Male: Maldives will use diplomacy to ensure there is no foreign military presence on its soil, its new president said on Friday, reaffirming his support for the departure of a small Indian force from the islands where India and China vie for influence.
Mohamed Muizzu was speaking at his inauguration after winning a presidential election in September, beating incumbent Ibrahim Solih in a second-round runoff.
Solih had followed an "India first" policy, but Muizzu in his election campaign promised to remove a small Indian military presence of about 75 personnel from the Maldives.
The Indian Ocean island chain will have a "thick red line" when it comes to security related issues, Muizzu said in his inauguration speech. He also pledged to respect the "security red line of any other country".
"Using the instrument of diplomacy, I will ensure that this country has no foreign military presence on its soil. I assure you there is no greater honour for me than being loyal to my beloved Maldives," he added.
Muizzu had said last month he would work to return Indian military personnel "as soon as possible", but he has also emphasised his commitment to stronger investment ties with both India and China to foster growth.
Home to about 521,000 people, Maldives is famous for its sun-kissed atolls and luxury tourist resorts.
Rival Asian giants India and China have both invested millions of dollars in the islands as they seek to build influence.
Public debt remains high, due to sustained borrowing to finance the budget deficit and infrastructure projects. Total public and publicly guaranteed debt rose to $7 billion, or 113.5% of GDP, at the end of 2022, from $5.9 billion, or 112.1% of GDP, the year before, according to World Bank figures.
Muizzu described growing debt as a "danger," and pledged to take "swift and bold" measures to tackle the problem.
State officials from key countries were present at Muizzu's inauguration, including U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Samantha Power and Chinese State Councillor Shen Yiqin, who will fly to Sri Lanka on Saturday after wrapping up his visit to the Maldives.