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In blow to China, Maldives makes a statement by holding naval exercises with India

Exercise Ekatha in progress with the Indian Navy Marine Commandos (Images courtesy: Twitter/Major General Abdulla Shamaal, Chief of Defence Force, Maldives)

In yet another blow to China, navies from India and Maldives participated in the fourth edition of  Ekatha exercise, with Male making a statement that it is India and not China which will serve as the net security provider of Maldives. A pivotal nation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Maldives is strategically located close to key international shipping lanes.

In a meeting with Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer, Commanding in Chief, Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy on Sunday, the Maldives Foreign Affairs minister Abdulla Shahid not only reflected on the "historically strong bilateral relations" between the two countries, particularly in the field of defence and security cooperation, but also discussed in detail the "emerging security threats" in the region.

Held at the Maldives' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the meeting saw Shahid reaffirming his government's commitment to focus on strengthening maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean and also acknowledging the "important role" played by the Indian Armed Forces in enhancing and developing the capacity of the Maldives National Defence Force.

"Delighted to meet with Vice Admiral A.K. Chawla, Flag Officer, C-in-C, Southern Naval Command of Indian Navy today. Discussed importance of cooperation between countries in maintaining peace & security in the Indian Ocean Region, especially in light of emerging security threats," the minister tweeted after the meeting.

Shahid was accompanied by the country's Foreign Secretary, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed and Joint Secretary, India Division, Mariyam Midhfa Naeem at the meeting.

Building bridges of friendship, Indian Navy's elite marine commandos unit MARCOS have held joint training exercises with the strategically located neighbour since 2017, contributing to the capacity building of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Marines and enhancing the interoperability of the forces.

Vice Admiral Chawla also paid a courtesy call on Maldives Defence Minister Mariya Didi following the end of the Exercise Ekatha who appreciated the support provided by the Indian Navy during the Covid-19 pandemic, undertaking the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance and towards training of the MNDF personnel.

India Maldives

Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer, Commanding in Chief, Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy with Maldives Defence Minister Mariya Didi

Thanking the Indian Armed Forces for the continued support rendered to MNDF, Maldives' Chief of Defence Force, Major General Abdulla Shamaal also deliberated on enhancing maritime security cooperation and other key areas of military cooperation during his meeting with the top Indian Navy officer. 

India leads maritime security efforts

A key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region, Maldives continues to occupy an important place in India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy and the 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) vision of the Narendra Modi government.

In pursuit of its priority of growth and development, or 'sabka saath, sabka vikas', the Indian government is continuously working to increase the momentum and energy in the bilateral relationship which has "reached unprecedented levels" under the leadership of PM Modi and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

In May, New Delhi announced the opening of a new Consulate General in Addu City to help augment India's diplomatic presence in Maldives and make it commensurate with the existing and aspired level of engagement.

India Maldives

Major General Abdulla Shamaal, Chief of Defence Force, Maldives with Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla

A month before that, in the first meeting of the 'Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism, Countering Violent Extremism and De-Radicalisation', both sides had reviewed threats posed by terrorist entities that are under UN sanctions and emphasised the need for concerted action against all terrorist networks.

India had also played a key role in the Maldives candidate, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, winning the election to the post of the President of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, last month. The victory meant that the Maldives will be only the sixth President from a Small Island Developing State, presiding over the UN General Assembly in the history of the United Nations.

With two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments and half of all container ships passing through its waters, Maldives remains a geo-strategically important country, especially with the growing presence of China in the Indian Ocean Region.

With maritime security becoming the most pressing issue, India has not only conveyed its unwavering support and assistance to Maldives, but also led discussions on issues pertaining to cooperation among Indian Ocean countries at engagements like the 'Indian Ocean Region Defence Ministers Conclave 2021' held in Bengaluru earlier this year and the revived 'NSA-level Meeting on Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation', organised after a gap of six years, in Colombo last November.

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