MALE, Maldives — The Maldives president on Sunday suspended three of his deputy ministers for posting derogatory comments against India, its closest neighbor and the source of much of the tourism that drives the islands’ economy.
President Mohamed Muizzu suspended until further notice Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna and Abdulla Mahzoon Maajid for their posts on X, formerly Twitter.
The three were responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s posts on his official X account promoting the pristine beaches of India’s Lakshadweep archipelago for Indian travelers. Lakshadweep is off the southwestern coast of the Indian mainland and is similar to the Maldives.
Last year, Indians made up the largest number of tourists visiting the Maldives, which is famous for its luxury island resorts and white sandy beaches. India is also a strategic ally, with military personnel and helicopters stationed on the islands, but relations have deteriorated since Muizzu, who is considered to be pro-Chinese, was elected in November.
Many Indian celebrities visit the Maldives on vacations and honeymoons, and some of them took to social media condemning the comments.
“The government of Maldives is aware of derogatory remarks on social media platforms against foreign leaders and high-ranking individuals. These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the government of Maldives,” the Maldives Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
An unknown number of Indian military personnel are stationed in the Maldives. During the election, Muizzu campaigned on a platform to remove them, saying they could be a threat to his country’s sovereignty.
Known activities of the Indian military include operating two helicopters donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people stranded or faced with calamities at sea.
Over the past decade, India and China have been vying for influence in the Maldives, which lies on a main east-west shipping route. The Maldives has became part of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative that envisages building ports, railways and roads to expand trade and China’s influence across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Muizzu departs for China Sunday night on his first bilateral visit since being elected to office.