Maldives Caught in the Crosshairs: Navigating the Geopolitical Currents of Chinese Hegemony

Published: 28 February 2024
ইমরান চৌধুরী

Imran Chowdhury BEM (British Empire Medal)

The writer is an internationally acclaimed geopolitical analyst


The idyllic archipelago of the Maldives, with its pristine beaches and azure waters, has long been a coveted destination for tourists seeking paradise. However, beneath this veneer of tranquilly, a complex geopolitical game is unfolding, with the Maldives at its centre. In recent years, China’s growing fondness for the Maldives has raised eyebrows and stirred concerns among regional powers, particularly India. This sudden shift in dynamics, characterised by a flurry of treaties and agreements, signals a potential threat to the region’s stability, with the Maldives finding itself torn between competing powers.

Historical Context:

One must delve into its historical context to understand the current predicament of the Maldives. Historically, the Maldives maintained close ties with India, with its geographical proximity fostering cultural and economic exchanges. However, the rise of China as a global superpower has reshaped the geopolitical landscape of the Indian Ocean region. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has extended its influence beyond its borders, including strategic investments in the Maldives.

Diplomatic Manoeuvrings:

The recent flurry of treaties signed between the Maldives and China has raised concerns about the country’s growing dependence on Beijing. From infrastructure projects to defence agreements, the Maldives has increasingly aligned itself with Chinese interests, much to the chagrin of regional powers. The election of a new president in the Maldives has allowed China to strengthen its foothold in the region, leveraging economic incentives to sway political allegiance.

Authentic References:

A South China Morning Post report highlights China’s strategic interests in the Maldives, citing constructing a naval base and investing in critical infrastructure projects. Furthermore, diplomatic cables leaked to The Guardian reveal China’s concerted efforts to woo the Maldives away from traditional allies, signalling a calculated strategy to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean.

Geopolitical Ramifications:

The growing presence of China in the Maldives has significant geopolitical ramifications for the region. India, historically dominant in the Indian Ocean, views China’s encroachment with apprehension. The strategic location of the Maldives, straddling crucial maritime routes, makes it a prized possession in the ongoing power struggle between China and India. The spectre of Chinese hegemony looms large, threatening to disrupt the delicate balance of power in the region.

Anecdotal Evidence:

An anecdote recounted by a Maldivian fisherman sheds light on the changing dynamics in the archipelago. Once reliant on India for aid during crises, fishermen now turn to Chinese vessels. This subtle shift reflects the broader trend of Chinese influence permeating every facet of Maldivian society, from politics to economics.


In conclusion, the Maldives stands at a crossroads, grappling with the competing interests of regional powers vying for dominance in the Indian Ocean. While China’s overtures may promise economic prosperity in the short term, the long-term implications of succumbing to Chinese hegemony are uncertain. As the Maldives navigates the choppy waters of geopolitics, it must tread carefully to avoid being swallowed whole by the ever-insatiable urge of Chinese expansionism. The future of the Maldives hinges on its ability to assert its sovereignty and resist the allure of short-term gains at the expense of long-term stability.


The growing alignment of the Maldives with China raises an important question: is this an ominous sign for other smaller Southeast Asian states to be sceptical of Chinese pseudo-hegemony? The answer lies in the broader implications of the Maldives’ shift towards China and the potential ripple effects it may have across the region.
For smaller Southeast Asian states, the Maldives’ trajectory serves as a cautionary tale. While Chinese investment may bring short-term economic benefits, the price of aligning too closely with Beijing could outweigh the gains. The spectre of Chinese hegemony looms large, casting a shadow of doubt over the sovereignty of smaller nations.
Countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan have experienced firsthand the pitfalls of excessive reliance on Chinese loans and infrastructure projects. For example, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port fell into the hands of the Chinese after Colombo struggled to repay hefty loans. Similarly, Pakistan’s indebtedness to China has raised concerns about its ability to maintain strategic autonomy.

The Maldives case serves as a wake-up call for other smaller Southeast Asian states to reassess their relationship with China. While engagement with Beijing is inevitable, given its economic clout, caution must be exercised to ensure that national interests are not compromised in pursuing short-term gains.

In this context, regional cooperation and solidarity among smaller states become imperative. By banding together, Southeast Asian nations can collectively resist undue influence and assert their sovereignty in the face of Chinese encroachment. Initiatives such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) provide a platform for dialogue and cooperation, strengthening the region’s collective bargaining power.

The Maldives’ embrace of China should serve as a sobering reminder for smaller Southeast Asian states to approach Chinese pseudo-hegemony with scepticism. While economic opportunities may abound, the potential risks of ceding too much ground to Beijing are significant. By fostering regional unity and resilience, Southeast Asian nations can navigate the complexities of geopolitics and safeguard their sovereignty in an era of shifting power dynamics.