Amid China’s increasing forays in the Indian Ocean, India and the Maldives, the island nation known for its picturesque beaches, have bolstered their strategic ties by signing a defence cooperation pact and five other agreements.
The pacts were signed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom held wide-ranging discussions in New Delhi on April 11. Combating terrorism and radicalization figured prominently in discussions.
Assuring the Maldives that it is ready to protect the strategic interests of the atoll country, India underlined that it would extend all possible assistance, including in maritime sphere and capacity building of armed forces. This is part of a joint action plan to expand defence cooperation and comes amid China’s growing influence in the Maldives.
“Today we agreed on several important issues. In defence sector, a concrete Action Plan will be operationalised soon to strengthen cooperation, port security, training of officials and ocean surveillance. On radicalisation we have agreed for information exchange, training of police and security of Maldives,” Mr Modi said.
China has been seeking to expand its presence in the island nation over the years. The Yameen administration, according to some analysts, is seen as being favourably disposed towards China while the former President Mohammed Nasheed, who was imprisoned, was viewed as more favourably disposed towards India.
Underscoring India’s unstinting support to the Maldives, Mr Modi said: “We are conscious of security needs of Maldives; President Yameen agreed that Maldives will be sensitive to our strategic and security interests. It is clear that the contours of India-Maldives relations are defined by our shared strategic, security, economic and developmental goals. ”
Maldives’ India-first foreign policy
Despite the growing proximity to China, Mr Yameen said that the Maldives pursues an “India first” foreign policy and described India as its most important friend.
With a growing number of terror groups expanding their presence in the region, India and the Maldives focused on expanding counter-terror cooperation. The two countries alsosigned pacts in the fields of taxation, tourism, space research and conservation.
(Sridhar Ramaswamy contributed inputs for this article)
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