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Maldives foreign minister assures Narendra Modi of close ties with India

India January 12(IM): Mohamed Asim, foreign minister and special envoy of the President of Maldives, called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday and assured him that there was no change in the atoll nation’s commitment to close ties with India under its “India first” policy.

Asim, who arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday, met his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on Thursday. A statement from the Indian foreign ministry said Asim and Swaraj held “productive” talks.The visit comes almost a month after the Indian Ocean atoll nation of Maldives signed a free trade pact with India’s strategic and economic rival China, adding to misgivings in New Delhi about ties between the two countries. And ahead of the visit, speculation was rife that Asim was headed to New Delhi to clear the air after the China-Maldives pact and India stating that it was India’s “expectation that as a close and friendly neighbour, the Maldives will be sensitive to our concerns in keeping with its ‘India first’ policy.”Of late, China has been making significant inroads into India’s periphery—securing a strategic port in Hambantota in Sri Lanka on a 99-year lease, stitching together an alliance of Leftist groups in Nepal that made significant gains in the November-December polls, brokering a peace deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar over Rohingya refugees and signing the free trade pact with the Maldives. The Maldives has previously endorsed China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Road project shunned by India for its strategic implications in the Indian Ocean.In the case of the Maldives, the atoll nation had described its foreign policy as giving India primacy, billing it an “India first” policy.But during his trip to China last month, Maldivian President Yameen was quoted as saying that China was Maldives’ “closest development and commercial partner,” according to a Maldivian government statement. And at an official reception held to mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Maldives, Yameen said the development partnership between the two had “reached a new high point over the past four years”.According to Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar, Swaraj and Asim “had productive discussions to strengthen bilateral relationship keeping in mind ‘India first’ policy of Maldives and our policy of ‘neighbourhood first.”A Press Trust of India news report said the Maldivian minister reiterated that Maldives would not undertake any activity which would harm Indian interests.Talks between Modi and Asim focussed on ties between India and Maldives as close neighbours bound by a shared history, culture and maritime interests in the Indian Ocean, a government statement said.“Envoy Asim reiterated the commitment of Maldives to maintain close relations with India under Maldives’ ‘India First’ policy,” it said. “The prime minister affirmed that India would always be a reliable and close neighbour of Maldives supporting it in its progress and security. Asim also reiterated President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation to Modi to visit Maldives,” the statement said.

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