Amid strain in ties between New Delhi and Male, Maldives foreign minister Mohamed Asim on Thursday stressed on Maldives’s policy of “India first” in an attempt to assuage concerns over its growing proximity towards Beijing.
This was reiterated in Asim’s — a diplomat-turned-minister — conversation with the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.
Asim’s remarks, as articulated by the Indian side, assumes significance since there has been a diplomatic tussle between the two countries in the last two months over the Free Trade Agreement with China and suspension of elected officials for meeting the Indian envoy in Male without prior approval. Both developments had irked India and prompted Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar to raise India’s concerns with the Maldives envoy in Delhi.
Asim, who is in India as Maldives President Abdulla Yameen’s special envoy, reiterated the commitment of Maldives to maintain close relations with India. “Swaraj met Mohamed Asim, Foreign Minister and Special Envoy of the President of Maldives. Both had productive discussions to strengthen the bilateral relationship, keeping in mind the ‘India first’ policy of Maldives and our policy of ‘Neighbourhood first’,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
Sources said the Maldivian foreign minister reiterated that his country would not undertake any activity which would harm Indian interests and it would also be conveyed that the country was “sensitive” to India’s concerns over peace and security in the Indian Ocean region.
India had already made it clear it expects, that as a close and friendly neighbour, the island nation would be sensitive to its concerns in keeping with its ‘India First’ policy. The Indian statement had come in response to a query on Maldives-China free trade agreement (FTA).
Asim and Modi discussed ties between India and Maldives as close neighbours bound by a shared history, culture and maritime interests in the Indian Ocean.
A PMO statement said the Prime Minister affirmed that India would “always be a reliable and close neighbour of Maldives supporting it in its progress and security”.
Asim also reiterated President Yameen’s invitation to the Prime Minister to visit the Maldives. Modi conveyed his gratitude for the invitation and agreed to the visit at a “suitable time”.
Modi has not visited the Maldives, the only country in the South Asian neighbourhood which he has not been visited.
His proposed visit to Male was cancelled in March 2015 as the domestic political situation in the island nation was not considered to be conducive for the Prime Minister’s visit.