‘Maldives should not try balancing ties with India and China’

Nasheed says Male cannot afford to have defence ties with Beijing; terms Modi’s recent visit ‘positive’

June 15, 2019 10:25 pm | Updated June 16, 2019 08:22 am IST - Colombo

The Maldives should not try to balance relations with India and China, according to Mohamed Nasheed, Speaker and former President. “In my personal view, the Maldives shouldn’t even try to do that. Those who think it is possible to balance ties with these two powers are being naïve,” he told The Hindu , on the sidelines of a press conference in Colombo.

“This is not to say we should be hostile with China,” Mr. Nasheed said. “We will be happy to maintain cultural ties with China. But we can’t afford to have defence cooperation. Development or economic partnership too will be hard if China doesn’t change its modus operandi .” A vocal critic of China-backed development initiatives during the previous Yameen administration, Mr. Nasheed has in the past sought an audit of the ongoing projects in the Maldives.

His comments come a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the island nation, on his first visit abroad after being re-elected to office. It was also his first bilateral state visit to the country — he attended President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s swearing-in ceremony last year — signalling a dramatic reset in New Delhi-Male ties. Relations had soured in the past few years, with New Delhi’s growing apprehension over former President Abdulla Yameen’s “China-tilt”. Describing Mr. Modi’s recent visit “very productive and positive”, Mr. Nasheed said it showed “that India really values the relationship”.

‘Solidarity visit’

Maldivian Vice-President Faisal Naseem, Mr. Nasheed, some Ministers and about 65 parliamentarians are on a “solidarity visit” to Sri Lanka, nearly two months after the Easter terror attacks. The leaders called on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya among others.

“Sri Lanka and the Maldives have an age-old bond. So many Maldivians were born in Sri Lanka, they live in Sri Lanka. We stand by Sri Lanka,” Mr. Naseem earlier said, addressing a press conference along with Mr. Nasheed. “We have come here to express our support and solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka, and call on the world to come visit Sri Lanka. It is safe now,” Mr. Nasheed said.

In a “symbolic gesture”, the contingent flew Sri Lankan airlines, the state carrier, and all members of the visiting team are staying at Hotel Cinnamon Grand, one of the three hotels that were bombed on April 21. Describing terror as the “single biggest issue” facing nation states, Mr. Nasheed sought collective action in the region in combating the threat.

Asked about the government’s initiatives to tackle extremism, amid reports of dozens of Maldivians joining jihadist wars abroad, he said: “We know who they are, and where they are. The government and security forces have a good grip on the situation.” Observing that a few in the Maldives were drawn to a radical version of Islam, he said: “President Solih has been able to engage with religious-minded people on this issue.” There was no popular political support for the “misguided ideology”, he added.

With the Islamic State’s fight in the West Asian world waning, the organisation would want a foothold elsewhere, he remarked, adding: “We are taking all measures to ensure that they don’t get that footing in the Maldives.”

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