The China-India Cold War in Maldives

Rangoli Mitra, Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies

Source: The Diplomat

The significance of Maldives, one of the most geographically dispersed countries in the world, is steadily increasing. The island nation, which comprises 26 atolls spread over 90,000 square kilometers, is located in a central position in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka, and straddles important sea lines of communication. Until recently, Maldives was mostly known for its pristine beaches and luxury resorts, and regarded as a vacation destination for the rich and famous. However, in recent years, the strategic salience of the small island nation has not been lost on anyone – particularly India and China.

While India has always regarded Maldives as an important player in the Indian Ocean and accorded it the necessary priority, Beijing has in recent years stepped up engagement with Maldives as well, signaling its intent and priorities in the Indian Ocean as a part of its 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative, the maritime half of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A Look at the Historical India-Maldives Relationship

Maldives, which is barely 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy island in India’s Lakshadweep archipelago and 300 nautical miles away from India’s west coast, has traditionally been India’s friend. However, the nature of this relationship remains dynamic and complex due to factors such as competing domestic rivalries in Maldivian politics and the importance of foreign policy for the general public because of the nation’s geostrategic location.

India was not only one of the first countries to recognize Maldives after its independence in 1965 but also the first country to open a resident mission in Malé. For its part, Maldives opened a full-fledged High Commission in New Delhi in November 2004, at that time one of only four diplomatic missions worldwide. While the relationship began deepening with increasing economic and diplomatic engagements, the crucial turning point came in 1988, when India responded to a coup attempt against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom by launching Operation Cactus. Although it has been widely noted that Gayoom contacted other countries for help at first, it was finally India who came to his government’s rescue. While Gayoom maintained friendly relations with India, he also veered toward China, a rising power in the Indian Ocean.

Democratic elections held in 2008 brought Mohamed Nasheed to power in Maldives. Nasheed had a clear pro-India stance. In 2009, Maldives and India signed a defense cooperation agreement, according to which India would install 26 radars on all the atolls for seamless coverage and link them with the Indian coastal command, and the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) would carry out joint surveillance and patrolling activities. New Delhi also agreed to provide Maldives with a Dhruv helicopter and help establish a 25-bed military hospital in the island chain, among other agreed-upon cooperative mechanisms. This brought Maldives into the Indian security grid. Events such as the 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Maldives in 2014, which led to swift and positive responses from India, further helped to cement New Delhi’s position as the net security provider and first responder in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Relations between India and Maldives soured during Mohammed Waheed Hassan and Abdulla Yameen’s time in power, as both leaders favored Beijing. But even then, the decline should not be overstated. Although Yameen had an anti-India stance while campaigning for elections, once in power, he softened his rhetoric on India and paid a visit to the country. During his visit, the Indo-Maldivian Action Plan for defense was signed and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi minced no words when he asserted that Maldives is among India’s closest partners.

Initiatives such as the Greater Malé Connectivity project, the training of Maldivian civil servants in India, cargo vessel services, the capacity building and training of the MNDF, and infrastructure projects such as the Gulhifalhu Port Project and the Hulhumalé cricket stadium, are among the plethora of projects being undertaken by India in Maldives.

The engagement between the two countries is based on India’s “Neighborhood First” and Maldives’ “India First” policy. Particularly, in the sphere of defense, the two nations have an extremely close relationship based on the understanding of the need to protect the IOR from both conventional and non-conventional threats. The two nations routinely hold joint exercises such as “Ekuverin” and “Dosti” (the latter of which was later joined by Sri Lanka).

In 2020, India supplied a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft to the MNDF, which is expected to boost efforts to keep a closer eye on the movement of Chinese vessels in regional waters. One of the main functions of this aircraft is to undertake medical evacuations from isolated communities on some 200 inhabited islands. It will also assist in search and rescue and counterterrorism operations, as well as surveilling and responding to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Interestingly, the need for the Dornier aircraft was initially raised by the Yameen government.

