Foreign Secy Shringla lauds Maldives’ ‘India First’ policy, assures Covid recovery support

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Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in Maldives on 9 November 2020 | Twitter | @HCIMaldives
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in Maldives on 9 November 2020 | Twitter | @HCIMaldives


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New Delhi: Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla Monday once again hailed Maldives’ ‘India First’ policy, as New Delhi believes it needs to “constantly build on” its close bilateral ties with the Ibrahim Solih government as China’s influence in the island country continues to rise. 

Shringla, who is on a two-day visit to Maldives, met President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, Defence Minister Mariya Didi and Tourism Minister Mausoom Maus.

Shringla was accompanied by India’s Ambassador to Maldives, Sunjay Sudhir.

“We deeply appreciate the government of President Solih for its ‘India First’ foreign policy. This is reciprocated in full measure by our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy in which Maldives enjoys a very special and central place,” Shringla said at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malé.

During his meeting with President Solih, the foreign secretary discussed the progress of the ongoing development projects in Maldives under the $1.3-billion financial package offered by India.

He also assured Solih of India’s “continued support to Maldives in the entirety of the post-Covid recovery phase” and apprised him of Covid vaccine-related developments.

In August, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had held a video conference with his counterpart Shahid, where India had announced its decision to support the implementation of Greater Malé Connectivity Project in Maldives through a financial package consisting of a grant of $100 million and a new Line of Credit of $400 million. 

This is going to be the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Malé with three neighbouring islands — Villingili, Gulhifahu (where a port is being built under the Indian Line of Credit) and Thilafushi (which is a new industrial zone) — with the construction of a bridge-and-causeway link spanning 6.7 km.

Calling it an “economic lifeline” for Maldives, Shringla said: “India is honoured to partner with the Maldives in the prestigious Greater Malé Connectivity Project… Needless to say, the project will conform to the hallmarks of Indian development cooperation, transparency, full participation and ownership of the host country, and competitive pricing.”

Shringla also met Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of Maldives and current Speaker of the country’s legislature, the People’s Majlis, and “acknowledged his long-standing support to India-Maldives relations and appreciated the significant role he plays as Speaker of the Majlis”.


Also read: Allowing US in Maldives to keep China out is a heavy price to pay. So why is India doing it?


Chinese influence in Maldives

The foreign secretary’s visit to Maldives comes within days of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the country on 28 October.

During his visit, Pompeo had announced the US will open a new embassy in Malé, which will be the first such facility since they established diplomatic ties in 1966. All these years, the US was managing its affairs in Maldives from its embassy in Sri Lanka. 

Both India and the US are now keen on bringing Maldives into the Indo-Pacific initiative, in order to lessen China’s influence there.

“Maldives has always been of importance, strategic or otherwise. The foreign secretary’s visit is intended to continue our direct contacts that got disrupted during Covid, and reinforce our ties with Maldives as a country of which we have been consistently supportive. We have the closest of relations, but we need to constantly build on them,” said a top official on condition of anonymity.

Resetting of India-Maldives ties

Ties between New Delhi and Malé had plummeted significantly during the tenure of the previous Abdulla Yameen regime. Under Yameen, Maldives gathered Chinese debt to the tune of $2 billion. 

President Solih’s reaffirmation to the ‘India First’ policy has reset the ties between both the countries, bringing them closer once again. However, New Delhi has been quite apprehensive of Beijing’s growing influence in the Maldives.

In August, speaking at an event held by the country’s embassy in China to mark Maldives’ 55th Independence Day, Foreign Minister Shahid had said the bilateral relationship between Malé and Beijing is “anchored” in a strong base of friendship and people-to-people ties.

“China has been and will continue to be an important development partner of Maldives,” he had said.


Also read: Relationship with India ‘outstanding’, China is ‘generous’: Maldives FM Abdulla Shahid


 

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