PM Modi, President Muizzu agree to set up core group to further deepen India-Maldives ties

The leaders discuss ways to bolster economic, development, and people-to-people ties; meeting comes days after Maldivian president asked India to withdraw 77 military personnel, review bilateral agreements

December 02, 2023 08:14 pm | Updated 11:25 pm IST - DUBAI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit, in Dubai

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit, in Dubai | Photo Credit: ANI

India and the Maldives on Friday agreed to set up a core group to further deepen their partnership, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a “productive” meeting with newly-elected Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu on the sidelines of the UN’s COP 28 climate summit.

"President @MMuizzu and I had a productive meeting today. We discussed ways to enhance the India-Maldives friendship across diverse sectors. We look forward to working together to deepen cooperation for the benefit of our people,” the PM tweeted after the meeting, his first with Mr. Muizzu.

Also read: The stance of the Maldives President-elect on India | Explained

According to the Prime Minister's Office, the two leaders discussed ways to further bolster India-Maldives relations in sectors pertaining to economic relations, development cooperation, and people-to-people ties.

First meeting

A close associate of former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, who had forged close ties with China during his 2013 to 2018 tenure in office, Mr. Muizzu, 45, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September. On Friday, Mr. Modi personally congratulated Mr. Muizzu on his assumption of office as the President of the Maldives.

 Muizzu’s win | How will it impact India-Maldives relations?

"Both leaders reviewed the wide-ranging bilateral relations between the two countries including people-to-people linkages, development cooperation, economic relations, climate change and sports,” theMinistry of External Affairs said in a statement. “The two leaders also discussed ways to further deepen their partnership. In this regard, they agreed to set up a core group,” it added.

Strategic relationship

The meeting took place days after Mr. Muizzu requested New Delhi to withdraw 77 Indian military personnel from the Maldives, and decided to review more than 100 bilateral agreements between the two countries. The request came during Union Minister Kiren Rejiju’s courtesy visit to the new Maldivian president’s office on November 18.

The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.

The Maldives’ proximity to India — barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep, and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast — and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean gives it a significant strategic importance to India.

Will the new President alter Maldives’ ‘India first’ foreign policy? | In Focus podcast

Pro-China rhetoric

Observers say that despite his party’s pro-China rhetoric, Mr. Muizzu, a British-educated civil engineer, may follow a more nuanced foreign policy. The country faces a precarious economy with several debt repayments due, and may take a cue from Sri Lanka’s crisis.

India had stepped in with $4 billion in assistance to Sri Lanka even while China dithered, despite its massive belt-and-road investments in the country, including the Hambantota port which Beijing took over for a 99-year lease as a debt swap.

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