External Affairs Minister His Excellency Dr Jaishankar,
Members of the Indian Delegation,
Members of the Press,
It is an honour to welcome External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar to the Maldives, on his second visit, in his capacity as External Affairs Minister of India.
Your visit comes at a time when the Maldives-India relationship has never been better. Last November, Maldives and India celebrated 55 years since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations. India was one of the first countries to recognise the independent Maldives. But this number surely represents only a fraction of the time we have been friendly nations.
Ours is a relationship that predates formalities – one that remains unhindered by time. Ours is a relationship of people. The early anecdotes of traders travelling the waters between our countries during favourable winds, the many similarities in our language, the shared cultural practices, and the frequent people to people contact remain testament to this relationship.
One of the top foreign policy objectives of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was to reinvigorate and revitalize our traditional, long-standing relationship with India. Exchanges like your visit today, Mr Minister, have been key to guiding and framing the upward trajectory of our relationship.
During our discussions today, we reflected on this renewed dynamism in our relationship. This dynamism is in no small part, due to the close personal relationship between President Solih and Prime Minister.
Today, we reviewed the many aspects of our development partnership, such as the key infrastructure projects that are being taken up under Indian Lines of Credit. From the Male-Villingili-Gulhifalhu-Thilafushi Bridge, to the Cancer Hospital in Laamu Atoll, when completed, these projects will serve as enduring symbols of the robust Maldives-India partnership.
Several of the projects under the LoC are nearing the end of tender stage and moving to implementation. We will sign the contract for the construction of roads and storm water drainage in Addu City, tomorrow. We are working on signing the contracts for several more projects, including the establishment of water and sanitation facilities in 34 islands, in the coming weeks. Both the Governments are committed to ensuring a quick process. At the same time, we are equally committed to transparent, fair and objective process.
Today, we have also signed the amendatory Agreements to re-purpose the balance of a 2011 Line of Credit, towards Roads Development Projects – an important concern that touches people directly.
We are encouraged to see more Indian investment coming in, working on key areas of the Government’s Action Plan. Today, we have signed a Letter of Intent on the construction of 2000 housing units between Fahi Dhiriulhun Corporation and Indian EXIM. Housing is a key issue and a key pledge of the Government. We discussed today, how we can further encourage investment and build our business-to-business linkages.
We also agreed that the projects that are being implemented in 74 islands in 18 atolls under Indian grant assistance – though small in value - are making a high impact on the communities and people. We were very happy to witness the signing of the MoU for the establishment of a Geydhoshu Mas Plant in Noonu Kendhikulhudhoo. This project will be immensely beneficial for the fisherfolk of Kendhikulhudhoo, and a means to generate income for the people. Today, we have also requested the Indian Government to extend a second tranche for the High Impact Community Development Projects in the Maldives, which we hope will be realized soon.
Our cooperation spans across many areas and many fields. Today, we have signed an MoU to enhance cooperation between the Maldives Public Service Media and Prasai Bharati of India. This MoU would open avenues to exchange information and share experiences and knowledge between broadcasters. Similarly, we have also signed an MoU on cooperation in sustainable urban development. These MoUs add to a comprehensive list of frameworks already in place, to strengthen our cooperation and our partnership.
I am sure you would agree Mr Minister, that the strong people-to-people connection between our two countries directly translates to the sheer strength of our relations. In recent times, we have witnessed the exponential growth in the number of tourist arrivals from India. At the end of last year, the number one source market for tourists to the Maldives was India! One major reason for these increasing numbers is the introduction of the Air Bubble Agreement that allowed uninterrupted travel between our two countries despite the overlying restrictions in the post-Covid world. I thank the Indian Government for agreeing to the establishment of an Air Bubble with the Maldives – the first one to be established in South Asia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, even as the entire world is ravaged by wave after wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government and people of India have displayed selfless bravery and courage in the face of adversity. Even whilst caring for their own, the Government of India continues to extend aid and assistance to the Maldives – a fine mark of the unique relations between our two countries. From the very early stages of the pandemic, when we were in need for uninterrupted supply of essential food and medical equipment and medicines, to the $250 million dollars of financial support, through Government Bond. And today, we are witness to yet another incredible gesture! The gift of 100,000 additional doses of the Covishield Vaccine, from the people of India to the people of Maldives, ensures that we keep our vaccination rate high – and we continue to see hope at the end of this long dark struggle.
I would like to thank the Indian people, for standing in solidarity, for being our partner and our friend, in the many many years past, and today. On behalf of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and the Government and people of the Maldives, we thank the Indian Government – especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his commitment to the neighbourhood, and in particular to the Maldives. Thank you also, to you, Dr Jaishankar – many of the remarkable milestones in the past two years, have only been possible, with your keen personal commitment. I thank you for the special regard you have always displayed for the Maldives, and the Maldivian place.
[Translation of what Minister said in Hindi: A bird in flight, stays true on course, with not one, but two wings in synchronised motion. Our two countries, Excellency, are just like those wings. We work in harmony, we work together, with the same interests, aiming to reach the same destination. We take the tried and tested road, along with the new and uncharted path, together. We ascend to greater heights, together.]
I pray that both our countries overcome these difficult days at the earliest, and wish for peace and prosperity, in our countries, and the world.