India, Maldives strengthen ties to counter Chinese coercion
The relationship between India and Maldives continues to strengthen following the October 2018 election of President Mohamed Ibrahim Solih, who made his first foreign trip as the ’Maldivian leader to New Delhi in December 2018.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pictured at right with Solih, announced at a joint news conference soon after their meeting that India will give the Maldives U.S. $1.4 billion in aid for social and economic development to help offset a debt trap set by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), according to news agencies. The financial package provides an alternative to the PRC’s predatory lending practices, he said.
“Cooperation between our countries is necessary for maintaining stability in the Indian Ocean region, and we are willing to take our bilateral relationship to the fullest extent,” Modi said during the news conference with Solih, according to The Hindunewspaper.
India has been concerned that the PRC would build naval bases in the Maldives because PRC’s checkbook diplomacy could undermine Maldives’ sovereignty, Reuters reported.
Solih defeated Abdulla Yameen, the pro-PRC incumbent, in the election. During Solih’s inauguration, he pledged to renew Maldives’ relationship with India and committed to an “India first” policy, the online magazine The Diplomat reported.Under Yameen, Maldives had transitioned toward becoming an authoritarian regime, moving away from its democratization. During recent years, Yameen agreed to a trade agreement with China and increased Maldives’ debt burden to unmanageable levels, according to news accounts.
Some projections indicate Maldives may have undertaken as much as U.S. $3 billion to fund infrastructure projects as part of the PRC’s One Belt, One Road policy, including an airport and a Chinese-built sea bridge connecting the airport to Male, its capital, Reuters reported.
Solih told reporters his administration is still trying to figure out the exact amount of the debt and to account for funds that were stolen under Yameen’s regime.
Modi “congratulated the people of Maldives for their successful and peaceful transition to democracy,” according to a statement issued after the talks. He “applauded the President of Maldives on his vision for inclusive, decentralized, people-centric governance and development that is sustainable,” The Diplomat reported.
The two leaders “agreed to strengthen cooperation to enhance maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information and capacity building,” the joint statement said.
“We will not allow our countries to be used for activities which can be harmful to each other’s interests,” Modi said.
The statement also said India will help the Maldives Police Service and National Defense Force combat terrorism, organized crime, piracy and human trafficking.
In addition, the two countries signed four key bilateral agreements outside of the summit. They pertain to visa arrangements to facilitate people-to-people ties and tourism, cultural cooperation, agribusiness, and cooperation on information technology and communications technology.