India and the Maldives on Friday vowed to boost anti-terror cooperation and expand their maritime security ties to deal with common challenges in the Indian Ocean, a region where China has been rapidly expanding its military presence.
After talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid, both sides inked two pacts providing for cooperation in financial intelligence and election-related issues besides exchanging an instrument of ratification for a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.
"Both sides noted that India's 'Neighbourhood First' policy and Maldives' 'India First' policy were working in tandem to further strengthen a dynamic, multifaceted and mutually beneficial partnership that rests on the foundation of mutual trust, understanding and sensitivity to each other's concerns," a joint statement issued after the talks said.
A vast range of bilateral and regional issues were discussed at the 6th Joint Commission Meeting (JCM), which was co-chaired by Jaishankar and Shahid. The JCM took place after a gap of over four years.
"Both ministers emphasised the nurturing of a strong bilateral partnership in the maritime domain given the shared interests and common challenges in the Indian Ocean Region," the statement said.
It said both sides agreed that a joint working group will meet soon to strengthen cooperation to combat common threats of terrorism, radicalism and drug trafficking in the region.
In the meeting, both sides also reviewed the ongoing construction of police training facility in Addu city and capacity building projects being implemented with India's assistance.
The bilateral defence cooperation includes key infrastructure projects such as construction of a training centre for Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the setting up of the coastal surveillance radar system as well as training programmes for MNDF officials in India.
Noting with appreciation the training programmes being conducted by BCCI for development of cricket in Maldives, the JCM reviewed the progress in the development of the cricket stadium in Hulhumale, said the joint statement.
The two sides also resolved to enhance ties in diverse sectors including in trade and investment, observing that the recent private-sector exchanges have paved the way for further deepening of trade ties.
"Cooperation in renewable energy, agriculture, fisheries and the blue economy were identified as emerging and crucial sectors of the bilateral partnership," the joint statement said.
It said the two sides also agreed to take forward cooperation in themes under blue economy including meteorology through institutional linkages and joint research.
In the meeting, both sides also referred to significant expansion in the scope of the bilateral development partnership.
Both sides also acknowledged the progress achieved in implementing the USD 1.4 billion economic package announced by India in December 2018 and noted with satisfaction the forward movement in the implementation of critical infrastructure projects in Maldives under the USD 800 million Line of Credit.
"The USD 5.6 million High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs) and the USD 6.9 million grant assistance projects, which have been launched, have the potential to transform the livelihoods of communities in Maldives," the statement said.
"It was agreed that all these projects will be closely monitored to achieve quick implementation through transparent processes," it added.
The restoration of Hukuru Miskiiy mosque was identified as a priority and the JCM welcomed the fact that an Indian technical team is already in Male for its conservation.
Shahid arrived here late Tuesday night on a four-day visit.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that as a close friend and maritime neighbour, India is committed to partnering with the Maldives for its development.
The relations between India and the Maldives had deteriorated after then President Abdulla Yameen imposed emergency on February 5 last year.
India had criticised his decision and asked his government to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by releasing political prisoners. The emergency lasted 45 days.
However, the ties improved after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih became the president by defeating Yameen in the presidential polls.