Visit of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is testimony to the importance that India attaches to its close and friendly relations with the Maldives
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Maldives on March 26-27, 2022, on the invitation of his counterpart - Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives Abdulla Shahid. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had earlier issued a press release that the EAM will hold discussions with his Maldivian counterpart and said, "EAM visit will see the signing of several agreements related to the bilateral development cooperation, inauguration/handing-over and launch of a number of key India-supported projects that will contribute to the socio-economic development of the Maldives and enhance its security."
With Jaishankar visiting Sri Lanka after Maldives, the MEA release further said, "Both Maldives and Sri Lanka are India's key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and occupy a special place in Prime Minister's vision of 'SAGAR' and ‘Neighbourhood First’. EAM's visit is testimony to the importance that India attaches to its close and friendly relations with the Maldives and Sri Lanka."
EAM visit to Maldives saw the signing of several agreements related to the bilateral development cooperation, inauguration/handing-over and launch of a number of key India-supported projects
In Maldives, Jaishankar and Shahid held wide-ranging discussions on the bilateral partnership and took stock of ongoing projects and initiatives across a very wide range of sectors and looked at socio-economic development, trade and investment, and, tourism. Acknowledged strides made in fields of capacity building and training, the two countries inked an agreement paving the way for connectivity between India's national knowledge network and the Maldives' higher education network.
With inauguration of the National Knowledge Network (NKN) and signing of the ‘Peering Agreement’, over 1500 Indian institutes and a host of universities and centres of learning from Singapore, Europe and the US have been connected to the Maldives. Jaishankar called the NKN a “real expression of the best of our regional cooperation in the digital and education arenas." The two countries also signed an agreement on the mutual recognition of COVID-19 certificates where Jaishankar said, "It is a step forward in the same direction and will certainly contribute to easier travel between us."
At a joint press conference with his Maldivian counterpart, Jaishankar said, "Our time-tested relationship is today poised for a quantum jump. We are touching the lives of our people like we have done never before. We are partners in development, we are promoting peace and security, and our relationship, in many ways, serves as a model for the region."Jaishankar assured that guided by the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the cooperation between the two countries has actually "witnessed and withstood the arc and anguish of the pandemic together."
Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said that New Delhi is Mali's most trusted partner and thanked India in a tweet for standing in solidarity with the Maldives, and for being its friend and partner throughout the years
With India supporting projects in a range of sectors - infrastructure, tourism, fish processing and health, Jaishankar said, "We will be witnessing the inauguration and launch of some of these projects tomorrow. Work has commenced on Addu Roads projects, as also on the 4,000 housing units, the drinking water and sanitation." He said the iconic Greater Male Connectivity Project holds the potential of transforming the transport landscape of the capital and added, "It gives me great pleasure in recognising the progress we have made on this project and we have moved from the level of concept to preliminary works in less than two years, that too during the years of Covid. Geo-technical surveys are ongoing. I hope we can do ground-breaking in the coming months."
Jaishankar also noted that the Hanimaadhoo Airport Redevelopment Project, the expansion of facilities of MIFCO, the cricket stadium and the social housing projects have all seen momentum in implementation in the past year. He said that the DPR of $40 million Sports Line of Credit (LOC) announced in February last year is near completion. Under this LOC, the National Stadium will be renovated and sports infrastructure would be built across the Maldives. He highlighted, "We are already engaged in the development of water and sanitation facilities on 34 islands through LoC financing. Apart from extending basic civic amenities to island communities, the project that is one of the largest climate adaptation measures ongoing in the Maldives at a cost of more than $100 million, I think is very noteworthy. We exchanged views on how we take climate change and renewable energy development forward."
Attending the inauguration ceremony of the National College for Policing & Law Enforcement (NCPLE) at Addu city in Maldives, Jaishankar congratulated the Maldives Government and its people on the successful completion of NCPLE and said, "This venerable institution has left its imprint in many ways of making modern India. ... A score of Foreign Service officers have passed through its gates over the decade and currently, both the External Affairs Minister (Jaishankar) and Foreign Secretary (Harsh Shringla) have had the privilege of studying here."
Maldives government has recognised China’s debt trap but still owes considerable amount of money to China and Chinese constitute bulk of the tourists to Maldives, which is a major revenue earner
On March 27, Jaishankar formally handed over the Coastal Radar System to the Maldives Chief of Defence Force Major General Abdulla Shamaal, describing it a fine example of India’s SAGAR and Neighbourhood First policies. The Coastal Radar Systemis already operational and comprises 10 radar stations that enhances maritime security for the Maldives and the entire region. Jaishankar said, “Defence cooperation is another key pillar of the India-Maldives partnership. Today, our relationship is full of promises and possibilities for our youth and future generations.”
Jaishankar also inaugurated the Meedhoo eco-tourism zone, one of the 20 projects being implemented by India in Maldives in diverse areas of health, education, fisheries, tourism, sports, gender empowerment and culture.Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said that New Delhi is Mali's most trusted partner. "Ours is a relationship of mutual respect based on trust and confidence." Shahid, who is also President of the United Nations General Assembly, thanked India in a tweet for standing in solidarity with the Maldives, and for being its friend and partner throughout the years.
Maldives has been in the crosshairs of China since long. The Beijing-sponsored ‘India Out’ campaign in Maldives has fizzled out with the present government recognising China’s debt trap. But Maldives still owes considerable amount of money to China and Chinese constitute bulk of the tourists to Maldives, which is a major revenue earner. By end March 2021, Maldives total public and publicly guaranteed debt stood at $5.6 billion, about 125 per cent of estimated 2021 GDP. The issuance of a $300 million ‘sukuk’ in April 2021 helped to reduce rollover risks by extending the maturity of most of the $250 million Eurobond due in June 2022.