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Is the US staging a comeback in the Indian Ocean after signing defence pact with the Maldives?

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Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi signs defence pact with Major General John Hronek of the Montana National Guard (Photo: ministry of defence Maldives)

The Maldives and the US recently signed the Montana National Guard State Partnership Program to strengthen defence and security cooperation between the two countries.

The agreement was signed by Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi along with Adjutant General of Montana National Guard, Major General John Hronek, at the integrated headquarters of Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) in Male in early April.

Analysts say that the extension of the US footprint in the Maldives, follows a feverish attempt by arch-rival China to drive its stakes in Male—an effort that peaked when former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was in power. 

The partnership programme builds on the previous agreement—'Framework for US Department of Defense-Maldives Ministry of Defence Defense and Security Relationship' signed between the two countries in Philadelphia in September 2020.

Didi stated that the agreement will help build the capacity and readiness of the Maldivian Defence Sector to meet today’s challenges. She added that the State Partnership Program is tailored to meet the archipelago's defence requirements by facilitating engagements in key areas such as maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance & disaster relief, and other areas. 

The Maldivian defence minister added that President Solih's administration is reiterating its commitment to the deepening of the US-Maldives Defence and Security relationship.

The partnership will help the Maldives build its capacities in the fields of cyber defence and communication security, aviation security operations, operational logistics and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, environmental defence and response.

Male and Washington have been inching closer with a slew of initiatives including plans to open an American embassy in capital Male. Currently, the US operates in the country through an American Centre in Male with the US ambassador in Colombo managing Maldives.

The US' State Partnership Programme has built nearly 85 partnerships with 93 nations around the globe. The programme goes beyond military-to-military engagements as it also focuses on engagements related to government, economic and social spheres.