For India, the Indian Ocean is of utmost importance. Since 2014, after the Modi government came to power, India has taken a proactive approach in cementing its role as the leader in the Indian Ocean by according priority to maritime diplomacy and initiatives. This comes against the backdrop of rising Chinese assertiveness in the IOR and the growing interest of various powers in the Indian Ocean generally, and Maldives in particular.

Chinese Influence in Maldives

China established bilateral relations with the Maldives in 1972. Since then, the Chinese have gradually increased investments in Maldives and maintained a cordial relationship with the different Maldivian governments. From 1985, Chinese companies began entering the project-contracting business in the Maldives. By the end of 2001, the accumulated value of their contracted projects was $46.37 million, with turnover touching $40 million.

The turning point in Sino-Maldivian relationship came in 2013 after Abdulla Yameen came to power. Coincidentally, this was also the year in which Xi Jinping became the Chinese president and launched the ambitious BRI a few months later. The next year, Xi visited Maldives and exhorted the country to join the Maritime Silk Road. Maldives thus became the second South Asian nation, after Sri Lanka, to formally endorse the BRI. Subsequently, the two nations inked a free trade agreement.

Chinese authorities have constantly encouraged Chinese citizens and businesses alike to visit and invest in the Maldives. The Chinese have undertaken a range of projects such as the construction of roads and housing units, the expansion of the main international airport, the development of a power station, and the construction of a bridge to connect Malé with Hulhule, among other investments in tourism and agriculture. China is also the leading source of tourists to Maldives.

Under the Yameen government, Maldives has accumulated a debt of nearly $3.1 billion, according to former President Nasheed. However, other Maldivian officials have placed it at a lower figure, somewhere between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion, which is nonetheless still a large amount for a country with a GDP of $4 billion.

In 2018, there were reports that the Chinese were planning to build a Joint Ocean Observation Station in Makunudhoo in northwestern Maldives. However, this plan was later shelved. At various points in time, there have been speculations about a possible Chinese naval base in Maldives. However, much to India’s relief, these have remained speculative. Until now, the Chinese navy has visited the Maldives only twice.

Since Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came to power in 2018 after defeating Yameen in that year’s presidential election, India has been prioritized over China, with the present administration going back on certain commitments to the Chinese.

India or China?

The tussle between India and China over Maldives is starkly clear. While India has consistently favored Maldives, the latter’s behavior has changed depending on which regime is in power. However, one thing is clear: Maldives cannot ignore India due its geographical proximity and multidimensional relationship, which is now set in stone.

The geostrategic location of Maldives in the Indian Ocean and its proximity to Diego Garcia has meant that the United States, one of the strongest powers in the Indian Ocean, has also come to recognize the strategic value of Maldives. In 2020, the U.S. and Maldives signed a defense agreement, the first that Malé has signed with any country besides India. Due to the closeness between India and the U.S., India welcomed this agreement. Maldives also shares a close relationship with Japan and has welcomed developments related to the Quad.

But just as India-Maldives relations were not all bad under Yameen, not all is well today. In recent months, the “India Out” campaign led by former President Yameen has gained steam. The debate is ostensibly over an Indian-funded dockyard for the Maldivian coast guard, but the larger concern is regarding the sovereignty of the island nation. It is essential to note that the Indo-Maldivian relationship is based on mutual respect and the primary function of the Indian personnel stationed in Maldives is to maintain and operate the aircraft.

Thus, the politics of Maldives decides its foreign policy, which ultimately reflects the direction toward which the nation will tilt. The presidential elections next year will again decide who will be in favor, but in the long run India and Maldives share a special bond, one that cannot be bought by China. Regardless of whatever happens, India should continue to take a proactive stance toward Maldives and help the nation deal with threats such as climate change and terrorism. This article was previously published in The Diplomat under the same title.

Eyeing on Contemporary China through Lu Xun’s Writings

Priyanka Keshry, Research Scholar, Jawaharlala Nehru University

Image: Lu Xun (1881-1936) Source:

Lu Xun (1881–1936), one of China’s most influential twentieth-century writers, has long been a source of contention. Despite the fact that Lu Xun died over 90 years ago, there is still a dispute concerning the significance of his works in modern China. Some believe Lu Xun remains important today, while others believe he is too political to talk now. One of the key reasons for examining his work now is because he stated his opinions on nearly every facet of Chinese culture, and he differed on a range of cultural, social, and political topics that appear to be more significant than ever. As a consequence of multiple interpretations of his works and political use of them, his works and character have been twisted and transformed several times. Currently, each Chinese individual has their own vision of Lu Xun, which differs from one another. Here, I’ll try to expand on some of the “dissenting voices” in his writings, relate them to current China, and, to some extent, try to figure out what he would say if he were still living today.


Lun Xun (1881-1936) was the nom de plume of one of the most celebrated modern Chinese author, poet, essayist and critic – 周树人 Zhōushùrén or Zhou Shuren. His use of the modern colloquial language for writing serious literature has often led many scholars to regard him as the father of modern Chinese literature. He was born in the year 1881, in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, which was a hotbed of anti-Qing resistance.

 Lu Xun was beginning his writing career at a very historic time in the history of the region. It was the time of the May 4th Movement. The youth and the intellectuals in the society led a socio-political movement aimed to modernise China through adapting to ideas, literature, theoretical frameworks, medicine and other such practises imported from the West.

Some Chinese intellectuals believed that traditional culture and values of China had made China stagnant and weak. Thereby, Lu Xun started writing in colloquial language to reach out to maximum people for advocating modernization and criticising Chinese tradition. The issues, menaces, inadequacies and cruelty of the Chinese society of his times were openly exposed through the narratives of his fictional works. 

 “Diary of a Madman” (1918), Lu Xun’s earliest and most successful short fiction, became a watershed of the modern Chinese literature and affected modern Chinese culture. Lu Xun’s works are still extensively read, debated, and praised both at home and abroad. He is more than a writer; he is an institution (M. Sean, 2010). Lu Xun was more than a single author; he was a tide, a direction, and a movement in his time. Lu Xun did not merely write about   China during his time; he also presented a clearer image of China’s national identity in the future. His writings are recognized as “timeless” literary works, meaning that they have remained relevant since their publication and will continue to do so in the future. During his lifetime, he influenced practically every Chinese writer, generating numerous conflicts, interests, and opinions.

Lu Xun was worried not just about the fate of the Chinese people, but also about the future of universal social values for humanity. Lu Xun’s critical position on government and society compels us to go deeper into his works and consider them in light of current events. Lu Xun acknowledged the political and cultural importance of literature and used his writings to try to awaken the Chinese people.

Numerous analyses of Lu Xu’s literature have been conducted both in China and overseas. The majority of the research concentrated on his works on socio-political topics, with little attention paid to Lu Xun’s dissenting voice.  Yan Jiayan, (2011) in his A Pioneer in Raising Issues against the Mainstream—Lu Xun’s: Difference between Literature and Politics pointed out that he had written the harshest criticism in the whole of Chinese literary and political history and remained extremely critical of the government of the day and of his literary opponents.

Lu Xun attempted to remind lawmakers of their responsibilities to monitor in order to support China’s continued development and progress. “Politicians despise everyone who disagrees with their viewpoints, anyone who tries to think or speak out,” he stated. However, the writer’s language is also the language of society. He’s just sensitive, quick to feel and communicate his feelings (too quickly, at times, so even society opposes and excludes him).  Politicians believe the writer is a source of societal unrest and want to assassinate him so that society may return to normalcy. They have no idea that even if the writer is assassinated, society would still undergo upheaval. The number of Russian authors slaughtered or banished is not insignificant, but haven’t the flames of revolution erupted everywhere? (From 1927’s The Divergence of Art and Politics)

More than half of China was already part of the Guomindang Party’s realm when Lu Xun made these statements. Wouldn’t Lu Xun have been in opposition to a different administration, like the Communist Party? Even though the CPC professed to be socialist and to work equally for people from all walks of life, he would have contradicted them. The essence of his above-mentioned views on the gap between literature and politics would have been perverted by the current authoritarian government.  Politicians still have low regard for people who disagree with them, for anyone who dares to think or speak out. The notion of Lu Xun that “the language of the writer is the language of society” would only have been taken seriously if the writer’s language was in line with the party, not with society. The party believes the writer is a catalyst for societal unrest. 

