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Remarks by External Affairs Minister at the Joint Conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives in Male

February 20, 2021

Foreign Minister Hon'ble Abdulla Shahid,
Distinguished Officials from both countries

Friends of the media, Ladies & Gentlemen,


Let me, at the outset, thank my dear friend and colleague Minister Abdulla Shahid for extending a very warm welcome, for extending the traditional Maldivian hospitality to me and my delegation.

I told him that how many times you could have done this before but still as you come in to the Maldives and see the turquoise waters while landing, it really gives you a very very special feeling and I can tell you that was the case once again today. That is why it is no wonder that so many Indians are today flocking to the Maldives in record numbers. I saw a comment sometime back on social media that the best way to make a Bollywood film is to take a camera crew to the Maldives because it looks like most of Bollywood is already here! But today I haven’t brought a camera crew, I have got some vaccines and some very capable officials along with me. I think what it reflects, Minister, is that it is a statement of really how old and how comfortable our relationship is, how much the Indian Ocean connects us, and how much really our historical and cultural bonds nourish our relationship.

However, the way our relationship has been strengthened and transformed over the previous two years is frankly quite unprecedented. Ours is an extraordinarily deep partnership in which we have both supported each other in the best traditions of friendship and neighbourliness.

The ‘India First’ foreign policy of President Solih is reciprocated in full measure by Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy in which Maldives enjoys a central position.

The special place we have for each other in our foreign policy at one level, and in our hearts at another, makes our bilateral relationship truly a moral for neighbourly relations.

It is therefore quite natural that the first and largest recipient of India’s Covid support – be it medicines, food, medical response teams or financial packages – was Maldives. It is equally no surprise that Maldives is the first country where Indian-made COVID vaccines landed, and this was just within 96 hours of our own vaccine roll out. I must congratulate you, Minister, on your efficient vaccination drive, making I believe, Maldives the 3rd best in the world in terms of daily doses administered per 100 population. To further assist you in this drive, I have today carried with me another consignment of a 100,000 doses of COVID vaccine as India’s gift to the government and people of the Maldives.

We had very useful discussions before this Press Conference and the MoUs and Agreements which have been signed today are emblematic of our strong development partnership which is multi-faceted and designed to meet the specific development needs of the people of Maldives. From fish processing to defence, from building roads to constructing housing, from public broadcasting to airport expansion and connectivity, the range of areas we are working on will further translate into reality the common vision of our leaders Prime Minister Modi and President Solih.

We jointly reviewed the ongoing Indian infrastructure projects under two Lines of Credit worth $ 1.2 billion. The Contract for one of the most important infrastructure projects – for the construction of Roads in Addu has been finalised and, I believe, will be signed tomorrow. This will bring tangible benefits to the people of Addu and transform lives and livelihoods in the South of Maldives.

India is indeed honoured to partner with Maldives in the prestigious Greater Malé Connectivity Project – the largest connectivity project ever in the Maldives. I am happy to note that GMCP is in the tendering stage. We expect it to become an economic lifeline of the new Maldives; connecting Malé with Villingili, the new commercial port at Gulhifalhu and the industrial zone at Thilafushi.

Others projects like Water and Sanitation for 34 islands across the archipelago, Hanimadhoo Airport expansion, development of the Gulifalhu Port, Cricket Stadium at Hulhumalé are all 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. I am confident that these projects will change the economic landscape of the Maldives and bring greater prosperity to its people.

During the last one year, we have not only worked in close coordination with the Government of Maldives for Covid relief but also looked beyond at post-Covid economic recovery, a key priority of the Maldivian Government. The Air Travel Bubble, which the Minister referred to, which was India’s first in the region, has contributed significantly to tourism revival in the Maldives with India topping tourist arrival charts in 2020. Today this has expanded to over 40 weekly flights between Malé and 7 Indian cities connecting our people like never before and also making a real difference to the Maldivian economy.

The cargo ferry service from Tuticorin and Kochi to Malé and Kulhudhuffushi has brought new connectivity between our countries and economic dynamism in Northern Maldives. It has also served as an inspiration for the Addu-Tuticorin ferry service. Even while our borders were closed due to the pandemic, we continued to make special openings for our Maldivian friends for humanitarian cases like medical emergencies and education. In today's globalised and inter-connected world, multilateral engagement is also very important. We have always been supportive of the larger participation of Maldives in various multilateral fora.

By joining the Indian Ocean Regional Association, re-joining the Commonwealth and playing a greater role in the United Nations, Maldives has demonstrated its value in the comity of nations.

In this context, I reiterate today India’s strong support to the candidature of Foreign Minster Abdulla Shahid for President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly next year. Foreign Minister Shahid, with his vast diplomatic experience and his leadership qualities is, in our view, the best equipped to preside over the General Assembly of 193 nations of the world. We will work together to make this a reality. We would really like to work with you during our membership of the United Nations Security Council for 2021-22.

In conclusion I wish to say that our time-tested relationship is today poised for a quantum jump, scaling newer heights and touching the lives of the people like never before. We are partners in development, but also in promoting peace and security in the region.

I wish to acknowledge the contribution of Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and all his colleagues in the Foreign Ministry for tirelessly working to take our bilateral relationship to new heights.

I thank you for your attention.

For the full speech as delivered, please see the link: https://bit.ly/3qF786b

 

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