India, Maldives break ice, agree on Indian Ocean stability

Male: Seen as a fresh revival of ties between India and the Maldives, the two countries agreed to work on peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region following a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Saturday.

“The two leaders, while noting the resilience of the relations between India and the Maldives, expressed confidence in the renewal of the close bonds of cooperation and friendship with the election of Solih as the President of the Maldives,” a joint statement issued following the meeting said.

“During their meeting, both leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean and being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region,” it stated.

“The two leaders expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism both within the region and elsewhere.”

Prior to the meeting, Modi attended the swearing-in ceremony of Solih in the Maldives’ capital.

Modi was the senior-most foreign leader to attend the ceremony in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation that went through immense political turmoil under former President Abdulla Yameen.

This is Modi’s first visit to the Maldives and the first prime ministerial visit from India to that country since 2011.

Solih, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s candidate, emerged victorious over Yameen. His term is expected to continue until 2023. He is the seventh President of the Maldives and the third to be elected under the country’s new Constitution.

Following his victory in the Maldives presidential election in September, Solih invited Modi to attend his swearing-in ceremony during a telephonic conversation.

The island nation’s relations with India became strained during Yameen’s rule, with tensions peaking after New Delhi criticised Male’s refusal to enforce a Supreme Court ruling quashing the convictions of nine opposition figures, among them former President Mohamed Nasheed, who had gone into exile.

Nasheed returned to his country following Solih’s election.

During his speech after the swearing-in, Solih, speaking in Dwivehi, said that his country “will endeavour to fortify existing ties with India”.

“Maldives will hereupon bolster its shared role to retain enduring peace and harmony of the Indian Ocean,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar quoted him as saying.

During the swearing-in, Nasheed sat beside Modi and the two were seen chatting animatedly. Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunge was also sitting along with them.

Under Nasheed, relations between India and the atoll nation had improved greatly.

Former President Yameen was seen as anti-India and pro-China while new President Solih is perceived to be pro-India.

China’s increased influence in the Indo-Pacific region sent ripples around capitals across the world. India, the US, Japan and Australia then last year revived a quad they had formed to work for peace and prosperity in the region.

Solih greeted Modi with a warm embrace at the presidential office ahead of their meeting after the swearing-in ceremony.

According to the joint statement, Modi thanked Solih for the special gesture of inviting him to the inauguration ceremony.

“President Solih also briefed Prime Minister Modi on the dire economic situation facing the country as he takes office,” it stated.

“The two leaders discussed ways in which India can continue development partnership, particularly to help the new government in meeting its pledges to the people of the Maldives.”

Solih highlighted the pressing need for increased housing and infrastructure development as well as for establishing water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands.

On his part, Modi assured Solih of “India’s firm commitment in assisting 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 should meet at the earliest to work out details as per requirements of the Maldives,” the statement said.

Modi also welcomed the expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives in different sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries.

Under Yameen, the Maldives, like several other countries in the region, had come under a debt trap under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure push.

According to the joint statement, the Maldives Minister of Foreign Affairs will make an official visit to India on November 26 to hold further discussions and to prepare for the forthcoming state visit of Solih to India.

Solih also invited Modi to make an official visit to the Maldives in the near future which the latter accepted.

Earlier in the day, Modi was accorded a red carpet welcome on his arrival here with the Speaker of the Maldives Parliament, Qasim Ibrahim, receiving him at the airport.