India's time-tested relationship with Maldives poised to take quantum jump: Jaishankar

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Male, Feb 20 (PTI) India-Maldives ties have seen 'unprecedented' transformation in the last two years and the time-tested relationship is poised for a quantum jump, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday as he discussed the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation with his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid and gifted 100,000 additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the country.

The two ministers discussed COVID-19 recovery, various projects being undertaken under Indian assistance, and cooperation in multilateral platforms.

Addressing a joint conference with the Maldivian foreign minister after the talks, Jaishankar said the two sides had very useful discussions and the MoUs and agreements signed are emblematic of the strong development partnership which is multi-faceted and designed to meet the specific development needs of the people of Maldives.

From fish processing to defence, from building roads to constructing housing, from public broadcasting to airport expansion and connectivity, he said, the range of areas the two countries are working on will further translate into reality the common vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Jaishankar, who arrived here on the first leg of his two-nation tour that will also take him to Mauritius, handed over 100,000 additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Foreign Minister and Health Minister Kerafa Naseem.

India last month had provided 1,00,000 doses of Covisheild vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), to the Maldives as part of India's grant assistance.

Later, speaking at another event at the Ekuveni Stadium, Jaishankar announced a USD 40 million Line of Credit to the Maldives in a bid to boost the sports infrastructure of the country.

Jaishankar said the way the bilateral relationship has been strengthened and transformed over the previous two years is frankly quite 'unprecedented'.

'Ours is an extraordinarily deep partnership in which we have both supported each other in the best traditions of friendship and neighbourliness,' he said.

He said Maldives enjoy a central position in Prime Minister Modi's 'Neighbourhood First Policy.

'The ‘India First’ foreign policy of President Solih is reciprocated in full measure by Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy in which Maldives enjoys a central position,' he said.

He said the first and largest recipient of India’s Covid support - be it medicines, food, medical response teams or financial package - was Maldives.

'Maldives is the first country where India-made COVID vaccines landed, and this was just within 96 hours of our own vaccine roll out,' he said.

Congratulating the country's health minister for its efficient vaccination drive making, he said, Maldives is the 3rd best in the world in terms of daily doses administered per 100 population.

'Our time-tested relationship is today poised for a quantum jump, scaling newer heights and touching the lives of the people like never before. We are partners in development, but also in promoting peace and security in the region,' he said.

He said during the last one year, India has not only worked in close coordination with Maldives for Covid relief but also looked beyond at post-Covid economic recovery.

The air travel bubble which was India’s first in the region, has contributed significantly to tourism revival in the Maldives with India topping tourist arrival charts in 2020, Jaishankar said.

Today this has expanded to over 40 weekly flights between Male and seven Indian cities connecting our people like never before and also making a real difference to the Maldivian economy.

The cargo ferry service from Tuticorin and Kochi to Male and Kulhudhuffushi has brought new connectivity between the two countries and economic dynamism in Northern Maldives.

The two sides jointly reviewed the ongoing Indian infrastructure projects under two Lines of Credit worth USD 1.2 billion.

The contract for one of the most important infrastructure projects – for the construction of roads in Addu has been finalised and will be signed on Sunday, Jaishankar said, adding this will bring tangible benefits to the people of Addu and transform lives and livelihoods in the South of Maldives.

He said India is honoured to partner with Maldives in the prestigious Greater Male Connectivity Project – the largest connectivity project ever in the Maldives.

'We expect it to become an economic lifeline of the new Maldives; connecting Male with Villingili, the new commercial port at Gulhifalhu and industrial zone at Thilafushi,' he said.

Other projects like water and sanitation for 34 islands across the archipelago, Hanimadhoo Airport expansion, development of Gulifalhu Port, cricket stadium at Hulhumalé are all progressing well.

Emphasising that in today's globalised and inter-connected world, multilateral engagement is also very important, he said India has always been supportive of the larger participation of Maldives in various multilateral fora.

He reiterated India’s strong support to the candidature of Foreign Minister Shahid for President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly next year.

Jaishankar is visiting the Maldives at the invitation of Shahid. It is his second official visit to the Maldives, following his visit to attend the 5th Indian Ocean Conference in 2019. PTI PMS CPS AKJ PMS PMS