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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary during State visit of Prime Minister to Maldives (June 08, 2019)

June 09, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Good evening friends and welcome to this special briefing from Maldives. As you are aware Prime Minister arrived earlier today and since his arrival we had a very hectic schedule. To brief on the various engagement which the Prime Minister had and also his talks with the President of Maldives I have with me the Foreign Secretary of India who will brief you on the discussions. I also have Additional Secretary (IOR) Shri Dinesh Patnaik. So without any further ado I give the floor to Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Thank you Raveesh. Prime Minister arrived in the Maldives earlier this afternoon. He was received at the airport by both the Foreign Minister and the Finance Minister and as a mark of respect to our Prime Minister at the official welcome ceremony which took place subsequently, the entire council of ministers of President Ibrahim Solih was present on this occasion.

This together with the conferment of the Highest Award that is given to foreign nationals, the Nishan Izzuddeen award, this underscores the importance which is attached by the government of the Maldives and by President Solih personally to the visit of the Prime Minister.

Talks, as you can imagine, were very warm, were very cordial, were very frank and we discussed the whole range of bilateral relations. President Ibrahim Solih on more than one occasion expressed his appreciation to the government of India and to the Prime Minister for providing budgetary support and for providing economic assistance after his government was elected to office and the Prime Minister reiterated that the government is committed, the government of India is committed to supporting the Maldives in their developmental endeavor, in their economic activity and in supporting the people of the Maldives.

The leaders agreed that the decisions taken when President Solih visited India in December and the decisions that will be taken today, it is important that we follow through on these decisions, that they are implemented as soon as possible and it was also agreed that the joint commission meeting which was held between the External Affairs Minister of India and the Foreign Minister of the Maldives will be held at a mutually convenient time within this year.

President Solih, in particular, briefed the Prime Minister about some of the social impact project, the high impact community development projects which have been undertaken from the grant that the government of India gave to President Solih’s government of about Rs. 50 crore in March this year.

As I said the Prime Minister assured President Solih that we will continue to partner with Maldives in their developmental activity. The lines of credit which have already been offered to the Maldives are under examination in terms of the projects that the government of Maldives has given us. Some of them, as I had explained in my briefing before Prime Minister’s visit, were already in an advance stage of examination, others we hope to receive shortly.

One of the important areas that the two leaders discussed that how to expand people to people relations and Prime Minister had a discussion on this not only with President Solih but also with Vice President Naseem. Among the subjects were preservation of environment and preservation of the cultural heritage of the Maldives. As you know we will be assisting them in preserving this very unique monument, in conserving this very unique monument, the mosque built with coral as a symbol of what is environmentally sustainable in the world today. This is a very ancient building and we feel that we should contribute because it sends a positive message out to the environment.

The ferry service was discussed and this is the first time we are going to begin passenger cum cargo services directly connecting the Indian mainland with the Maldives from Kochi via Kulhudhuffushi to Male. Both leaders also acknowledged that the geographical location that we have in the Indian Ocean gives both of us a very important role in the security architecture, in the preservation of sea lanes of communication, in the economic activity in the Indian Ocean and in the overall architecture that will emerge.

One particularly important point was that President Ibrahim Solih repeatedly told the Prime Minister that Maldives condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations including cross-border terrorism and we have agreed that both countries will therefore cooperate closely for counter-terrorism, we will exchange information and we will ensure that people of the two countries and the region are secure from this threat.

After the meeting with the President Solih there was both a restricted and a delegation level meeting. The Prime Minister briefly met the Vice President, the discussions were mostly on the social sector and in particular on how we can help the government and people of Maldives in education including in distance education.

Thereafter, of course, the Prime Minster had given a defining address in the Parliament of the Maldives, the Majlis. And I want to reiterate that the first act of this Majlis after they were sworn in earlier this year was to invite the Prime Minister to give this address. So it was a great honor for India, a great honor for the Prime Minister and it was also Prime Minister’s first major address abroad after the general election.

The speech is on ministry’s website but I want to highlight a few important features of this speech. One of the important messages delivered by the Prime Minister to Parliamentarians in the Maldives is that democracy is a common goal for both countries. It binds both countries together, the recent parliamentary elections in both countries have demonstrated the capacity of people to make a free choice of their government irrespective of the size. Obviously we are the world’s largest democracy, Maldives is a small country but irrespective of that the point that was made in the speech was that the free will of the people to choose their governments is something that binds the two countries together.

The second message of course is the message that the Prime Minister has been consistently giving since his first term which is that Neighborhood comes first and in that context the parallel he drew in the speech was that the waves that wash the shores of India also wash the shores of the Maldives and therefore it is the waves which actually act as messenger of peace, messenger of friendship, the messenger of trust between the two countries and I think this is an important message that the Prime Minister intended to convey.

The third important message was the importance that we harmonize with nature, it is common philosophy of both countries. Environment sustainability is a new challenge but both our countries having our own ways, historically and culturally, have been able to deal with this issue and we therefore feel it important that we should work towards the common objective of mitigating the problems of climate change.

The fourth important point I want to clarify was a clear call by the Prime Minister for an international dialogue or a conference on terrorism and the Prime Minister said and felt that it should be a result oriented discussion, we need not be deterred by differences in interpretation of what the world means on what issues are involved but if the world sees environment and climate change as challenges to all of humanity and has international conventions and conferences to deal with it then there is no reason why we cannot deal with global issue of terrorism in the same way.

