India, Maldives sign six key agreements

Bilateral ties are older than history, says Narendra Modi.

June 08, 2019 10:33 pm | Updated 10:34 pm IST - COLOMBO

First stop:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi being received  at the Male airport on Saturday.

First stop: Prime Minister Narendra Modi being received at the Male airport on Saturday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Maldives on Saturday, his first state visit abroad since being re-elected to office, was marked by the signing of six key agreements, and substantive bilateral level talks, reaffirming cooperation between the two countries.

Mr Modi was also conferred with the Maldives’ highest honour — the Rule of Nishan Izzuddeen — by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Addressing the Maldivian Parliament, the Majlis, Mr. Modi said relations between India and Maldives are older than history. “Today I want to emphasise that every Indian is with you for the strengthening of democracy in the Maldives,” he said.

Stressing the need for global cooperation in combating terror, Mr. Modi said terrorism is not just a threat for a country but to the entire civilization. “It is very unfortunate that people are still making the mistake of distinguishing between good terrorists and bad terrorists,” he said.

“State sponsorship of terrorism is the biggest threat the world is facing today,” Mr. Modi said, adding, “Combating terrorism and radicalisation is the most accurate test of the leadership in the world.”

Defence, trade deals

The Memorandums of Understanding (Mou) covered areas such as hydrography, health, passenger and cargo services by sea, capacity building in customs and civil service training. A technical agreement on sharing ‘White Shipping Information’ between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force was also signed, enabling exchange of prior information on the movement of commercial, non-military vessels.

According to a joint statement, Mr. Modi and Maldivian President Solih jointly inaugurated a ‘Coastal Surveillance Radar System’ and a training facility of the Maldives National Defence Force, by remote link.

“Both leaders welcomed the signing of the $800 million Line of Credit Agreement in March 2019, for assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development. The leaders stressed the need to work towards expeditious implementation of people-centric and socio-economic projects,” the statement said.

Further, it said the leaders “reaffirmed their unequivocal and uncompromising position against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

After the talks, Mr Modi said, the two countries have agreed to start a ferry service between Kochi and the Maldives. He added that the launch of RuPay Card in the Maldives will give a boost to tourism.

Ties reset

After years of witnessing souring relations during President Abdulla Yameen’s term from 2013-2018, New Delhi and Male reset ties last year after President Solih was elected. Mr. Modi attended President Solih’s inaugural ceremony in Male in November 2018, and President Solih’s first visit abroad, after assuming office, was to India in December 2018.

In April this year, Mr. Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) swept general polls securing an impressive majority in parliament, ahead of Mr. Modi’s own big election win back home. The respective victories are seen as having strengthened prospects for continuity in strong ties, a stark shift from Mr. Yameen’s time when New Delhi grew increasingly concerned over his apparent “China tilt”.

While Mr. Modi’s visit is seen as underscoring his government’s “neighbourhood first policy”, President Solih on Saturday reaffirmed his “India-First Policy”, pledging his government’s “full support towards deepening the multifaceted, mutually beneficial partnership” between India and the Maldives.

Sri Lanka visit

Mr. Modi will arrive in Colombo on Sunday morning for a brief four-hour visit that, officials said, sought to express a strong message of solidarity with Sri Lankans, less than two months after the Easter terror attacks that killed over 250 people, including 11 Indians. He is the first foreign head of state to visit the island after the carnage, amidst heightened security across the country.

Colombo has put in a place a special traffic plan on Sunday in view of Mr. Modi’s visit, limiting vehicular movement along the expressway connecting the airport to the city, and key roads in the capital.

During his time in Colombo, Mr. Modi will meet President Maithripala Sirisena at a lunch hosted by the latter, before holding discussions with the Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan.

Colombo-based sources indicated that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his United National Party’s (UNP) Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, a cabinet Minister rumoured to be in the running for the party’s presidential candidacy, will likely accompany him on trips from and back to the Bandaranaike International Airport, about 45 minutes away from the city centre.

It is election year in Sri Lanka, with the presidential polls scheduled before end of the year. No party has declared its candidacy as yet.

Sources said given the nature of the short visit, there would be little time for any substantial talks on development cooperation. On May 28, India, Sri Lanka and Japan signed an agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port, at an estimated cost of $500 million. The deal was a significant development since New Delhi, Colombo and Tokyo had been negotiating it for over a year with little success. India’s involvement in developing the port had also become a flash point with the government, with President Sirisena reportedly resisting it earlier.

Following Mr. Modi’s recent re-election, Sri Lankan leaders of all political hues were quick to wish him on twitter. President Sirisena attended his swearing-in ceremony and had a brief one-on-one meeting that official sources described as a demonstration of good will and strong ties between the neighbours.

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