Vice President Ahmed Adeeb lauded and pledged the Maldives’ continuing friendship with rivals India and China at separate functions this week.
“The Maldives commends India’s pre-eminence in global politics and will continue to support India on issues of regional and international interest,” Adeeb said at the ‘India-Maldives Cultural Confluence’ event last night.
Adeeb described the Indian subcontinent as “a location of strategic importance with rich resources and geographic conveniences”.
He added that it is of “utmost important to promote further bilateral trade and investment to develop a sustainable infrastructure and work more closely on economic cooperation on key areas of growth.”
Speaking at a ceremony held on Saturday night to celebrate 43 years of diplomatic relations between the Maldives and China, Adeeb said: “China is one of the closest friends and one of the most important development partners of Maldives.”
Both functions took place at the Dharubaaruge convention centre and featured cultural performances.
The current administration has been accused by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of threatening Indian Ocean regional security by deciding to participate in the Chinese ’21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ initiative.
In September last year, former President Mohamed Nasheed urged the government not to abandon the Maldives’ longstanding foreign policy of non-alignment in favour of “playing or turning one nation against another.”
New Delhi is reportedly concerned over China’s rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean through its investments in a network of ports encircling India, dubbed the ‘String of Pearls.’
Speaking at last night’s ceremony, Rajeev Shahare, Indian high commissioner to the Maldives, said that numerous Indian investors would visit the country for business ventures in the near future.
The outgoing high commissioner expressed India’s support for President Abdulla Yameen’s economic policies, such as the special economic zones (SEZ) law. The law offers tax concessions and relaxed regulations for large-scale foreign investments, which have so far not been forthcoming.
Adeeb meanwhile thanked Shahare for “endorsing our economic reform agenda”.
“As you mentioned, we are waiting and we will be welcoming Indian investments in our economic zones,” he said, adding that India could play a key role in realising President Yameen’s “ambitious” vision for economic development.
Indo-Maldives relations hit an all-time low in late 2012 following the previous administration’s abrupt termination of a deal with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to manage and develop the Malé international airport. The Indian government subsequently tightened visa requirements for Maldivians and revoked a special quota afforded to the Maldives for the import of aggregate and river sand.
The restrictions were lifted after President Yameen assumed power in November 2013 after prolonged political turmoil.
In late July, Yameen assured India of the Maldives’ commitment to “keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone” following the passage of controversial amendments to the constitution that authorised foreign freeholds in the country.
After the MDP expressed concern with the unprecedented changes facilitating “foreign non-commercial logistical installations in the Maldives,” China dismissed the possibility of building military bases in the Maldives.
Yameen had meanwhile said in his Republic Day address that his administration would be “looking east” towards China as a development partner, slamming undue interference in domestic affairs by “Western colonial powers.”
In June this year, Yameen declared that Sino-Maldives relations are at an “all-time high” with the establishment of a cooperative partnership between the countries last year. The Chinese government has pledged US$100 million as grant aid for the construction of a bridge connecting Malé and the reclaimed island Hulhumalé, whilst negotiations for a free trade agreement between the countries are due to begin in October.