NEW DELHI - In a signal of a revival in ties between India and the Maldives, the president of the Indian Ocean island country committed to what he called an “India-first” policy on a two-day visit to New Delhi.
During talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on Monday, the two countries sought to put behind a recent spell of cooler ties. India was seen backing former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed and Chinese influence was perceived to be on the rise in the country that lies along important shipping routes in the Indian Ocean.
Six agreements signed by the two countries include a defense cooperation pact which New Delhi hopes will revive its strategic clout in the Maldives.
Modi underlined New Delhi’s readiness to protect its interests in the region.
“The strong friendship between our two countries is important for peace and security in the entire Indian Ocean. India understands its responsibility as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean,” he said.
Saying the two countries share a common perspective, the Maldivian president said that is why “the Maldives pursues an India first foreign policy. The security of the Maldives is intimately linked with the security of India.”
Last year, Prime Minister Modi canceled a trip to the Maldives amid a downturn in ties over political turmoil triggered by the arrest of former president Nasheed, a pro-India leader ousted in 2012.
Analysts, however, say India was prompted to repair ties with the Maldives government amid concerns over a bid by China to deepen security ties and increase its investments with strategic Indian Ocean countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Beijing’s investments in infrastructure projects in the archipelago have increased significantly since Yameen took power.
The two countries also agreed to cooperate in counterterrorism amid concerns that there has been a surge in young people from the Maldives leaving for West Asia to join Islamic State.
The Maldivian president said his country’s economy is in distress and opportunities are needed for “the desperate and restless youth.” Yameen warned that “otherwise this part of the world is right open to radicalism, to militant exercises by the youth across the borders.”
The Maldivian opposition is unhappy that New Delhi is repairing ties with Yameen, saying India should have reprimanded him over the arrest of Nasheed, who has been convicted on terrorism charges. Campaigners have also been pressing for travel bans and sanctions against top Maldivian officials to press them to restore democracy.
In New Delhi, Yameen lobbied India for support to thwart such moves, saying his government is upholding the rule of law. “We look at India for continued support in preventing any unfair, any punitive action by the CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) on the Maldives.”