India and Maldives have underscored the importance of “respecting international law and rules-based international order,” sending a signal to China that has been holding aggressive positions in the Indian Ocean Region.

In a joint communique issued on Thursday, visiting Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Maldivian counterpart Mariya Didi “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability and security in the region and recognised the need to work together to address common security challenges. They underscored the importance of respecting international law & rules-based international order and expressed their commitment to upholding these principles,” said the Ministry of Defence in an official statement.

The joint communique assumes the importance given to China’s maritime interest in the Maldives’ surrounding and in the island nation itself for strategic reasons. India’s ties with the regime of President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who will be running for a second presidential stint, has been cordial.

Though Solih has tried to balance equations with China too, Rajnath Singh’s visit at this point of time underpins that India is weighing on him since under him, Maldives had also joined Indian Ocean Rim Association in 2018.

Discussing security issues

Rajnath Singh is in Male on a three-day visit from May 1 for holding bilateral talks to enhance defence co-operation. According to the Ministry of Defence, Singh and Didi discussed a wide range of regional and global security issues of mutual concern and agreed to deepen their co-operation in the defence and security domains.

Both the Ministers said the Ministry of Defence welcomed the progress made in ongoing defence co-operation between the two neighbours, including joint exercises and exchanges of visits by military officials. They also noted the importance of sharing best practices and expertise in areas such as counter terrorism, disaster management, cyber security and maritime security.

They have agreed to explore additional avenues for co-operation, including in the areas of defence trade, capacity building and joint exercises. They also discussed the need to promote people-to-people contacts and exchanges between the armed forces of both countries.

Before his return to India, Rajnath Singh also paid a courtesy call on President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and met Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid. The two Defence Ministers attended the ceremony for commissioning of the replacement ship for Huravee, in the presence of Solih. Singh also gifted MNDF an additional Landing Craft.

He along with Didi also laid foundation for Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard ‘Ekatha Harbour’ in Male.

Maldives is strategically important for India due to its location and age-old civilisational and cultural ties. President Solih, since coming to power in 2018, has given utmost priority to India in the country’s foreign policy following an ‘India First’ mission. However, he also continues to play a carefully balanced relationship with China.