Visit of Maldivian Delegation to the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), New Delhi, 29 Jan 2019
Welcome Remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF

Excellencies Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, Former Vice President of Maldives, Ms. Shidhatha Shareef, Minister of Gender, Family and Social Service, Mr. Adam Shareef Umar, Former Defence Minister, Ms Hissan Hussain, Former Legal Advisor of the President, Mr Mohamed Shifaz, Vice President of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to Vivekananda International Foundation. This meeting is being arranged as a part of our outreach to leading thinkers and eminent personalities from the neighbourhood. Your delegation is the first to visit us as a part of our outreach programme. I am grateful to all of you for having accepted our invitation to visit us.Our special thanks to the High Commissioner in Male, Ambassador Sh Akhilesh Mishra for helping us organizing this interaction.

The Maldivian delegation comprises of eminent personalities. Dr. Mohmad Jameel Ahmed served as the Vice President of the Maldives on Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) during 2013-2015. He was a part of the victorious MDP coalition of 2008 and also a member of the Cabinet. Madam Shidhatha Shreef is the minister of Gender, Family and Social Service in the current administration. A senior member of Adhalath Party since 2010, she is closely involved in training programme in women empowerment, democracy and human rights. Hon’ble Adam Shareef Umar was the minister of defence during 2015-2018. He has deep interest in education. He played a lead role in introducing the new national curriculum in 2015. Ms Hissan Hussain is a lawyer by training with over 15 years of legal practice. Having worked as Legal Advisor of the President and to various government agencies, she has represented President Solih and Speaker of the Parliament Mr Qasim Ibrahim during their detention by former President Yamin. Mr. Mohd Shifaz is the Vice President of MDP. He was the Member of Parliament for Baarshu Constituency (2009-2014). Presently, he is a minister in the Presidential Office.

Excellencies, VIF is an autonomous, privately funded, independent, think tank focusing on foreign policy, national security, international security, governance, civilizational and cultural issues. Set up in 2009, the VIF has emerged a leading think tank of the country. A large number of former senior officials, retired ambassadors, national security experts, armed forces personnel and researchers are associated with the VIF in different capacities. We have a wide range of publications, programmes, and an active website.

India-Maldives relations went through considerable turbulence in the last few years. Domestic instability in Maldives put heavy strain on bilateral relations. This was unfortunate considering that the two countries have traditionally enjoyed close ties. Our geo-strategic proximity, our location in the Indian Ocean and shared culture provide the foundation of our relations. No one can ignore this fact.

We are relieved that our relations are back on track. President Solih’s election has brought a fresh breath of air in bilateral relations. His State visit to India in December 2018, which was his first visit abroad after his election, has been widely appreciated. Earlier, Prime Minister Modi had attended the swearing-in ceremony of President Solih as a special guest. These gestures, reflecting mutual respect, have reinvigorated the traditionally strong and friendly ties between the two countries. India attaches great importance to its relations with Maldives. Prime Minister Modi has reiterated India’s commitment to support Maldives socio-economic development and strengthening of democratic and independent institutions. In this regard, India announced provision of financial assistance of up to US dollars 1.4 billion in the form of budgetary support, currency swap and concessional lines of credit.

India follows the policy of “neighbourhood-first”. President Solih’s reaffirmation of his government’s India-First policy is most welcome. We can look forward to a bright future within the framework of these policies. We need to remain sensitive to each other’s core concerns. The potential for further growth of bilateral relations is considerable. Various areas for cooperation have been identified including housing and infrastructure, water and sewerage system, healthcare, education and tourism. India will also provide 1000 additional slots to Maldives over next five years for training and capability building in diverse fields. The two-countries have signed a landmark new agreement on visa-facilitation. This will enhance people-to-people contacts. I understand that the Maldives is one of the few countries with which India has a visa-free arrangement. Maldivian citizens would be greatly benefitted as they would be able to come to India for educational, medical, and tourist purposes. Likewise many Indians would go to Maldives for tourism and business.

Global power dynamic is shifting. The increase in US-China tension is creating global and regional uncertainty. China’s Belt and Road initiative and its Maritime Silk Road strategy, instead of creating stability, has generated all-round apprehensions. Many countries, fearing that they may be trapped in unsustainable debt situation, are reconsidering and even cancelling projects under the BRI. The annexation and militarization of disputed Island by China in South China Sea has created divisions within the ASEAN and raised regional tension. India has objected to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which is legally a part of the Indian territory of J&K.

We are both Indian Ocean countries. Indian Ocean has emerged as the fulcrum of global trade, transportation and communication maintaining order at Sea is vital for global and regional situation. The maritime cooperation between the two countries can be enhanced further to mutual benefit. It is a matter of satisfaction that Maldives has decided to re-join the Commonwealth and has become the latest member of Indian Ocean Rim Association. We can develop common positions in these organisations. Think-tanks can play an important role in improving mutual understanding and strengthening relations between strategic communities of the two countries. The VIF would be happy to play its role in this regard.

Our region is awash with many threats, of traditional and non-traditional variety. Both countries face common threats from terrorism, radicalization, piracy, drug-trafficking, organised crime, and climate change. Close cooperation to combat these challenges will be mutually beneficial. Today, we have eminent participants from the Indian side including Ambassador Satish Chandra, Ambassador Rajiv Sikri, Shri C D Sahay, Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, Lt. General Ravi Sawhney and my other colleagues. I am also delighted to welcome and introduce Sh Sunjay Sudhir, whose appointment as the next High Commissioner to Maldives has been announced by the Government yesterday.

We look forward to candid and productive discussions in an atmosphere of cordiality and friendship. We would like to have your perceptions about the regional situation, the role of China, and the growing salience of Indian Ocean in world-politics, particularly in the context of Indo-Pacific.

Thank you.

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