NEW DELHI -- The Indian government on Monday assured the Maldives that it would support the implementation of its development policies, as Male strives to unshackle itself from the Chinese-fueled debt left behind by the previous administration.
During a meeting with visiting Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reiterated that New Delhi attached the highest importance to its relationship with the island nation. This relationship is marked by “trust, transparency, mutual understanding and sensitivity,” according to an official statement issued after their talks.
Swaraj said that India's "neighborhood first" policy means that it will fully support the Maldives in its socio-economic development.
Bilateral ties had strained during the tenure of former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, who had drawn his country closer to China which funded infrastructure projects in the tiny but strategically important island nation under its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
Yameen was surprisingly defeated in the September election by pro-India opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who took over as new president this month in a ceremony attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was Modi’s first visit to the Maldives, which is seen as a battleground between India and China as both jostle for influence in the Indian Ocean.
Ahead of his meeting with Swaraj, Shahid told the Times of India newspaper that his government was still trying to figure out the implications of the debt accumulated by the Yameen regime as figures provided by various departments did not necessarily "tally with [the] Chinese estimates."
"We hope that India will be generous enough to help us with the initial management of any shortfall we might face. We know that the Indian government is fully equipped to help us deal with issues like fresh water scarcity, [sewage] and with our focus on the health sector," he was quoted as saying by the paper.
With the election of Solih, the two countries are now confident of renewing their close friendship and cooperation. During their meeting in the Maldives on Nov. 17, Solih and Modi also “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,” according to an earlier statement.
The Maldives’ Foreign Minister Shahid, who started his India visit on Saturday and will depart on Tuesday, is accompanied by Finance Minister Fayaaz Ismail and Economic Development Minister Ibrahim Ameer, among others. The visit was also aimed at preparing the ground for Solih's Dec. 17 visit to India.
In the statement released on Monday, the Maldives stated its government would be sensitive toward New Delhi’s security and strategic concerns.
Apart from exploring ways to strengthen the development partnership between their countries, the two sides discussed security and defense matters, including new areas of cooperation. In this regard, they agreed to hold the next meeting of their defense cooperation dialogue in the first half of December.
"Deeply touched and encouraged by the warmth and generous spirit of discussions with [Swaraj]. A new era of enhanced cooperation emerging in [Maldives-India] relationship under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih," Shahid tweeted after the meeting.