Friday, July 24, 2015

Indian Foreign Secretary Meets with Maldivian Envoy Twice, Receives Assurances

Underlining the seriousness with which India viewed Maldives government’s move to allow foreign land ownership, foreign secretary S Jaishankar has held two meetings in two days with the Maldivian high commissioner Ahmed Mohamed.

Sources said that Maldivian envoy was “summoned” to South Block on Wednesday evening, within a few hours after parliament in Male passed the constitutional amendment to allow foreign land ownership which alarmed the Indian establishment.

Mohamed again met with Jaishankar on Thursday morning, which was described as a “follow-up”.

On Wednesday, Maldives parliament passed the law to modify the constitution to permit foreign nationals to own land for the first time in the Indian Ocean nation. Indian observers have been worried that this will allow China, with Chinese firms in front, to get a decisive foothold in the Indian Ocean.

At the Wednesday meeting where Mohamed was summoned, India expressed its concerns about the impact of the law, which was pushed through in just 48 hours immediately after the lawmaking process was shortened by a parliamentary panel.

The Maldivian diplomat indicated to that his government was willing to engage with India to meet its concerns. This morning’s meeting was essentially to give further assurances that India’s strategic security in the Indian Ocean region will not be compromise by Maldives.

At a press conference in the afternoon in Malé, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen publicly announced that New Delhi had been assured that it had not cause for alarm.

“The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighbouring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone,” said Yameen.

He said that the new land policy does not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighbouring countries”.

China has been steadily making its presence felt in the Indian ocean region, where India aims to be the dominant security provider.

The administration of President Yameen has been growing increasingly close to Beijing, with Chinese president Xi Jinping even making a state visit last year. Maldives has also signed up to China’s Maritime Silk route initiative.

The Maldivian ambassador had in an exclusive interview on Wednesday evening that India’s security will not be jeopardized.

“We sit in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We will not consciously do anything to disrupt the security balance of the Indian Ocean region,” Mohamed told Express.

The Maldivian envoy termed the trilateral forum with India and Sri Lanka as the “fundamental lens” through which his country envisioned security in the region.

When asked about India’s concerns, Mohamed said that Maldives will not deliberately harm its relations with India, its closest neighbour. “Why would a sane person harm themselves deliberately?” said Mohamed, when reminded of India’s concerns.

The constitutional amendment was also to attract investment to Maldives, he contended. “Our only economic pillar is tourism. We need to diversify our economy. We cannot keep the Maldives economy dependent only on one sector,” he said

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