A cricket stadium, renewable energy projects, a thousand additional slots for Maldivian students in Indian courses and the dedication of a renovated hospital were highlights of discussions during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to the Maldives on Monday, as Maldives reaffirmed its “India first” policy.
The visit, that officials called the first “full-fledged substantive bilateral” engagement at a political level with the new government in Male, saw three agreements being signed, including a visa exemption for diplomats and MoUs for development projects.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended the swearing in ceremony of President Solih in November where he had announced $1.4 billion in grants and lines of credit to the Maldives after which President Solih visited Delhi in December, and Ms. Swaraj’s visit was seen as an occasion to discuss follow-ups on announcements made during those visits, officials said.
“FM Shahid reiterated his Government’s “India-First Policy” and said that his Government looks forward to working closely with the Government of India on all issues. He also reiterated that the Government of Maldives would remain sensitive towards India’s security and strategic concerns,” said a joint statement issued in Male, in words that marked a stark contrast with the frosty relationship between the two countries last year, under previous President Abdullah Yameen’s tenure. The government in turn expressed its full support to the Maldives in line with its “Neighbourhood First” policy.
During the 2-day visit, Ms. Swaraj inaugurated the renovated Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, built in 1995, and met with several senior leaders including President Ibrahim Solih, Speaker of the Assembly Gasim Ibrahim and former President Mohamed Nasheed. Mr. Nasheed, who is standing for a parliamentary seat in upcoming elections on April 6, was an “old and cherished friend,” wrote the MEA spokesperson in a tweet.
While India has agreed to consider a request from the Maldives to build a cricket stadium, it has accepted an offer of reclaimed land for the new Indian Embassy in the suburban island of Hulhumale, which has been developed by Chinese companies.
The Solih government is in the process of auditing and reviewing many of the contracts given by the Yameen government to China, which had been one of the causes of friction between the two countries over the past few years.