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Jaishankar amplifies PM Modi’s pitch of turning Maldives into a key Indian Ocean ally

Acting as a direct line between the Northern Maldives and the rest of the world, the Hanimaadhoo International Airport expansion project financed by India is the largest and one of the most significant projects to be initiated outside the Male region in Maldives (Image courtesy: Government of Maldives)

Spotlighting that the partnership with India has made a real difference in the lives of people in the Maldives, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has reiterated New Delhi’s commitment to the island nation and the Indian Ocean Region, as envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As the two partners exchanged a number of significant Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) in the northernmost atolls of the country on Wednesday, Jaishankar recalled the statement made by PM Modi during the India visit of Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in August, last year.

“The India-Maldives partnership is not only working in the interest of the citizens of both the countries but is also becoming a source of peace, stability and prosperity for the region,” Prime Minister Modi stated during Solih’s landmark visit.

With Maldives Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid standing by his side, Jaishankar not only quoted the PM’s speech but also made it clear that New Delhi, always at forefront of extending developmental assistance, has batted for
transparency, market viability and local participation.

These remarks assume importance as Jaishankar was making a veiled reference to China, which has been accused of netting many developing countries in a debt trap.

“Needless to say, all these projects adhere to the basic tenet of the Indian development cooperation approach which is the emphasis on transparency, full participation, ownership of the host country and competitive pricing,” he said.

Kickstarting his two-day visit from Noonu Manadhoo, Jaishankar was received by his counterpart and senior officials at the Maafaru International Airport Wednesday afternoon.

Both ministers held comprehensive, in-depth, and candid bilateral talks straightaway reflecting on the historic relationship between both countries, expressing commitment to furthering cooperation in priority areas.

They particularly noted the successful economic cooperation and the progress of projects that are being implemented under Indian grant assistance and Line of Credit (LoC) schemes.

Shahid expressed gratitude to the Narendra Modi government for the constant support to facilitate and further develop economic, trade and investment ties between both countries, and for India’s commitment to the socioeconomic development of the Maldives.

“Warm and productive meeting with Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid in Manadhoo today afternoon. Discussed the full spectrum of our special bilateral partnership with focus on development cooperation, capacity building and people to people ties,” tweeted Jaishankar.

Several MoUs were exchanged during a ceremony following the one-on-one discussions, including for additional grant assistance of 100 million Maldivian Rufiyaa for the High Impact Community Development Project scheme which will help in implementing a number of socio-economic development initiatives throughout Maldives via Indian funding.

Maldivian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel and Indian High Commissioner to Male Munu Mahawar also exchanged the MoU for the development of a sports complex in Gaafu Dhaal Gadhdhoo. This project will establish a centre which will promote youth empowerment through sports and contribute to community development overall.

Vice Chancellors of Maldives National University and Cochin University of Science and Technology then exchanged the MoU on capacity building to facilitate exchanges and cooperative initiatives between the two universities in the area of education, research, development instruction, community service, staff and student exchanges.

During the ceremony, both Jaishankar and Shahid also witnessed the handover of two sea ambulances from the Indian government to the Ministry of Defence of Maldives which was a project carried out under the High Impact Community Development Project Scheme.

“The two sea ambulances procured under the HICDP scheme will greatly enhance the capacity of our emergency medical services. Another demonstration that the Maldives-India partnership delivers for people!” tweeted Shahid.

(Image courtesy: Twitter/@DrSJaishankar)

In the evening, Jaishankar called on Maldives President Solih, to convey personal greetings of PM Modi and assess the “great progress” in bilateral cooperation, leading to transformational projects.

Both Solih and Jaishankar then formally broke ground on the Hanimaadhoo International Airport expansion project, the largest and one of the most significant projects to be initiated outside the Male region, worth MVR 2.1 billion which is being constructed under the Indian Line of Credit.

The Maldives government believes that the Hanimaadhoo International Airport development project will pave the way for a Northern economic hub, which will enable thousands of job opportunities, the development of guest houses, an increase in resort beds, and diverse start-up possibilities within the community.

Acting as a direct line between the Northern Maldives and the rest of the world, the airport will cater to flights the size of Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 on its 2.46 km runway with an expected 1.3 million passengers annually.

After the Maldives, the EAM will depart for Colombo to visit another key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region which occupies a special place in PM Modi’s vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

Also Read – Watch: Maldives Foreign Minister crosses the waters to receive Jaishankar