With an eye on China’s pro-active moves in the Indian Ocean region, India will strengthen defence partnerships with at least two key projects in the Maldives as Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the island nation in his first bilateral visit in the second term. Modi and Maldives President Ibrahim Solih will jointly inaugurate two projects – the Coastal Surveillance Radar System and the Composite Training Centre of the Maldives National Defence Forces.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale described the two as “important projects”, valued at about Rs 180 crore, which will be remotely inaugurated by the two leaders. This is part of weaning away Maldives from Beijing, as China has made deep inroads into the Maldivian establishment during the Abdulla Yameen regime.
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Modi will also travel to Sri Lanka, where he will review the progress on a key trilateral MoU which India, Japan and Sri Lanka have signed – the development of the East Container Terminal in Colombo, located just about 3 km away from the China-supported “port city”, which is being built on reclaimed land.
Ahead of his first visits since winning a second term, Modi Friday stressed on “maritime neighbours” and said the visit will strengthen close ties with both countries. This is the most clear indication of the importance attached to the visit, in the backdrop of Beijing’s moves in the neighbourhood.
Gokhale, when asked, however said, “I don’t think we should see our cooperation with any country in our region as necessarily having some ulterior motive or being directed against another country or being part of some grand strategy. I think our objective is that infrastructure development in our region benefits our economy and the economy of that country.”
“We recognise that we have limited capabilities, within those capabilities we are making all efforts bilaterally but when major foreign investors like Japan are also willing to join project which are of our national interest, we have no objection in doing it with them. This is a model I can say you will see not just in Sri Lanka but in the coming days in a couple of other neighbouring countries as well.”
Before the visits, Modi said: “I am confident that my visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka will further strengthen our close and cordial ties with our maritime neighbours, in line with our ‘Neighbourhood-First Policy’.”