(This article is originally posted by Nayanima Basu on the Print)
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar began his two-day trip to Maldives Saturday as India seeks to expand its Indo-Pacific strategic partnership within its friendly neighbours in an effort to strengthen maritime cooperation.
During his visit, Jaishankar is expected to meet President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and will hold discussions with the ministers for foreign affairs, defence, finance, economic development and planning and infrastructure, according to a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
India has been “carefully and cautiously” nurturing its bilateral relationship ever since the Solih government came to power in 2018, overthrowing the former Abdulla Yameen regime, under whom the island nation gathered a Chinese debt to the tune of $2 billion, official sources told ThePrint.
Jaishankar’s visit comes two months after India, Maldives and Sri Lanka held the 4th trilateral meeting on Maritime and Security Cooperation in which New Delhi was represented by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. The meeting was held in Colombo.
The Solih government has stood firm in its commitment to an ‘India First’ policy, bringing the two countries closer not just economically, but also strategically.
India sees Maldives as a key maritime neighbour and has been seeking to forge deeper ties with the country to bolster New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific initiative.
Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla had visited Male in November 2020, right after the visit of former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo there, in an effort to bring the Solih government closer to the Indo-Pacific construct, thereby lessening Chinese influence in the island nation.