Rijiju represents Arunachal Pradesh in the Indian parliament, a State which China claims as “Southern Tibet”
India has sent Union Minister of Earth Sciences, Kiren Rijiju, to represent the country at the oath-taking ceremony of the Maldivian President-elect, Dr. Mohamed Muizzu.
By doing so, India is challenging China, which is believed to have connections with Muizzu and his Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM). The ceremony was held place on Friday.
The choice of Rijiju is significant because he is a member of parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, a state in North East India, which China claims as “Southern Tibet”. China issues “Stapled Visas” to Indians from Arunachal Pradesh, and it also protests whenever India holds military exercises in the area. By sending Rijiju, India is posing a challenge to China as well as the new Maldivian government, which is seen to be leaning towards China.
Even though Muizzu had promised to be impartial between India and China during his campaign for election, he had also suggested that India should remove its military helicopter and crew from the island, an unsuccessful demand made by President Abdulla Yameen earlier. Both Yameen and Muizzu belong to the same party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), and share the view that there should be no foreign military presence on Maldivian soil.
Under Yameen, the Maldives had grown closer to China, causing displeasure to India. However, in 2018, the pro-India Ibrahim Solih came to power and restored good relations with India. Unfortunately, Solih’s term was short-lived, and the pro-China Muizzu was voted into power in October this year. He is said to be under the influence of Yameen, who is currently serving jail time for high corruption.
China was represented at the inauguration by Madame Shen Yiqin, a former Communist Party chief of the southern Chinese province of Guizhou who was later appointed as one of the country’s five State Councillors, becoming the most senior woman official in the leadership. According to sources, Shen is not a very important figure, although she is in the top rungs. She is probably of equal importance to Rijiju in the Indian government.
In its official announcement, India has stated that the Maldives holds a significant position in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “SAGAR” (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the “Neighbourhood First Policy,” making it India’s principal maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India’s “high-level” Ministerial representation at the ceremony is thus a symbol of the country’s commitment to further deepen substantive cooperation and robust people-to-people ties between the two countries.
India had received an invitation for Prime Minister Modi to attend the oath-taking ceremony, but it decided to send Minister Rijiju instead, describing it as a high-level representation. Modi had congratulated Muizzu on his victory, stating that India remains committed to strengthening the time-tested India-Maldives bilateral relationship and enhancing overall cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.