Mohamed Muizzu, perceived as pro-China, campaigned on a promise to evict Indian soldiers from the country.
Maldives’ new president Mohamed Muizzu says he will remove foreign military personnel from the country, reaffirming his support for the departure of a small Indian force from the archipelago in the Indian Ocean where India and China compete for influence.
At his inauguration on Friday, Muizzu – seen as more pro-China than his predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who sought closer ties with India – said he would continue trade with both nations.
“The lines of independence and sovereignty will be clearly drawn. Foreign military presence will be removed,” said Muizzu of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
“I will maintain friendships with foreigners. There will be no hostility with countries near or far,” he added.
Regional powers China and India have sought to exert greater influence over the archipelago. In September, Muizzu defeated Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Solih pursued an ‘India first’ policy and the polls were seen as a referendum of sorts.
Muizzu criticized Solih’s trade policies as tilted in India’s favor and campaigned on a promise of closer economic ties with China. Analysts say his victory will likely be seen as a setback for India’s influence in the region.
“Looking through the zero-sum lens that often fuels competition between powers, Beijing is the big winner in this election,” Michael Kugelman, director for South Asia at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, told Al Jazeera.
“The premise of Muizzu’s campaign was not only to strengthen ties with Beijing, but also to weaken India by calling for an end to any Indian military presence in the Maldives. This is music to Beijing’s ears,” he added.
India has about 75 troops stationed in the Maldives, a group of islands home to about 521,000 people.
While Muizzu has stated that he will work to rebalance economic relations between India and China, relations with China remain largely cordial.
After the elections, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi wrote in a social media post that his country “remains committed to strengthening the time-tested bilateral relationship between India and the Maldives.”
Both India and China sent high-level representatives to the inauguration of Muizzu.