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P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 19 NOVEMBER, 2018

Solih’s ‘India First’ Places China on the Maldivian Sidelines

PM Modi top leader at Solih’s oath taking


COLOMBO: The new Maldivian President, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, has told parliament that his government will follow an “India First” policy indicating a shift from the pro-China policy of the previous government headed by Abdulla Yameen.

Speaking to lawmakers after being sworn-in at the National Football Stadium in the capital Male last Saturday, Solih said in the presence of visiting India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that he would be the medium through which Maldives would improve relations with its neighbors.

"We will endeavor to fortify the existing ties the Maldives has had with India and other regional countries. The Maldives will hereupon bolster its shared role to retain enduring peace and harmony of the Indian Ocean," Solih said.

The President added that the foreign policy of the Maldives will be fundamentally hinged on advancing policies that have a stake in the progress and welfare of the country.

"My government's foreign policy will be formulated on the basis of human rights, democracy and climate diplomacy," he declared.

Maldives is open and willing to establish diplomatic relations, and strengthen existing ties with all countries that wish to form mutually beneficial development partnerships.

Indian Prime Minister Modi was the highest ranking visitor at the inauguration.

On arrival in the Maldivian capital, the Indian PM was given a red carpet welcome and was received by the new Maldives Parliament Speaker Gasim Ibrahim.

During the function, Modi was sitting beside former Maldivian presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

PM Modi also interacted with leaders from the Maldives and other parts of the world.

“Congratulations to Mr. @ibusolih on taking oath as the President of the Maldives. Wishing him the very best for his tenure ahead. Looking forward to working with him to strengthen bilateral relations between our nations,” Modi tweeted after the ceremony.

President Solih welcomed and thanked Prime Minister Modi for visiting the Maldives to participate in the Presidential inauguration ceremony.

Prime Minister Modi thanked President Solih for the special gesture of inviting him to the Inauguration ceremony. He also conveyed greetings and compliments from the people of India to the people of the Republic of Maldives on consolidation of democracy, which is essential for peace, prosperity and stability.

The two leaders, while noting the resilience of the relations between India and the Maldives, expressed confidence in the renewal of the close bonds of cooperation and friendship with the election of Mr Solih as the President of the Maldives.

During their meeting, both 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.

The two leaders expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism both within the region and elsewhere.

President Solih also briefed Prime Minister Modi on the "dire economic situation" facing the country as he takes office.

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.

In particular, President Solih highlighted the pressing need for increased housing and infrastructure development as well as for establishing water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands.

Prime Minister Modi assured President Solih of India’s firm commitment in assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development. He also conveyed India’s readiness to extend help in every possible way and suggested that both sides should meet at the earliest to work out details as per requirements of the Maldives.

Prime Minister Modi welcomed the expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives in different sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries.

Recognizing that nationals of both countries travel extensively between the two countries, the leaders also agreed on the need for facilitating easier visa procedures.

PM Modi extended an invitation to President Solih to make a State Visit to India at his earliest convenience. President Solih accepted the invitation with pleasure.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives will make an official visit to India on November 26 to hold further discussions and to prepare for the forthcoming State Visit of President Solih to India.

President Solih expressed the hope that PM Modi will make an official visit to the Maldives in the near future. Prime Minister Modi gratefully accepted the invitation.

China was represented by Luo Shugang, Minister of Culture and Tourism. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan , though invited, did not come. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, facing a domestic political crisis with his Premiership being challenged, also did not come, though invited. But his son Namal Rajapaksa MP was there as his representative .

Sri Lanka, which is close to the Maldives in more ways than one, was represented by its foreign minister Dr.Sarath Amunugama. The other guest of honor from Sri Lanka was former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

PM Modi, left for India after the inauguration skipping the banquet.

Maldives has remained strategically key to in the battle between India and China for regional supremacy.

Modi's presence signaled the end of years of frosty relations because of outgoing Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's embrace of China, a relationship that had deepened India's anxieties about being encircled by countries leaning towards Beijing.

Maldives was the only South Asian neighbor that Modi had not visited since taking office in May 2014.

He dropped the Maldives from a 2015 tour of Indian Ocean countries tour because of the political situation there with massive anti-government protests and heightened tension that led to the arrest and prosecution of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

India had also been irked by Yameen's government turning to China to realize his ambitious infrastructure development plans.

Beijing had provided loans to fund several major infrastructure projects including a landmark bridge connecting the capital Male to the airport island Hulhulumale.

President Solih on Saturday vowed to step up efforts to bring much needed judicial reform in the Maldives. The previous President Yameen had misused the judiciary to meet his narrow political ends.

Addressing the parliament after being sworn in at the national football stadium in the capital Male on Saturday, Solih said that experience in the past ten years indicated the pressing urgency to reform the judicial system and to enhance the accountability of the courts to the people.

"As stipulated in the Constitution, practicing justices ought to be assured an enabling atmosphere where they may conduct fair hearings free from external coercion," Solih said.

He also stressed on the need for competent justices with extensive judicial expertise and integrity were a necessary prerequisite to thoroughly safeguard the people's right to justice.

"Reforming the judicial system will be one of the highest priority areas of my administration," he insisted.

Solih said the country need to focus on moving ahead, to take back the rights that have been denied and save nation from its dire condition.

"We need to help seek justice for those subject to abuse and unfair treatment. The treasury needs to be strengthened. Unaccountable deaths and disappearances need to be investigated and findings disclosed. For us to move ahead as one nation, such grave matters need to be addressed immediately,” Solih said.

Relations had soured after the now defeated Maldives president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom in February declared state of emergency following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of opposition leaders convicted in widely criticized trials.
 

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