India, Maldives hold dialogue to expand defence cooperation

New Delhi: Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar has held “very productive” talks with the top military brass of the Maldives to further bolster bilateral defence and security cooperation amid concerns over China’s increasing footprint in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives is one of India’s key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and the bilateral defence and security ties have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years.

“Delighted to be in Maldives for the 3rd Defence Cooperation Dialogue. Had very productive discussions. Deeply appreciate warm hospitality of @cdfofmndf Maj Gen Abdulla Shamaal,” Kumar tweeted on Monday, a day after the talks in Male.

In November, India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka held a two-day maritime operation in the Indian Ocean, signalling a resolve to jointly keep the region safe and secure including for international trade.

Major General Abdulla Shamaal, the Chief of Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), said that the Defence Cooperation Dialogue (DCD) is instrumental in “time-honoured” defence cooperation between the two countries.

“Extremely pleased to welcome Indian Defence Secretary, @drajaykumar_ias & the high level delegation to the third Defence Cooperation Dialogue. The DCD is instrumental in our time-honoured def. coop. relationship & we are glad to note further avenues of MNDF capacity building,” he tweeted.

Development cooperation has been a key emerging pillar of the India-Maldives relationship with New Delhi providing Lines of Credit of over USD 1.2 billion (one billion is equal to Rs 100 crore) for infrastructure and grants for community development projects to the island nation.

In August last year, the island nation sealed a contract for the implementation of an India-funded connectivity project, billed as the largest infrastructure initiative being rolled out in the island nation.

Under the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP) project, a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway link will be built to connect capital city Male with adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.

Funded under a grant of USD 100 million and a Line of Credit of USD 400 million from India, it will be reportedly the largest infrastructure project in the Maldives.

India extended assistance to the Maldives during the coronavirus pandemic that included the early supply of vaccines.

The Maldives was the first beneficiary of India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative last year.

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