According to human-rights activists and analysts, the Chinese Communist Party fears that dissidents in the country’s intelligentsia will not only act as a lightning rod for a variety of social concerns by challenging the legitimacy of the state’s institutions, but will also provide an organization for people to rally around.

Pankaj correctly describes the Lu Xun scholarship as a “Lu Xunian paradigm” of writing that continues to influence and inspire modern authors in China. He went on to remark that Lu Xun didn’t write only for the pleasure of writing; he wrote to dismantle the conventional edifice’s foundations. The current regime is afraid that Chinese writers will use the Lu Xunnian model or “Lu Xun’s spirit” to express their discontent with the current regime’s ills, such as the Communist Party’s atrocities against its own citizens, suppression of the voice, and strict censorship of news media, writers, and academics.

General Discussion

Lu Xun had no intention of becoming a writer at first; his dissatisfaction with conventional Chinese society pushed him to do so. In his early writings, we can discern the dissenting voice as well. Lu Xun’s essay “Refutation of Malevolent Voices” (Po e’sheng lun, 1908) was a prod to individuals unsatisfied with imperial culture to build something new. It was written in Tokyo in the traditional Chinese language and first published in December of 1908. He claims that the nation’s hope rests on the sincerity and devotion of its intellectuals, and he encourages them to express their sincere thoughts in order to break through the barriers of darkness and silence.

Iron House,’ as Lu Xun put it, was Chinese society at the time. When an old friend of Lu Xun, Qian Xuantong, requested him to write for New Youth in 1917, Lu Xun informed Qian: “Imagine an iron home with no windows or doors, complete indestructibility, and a room full of sound sleepers on the verge of dying from suffocation. Allow them to die peacefully in their sleep, and they will have no remorse. Is it acceptable to scream, rousing the light sleepers among them and inflicting inexplicable anguish on them before they die?” “The iron house may one day be demolished,” Qian responded.

Because Chinese citizens still can’t or have very limited access to knowledge about what’s going on in the world, and can’t speak their hearts out owing to rigorous censorship, it appears that China has once again become the “iron house,” a room “without windows or doors.” Surveillance and severe regulation of mass media, art, and literature are hallmarks of the modern iron house, from which no one can escape. The ‘iron house’ is waiting for someone to demolish it, and China is waiting for writers like Lu Xun to emerge from their contemporary slavery-induced stupor.

Lu Xun’s debut short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918 and quickly became a hit. Lu Xun has expressed his wrath and challenged thousands of years of feudal patriarchal system and ethical instruction via the insane. As a result, the lunatic represents an already awakened intellectual with an entirely new perspective on society. Lu Xun had shown a blatant anti-feudal democracy, demonstrating the depth of its anti-feudalism.

According to Agnes Smedley’s memoirs (1934), she was worried about him (Lu Xun) after he sent the essay “The Present Situation of Art in Darkest China” to the international publication New Masses. When Smedley advised him to be more careful about his personal safety, but Lu Xun simply replied, “Don’t worry! Someone needs to speak up, someone has to tell it like it is!” His stance of “speaking up” and “telling it like it is” would have gotten him in difficulty, and his destiny would have been worse than Liu Xioabo, a contemporary Chinese literary critic, scholar, and human rights activist who advocated for democratic changes and the end of one-party rule in China.

The event of 1926, in which more than 40 individuals were shot dead by Beijing police, is one of the most important instances that illustrates Lu Xun’s rebellious voice. On March 18, 1926, a student was shot as she and her colleagues attempted to peacefully present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui. “In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen,” penned by Lu Xun, is a short story about the death of a student shot as she and her colleagues attempted to peacefully present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui. He was severely shocked by this act of state-sanctioned brutality, as well as the death of someone he knew. “In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen” is an emotive essay that isn’t overly controversial, as it should be. It was generally recognized, however, as his protest against government-directed brutality. He attacked the opponent while maintaining a conflicted attitude regarding his own acts and words.

