The Maldives and India reviewed bilateral ties today and committed to broadening cooperation in the defence, human resource, trade and health sectors in talks co-chaired by the two nations’ foreign ministers.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in the Maldives for two days for the fifth meeting of the Maldives- India Joint Commission, set up in 1986 to advance economic and technical ties.
According to Indian media reports, Swaraj’s visit was an attempt to enhance ties to counter China’s influence in the Maldives.
Swaraj called on President Abdulla Yameen this morning, where she emphasised India’s policy of “Neighbours First.” Yameen reiterated the Maldives’ policy of “India First,” according to a press statement from the Indian High Commission in Malé.
The president’s office said Yameen had stated that he would not tolerate foreign interference in the Maldives’ domestic issues. Every country must be able to practice their democracy without foreign influence, he said.
Swaraj is the highest-ranking Indian official to visit the Maldives since the February political crisis, triggered by the arrest and imprisonment of opposition leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had dropped the Maldives from his Indian Ocean tour in March.
At the joint commission talks, Swaraj and Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon discussed future cooperation on defence and Indian Ocean security, a first for such a meeting.
“The Ministers were of the view that the bilateral partnership was important also for maintaining security in the Indian Ocean Region. It was felt that increased cooperation would help in meeting the common threat from radicalism and terrorism and combat the growing menace of drug trafficking and financing of terrorism in the region,” the Indian High Commission said.
India-Maldives defence cooperation includes construction of a Composite Training Centre for the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF), joint patrolling, training programmes for MNDF officers in India, joint exercises and medical camps.
Maldives is to participate in the Dosti Exercise in Goa late this month.
On trade ties, the ministers reviewed the experience of Indian companies in the Maldives, and proposed the establishment of a joint business forum. Following Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, the government terminated several contracts with Indian investors, including an airport development agreement with GMR.
President Yameen earlier in the day had said that Maldives would hold an investment forum in India in 2016.
According to the Indian High Commission, the two countries agreed to explore measures to increase trade and strengthen links in banking and financial sectors. Agreements on taxation and investment promotion and protection are to be signed at a later date.
The Maldives asked for assistance in gaining investors for the Ihavan port in the north and a youth city project in Malé’s suburb Hulhumalé.
On health, India agreed to strengthen telemedicine links between the state hospital and Indian hospitals, and to expand the number of specialty hospitals available to Maldivians under the national health insurance scheme.
India also pledged to continue training Maldivian health professionals.
The joint commission also discussed improving Malé’s Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies, and spoke on increasing tourist traffic between the two neighbours.
Memoranda of understanding was signed between the Foreign Service Institutes of India and the Maldives, and also in the area of youth affairs and sports.
Maldives also reaffirmed its commitment to support India’s candidature as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The next joint commission meeting will be held in 2017 in India.
Swaraj’s visit comes amid international concern over Nasheed’s continued detention despite a UN ruling that his arrest, trial, conviction and subsequent detention was “illegal and arbitrary.”
India’s ruling BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy last week called on Modi to send a special envoy to Maldives to secure Nasheed’s release. He described Nasheed’s trial as “politically biased, inadequate and subject to external influence.”