The Trump administration said it welcomes India’s “reinvigorating” ties with Maldives, two days after New Delhi announced a $1.4-billion financial assistance to the island-nation faced with a daunting challenge to fend off mounting Chinese debts.
The statement from the Trump administration came as the newly elected President of Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, wrapped up his three-day visit to India.
During the visit, Solih had called India his country’s closest friend and “largest trading partner”. The two countries have also agreed to remain mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for stability in the strategic Indian Ocean Region and boost maritime cooperation.
“We welcome India reinvigorating its ties with Maldives and note the many positive announcements that came out of Prime Minister Solih’s recent visit to India,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia David Ranz told Indian reporters Wednesday.
India, Ranz said, shares America’s view of Maldives’ critical role in the security of the Indo-Pacific and the importance of offering support during this transition period.
Solih’s visit to India within a month after taking charge of presidency is seen as an effort by his government to repair ties with India. The bilateral relations had strained during the rule of his predecessor Abdulla Yameen, who had developed increasingly closer ties with China.
During Solih’s visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there are “infinite possibilities” between the two neighbours.
“India will always stand by you in your government’s ambitious efforts to change the lives of the Maldivian people. For the social and economic development of Maldives, India will extend budget support, currency swap and lines of credit worth USD 1.4 billion,” Modi said.
Ranz has just returned from a visit to Male. The purpose of his visit was to examine ways the US can expand its partnership with Maldives in pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The US do not have an embassy in Maldives and the American ambassador in Sri Lanka is also the envoy to Male.
“The election of President Solih and subsequent peaceful transition of power was a major democratic moment, and one that the United States views as profoundly significant for the broader region,” Ranz said.
Soon after the election in early October, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells was in Male as the first high-level Trump administration visitor to Maldives.
Ranz’s visit last week served to build on the relationships with the new government established by Wells and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Aliana B Teplitz — who recently assumed the role and led US delegation to President Solih’s November 17 inauguration — and ramp up America’s coordination on Maldives’ short and long-term needs.
“The United States is looking to providing assistance in the areas of debt analysis and sustainability, justice-sector capacity building, civil society support, and environmental aid — all areas the Maldivian government has identified as priorities in its 100-day plan,” Ranz said.
The United States has also offered security assistance given Maldives’ strategic location on key sea lanes, he said, adding that the US has already committed USD10 million to Maldives.
“We believe this support will help strengthen democracy, improve governance, root out corruption, enhance security, and promote economic development, which are priorities we are emphasizing across the region as part of our vision for the Indo-Pacific,” Ranz said.
Maldives occupies a very important geo-strategic position in the Indo-Pacific given the volume of trade that transits through the sea lanes it sits astride. According to reports, the Maldives’ debt to China has reached USD 3 billion.
“With its recent return to a democratic path, we see Maldives as a country that can tap the initiatives we are rolling out across the Indo-Pacific and become a valuable partner in realizing a secure, strong, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” Ranz said.