DUBAI: In a significant move bolstering their alliance, India and the Maldives have agreed to create a core group aimed at fostering a deeper partnership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaged in a fruitful discussion with newly-elected Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, emphasizing avenues to enrich their bilateral friendship spanning various sectors.
This pivotal decision to establish the core group materialized during the inaugural encounter between Prime Minister Modi and President Muizzu on the sidelines of the COP28 World Climate Action Summit held in Dubai.
"President @MMuizzu and I had a productive meeting today. We discussed ways to enhance the India-Maldives friendship across diverse sectors. We look forward to working together to deepen cooperation for the benefit of our people," tweeted Modi post their meeting.
The Prime Minister's Office highlighted deliberations on fortifying India-Maldives relations, specifically focusing on economic ties, developmental collaboration, and fostering stronger people-to-people connections.
Muizzu, 45, who shares an association with former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen known for close ties with China during his 2013-2018 presidency, clinched victory in the September presidential runoff against the India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Modi personally extended congratulations to Muizzu on assuming the presidency of the Maldives.
"Both leaders reviewed the extensive bilateral relations, encompassing people-to-people bonds, developmental collaboration, economic ties, climate action, and sports," stated the external affairs ministry.
"The leaders explored strategies to further deepen their partnership, agreeing to form a core group," the ministry added.
This high-level meeting followed Muizzu's request for India to withdraw 77 Indian military personnel and review over 100 bilateral agreements between the two nations, actions initiated during a courtesy call by India's Union Minister Kiren Rejiju at the president's office on November 18.
The Maldives holds significant maritime proximity to India in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a pivotal position in Prime Minister Modi's vision of 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the 'Neighbourhood First Policy'.
Being just 70 nautical miles from Minicoy and 300 nautical miles from India's West coast, Maldives holds strategic importance due to its location along major commercial sea routes in the Indian Ocean.
While Muizzu's party has exhibited pro-China stances, observers anticipate a more balanced foreign policy approach, particularly given the Maldives' economic fragility with impending debt repayments, drawing parallels to Sri Lanka's severe economic crisis.
India's proactive assistance of USD four billion to Sri Lanka during economic turmoil, compared to China's hesitation despite significant investments via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), such as the 99-year lease of the Hambantota port as part of a debt swap, serves as a notable reference point.