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China says it backs Maldives to safeguard sovereignty as first batch of Indian military personnel leaves

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China said on Tuesday that it supports the Maldives in safeguarding its sovereignty, as the first batch of Indian military personnel operating a helicopter left the island nation and was replaced by a civilian crew. Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives manning the operations of a helicopter left the country after handing over the operations of the chopper to an Indian civilian crew, the Maldivian media reported on Monday.

Asked for his comments on the first batch of the Indian military personnel’s withdrawal from the Maldives, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said he was not aware of the specifics.

“China supports the Maldives in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and carrying out friendly cooperation with all sides on the basis of independence,” he said.

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, seen as a pro-China leader, has affirmed that no Indian military personnel, not even those in civilian clothing, would be present inside his country after May 10.

Muizzu asked India to withdraw nearly 90 military personnel from the Maldives and India has agreed to replace the military personnel with civilians and to continue the operations of two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft provided to the country for providing humanitarian and medical evacuation services.

Muizzu’s government also allowed a sophisticated Chinese ‘research ship’ to dock at Male. Last week, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) signed a deal with China’s military. Under this deal, China will supply ‘non-lethal’ weapons to the Maldives free of cost. Muizzu visited China in January during which the two countries announced the elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership besides signing 20 agreements to assist Maldives infrastructure. China also announced a USD 130 million grant besides promising to send more Chinese tourists to the tourism-dependent Maldives.

After Muizzu’s visit, China is sending more of its tourists to Maldives on his request in an apparent attempt to reduce the dependence on Indian tourists who have recently topped the list of international tourists to the tourism-dependent country.



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