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Maldives, India to boost Defence ties - Haveeru Online, .....

Maldives, India to boost Defence ties - Haveeru Online, Dec 02, 2015

Defence minister Adam Shareef meets with Indian high commissioner to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare Wednesday morning. PHOTO/ MNDF

Top officials from Maldives and India held talks Wednesday in a bid to improve defence cooperation between the two Indian Ocean neighbours.

In a statement, the Maldives army said the talks were held during a meeting between newly appointed defence minister Adam Shareef and Indian high commissioner to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare. During the meeting at the defence ministry in capital Male Wednesday morning, discussions were held on improving bilateral cooperation between the two countries in areas such as defence, it said.

Shahare, in a post on Facebook, described the talks as fruitful.

The meeting between the defence minister, who was appointed just over a month ago, and India’s top diplomat in the country comes a few days after the Maldives downplayed opposition and international concerns that the country had adopted a pro-China stance upsetting its Indian Ocean neighbours.

Foreign minister Dhunya Maumoon told reporters late last month that her government values relations with both China and India, countries she described as important partners of the Maldives in the international arena. She said the government is open for negotiations with all its international partners in its efforts to make mega development projects such as the Male-Hulhule bridge project, which is being funded via a combination of grants and soft loans by China, a reality.

The comments by the Maldives’ top diplomat came in light of recent efforts by the Maldives to to bolster its ties, especially in investment and trade, with India as well as rival China.

China is funding several infrastructure projects across the Maldives. Delivery of the government’s vital electoral pledges, including the building of a bridge between capital Male and the airport island of Hulhule and the development of the country’s main international airport, also hinges on soft loans being considered by Beijing.

Chinese businesses, mostly state owned corporations, have recently forayed into the Maldives with investments in areas such as the Maldives’ upmarket luxury tourism industry.

The Maldives also held its second investment forum in the Chinese capital early last month.

The close relations between the Maldives and China have come at the expense of its ties with neighbours, especially India, which worries that China was flexing its arms in its traditional clout of control.

Despite the recent attempts at improving ties with rival China, the Maldives has embarked on a mission to ramp up its long standing relationship with its closes neighbour, India. The recent thaw saw the visit of India’s top diploma Sushma Swaraj to the Maldives and the restarting of a joint commission after a 15-year hiatus earlier this month.

In Male, Swaraj was told by President Yameen that the Maldives has a policy of "India First”.

Ties between the Maldives and India are on the mend after reaching its lowest point following the premature termination in 2013 of the agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR, which had been managing the country’s main international airport since 2011.

In light of the abrupt termination of the GMR agreement, New Delhi took extraordinary measures including the tightening of visa for Maldivian medical tourists and banning the sale of construction aggregate to Maldivian vendors.

The Maldives does not give a rosy outlook for Indian companies that have faced several bureaucratic and political hurdles. Most of the Indian companies doing business in the Maldives had been forced out of the country over the past five years.

The most high-profile such case relates to the subsequent eviction of GMR, which in 2010 won an international bid to manage the Maldives main international airport, by the Maldives government in 2012.

Other Indian companies including Tatva, which had won a contract in 2010 to manage the waste of capital Male, and real estate giant Tata Housing have faced many obstacles, with some leaving the Maldives entirely.

However, the Maldives now appears eager to court back Indian investors.

At talks held during Swaraj’s recent visit to the Maldives, the Maldivian side reiterated its interest in engaging with private investors in India for iHavan and Hulhulmale Youth City projects. Sectors such as tourism, fisheries, education, IT, infrastructure development, energy cooperation including renewable energy, and traditional medicine were also identified for future cooperation.

The visit by India's top diplomat came as the two neighbours prepared to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations.

On November 1, 1965, India established diplomatic relations with the Maldives, becoming the first country to do so following the latter’s independence from Britain in July.

As the two countries officially marked the golden jubilee of relations, a series of year-long activities was organised by the high commission since last November. The activities included a culinary festival, which saw cooking workshops held by visiting top Indian chefs and a master-chef style cooking competition, a Bollywood movie festival, health awareness programmes and a yoga festival.

A cultural evening was also held in September.

In August, the Maldives and India wrapped up the sixth round of a joint annual military training exercise. India also announced the completion of the first phase of a coastal radar system in the Maldives.

However, Modi’s scheduled visit to the Maldives in March was called off due to the increasing political strife in the Maldives at the time.

India, meanwhile, had reassigned its top representative in the Maldives to Denmark.

The Indian external affairs ministry made the surprise announcement in August, but did not give any details. A brief statement only said that Shahare would take up his new post "shortly".

Shahare took office in April 2013 at a time when bilateral relations between the Maldives and India had been severely strained due to the abrupt termination of the contract with GMR.

New Delhi is yet to name a replacement.

India, meanwhile, has publicly sided with the Maldives government over the continued imprisonment of the country’s former president Mohamed Nasheed, an issue central to the Maldives’ relationship with its international partners.

Nasheed’s lawyers are pushing for targeted sanctions on top Maldivian officials.

India, however, opposes such action.


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