'India sees economically strong, resilient and prosperous Maldives as fundamentally in its interest'

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Male, Nov 9 (PTI) India sees an economically strong, resilient and prosperous Maldives as fundamentally in its interest, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Monday as he held wide-ranging talks with the country’s top leadership to review the entire gamut of bilateral ties and discuss the coronavirus situation.

Shringla, who is here on a two-day visit, said that India and the Maldives signed two Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs), including one for a USD 100 million grant to fund the Greater Male Connectivity Project, that are emblematic of the strong development partnership which is multi-faceted and designed to meet the specific requirements of the government and people of Maldives.

Shringla called on President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker of the People's Majlis Mohamed Nasheed here.

“We deeply appreciate the Government of President Solih for its 'India First” foreign policy. This is reciprocated in full measure by our 'Neighbourhood First” policy in which Maldives enjoys a very special and central place,” he said in his remarks at the Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the presence of the country’s Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and Foreign Secretary Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed along with other key ministers and Members of Parliament.

Acknowledging the contribution of Foreign Minister Shahid and his colleagues “for tirelessly working to take our bilateral relations to new heights”, the Foreign Secretary said that the two countries have signed two MoUs for High Impact Community Development Projects.

One MoU is on Cooperation in Sports and Youth Affairs and the other one for a USD 100 million grant to fund the Greater Male Connectivity Project which is the largest ever such infrastructure project undertaken in the Maldives, according to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The High Impact Community Development Projects benefit the communities in a very direct manner and promote socio-economic welfare of the people, he said, adding that touching the lives of the people of Maldives is an important effort in the projects.

“I am happy that our bilateral cooperation in the field of sports has progressed well in the last few years. I am confident that the MoU on Cooperation in Sports and Youth Affairs that we have signed today will serve as a useful framework for further enhancing our ongoing cooperation,” Shringla said.

India is honoured to partner with the Maldives in the prestigious Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), an economic lifeline connecting Male with Vilingili, the new commercial port at Gulhifalhu and industrial zone at Thilafushi, he said, adding that the project will conform to the hallmarks of Indian development cooperation; transparency; full participation and ownership of the host country; and competitive pricing.

The GMCP is among the several large-scale projects being carried out in the Maldives by India, which include infrastructure projects such as port, roads and reclamation, expansion of airports, building of a new Cricket Stadium and cancer hospital and development of fisheries.

“We feel these projects will change the economic landscape of the Maldives and bring greater prosperity to the people. We see an economically strong, resilient and prosperous Maldives as fundamentally in India’s interest,” Shringla said.

In today’s globalised and interconnected world, multilateral engagement is very important.

“We have always been supportive of the Maldives in various multilateral fora. We are happy that the Maldives has re-joined the Commonwealth in February this year and can continue to benefit from this historic organisation.

“We have also supported the Maldives in joining the Indian Ocean Regional Association where we feel that Maldives can not only benefit but also bring a lot of value to this organisation. We also note the enhanced engagement of the Maldives with the United Nations and its specialised organisations,” the Foreign Secretary said.

India and the Maldives have had to face the enormous uncertainties that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in its wake.

“In mitigating this impact on our people and economy, we were also happy to extend assistance to the Maldives in dealing with the crisis,” he said.

Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) during his visit to the Maldives in June last year said that the ‘Neighbourhood First is India’s priority; and in the neighbourhood Maldives is priority’.

Modi also said that India’s cooperation will always be focussed on the welfare of the people and based on the requirements and priorities of Maldives. It is no coincidence therefore that Maldives was the first and the largest recipient of India’s COVID-19 assistance in the neighbourhood, Shringla said, adding that this assistance will continue beyond COVID-19 and will manifest itself whenever the Maldives requires Indian assistance of any kind.

He also extended the heartfelt congratulations to the Government and people of Maldives on the 52nd Republic Day which will be celebrated on November 11. PTI CPS AKJ CPS