A top U.S. State Department official visited The Maldives in the backdrop of growing signs of trouble for the government, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party and, increasing radicalisation of its youth.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who is on a whirl-wind visit of the major capitals of Asia and Africa, found time to visit Maldives on January 28 and 29, and held discussions with officials and civil society leaders. “We have very practical interests in common, such as dealing with the challenges of climate change and piracy – security in this region is of enormous importance to us,” Mr. Steinberg said, in response to a question, according to the independent Maldivian newspaper, Minivan News.
Specific areas raised with the Maldivian government by Mr.Steinberg included the challenges of economic development, the need to strengthen education and build educational opportunities, as well as the challenges of confronting growing extremism “and how we can help promote tolerance in the Maldives,” the newspaper’s website said.
The State Department listed the Maldives on its tier two watch-list for Human Trafficking last year, barely a few weeks after The Maldives sat on the UN Human Rights Council. On this, Mr. Steinberg said: “This region, quite frankly, has particular challenges in dealing with forced labour and related issues on trafficking. What we are looking for is a road-map and a way forward. The watch-list is not intended to punish, but to motivate efforts to go forward.”
In his remarks at the American Centre in the National Library, Mr. Steinberg said that The Maldives represented an emerging model for “a tolerant and democratic Muslim society”, and “could have enormous influence in the thinking of countries around the world, as you try to build this new model.”
Mr. Steinberg was in Male after visiting Seoul (January 26), Tokyo (January 27), and Beijing (January 28), according to his travels posted at the US State Department website. His visit was to “discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including climate change, human rights, and democratisation.”
The U.S. State Department has voiced its concern over the functioning of Maldivian democracy earlier too. In a December 15 telephonic press conference with south Asian journalists, the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Robert O. Blake Jr. said : “It’s going to be very important now for I think all of the parties to work together to find common ground and to work to help the interests of the Maldivian people… So it’s important, again, I think for all the parties to work together… It’s important to set aside a lot of the rancour and again, focus on what is going to benefit the Maldivian people.”