New Delhi: The previous Maldivian government was “childish” to play India and China against each other as both are its allies, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has said.
In an interview to ThePrint, Shahid said, “The previous government tried to play India and China against each other, which is a childish policy. In international relations, you don’t play your friends against each other. You establish principled relationships.”
While Male’s relationship with New Delhi is “outstanding”, Beijing has also been “generous” to the island nation in terms of social development projects that are being developed there, Shahid added.
“When we deal with India we do not look at the size. Our relationship is based on principles. Our policy is based on mutual respect,” he said, referring to the fact that under the previous Maldivian government the relationship had hit rock bottom.
“The relationship had seen a downward swing (with India) due to irresponsible policies of the previous government,” he added.
Maldives holds strategic importance for India under the Modi government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy due to its location in the Indian Ocean. However, during the pro-Beijing regime of their former President Abdulla Yameen, ties between the nations got strained. In fact, there came a point in 2018 when India even contemplated a military intervention.
Shahid was in India earlier this week on an official trip and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
‘Confident of dialogue with China’
Under former president Abdulla Yameen, Maldives incurred a debt of about $1.4 billion owing to loans from China to finance several of its infrastructure projects.
“This (Chinese debt) is something we have inherited. But we are confident that we will be able to deal with it. We are confident that we will be able to have a dialogue with China,” said Abdulla Shahid.
He added that Beijing had been “very generous” in social development projects, especially in housing.
“I was in China in September last year. I have found a good friend in the State Council. I think we will be able to move ahead finding solutions to the problem. Stating and restating the problem will not be the way out. The way out will be talking and finding solutions,” he added.
India’s concerns about Chinese influence
India has been quite apprehensive of the growing Chinese influence in Maldives even as it continues to give utmost priority to the island nation.
After coming to power for the second time in May last year, Prime Minister Modi’s first international destination was Maldives. He was also the only head of state to attend Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s swearing-in ceremony in November 2018, when he came to power ousting Yameen.
India has also offered a $1.4-billion development assistance package to Maldives, which is being utilised in several projects, said the Maldivian minister.
Under Yameen, Maldives and China had also entered into a free trade agreement. According to Abdulla Shahid, the trade pact is being reviewed by the government and has not yet been ratified by the country’s parliament.
Shahid added that Maldives is not only looking at India but also towards the US, UK and UAE in its efforts to tackle terrorism and radicalisation.