Dubai, December 2 (PTI): The leaders discuss ways to bolster economic, development, and people-to-people ties; meeting comes days after Maldivian president asked India to withdraw 77 military personnel, review bilateral agreements
India and the Maldives on Friday agreed to set up a core group to further deepen their partnership, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a “productive” meeting with newly-elected Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu on the sidelines of the UN’s COP 28 climate summit.
“President @MMuizzu and I had a productive meeting today. We discussed ways to enhance the India-Maldives friendship across diverse sectors. We look forward to working together to deepen cooperation for the benefit of our people,” the PM tweeted after the meeting, his first with Mr. Muizzu.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the two leaders discussed ways to further bolster India-Maldives relations in sectors pertaining to economic relations, development cooperation, and people-to-people ties.
A close associate of former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, who had forged close ties with China during his 2013 to 2018 tenure in office, Mr. Muizzu, 45, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September. On Friday, Mr. Modi personally congratulated Mr. Muizzu on his assumption of office as the President of the Maldives.
“Both leaders reviewed the wide-ranging bilateral relations between the two countries including people-to-people linkages, development cooperation, economic relations, climate change and sports,” theMinistry of External Affairs said in a statement. “The two leaders also discussed ways to further deepen their partnership. In this regard, they agreed to set up a core group,” it added.
The meeting took place days after Mr. Muizzu requested New Delhi to withdraw 77 Indian military personnel from the Maldives, and decided to review more than 100 bilateral agreements between the two countries. The request came during Union Minister Kiren Rejiju’s courtesy visit to the new Maldivian president’s office on November 18.
The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.
The Maldives’ proximity to India — barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep, and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast — and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean gives it a significant strategic importance to India.
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Observers say that despite his party’s pro-China rhetoric, Mr. Muizzu, a British-educated civil engineer, may follow a more nuanced foreign policy. The country faces a precarious economy with several debt repayments due, and may take a cue from Sri Lanka’s crisis.
India had stepped in with $4 billion in assistance to Sri Lanka even while China dithered, despite its massive belt-and-road investments in the country, including the Hambantota port which Beijing took over for a 99-year lease as a debt swap.
Ibrahim Shihab writes in www.maldivesrepublic.mv
The Maldives and India will form a ‘core group’ with a view to further strengthen relations between the two nations, India’s Official Spokesperson at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Arindam Bagchi has confirmed. The decision was made during the first meeting between President Mohamed Muizzu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, held on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, the MEA Spokesperson said.
“PM @narendramodi [Modi] met President @MMuizzu [Muizzu] of Maldives on the sidelines of #COP28 WCAS in Dubai. PM congratulated President Muizzu on his assumption of office. Both leaders reviewed the wide-ranging bilateral relations between the two countries including people to people linkages, development cooperation, economic relations, climate change and sports. The two leaders also discussed ways to further deepen their partnership. In this regard, they agreed to set up a core group,” Bagchi said on social media.
Modi, also in reference to the meeting, posted to social media in Dhivehi saying that the meeting between the leaders was successful and that various areas of friendship between the nations were discussed, adding that both leaders hoped to enhance cooperation and work together in the future for the benefit of the people of both countries.
One of Muizzu’s main campaign promises was the initiation, on his first day as President, of the process of expelling foreign troops from the Maldives — a stance that strongly hinted at the removal of Indian troops, considering the support his campaign received from the ‘India Out’ movement. One of the first issues discussed with the High Commissioner of India to the Maldives, Munu Mahawar, once Muizzu was elected president, was the removal of Indian troops from the Maldives. While some Indian journalists, during the Dubai summit, asked Muizzu for his thoughts on the Indian military presence in the Maldives, the President’s answer was not specific to their question.
“There is a strong relationship between India and the Maldives,” President Muizzu said in his response to queries by Indian media.