyst

In a surprising move that has raised eyebrows on the international stage, the Maldives, a predominantly Muslim nation, has announced a diplomatic alliance with China. While the Indian Ocean archipelago has a history of seeking foreign assistance during times of need, this particular alliance has sparked concerns due to China’s widely criticised human rights records, particularly regarding the persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

Historically, the Maldives has looked to neighbouring India for support and cooperation. The two nations share cultural, historical, and economic ties, with India assisting in various forms, including infrastructure development and disaster relief. India’s support has been crucial for the Maldives, especially during political turmoil and environmental challenges.

However, recent developments have witnessed a shift in the Maldives’ foreign policy, with the nation turning to China for diplomatic support. This move has ignited apprehensions, given China’s track record on human rights issues, notably its treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province. The international community has widely condemned China for alleged human rights abuses, including mass detentions, surveillance, and restrictions on religious freedoms, raising concerns about the Maldives’ decision to align itself with such a controversial partner.
Critics argue that the Maldives’ alliance with China may send a troubling signal to other countries, especially those with Muslim-majority populations. The decision to seek support from a nation facing allegations of human rights violations could tarnish the Maldives’ reputation and influence its standing in the international community.

China’s foreign policy, characterised by an ever-expanding thirst for influence, has also been a cause for concern among neighbouring nations. The Chinese government’s assertive stance, particularly in the South China Sea, has intensified tensions with several regional countries. Moreover, China’s eye on Taiwan and its apparent ambition to subjugate the island have escalated geopolitical tensions, prompting concerns about stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

As the Maldives aligns itself with China, it becomes imperative for the international community to monitor the evolving dynamics closely. The move challenges the historical ties between the Maldives and India and raises questions about the nation’s commitment to human rights values. The Maldives must navigate this diplomatic alliance judiciously to ensure it does not compromise its principles or global standing in the long run.

The Maldives, an archipelago of 26 atolls located in the Indian Ocean, holds a rich and intriguing history that spans over a millennium. The nation’s story is deeply intertwined with seafaring, trade, and influences from various cultures, resulting in a unique blend of traditions and customs.

The earliest known settlers in the Maldives were likely seafarers and traders from the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula. Historical evidence suggests that the Maldives served as a crucial crossroads for maritime trade routes, connecting the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea and beyond. Over the centuries, the islands became a melting pot of different cultures, with influences from India, Persia, and the Arab world shaping the local way of life.
The Maldives embraced Islam in the 12th century, marking a significant turning point. The conversion to Islam is often attributed to the visit of North African Muslim scholars, who played a crucial role in spreading the faith throughout the archipelago. This shift in religion profoundly impacted Maldivian society, shaping its cultural and social fabric.
In the following centuries, the Maldives remained a sultanate, with a series of sultans ruling the islands. However, the nation’s strategic location made it a target for European colonial powers during the Age of Exploration. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and briefly established control over the Maldives, leaving their mark on the archipelago’s history. The Maldivian people, dissatisfied with foreign rule, eventually sought assistance from other powers to rid themselves of Portuguese influence.

In the mid-17th century, the Maldives turned to the Dutch for help, successfully expelling the Portuguese and regaining their independence. The islands continued to be ruled by sultans, maintaining a delicate balance between local governance and external influences.

By the late 19th century, the British had established dominance in the Indian Ocean region, and the Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887. While the islands retained internal autonomy, British control influenced Maldivian life’s economic and administrative aspects.

The Maldives gained complete independence from British protection in 1965. Subsequently, the nation went through a period of political upheaval, with changes in leadership and the establishment of a republic. In 1978, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom assumed the presidency, marking the beginning of a three-decade-long rule characterised by political stability and economic development. However, Gayoom’s presidency was criticised for alleged human rights abuses and limited political freedoms.

In 2008, the Maldives experienced a historic moment with its first multiparty presidential election. Mohamed Nasheed, a former political prisoner, won the presidency, bringing hopes of political reform and greater democratisation. Nasheed’s term, however, was marked by challenges, including environmental concerns such as rising sea levels threatening the low-lying islands of the Maldives.

In the subsequent years, the Maldives witnessed changes in leadership, political turbulence, and efforts to address environmental issues as the nation grappled with the complex interplay of economic development, political stability, and climate change.

Today, the Maldives is a popular tourist destination known for its pristine beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and luxury resorts. The nation continues to navigate the delicate balance between preserving its unique cultural heritage, addressing environmental challenges, and engaging with the global community in the 21st century.