A row has erupted after a Maldives minister commented on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to the Lakshadweep.
Maldives minister Abdulla Mahzoom Majid’s comment on social media.
PM Modi's visit to the country's smallest Union Territory comprising 36 islands with an area of 32 sqkm was seen a move to promote tourism on the island.
In his tweet, the minister accused India of targeting Maldives and said India faces significant challenges in competing with the Maldives in beach tourism.
The tweet came after PM Modi's posts on X (formerly Twitter) about snorkelling in the Lakshadweep went viral, prompting social media users in India to suggest the island Union Territory as an alternate tourist destination to the Maldives.
Maldives minister Majid, later deleted his tweet.
India-Maldives ties in the past few months have been strained, after President Mohamed Muizzu came to power.
Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu China visit:
The new Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu will visit China for the first time on Monday for talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
The meeting between the two top leaders will provide "strategic guidance" for the bilateral relations to reach a new height, reported PTI.
Muizzu and First Lady Sajidha Mohamed will visit China from January 8 to 12 at the invitation of President Xi, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced on Friday.
Muizzu, who is seen as a pro-China politician, took oath as the eighth President of the Maldives after defeating the India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September.
Wang Wenbin, another spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry said that this would be President Muizzu’s first state visit to a foreign country since he took office.
President Xi will host a welcome ceremony and a welcome banquet for President Muizzu. The two heads of state will hold talks and attend the signing ceremony of cooperation documents, he said.
Premier Li Qiang and Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Zhao Leji will meet with President Muizzu respectively, Wang said in response to a question at a regular foreign ministry briefing.
"China and the Maldives boast time-honoured friendship. In the past 52 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the two countries have treated each other with respect and supported each other, setting a fine example of equality and mutual benefits between countries of different sizes, Wang said.
He noted that the relations between China and the Maldives have deepened and achieved fruitful outcomes of practical cooperation in various fields, including Belt and Road cooperation, and deepening traditional friendship.
"The relations between China and the Maldives now stand at a new historical starting point. We believe that through this visit, the two heads of state will provide strategic guidance for the bilateral relations to reach a new height," Wang added.
Muizzu's predecessors in the recent past visited India first, considering the wide-ranging bilateral ties and the Maldives' proximity to India, followed by China which has expanded its influence in the island nation by investing in major infrastructure projects there.
PM Modi, Muizzu meeting in UAE:
Surprisingly Muizzu chose Turkiye as his first destination for a foreign visit soon after his election followed by the UAE where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) on December 1 and discussed the progress of the wide-ranging bilateral ties.
During the meeting, both leaders agreed to set up a core group to discuss the multi-dimensional relations and further deepen ties.
The meeting took place after Muizzu requested New Delhi to withdraw 77 Indian military personnel from the Maldives and decided to review more than 100 bilateral agreements between the two countries.
Muizzu’s foreign policy:
Earlier, Muizzu's government announced its plans to drop a hydrographic survey agreement with India.
Muizzu will be the second-highest politician to visit China in recent weeks.
The new Maldives Vice President Hussain Mohamed Latheef last month visited China, his first visit abroad, and took part in the China-sponsored China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation, (CIORF) in Kunming.
Significantly, while praising Chinese infrastructure projects, Latheef made no mention of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under which most of the Maldives' infrastructure projects were built.
The BRI is an ambitious plan initiated by President Xi in 2013 to develop new trade routes connecting China with the rest of the world via land and maritime networks to improve regional integration, increase trade and stimulate economic growth.
Observers say Muizzu's foreign policy is still evolving as the Maldives domestic political situation has undergone a major change after his election in November last year.
Soon after his election Muizzu fell out with former pro-China President Yameen, regarded as his mentor, and opted to pursue his own foreign and domestic policy.
Under Yameen's Presidency, China carried out major infra projects amid allegations of debt traps by some influential politicians of the Maldives.
Angry with Muizzu, Yameen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for corruption, quit the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and formed his own political party called People's National Front (PNC) from jail to oppose Muizzu.
Also, the island's Parliament is currently dominated by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) headed by Solih.
Maldives, key for India strategically:
The Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy' of the Modi government.
The Maldives' proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland's western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean gives it significant strategic importance.