At a time when the Maldives opposition party, led by former President Abdulla Yameen, has been waging an anti-India campaign, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar arrived in the island nation on Saturday ahead of his trip to Sri Lanka on March 28.
Jaishankar’s five-day visit (March 26-30) to the two major maritime neighbors in the Indian Ocean region is part of India’s attempt to proactively come up with projects and initiatives to counter the influence of China.
Jaishankar and the President of the Maldives, Ibrahim Solih, will inaugurate a police training academy and a drug treatment center built with Indian financial assistance in Addu, a town on the southernmost atoll of the ocean archipelago. Indian.
Addu is a stronghold of the Maldivian National Party and former president Mohamed Nasheed, who is the speaker of the Majlis, the country’s parliament. He is a strong supporter of close ties with India.
Last year, the Modi government approved a proposal to open an Indian consulate in Addu.
Jaishankar’s visit, during which he will also meet with Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, “will see the signing of several agreements related to bilateral development cooperation, the inauguration/handover and launching of a number of key projects supported by India”. said the Foreign Office.
The stopover in the Maldives comes at a time of protests that the government has “sold out” to India, and a determined pushback by President Solih, Nasheed and the ruling MDP against those protests.
Dubbed the “India Out” campaign, the protests have received active support from Yameen and his Progressive Party, especially since he was released from house arrest after being cleared of corruption charges.
During his presidency, Yameen courted China and gave his foreign policy a tilt toward Beijing. He hopes to return in the next election and has made it his main political platform.
After abandoning a plan last month to pass a law banning protests as anti-national and punishing protesters with jail time, the MDP decided earlier this week to ban an ‘India Out’ rally in Malé scheduled for Friday.
With a friendly government in Male since 2017, India is well placed to rebuild influence in the country, vital along with Sri Lanka, for Delhi’s strategic interests in a region where China is also engaged in establishing its own. presence.
Apart from the police training academy and the drug rehabilitation clinic, India has undertaken a host of other projects in the town of Addu including an airport, road projects, drainage and rehabilitation lands. Another project funded in Addu by India is the development of ecotourism areas.
India is also constructing the $500 million Greater Male Connectivity Project, the country’s largest infrastructure project which connects three islands to Male.
The anti-India campaign claims a large Indian military presence in the Maldives and that the government plans to hand over Uthuru Thilafalhu Atoll to the Indian Navy.
The Maldivian government has repeatedly clarified that there are no military personnel in the country other than the crew and maintenance needed to fly three Dornier surveillance and rescue aircraft and a team of military doctors.
Meanwhile, Jaishankar’s visit to Colombo comes days after India extended a billion dollar credit facility to Sri Lanka, which is in the midst of a severe economic crisis. It follows visits to India by Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister GL Peiris last month.
The aid should enable Sri Lanka to import food, other essentials and medicine from India. With this, Delhi has provided a total financial aid of $2.4 billion to Sri Lanka since January.
He also told Colombo that Indian investments in renewable energy, ports, logistics, infrastructure and connectivity will help Sri Lanka build capacity “holistically”, fixing its economy.
While in Sri Lanka, Jaishankar will also attend the BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting in Colombo on March 29.