India will host the Maldives’ new President, Ibu Solih, on his maiden state visit abroad in December after Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended Solih’s inauguration ceremony in Male on Saturday, signalling a strong intent to revive the partnership that received a setback during the five-year rule of pro-China Abdullah Yameen.
The foreign minister of the Maldives will visit Delhi on Nov 26 to prepare for the visit of Solih, who has signalled ‘India first’ policy as part of his efforts to push back Chinese influence in the island nation.
ET has learnt that Solih is expected to visit Delhi in December as the Modi government is keen to host him in the near future to give momentum to India’s key partnership in the Indian Ocean region. “There is a strong interest in the current Maldivian leadership to rebuild partnership with India,” said a person aware of the matter.
The Modi government will extend support to Solih for infrastructure development in far-flung islands of the Maldives as the new president is keen to reduce his country’s dependence on China, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Saturday, following the inauguration ceremony in Male, Solih also briefed Modi on the dire economic situation facing the country as he takes office. The two leaders discussed ways in which India can help the Maldives in development, as President Solih highlighted the pressing need for increased housing and infrastructure development as well as for establishing water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands.
The Maldives is facing a crisis as it has incurred debts on projects funded by China.
Modi assured Solih of India’s firm commitment to assist the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development. He also conveyed India’s readiness to extend help in every possible way and suggested that both sides meet at the earliest to work out details as per requirements of the island nation.
The PM welcomed expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives in different sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries. The two leaders also agreed on the need to facilitate easier visa procedures.
India, on its part, will seek to kick-start its projects in the Maldives, including in the defence sector, that was stalled under Yameen. The erstwhile president had stalled a number of Indian projects such as a training academy for the Maldivian armed forces and demarcation of an exclusive economic zone. He had also refused to extend visas to Indian professionals and implement initiatives by India’s private sector companies. Indo-Maldivian defence partnership is now likely to be expanded to cover various areas in the maritime domain, said the person cited earlier.
In their meeting on Saturday, the two leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in and around the Indian Ocean and of being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region. India, the person said, expects the Solih regime to safeguard its security interests amid China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean Region.
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