India and the Maldives on Saturday signed five agreements, including one for a $25-million line of credit for development of roads, as visiting external affairs minister S Jaishankar handed over 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Jaishankar held talks with Maldives foreign minister Abdulla Shahid as he began a two-day visit to review bilateral ties and development cooperation. Jaishankar also offered a $40-million line of credit to support the development of sports infrastructure in Maldives, one of the biggest beneficiaries of Indian assistance in the neighbourhood.
This is Jaishankar’s second foreign visit this year, and the trip will also take him to Mauritius on February 22. He visited Sri Lanka last month and will travel to Bangladesh in March to prepare the ground for a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The ‘India First’ foreign policy of President [Ibrahim] Solih is reciprocated in full measure by Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, in which the Maldives enjoys a central position,” Jaishankar said at a media interaction with Shahid.
Speaking in Hindi, Shahid described the two countries as the wings of a bird. “A bird in flight stays true on course, with not one but two wings in synchronised motion. Our two countries are just like those wings. We work in harmony; we work together, with the same interests, aiming to reach the same destination.”
Among the five agreements signed by the two sides was one to repurpose the balance of a $40-million line of credit provided by India in 2011 and use $25 million to develop roads across the Maldives. India’s EXIM Bank and local authorities signed a letter of intent on financing a housing project of 2,000 units at Hulhumale.
The two sides also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a grant of $500,000 for a fish processing plant at Kendhikulhudhoo in northern Maldives, a MoU between Prasar Bharati and Public State Media of the Maldives on capacity building and exchange of content and expertise, and a MoU on sustainable urban development.
Jaishankar handed over 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, provided as a grant, to Shahid and health minister Ahmed Naseem. The Maldives had earlier received another 100,000 doses last month under India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative.
The Maldives, Jaishankar noted, was the “first and largest recipient of India’s Covid-19 support, and had received Indian-made vaccines within 96 hours of the rollout of New Delhi’s vaccination programme. The Maldives has since become third best in the world in terms of daily doses administered for every 100 people, he said.
Jaishankar and Shahid also reviewed the ongoing India-backed infrastructure projects under two lines of credit worth $1.2 billion. A contract for a key infrastructure project for building roads in Addu will be signed on Sunday. Jaishankar also noted that the Greater Malé Connectivity Project, the largest connectivity venture in the Maldives, is in tendering stage, while other projects, such as the Hanimadhoo airport expansion and development of Gulifalhu port, are progressing well.
“Needless to say, these projects will conform to the hallmarks of Indian development cooperation, which are transparency, full participation and ownership of the host country and competitive pricing,” he said.
Jaishankar also reiterated India’s support to the candidature of Shahid for the post of president of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in 2022. Jaishankar said that Shahid, with his diplomatic experience and leadership qualities, is “best equipped to preside over the General Assembly of 193 nations”.
He added, “We will work together to make this a reality. We would really like to work with you during our membership of the UN Security Council for 2021-22.”