In what seems to be suggestive of the strengthened bilateral ties between Maldives and India, the newly elected Maldivian President, Mohamed Solih chose India for his first foreign visit. This shows how the bilateral ties between India and Maldives are witnessing a positive turnaround. In what corroborates the positive atmosphere created by his visit to India, the Maldivian President made it clear that India is the ‘closest friend’ of Male. He said, “Maldives and India have been friends since time immemorial. India is our closest neighbor and our people have ties of friendship and cultural affinity and within those close links trade and commerce have flourished. India is not only our closest friend, it is also one of our largest trading partners.” He was speaking at an event organized by CII, FICCI, and ASOCHAM.
The Maldivian President also tried to emphasize the business-friendly attitude of his government. He made it clear that the archipelago nation is open for business and investment. The fact that he highlighted this aspect of his government on his visit to India goes on to show that the Maldives understands that India can emerge as a big investor in the island nation. Solih added, “We have near perfect capital mobility. In the Maldives, there are no obstacles to foreign ownership of investment.”
India also reciprocated to the Maldivian initiative in a very positive manner. Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation, Suresh Prabhu welcomed the visiting head of state and also proposed that the Maldives seeks India’s partnership in addressing Male’s developmental challenges. Prabhu added that Indian government’s flagship projects also have a great potential for Maldives-India partnership. He also assured the visiting dignitaries about India’s commitment towards the Maldives and said, “Yours is a nation consisting of islands but you are not isolated in any way. Please tell us areas of your priorities and the entire might of the Government of India will be with you.”
Solih’s visit has not only been about verbal rhetoric but the two sides also seemed to have achieved material strengthening of ties. In fact, India has announced a $1.4 billion financial assistance package for the archipelago nation. This is bound to be seen as a significant development which suggests a turnaround in Maldives-India relationship which went through a strained period even as the former President of Maldives was seen as a pro-China leader. President Abdul Yameen was defeated by the combined Maldivian opposition in the September 23 elections and it seems that ever since the new regime came to power after it was sworn in on November 17, the relationship between the two countries seems to have come back on track. What is interesting to note here is the fact that as per the news reports, the island nation is currently facing $3 billion towards China and financial help has come from India at such a critical juncture. India has virtually emerged as a savior for the Maldives and this will undoubtedly take the relationship between the two countries to a whole new level. Prime Minister Modi told reporters, “We held successful talks in a cordial atmosphere.” He added, “For Maldives’ social and economic development we are providing a financial assistance of $1.4 billion in the form of budgetary support, currency swap agreements and concessional lines of credit.”
Another region where the two countries seem to be coming on terms with each other is maritime security. Maldivian president Solih said that the two sides agreed to strengthen maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean region through coordinated patrol and aerial surveillance. Apart from this, Solih appreciated India’s assistance in various sectors and also identified several areas for cooperation, “Including private sector involvement in development of housing and infrastructure, water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands, healthcare, education, and tourism.”
From this visit and the euphoria around it, Prime Minister Modi has yet again proved his dexterity in maintaining close and strong foreign relations especially when it comes to ensuring better relations with those located in strategically crucial locations.
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