Maldives allays concerns on China, says 'India First'

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj greets Mohamed Asim Minister of Foreign Affairs & Special Envoy of the President of the Republic of Maldives ahead of a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj greets Mohamed Asim Minister of Foreign Affairs & Special Envoy of the President of the Republic of Maldives ahead of a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. PTI

This was reiterated in Asim's - a diplomat-turned-minister - conversation with the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. "Swaraj met Mohamed Asim, foreign minister and special envoy of the President of Maldives". The Indian statement had come in response to a query on Maldives-China free trade agreement (FTA).

The visit comes nearly a month after the Indian Ocean atoll nation of Maldives signed a free trade pact with India's strategic and economic rival China, adding to misgivings in New Delhi about ties between the two countries.

"The Special Envoy reaffirmed his government's India First policy and emphasised that Maldives attached the highest priority to its ties with India".

India had already made it clear it expects, that as a close and friendly neighbour, the island nation would be sensitive to its concerns in keeping with its "India First" policy.

But during his trip to China last month, Maldivian President Yameen was quoted as saying that China was Maldives' "closest development and commercial partner", according to a Maldivian government statement.

Amid strain in ties between New Delhi and Male, Maldives foreign minister Mohamed Asim on Thursday stressed on Maldives's policy of "India first" in an attempt to assuage concerns over its growing proximity towards Beijing.

"After an invitation by India's tiny maritime neighbour, which is offering the olive branch to a miffed New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed to visit the Maldives - the only south Asian country he has not visited so far - at a suitable time".

A Press Trust of India news report said the Maldivian minister reiterated that Maldives would not undertake any activity which would harm Indian interests.

"Envoy Asim reiterated the commitment of Maldives to maintain close relations with India under Maldives" "India First' policy", it said. According to official sources here, Asim did not just assure India that Male will do nothing to jeopardise India's security interests but also said in his meetings with both Modi and Swaraj that the Maldives would expedite work on India's developmental projects which the two countries had announced during Yameen's visit to India.

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