When the PRC government sent in troops and opened fire on student protests again in 1989, Lu Xun’s “In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen” was resurrected. Even before the violence established the striking comparisons for everyone to see, students from Beijing Normal University, a successor to Liu Hezhen’s institution, felt a unique connection to the events of March 18, 1926. (Eva Shan Cho, 1999). Liu Hezhen has become a symbol of student patriotism. Since 1989, Chinese administrations have repeatedly failed to speak about the Tiananmen Square Massacre. If we read his words without considering the historical context, we could think he’s talking about contemporary Chinese society. One can only speculate on how Lu Xun might have reacted to the Tian’anmen Square event in 1926, given the 47 dead and 200 wounded.

In his essay titled How “The True Story of A Q” was Written, Lu Xun writes: “I only wish that as people say, I had written about a period in the past, but I fear what I saw was not the past but the future – even as much as  from twenty to thirty years from now.” (Ilgo, Tina. 2010). It is apparent that Lu Xun was interested in far deeper and far-reaching concerns about Chinese national character and human nature in general, rather than just depicting the contemporary situation in China.

Lu Xun described the Chinese society at the time as Wushengde Zhongguo, or “voiceless China,” and advised Chinese youth to first transform China into a China with a voice by speaking boldly, moving forward courageously, forgetting all considerations of personal advantage, pushing aside the ancients, and expressing their true feelings. He wanted to persuade Chinese citizens, particularly the youth, to speak up and convey their actual feelings about the faults of Chinese society, because youth and those who had studied overseas had distinct thoughts and perspectives on the society. He does not want the future generation to face the same destiny as China, which has been plagued by Confucianism’s problems. “We have men but no voices, and how lonely that is!” he says in the same piece. Are folks capable of remaining silent? No, not unless they’re dead, or, to put it another way, unless they’re dumb.” He considered himself as the “voice of China” and a “spiritual fighter.”  Perhaps after 70 years of liberty and living under the guise of a “people’s republic,” Lu Xun would have found China as quiet as it was before the revolution or even as silent as it was under the Qing dynasty. The Party is primarily concerned about Chinese citizens who have the “voice” and “spirit of Lu Xun.”

Lu Xun’s writings are being deleted from high school language and literature curriculum (Liz Carter, 2013). “Who is terrified of Lu Xun?” generated a controversy. People are talking more about Lu Xun as a result of recent modifications to China’s teaching curriculum. Certain people have expressed their displeasure, saying that “Lu Xun’s articles have been withdrawn again; this demonstrates that some people have begun to fear that ordinary people are waking up and becoming conscious.” “Some individuals are terrified of the light even before the sun has risen.”

Chinese authorities recently restricted a bot user’s (@luxunbot25) twitter account, which used to broadcast some of the most noteworthy passages from Lu Xun’s works. Authorities, on the other hand, believe the messages are politically sensitive. (2019, Echo Huang) After “reaching the wall” in 1925, the twitter account released Lu Xun’s essay, urging young people to learn and adapt to the new period. “There are barriers everywhere in China, but they are invisible, like ‘ghost walls,’ so you will run into them nearly at any time. The only one who can conquer the wall without experiencing agony is the winner,” he said. The user may wish to convey a message to society about present internet restrictions, which is reminiscent of Lu Xun’s “iron house.”


The Guomindang government in the past and the Communists today, have and will always see Lu Xun’s writings as potentially subversive. Reading his words gives us the impression that China has never altered. If we read him without considering the historical context, it is difficult to tell that his writings are over a century old. The authorities believe Lu Xun poses a threat to them, which is why they are attempting to devalue his legacy. Realizing the genuine significance and worth of Lu Xun’s works is more vital than ever. “One might love or despise Lu Xun, but one cannot ignore him,” as the saying goes. Even if he had lived in today’s China, when everything appears to be transformed and a “developed society,” he would have written about the evils of society and expressed his discontent in the same style as he was used to, according to my understanding of Lu Xun.