Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Reed Werner and Maldivian Minister of Defense Mariya Didi signed the “Framework for U.S. Department of Defense-Maldives Ministry of Defence Defense and Security Relationship” in Philadelphia on September 10 2020.
The Framework sets forth both countries’ intent to deepen engagement and cooperation in support of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean, and marks an important step forward in the defense partnership.
DASD Werner and Minister Didi also discussed U.S. support for the Maldives’ response to COVID-19 and areas for future cooperation, and agreed to work toward scheduling the first Defense and Security Dialogue. Both sides reiterated their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that promotes the security and prosperity of all nations in the region.
The US and the Maldives held their inaugural Defense and Security Dialogue in Male on Tuesday, according to Indian media. The US side said it looks forward to a new year of advancing shared values in the Indo-Pacific with the Maldives.
The US presence in the Indian Ocean is decades old. Diego Garcia island is a key US military base in the region. But why does the US take so long to develop defense and security ties with the Maldives?
Obviously, the US wants to exploit the geostrategic location of the Maldives to advance its Indo-Pacific Strategy. The US has also been looking for another military base in the Indian Ocean. It had wanted a naval base in Sri Lanka’s northeastern port city of Trincomalee, but was rejected by the Sri Lankan government. By holding the Defense and Security Dialogue, the US may want to seek military bases in the Maldives.
The US has in recent year cooperated with other countries under the subtext of guarding against China. As China has heavily invested in the Maldives, the US is now attempting to offset China’s influence. And not just in the Maldives, but the entire Indian Ocean region.
Washington recognized the strategic significance of the Maldives only when developing its Indo-Pacific Strategy. It can also contain China and check India. Washington’s attempts to strengthen its ties with African countries are result from Beijing’s deep engagement there. The Maldives, too, falls into this paradigm.
As a small country, the Maldives hopes to secure its safety and upgrade its international status by developing relations with all great powers. In this scenario, instead of only relying on India, Male seeks to deepen coordination with other countries.
The US needs to woo India to implement its Indo-Pacific Strategy while India has to cooperate with the US. Getting closer to the US can offset China’s influence in the Indian Ocean region. India and the US are mutually taking advantage of each other. This ultimately dampen India’s own interests and the situation will not develop as many in New Delhi wish for.
With its small size and population, the Maldives lacks strong national and military strength. Washington’s courtship only reflects its desire to offset the influence of China in the region. It will cause substantive damage to China as Maldives is most likely to be the new recipient of defense aid and excess defense articles from the US.
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