Before taking office, President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu explained the philosophical and ideological basis of his foreign policy. He has named his foreign policy ideology the “Maldives First” concept. The central operating basis of Dr. Muizzu’s government is the focus on “Pro-Maldives” ideas. During the president’s first visit to China, high level bi-lateral talks were held, which led to the signing of a multitude of major agreements between the two countries. Some media spectators have commented that the Maldives seems to have jumped from India’s lap to China’s. This article serves the purpose of examining the Maldives foreign relations and determining the value of Dr. Muizzu’s current foreign policy for the betterment of the nation.
The question is with the imbalances in the relationship between China and Maldives, can Maldives maintain relations with China without being subjugated by them? Could seeking help and support from China be the right direction for Maldives to stand on its feet? In order to answer these questions, it is important to understand Maldives’ new foreign policy and China’s foreign policy.
The Beijing Consensus and the Basis of Chinese Foreign Policy
To clearly understand the basics and reality of China-Maldives relations, it is important to first understand the basis of China’s foreign policy. It is also important to clarify China’s role in the world and China’s view of the world. In addition to these things, we must be clear about the nature of China as an international power.
China is the world’s second largest economy, however it is still classified as a developing country. For a developing country to remain a major power in the midst of a global political competition for dominance, economic fluctuations and changes, China has had no choice but to prioritize innovative ideas, different from those adopted by major developed countries that have traditionally maintained global power. Through these ideas, China has developed ideas unique to China, including how to shape the economy and design foreign relations. In international relations, these ideas are collectively known as the Beijing Consensus.
In his paper, “White Cat, Black Cat or Good Cat: The Beijing Consensus as an alternative philosophy for policy deliberation? The Case of China,” by Reza Hasmath, it was noted that the Beijing consensus is not just about foreign policy views. It is a combination of ideas about domestic policies, how to shape the economy, international relations, and many other policies. They are ideas that China implemented to achieve development and economic growth, and the thoughts and ideas behind the policies that China has been implementing in its interactions with other countries in the international community.
As explained in the paper, the Beijing Consensus is a pragmatic approach to policy alignment. In international relations, the Beijing Consensus is based on the power of other countries to “self-determinate,” or decide their own future. Developing countries should, in China’s view, consolidate their own independence from external powers. These countries should be able to determine their own domestic policy and have the freedom to formulate and implement them.
In “The Beijing Consensus versus the Washington Consensus: The Dilemma of Chinese Engagement in Africa,” Galchu Jarso stated that before China a emerged as a dominant force in internationals relations, international financial relations and financial transactions between countries were shaped after the the end of World War II and the Cold War by the ideas and opinions of the United States. These ideas have been dubbed the Washington Consensus.
This consensus does not take into account the individual circumstances of the countries it imposes itself on. Policies were pushed onto countries that did not accept them by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF. These institutions made it a requirement of recipient countries to reduce government employees and sell off state-owned companies as conditions for the aid they were to receive. These policies were influenced by the United States, who sought to profit off the resources of other countries through the intervention of international institutions. In many countries, experts do not believe that the changes have produced desirable results. Egypt, Argentina and Turkey have experienced and are still experiencing the pain of these changes.
Quoting other debaters and experts, Jarso noted that it has been possible for African developing countries to accept Chinese aid because its philosophy is based on non-interference in the domestic policies of other countries. When aid is given, countries have the freedom to shape their domestic economic policies, especially macroeconomic policies as they wish.
This does not mean that China has no interests in such aid. China’s interests are economic. To increase Chinese economic influence, China will look to open up the economies of various countries to Chinese investors, which allows for Chinese companies to do business in those countries.
The conclusion is that China’s foreign policy is, at its core, based on sovereign equality with other countries, applied on the basis of respect, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. It is to allow the country to determine and implement the policies that its government prioritizes freely.
India’s Regional Policy
When we talk about China-Maldives relations, we also have to talk about neighboring India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world. India should be mentioned for three reasons. The long-standing relationship between India and Maldives, the geographical proximity of the two countries, and the rivalry between India and China. China is a neighbor of India, the two countries share a border and have previously had conflict. India is a rapidly growing economy, whereas China is a slowly stabilizing economy after rapid growth.
