India and the Maldives have decided to reinvigorate mutual ties with the latter reiterating its ‘India First’ policy and India’s commitment to ‘neighbourhood first’. At a time when China is asserting itself in the Indian Ocean region, India and the Maldives have decided to enhance cooperation in defence and security.
Attending the fifth India-Maldives Joint Commission in Maldives, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj emphasised India’s policy of neighbours first. Ms Swaraj who completed her two-day visit to the island nation said, “Together we will expand our unique partnership.” For the first time in the Joint Commission meeting between the two countries, defence and security were a part of the discussions. The Joint Commission was meeting after a gap of 15 years.
India-Maldives defence cooperation includes the construction of a composite training centre for the Maldivian National Defence Forces (MNDF), joint patrolling, training programmes for MNDF officers in India, medical camps and joint exercises.
Maldives acknowledged the usefulness of the Advanced Light Helicopter given by India in the development of aviation capacities in the country. Welcoming the participation of the Maldives in the next Dosti exercise in Goa later this month, the two sides were of the view that bilateral partnership was also important for maintaining security in the Indian Ocean region. With increased radicalism and terrorism, India and the Maldives stressed that increased cooperation would help combat the growing menace of drug trafficking and financing of terrorism in the region. Recent reports show increased terror activity in the country even as over 100 people are said to have joined the war in Iraq and Syria.
Apart from defence and security, the two countries also discussed trade, economic development partnership, connectivity, health, energy, human resource development, culture and tourism. Bolstering trade relations between the two countries, the Joint Commission proposed the establishment of a Joint Business Forum and suggested that an investment oriented forum be part of the discussions for 2016. The two sides also decided to explore further measures to increase trade in goods and services and to strengthen links in the banking and financial sectors of both the countries. India and the Maldives have agreed to sign agreements on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Tax Information Exchange at the earliest.
The two countries signed two MoUs, one between the Foreign Service Institutes of India and the Maldives and the MoU on Youth Affairs and Sports on the sidelines of the Joint Commission. Maldives also reiterated its support to its strong support to India’s candidature as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
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