So this was an important suggestion that the Prime Minister made, an important proposal that the Prime Minister made which we will follow up.

The last of course was the Indo-pacific. This is a key that Prime Minister has constantly dwelt upon after his meeting in Singapore. We have, in the last one year, gained good traction. A number of other countries have made positive statements on the Indo-pacific vision or outlook. ASEAN is currently working on a paper on Indo-pacific outlook and President Solih in his discussion with Prime Minister actually specifically said that the government of Maldives stands with India on developing an Indo-pacific vision and an Indo-pacific outlook.

Prime Minister also linked this to his seminal idea of SAGAR – Security And Growth for All in the Region which in fact in a sense will also underpin our Indo-pacific strategy because I think without a common development and a common security in which no country is excluded and all countries are included we cannot have a secure Indo-pacific. So these were really the main themes of the Prime Minister’s speech. He of course said many more things in the speech, we would indulge everyone to look at the speech.

Currently the Prime Minister is in a series of meetings with the Foreign Minister of Maldives and then with leaders of prominent political parties and political leaders of the Maldives. And then he will conclude this very busy day with an official banquet hosted by the President in honor of the Prime Minister. That will conclude our official engagements and the Prime Minister will leave tomorrow for Sri Lanka and then back for home. Thank you ladies & gentlemen.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir. We will now take few questions.

Question: Any specific reason why Male was chosen as the country in terms of PM’s first bilateral foreign visit in his second term? Second, as far as cricket aspects are concerned, we have heard a lot from various people in Maldivian government, are we going exactly in manner what the plan was adopted in Afghanistan, because the indication came that PM gifting a bat to the President?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Well, the objective of the Prime Minister was to emphasize his Neighborhood First policy by making his first visit abroad to a neighbor. As you know Prime Minister was not able to visit Maldives in his first term and the visit during the official swearing-in ceremony was for the specific purpose of being present when President Solih was sworn in because President Solih had invited the Prime Minister. So this was a country with which we have a very long time friendship, a good relationship but there had been no official visit by the Prime Minister therefore it was decided that the Prime Minister will make his first visit outside the country, this time, to the Maldives.

As far as cricket is concerned, from both the governmental perspective and from the perspective of the Indian cricketing world it is our desire to see that cricket is given a growing global audience and it is no coincidence that both the President of the Maldives and the Vice President of Maldives are keen cricketers.

So this appears therefore to be a good area in which we could build public relations and people to people relations and therefore, I think, one of the important discussions that took place was that we would assist the government of Maldives in building a proper cricket stadium, an international level cricket stadium in the Maldives, in the vicinity of Male.

Besides that, as I said, we are in touch with the BCCI. BCCI had send a team here earlier, perhaps last month or perhaps earlier this month, and we were able to talk to the Maldives side about how we can train them, coach them and so on. This is an area where we think there is great potential and there is great interest in Maldives. So I think since it is a good fit, this is something that we will carry forward as people to people relations.

Question from ANI: There is discussion regarding Rupay. As we know Maldives’ Male is a tourist place for India. What were the discussions and what we will use as a Rupay card?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: I think it has been the desire of Prime Minister and of the government to see that Rupay becomes as universally used card as possible to help Indians when they travel abroad whether it is for business, for pleasure or for any other reason.

We made an important beginning in Singapore and we are happy to inform you that we have also done a soft launch in Bhutan, this is now undergoing test and we hope that the Maldives will be the next country where the Rupay card will be used. This involves a certain amount of technical discussion which will now take place but there is a broad understanding at the political level that it is desirable to have the Rupay card.

The advantages of the Rupay card are obvious and it will make it much easier for Indians to spend abroad and to that extent we see a direct linkage between the introduction of Rupay and the growth of tourism from India to the Maldives. And I think the more Indians who visit the Maldives, the stronger that relation becomes at the people to people level. So I think it benefits India, it benefits the Maldives, it benefits the financial services sector and benefits the people. It is a win-win situation.

I also might mention here that it will be the endeavor of the government to see that the Rupay card now is brought into use in other countries as well and we are talking to a number of other countries in this regard as well.

Question from Rajya Sabha TV: Maldives is a member of SAARC and we have also started giving some importance to BIMSTEC. Like many of the BIMSTEC countries, Maldives is also a part of sea, so was there any discussion that whether Maldives can be a part of BIMSTEC or how can we accommodate Maldives with BIMSTEC because SAARC has become dysfunctional?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: There was no discussion on whether Maldives will become a part of BIMSTEC and the interlocutors from the Maldivian side also did not raise this issue.

In any case, with Maldives the bilateral relationship itself is so strong that it anchors the relationship but as I said we see Maldives as an important partner in the Indo-pacific concept, Indo-pacific outlook and vision and to that extent we will work closely with them and what we heard during this visit from the leadership of Maldives is the readiness to work with us on this outlook. For us that is a very positive development.

Question Contd.: Any discussion on SAARC?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: There was no discussion on SAARC.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I see no other hand and therefore I conclude this press briefing on the visit of Prime Minister to Maldives. Thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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