One of the policies announced and implemented in India’s foreign policy is the “Neighborhood First,” policy. This is a policy that prioritizes countries proximal to India. The objectives of this policy have been studied and analyzed by debaters. The official reason is that India wants to maintain good relations with neighboring countries, as well as their long-standing influence in the region.
Maintaining Indian Hegemony in South Asia
In her paper “Legitimacy of ‘s Hegemonic Claims in South Asia,” Professor Sadia Khanum of Istanbul University in Turkey has noted that hegemony is the power of a particular country to put its interests above the domestic and foreign policies of others due to its economic, political and military power. In the paper, she further argues that the main thrust of India’s foreign policy upon its independence from British rule in 1947 was to establish India as an influential power over other countries in the region and to enable it to remain so.
This policy is best explained by Babani Sen Gupta, an author and political scientist who analyzes Indian foreign policy. He wrote that India is a humongous Elephant and it couldn’t shrink into a mouse. In order to maintain peace and stability in the south Asia the other 5 must respect the 6th which is India.
Sadia wrote that India’s image in the international arena as a great and strong civilization, kind and far from conflict, changed when the hardline Hindutva took over the country. India’s policies towards its neighbors also changed dramatically. Seeing other neighbors as equal partners has not always been a part of India’s foreign policy. India is now working hard to build a relationship based on their dominance with other countries, she wrote.
In “India and the Making of a Hegemon,” published by the Australian Institue of Policy and Science at the University of Western Sydney, alumnus Badrul Khan wrote that India’s policy of non-reliance during the Cold War led to some heartbreaking developments in India’s foreign policy. Its foreign policy experts believed that India could no longer afford to stay out of the growing rivalry between China and the United States, nor the battle of contrasting political philosophies.
Khan also wrote that while India is unwilling to give up its “hegemon” role in South Asia, which it has long enjoyed due to its size, economic power, manufacturing capability and several other attributes. India believes that China is a power capable of disrupting this. According to Manzoor , South Asian countries’ strengthening ties with China would undermine India’s position and they would thus lose their dominance.
In summary, India has long been an influence on other South Asian countries in the region. India’s role in the Maldives civil war, Bhutan’s economic dependence on India, its influence on Nepal’s constitution-making and its role in the partition of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh are some of the examples of these influences. The threat of weakening this influence is growing as China begins to establish relations with the countries of the region. Therefore, it is in India’s best interest to maintain ties with China and the countries of the region to maintain its influence.
The New Maldivian Governments “Pro-Maldives” Policy in the context of Geopolitical rivalry
President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu announced his foreign policy, the “Pro-Maldives” policy, before being elected and taking office. In an interview with the Times of India in January, the President summed up the basis of the policy by saying that Maldives is not working against any nation, but will focus on the interests of the nation.
After his visit to China, the President highlighted four pillars of Maldives’ relations with China. These include mutual respect, consideration for the territorial integrity and security of each other, non-interference in internal affairs, and basing bilateral relations on sovereign equality.
Speaking to the Times of India, the President said the main basis of the “Pro-Maldives” policy is to shape Maldives’ foreign policy in a way that protects the Maldives’ interests and work in the international arena. In addition to this, achieving sustainable development, and aiding with the global goal of achieving international and regional peace.
Many of the domestic policies that were announced by Dr. Muizzu after his visit to China were shaped by ensuring Maldives’ independence, and reducing excessive dependence on another country. The import of sugarcane from Turkey and other countries, the import of medicine from Europe and the availability of medical services from more medically advanced countries will help reach the goal of avoiding excessive dependence on any particular country.
Given the philosophical foundations on which China’s foreign policy is based, and the real practical objective of India’s foreign policy in South Asia, China is an important partner for Maldives to flourish in the fullest sense. Maldives will need China’s help to become a country that can work in its own interests beyond the hegemonic dominance of India in the region, and this should be apparent to India.
There is then the story of going from India’s pocket to China’s lap. Helping Maldives to implement policies that are in its own best interest without interfering in its internal affairs does not mean that Maldives falls into its lap. Maldives should seek its assistance to stand on its own feet, with the end goal of becoming self sufficient.