New Delhi: India on Monday assured the Maldives of all help to deepen the development partnership between the two countries, and invited President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to visit New Delhi on 17 December.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told her Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid that in line with the government of India’s neighbourhood-first policy, India will fully support the government of Maldives in its socio-economic development.

“India attaches highest importance to its relationship with the Maldives which is marked by trust, transparency, mutual understanding and sensitivity," said an Indian foreign ministry statement.

Shahid’s visit comes just over a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended Solih’s swearing-in ceremony. The new government led by Solih came to power after defeating Abdulla Yameen in the general elections in September.

Shahid was accompanied by Maldive’s finance minister Ibrahim Ameer, economic development minister Fayyaz Ismail, minister of state for foreign affairs Ahmed Khaleel, and foreign secretary Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed.

Besides Swaraj, Shahid also called on defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

India-Maldives ties have recently witnessed an upswing after years of strained relations. Modi’s visit to Male on 17 November was his first since he became the PM in 2014.

New Delhi had testy relations with Yameen due to his crackdown on pro-democracy leaders and the former president’s seeming tilt towards China. Under Yameen’s watch, the Maldives had cleared a law that would allow developers to take islands on lease for 99 years, besides a free trade pact with China. India feared the joint move would allow the entry of Chinese goods into India via the Maldives. Yameen had also signed on Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, something India views with suspicion.

With Solih as the new president, New Delhi is looking to forge closer ties with Male to wean it away from Beijing, which, India feels, is pushing the Maldives into a debt trap.

The Indian foreign ministry statement said Shahid reiterated the Maldivian government’s “India First" policy and “that his government looks forward to working closely with the government of India on all issues".

“He reaffirmed Maldives’ special, close and friendly relations with India. Minister Abdulla also reiterated that the government of Maldives will be sensitive towards India’s security and strategic concerns."

The two ministers also discussed ways to expand and diversify the bilateral economic and commercial relations. “In this regard, they agreed that the private sector needs to be encouraged to play a leading role."

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