NEW DELHI: Following his meeting with visiting Maldives President Ibrahim Solih, PM Narendra Modi announced economic assistance worth $1.4 billion to Indian Ocean neighbour, which is saddled with huge foreign debt.
Modi said that the aid will be in the form of budgetary support, currency swap and concessional lines of credit.
Solih reaffirmed Maldives’ ‘India First policy’ and assured Modi that his government will not allow any activity on its soil inimical to India’s interests. This is significant keeping in mind his predecessor Abdulla Yameen‘s relentless targeting of India’s strategic interests, most recently in the form of his efforts to throw out Indian naval choppers from the archipelago and to deny visas to Indian professionals.
The Maldives and India also signed four agreements including one for facilitation of visa arrangements. The two countries also agreed to strengthen maritime security cooperation which had been crippled by Yameen’s policies.
Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid told TOI that the Solih government was pleased with the outcome of the visit. “We are very happy with the whole visit. Especially the very generous economic assistance provided by PM Modi,” said Shahid.
Male is hoping to utilise assistance from India to deal with challenges it is facing in housing, health and education sectors.
Modi and Solih, according to a joint statement, agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region.
“In furtherance of the shared recognition that the security interests of both the countries are interlinked in the region, they reiterated their assurance of being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region and not allowing their respective territories to be used for any activity inimical to the other,” said the statement.
The two leaders also agreed to strengthen maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information and capacity building.
The two leaders reaffirmed their “unwavering commitment and support” for increased cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations both within the region and elsewhere. Both sides agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation on issues of common concern, including piracy, terrorism, organised crime, drugs and human trafficking.
Modi also announced India’s decision to provide 1,000 additional slots over the next 5 years for training and capacity building in diverse fields including judicial, policing and law-enforcement, sports, media, youth and women empowerment.
Solih reiterated his country’s support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of an expanded and reformed UN Security Council, said the joint statement, and also for India’s candidature for a non-permanent seat for the year 2020-21.
Modi welcomed Maldives’ decision to re-join the Commonwealth. He also welcomed the Maldives as the newest member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
Connectivity was another area which Modi and Solih sought to focus on as they discussed establishing enabling infrastructure that would promote the exchange of goods and services, information, ideas, culture and people.
The Maldives is said to owe 70 per cent of its external debt to China. A lot of this is attributed to dubious loan agreements signed by Yameen. Maldives lawmaker Shahid had told TOI during his visit to India earlier that Male was still trying to study the implications of the debt accumulated by the previous Yameen government as figures provided by government officials on foreign debt did not necessarily “tally with the Chinese estimates”.
Male is hoping that India will help it deal with the management of any shortfall in handling issues like fresh water scarcity, sewerage systems and healthcare.
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