By Elizabeth Roche
Almost a month after the Indian Ocean atoll nation of Maldives signed a free trade pact with India’s strategic and economic rival China, adding to misgivings in New Delhi about ties between the two countries, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen is despatching his foreign minister Mohamed Asim to New Delhi.
Asim, who is also Yameen’s special envoy, will arrive in New Delhi on Wednesday and meet Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday, according to a programme put out by the Indian external affairs ministry. There is no particular agenda for the visit, said people familiar with the development from the Indian as well as the Maldives side.
But speculation is rife that Asim is headed to New Delhi to clear the air after the China-Maldives pact and India stating that it was India’s “expectation that as a close and friendly neighbour, the Maldives will be sensitive to our concerns in keeping with its ‘India first’ policy.”
Of late, China has been making significant inroads into India’s periphery—securing a strategic port in Hambantota in Sri Lanka on a 99-year lease, stitching together an alliance of Leftist groups in Nepal that made significant gains in the November-December polls, brokering a peace deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar over Rohingya refugees and signing the free trade pact with the Maldives. The Maldives has previously endorsed China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Road project shunned by India for its strategic implications in the Indian Ocean.
In the case of the Maldives, the atoll nation had described its foreign policy as giving India primacy, billing it an “India first” policy.
But during his trip to China last month, Maldivian president Yameen, was quoted as saying that China was Maldives’ “closest development and commercial partner,” according to a Maldivian government release. And at an official reception held to mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Maldives, Yameen said the development partnership between the two had “reached a new high point over the past four years”.
Live Mint, January 11, 2018