Indian Foreign Secretary Dr S Jaishankar departed Thursday after a two-day official visit to the Maldives for consultations with his counterpart.
Jaishankar paid a courtesy call on President Abdulla Yameen on Thursday morning, during which the president expressed confidence that the visit would “expedite the implementation of the different areas of cooperation between Maldives and India.”
According to the president’s office, Jaishankar conveyed good wishes from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and “assured that India will continue to assist and collaborate with the Maldives to enhance the ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.”
The pair also discussed “opportunities for commercial investments in the Maldives.”
Earlier on Thursday, Jaishankar met with Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim and Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer Mohamed. The two foreign secretaries “reviewed the close friendly relations and cooperation” and discussed ways for further strengthening India-Maldives ties, the foreign ministry said.
Jaishankar’s visit came amidst an intensified crackdown on opposition leaders after a failed bid to impeach the speaker and challenge Yameen’s parliamentary majority.
On Thursday, Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and MP Abdulla Riyaz became the latest high-profile politicians to stand trial on contested charges. The government, however, insists that the police and courts are independent, dismissing allegations of harassing and intimidating opposition leaders.
India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Shri M J Akbar also visited the Maldives in late February as a special envoy of the prime minister.
The external affairs ministry said Akbar “reiterated India’s support for a stable, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Maldives fulfilling the aspirations of its citizens.”
But the president’s office said Akbar praised Yameen “for his leadership, which he asserted is synonymous with peace, stability, and development within the Maldives, and in particular delivering for the development needs of the people.”
Indian media observed that the praise was not reflected in the statement by the external affairs ministry.
The Maldives is the only South Asian neighbour that Modi has yet to visit since assuming office in 2014.
During an official visit in April last year, Yameen meanwhile described India as “the most important friend of the Maldives” and stressed his administration’s ‘India First’ foreign policy.
The Maldives and India also signed a defence action plan and several bilateral agreements during Yameen’s second official visit, which came amidst a lobbying effort to avoid “punitive action” from the Commonwealth over the widely condemned jailing of opposition leaders.
Indian media coverage of Yameen’s visit focused on New Delhi’s concerns over growing Chinese influence in the Maldives, suggesting that the visit marked an attempt to mend strained relations.
China is financing the government’s flagship infrastructure projects such as the expansion of the international airport and a bridge connecting the capital and the airport island.
India-Maldives relations had soured in 2012 after the government’s abrupt termination of an agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to develop the international airport. The Indian government subsequently tightened visa requirements for Maldivians and revoked a special quota for the import of aggregate and river sand.
The restrictions were lifted after Yameen assumed power in November 2013, ending a period of prolonged political turmoil.
But former President Mohamed Nasheed’s jailing in March 2015 appeared to strain relations with Modi dropping the Maldives off his Indian Ocean tour in March.
In a sign of improving ties, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited the Maldives in October 2015 and revived a Maldives-India joint commission after a 15-year hiatus.