New Delhi: India’s external outreach policy suffered a setback with the island nation of Maldives, which occupies a strategic location in the Indian Ocean, choosing to stay out of the eight-day-long Milan naval exercise set to begin from March 6 at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
On Tuesday, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba told reporters on the sidelines of an event: “Maldives was invited to join the Milan exercise but they have declined.”
In the afternoon, the Maldivian embassy put out a statement citing the “current situation of a state of emergency being in effect for those under investigation for serious crimes” as the reason behind the pullout from Milan 2018.
The embassy statement added: “When situations warrant that officers be at their post, back at home, we have held back on deploying them to participate in exercises and training programmes held overseas, and as such, not being able to participate in the naval exercise at this time is not extraordinary”.
Bilateral ties between India and Maldives had taken a nosedive in recent times after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared emergency on February 5 in defiance of the country’s Supreme Court which had ordered the release of a group of political leaders belonging to the Opposition.
On February 6, former president and exiled opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, accusing president Yameen of acting illegally, had called on the US and India to step in and help remove him from office with military backing. Then on February 21, India had expressed deep dismay over the imposition and extension of Emergency.
In the backdrop of a deteriorating Indo-Maldivian ties, the relationship between Maldives and China has been on an upswing as President Yameen being perceived to be close to China which has been expanding and enhancing its interests in the island nation since 2011.
On Monday, a leading Chinese state-run daily newspaper quoted Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, as saying: “The India-led 2018 Milan exercise will have a larger scale than ever. India is provoking China, which will not benefit the development of Sino-Indian relations.”
Noted Indian strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney tweeted on the development: “The Maldives, which is to host a dual-purpose Chinese marine observatory, snubs India’s invitation to the multilateral “Milan” naval exercise.”