‘Maldives wants substantial ties with India, China’

New Delhi: Foreign Minister of Maldives, Abdulla Shahid, who is on a maiden official visit to India, on Monday said that his country wants to have a substantial relationship between India and China, while launching a scathing attack on former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, saying that he tried to be a puppet master playing “India against China” and vice-versa.

In an exclusive interview with ANI, Shahid, who arrived in India on November 24, spoke on the Maldives maintaining a balance in relations between India and China, saying, “Our policies would not be like that we would have an excellent relationship with our closest neighbor with our good friend India and also our development partner China. We would want to have a substantial relationship between these countries who generously contributed to the development of Maldives.”

“The previous government under Yameen increased anti-India sentiments for their own purposes. We will change it. The people of Maldives do not support this. Our government will make sure that Maldives-India relationship is on better footing,” he added.

Speaking on agenda of talks with the Indian leadership, the Maldivian minister said that Male needs urgent budgetary help and is looking for India’s “generous assistance” and other countries in improving basic facilities, such as fresh water and sewerage.

“Former President Yameen has taken the country to the brink of bankruptcy. We need urgent assistance to get the budget issues that we are having. We need budgetary assistance. We also have come into the office with a lot of pledges to the people that we need to start delivering them and we are looking for generous assistance of India and other countries in delivering this thing, especially in basic services like fresh water and sewerage,” Shahid elucidated.

Asked on how he compares Maldives’ relationship with India and China, he said, “India is India and China is China. India is our closest neighbor, and India is the largest contributor for several decades of our development. China is an upcoming market and they contribute the largest tourist arrivals to the Maldives. China has been generous in its assistance. We will not compare our friends but we have friends and special friends.”

Shahid added that New Delhi has been always “generous” and will always be a “special friend” of Male.

Commenting on reports of China attempting to dominate the Indian Ocean region, Shahid further said that free movement, is of utmost importance, apart from maintaining an atmosphere of peace and security.

“For us, peace and security and free movement within the Indian Ocean are of utmost importance. We also would not like tensions and conflicts in other parts of the world be dragged into the Indian Ocean. We will work with our neighbors to prevent it,” he told ANI.

Shahid’s visit assumes significance for India, following the swearing-in of Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih at a ceremony in Male on November 17, which was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is the first high-level visit from the Maldives after the new government took office in the South Asian archipelago.

During his visit, Shahid is slated to hold talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and call on President Ram Nath Kovind.

Before departing for India, Shahid wrote on his Twitter handle that he was looking forward to “very fruitful” meetings, which would give a boost to the bilateral relations between New Delhi and Male. “Departing to India. I’m looking forward to very fruitful meetings which will further strengthen the ties of friendship and solidarity between our two countries and people,” Shahid tweeted.

Relations between India and the Maldives came under strain during former Yameen’s five-year rule, which saw him cozying up with China for various development projects, cracking down on dissent and imposing a state of emergency by jailing opposition leaders.

During Prime Minister Modi’s day-long visit to the Maldives, Solih briefed the Indian leader about Maldives’ fragile economic situation. The two leaders discussed ways in which India can continue development partnership, particularly to help the new government in meeting its pledges to the people of the Maldives.

Both the leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean and being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region. They also expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism both within the region and elsewhere, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs.