Maldives FM meets Indian counterpart at frosty time in relations

NEW DELHI — India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Thursday told his visiting Maldivian counterpart, Moosa Zameer, that ties between the “close and proximate” neighbors depend on mutual interests and reciprocal sensitivity after bilateral relations were strained by the election last year of a pro-China president in the Maldives.

India has been a key provider of development assistance to the Maldives, often extending financial support on favorable terms in the past.

“Our cooperation has also enhanced the security and well-being of your country through shared activities, equipment provisioning, capacity building and training,” Jaishankar said during talks with Zameer, who arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday evening on his first official visit.

“The world is today passing through a volatile and uncertain period,” Jaishankar said. “In such times, as we saw during Covid, during natural disasters and economic difficulties, close partnerships with neighbors are of great value.”

Zameer posted on X after meeting: “We reflected on our long history of bilateral partnership shared by mutual respect and understanding.

“We exchanged perspectives on increasing engagement and exchanges between Maldives and India, both bilaterally and in the international arena.”

Ahead of their meeting, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement describing the Maldives as India’s key maritime neighbor in the Indian Ocean region, and said Zameer’s visit was expected to add momentum to bilateral cooperation.

The visit comes after bilateral relations hit turbulence with the election last year of President Mohamed Muizzu, who is considered pro-China. One of his campaign promises was to remove Indian troops stationed in his country for humanitarian and medical evacuation services.

Indian personnel numbering fewer than 100 have been leaving in a phased manner, with Muizzu setting May 10 as the deadline for their complete withdrawal.

After he assumed office, Muizzu chose to go to Turkey on his first official visit, breaking with the tradition of all previous democratically elected Maldivian presidents traveling to India first. He went on to visit China in January, a move that was a clear sign of Male’s tilt toward Beijing away from New Delhi. Both countries seek influence in the strategically situated Indian Ocean archipelago.

Muizzu’s China tour came just as a major diplomatic row with India erupted over some Maldivian ministers making disparaging remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Those were met with angry Indian calls for a boycott of the islands, known for their idyllic resorts.

The spat kicked off after Modi made a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter, promoting tourism in India’s Lakshadweep archipelago off the coast of its southern state of Kerala. Even though Modi did not refer to the Maldives in any of his posts, some Maldivian ministers interpreted them as intended to lure tourists away.

In response to questions about reports that a Chinese survey vessel had returned to Maldivian waters, making its second visit to the tiny nation this year, Randhir Jaiswal, spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, told the press on May 2 that India keeps a close eye on such developments and takes measures accordingly.

All regional developments that have an impact on national and economic security are watched closely, and “appropriate measures … are taken to safeguard them,” Jaiswal said.

source : asia.nikkei

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