KWANG POON
Geopolitical Strategist

On the 28th of January 2021, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled and confirmed that Mauritius has sovereignty over Chagos and it has the jurisdiction to adjudicate the maritime boundary dispute between the Republic of Mauritius’ territory of Chagos and the Republic of Maldives.

First, this judgement should not come as a surprise since the ITLOS is a UN body. The python cannot swallow its own tail. Therefore, the ITLOS cannot go against the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and much less disregard the resolution 73/295 adopted by the UN General Assembly. Maldives working against Mauritius is also in line with its vote against Mauritius at that same UN General Assembly on the 22nd of May 2019.

Now, the real question that we should be asking is why is Maldives acting up the way it is doing? The answer to this question lies in the turncoat operation which occurred after the regime change from Adbulla Yameen to Ibrahim Solih which was promoted by India and reinforced by the USA.

Whereas Maldives was a key node on the New Maritime Silk Routes, it was perceived as being a threat by India which considered that Maldives could potentially be used as part of the String of Pearls to encircle the Indian peninsula. Lying just north of the Chagos, the US also views the Maldives as a key component in their Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Thus, on the 10th September 2019, the USA Department of Defense and the Maldives Ministry of Defense signed a “Framework for Defense and Security Relationship” in Philadelphia. Officially, the Framework Agreement reinforced defense cooperation in securing “peace and security in the Indian Ocean” and a commitment towards a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” but unofficially, it was apparently a device to lure Maldives away from the Chinese sphere of influence. 

During that same month, President Solih, among the nearly 200 country representatives in attendance at the 74th UNGA, got the rare and distinct honour to meet and get his picture taken with then US President Trump in New York. Then, in October 2020, Mike Pompeo, in his then capacity as Secretary of State, paid an official visit to Malé and announced that the USA will set up an embassy in the Maldives. All signs thus point to a newfound camaraderie between Washington and Malé.