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Jaishankar begins two-day Maldives tour as India seeks to expand partnership in Indo-Pacific

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is likely to meet President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih & will hold discussions with ministers for foreign affairs & defence, among others.

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New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar began his two-day trip to Maldives Saturday as India seeks to expand its Indo-Pacific strategic partnership within its friendly neighbours in an effort to strengthen maritime cooperation.

During his visit, Jaishankar is expected to meet President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and will hold discussions with the ministers for foreign affairs, defence, finance, economic development and planning and infrastructure, according to a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

India has been “carefully and cautiously” nurturing its bilateral relationship ever since the Solih government came to power in 2018, overthrowing the former Abdulla Yameen regime, under whom the island nation gathered a Chinese debt to the tune of $2 billion, official sources told ThePrint.

Jaishankar’s visit comes two months after India, Maldives and Sri Lanka held the 4th trilateral meeting on Maritime and Security Cooperation in which New Delhi was represented by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. The meeting was held in Colombo. 

The Solih government has stood firm in its commitment to an ‘India First’ policy, bringing the two countries closer not just economically, but also strategically. 

India sees Maldives as a key maritime neighbour and has been seeking to forge deeper ties with the country to bolster New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific initiative.

Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla had visited Malé in November 2020, right after the visit of former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo there, in an effort to bring the Solih government closer to the Indo-Pacific construct, thereby lessening Chinese influence in the island nation.

According to sources, India has undertaken a series of economic and financial initiatives at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic to revive Maldivian economy and provide budgetary cushion to its dwindling revenues primarily driven by tourism.

Maldives was also the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines from India with New Delhi gifting 1,00,000 doses in January 2021.


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


‘Need to step up our game there’

Experts said India needs to “maximise” its ties with Maldives as it has been maintaining deeper relations with New Delhi, unlike Sri Lanka.

“Unlike Sri Lanka, Maldives has been maintaining deeper and closer ties with India, so we need to maximise the benefits as much as we can till the time things are in our favour,” said Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, distinguished fellow and head (nuclear and space policy initiative), Observer Research Foundation.

“For India, not much happy and comfortable spaces are left in the neighbourhood as China is increasing its influence. So we need to step up our game there and do that in all aspects from security to economic interests,” added Rajagopalan.

She added that India should continue to strengthen maritime security cooperation with Malé and also execute infrastructure projects there in a timely manner.


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


 

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