A Warning To Maldives? New Delhi Asks Male To Respect India’s Interests As Chinese Influence Grows Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to Abdulla Yameen, President of the Maldives in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Narendra Shrestha - Pool/GettyImages)

In what appears to be a warning to Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, who has in the last few years pushed his country into a close embrace of China, New Delhi said on Thursday (15 December) that it expects the island nation to be sensitive to India’s concerns and keep in mind the country’s interests.

Yameen, who came to power in 2013, has been warming up to Beijing in an apparent disregard of India's concerns. He has been increasingly dictatorial in dealing with dissent and has slapped trumped-up charges against political opponents who have questioned his his foreign and domestic policies.

Just last month, Yameen rushed through the country’s Parliament, the Majlis, a free trade deal between the Maldives and China even as he blocked entry for lawmakers who were expected to raise questions on the agreement and insisted on having a discussion before approving it.

This was the latest in a series of moves that Yameen has made in the last few years to appease Beijing. Among other things, he has agreed to participate in China’s maritime Silk Road, part of the Belt and Road Initiative that India has opposed for lack of transparency and creating unsustainable debts.

"We are also committed to supporting democracy, development and stability in Maldives. It is our expectation that as a close and friendly neighbour, Maldives will be sensitive to our concerns in keeping with its 'India First' policy,'' the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson said on Thursday.

"We have seen reports about the Maldives-China Free Trade Agreement. The reports have also alluded to the manner in which the FTA was passed by the Majlis. We are yet to see the document, and hence, it will not be appropriate for me to speculate on it,'' said spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.

That MEA’s response alluded to the ‘manner’ in which the agreement with China was passed is an important development. Reference to support for democracy and stability, although in line with its previous position, suggests that Delhi does not approve of the way in which Yameen has cracked down on dissent in the Maldives.

Maldives is the only neighbouring country that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not visited since assuming power in 2014. India has, however, remained in touch with leaders of opposition, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was recently in New Delhi to attend a seminar sponsored by the MEA. This signals New Delhi’s dissatisfaction with the current regime in Male.

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