India, Maldives sign four MoUs to boost ties

New Delhi will support Maldives Foreign Minister’s candidature for UNGA president.

New Delhi and Male on Monday signed four agreements, including a $100 million Indian grant for an ambitious connectivity project, during Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s visit to the Maldives.

In addition to two MoUs for “high impact” community development projects, the countries signed an MoU on cooperation in sports and youth affairs and another for the $100 million grant, which is part of India’s “$500 million package” for the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP). Last month, the two governments inked a deal for a $400 million line of credit from the Exim Bank of India.

Mr. Shringla’s visit comes two months after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid held a virtual discussion, and about a fortnight after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the island nation. Amid New Delhi’s growing concern over China’s growing influence in the region, the ties with the Maldives have remained under sharp focus.

“The MoUs, which we have signed today, are emblematic of our strong development partnership which is multi-faceted and designed to meet the specific requirements of the government and people of Maldives,” the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary said.

‘India first’ policy

“We deeply appreciate the government of President Solih for its ‘India First’ foreign policy. This is reciprocated in full measure by our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy in which the Maldives enjoys a very special and central place,” he said, even as the political opposition in the Maldives has been criticising the Solih administration for its “India tilt”. Former President Abdulla Yameen, who was dislodged from office in 2018, was widely perceived as a close ally of China. A statement from Mr. Solih’s office said he expressed his gratitude to the Indian government for agreeing to implement an air-bubble between the two countries, and remarked that increasing amounts of Indian tourists have visited the Maldives since the country reopened its international borders.

Further, India reiterated its support for Maldivian Foreign Minister Shahid’s candidature for the Presidency of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in 2021. Mr. Shahid, Mr. Shringla observed, had “best credentials”, while urging the Maldives to play a “more prominent role” at the UN.

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