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New Delhi: Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid is to visit India on a two-day trip starting 15 April, which is expected to add to an already robust bilateral partnership between the two countries.

Sitting astride some of the busiest waterways of the world carrying trade and cargo worth trillions of dollars, the Maldives is a key country in the Indian Ocean region that India considers its sphere of influence.

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Shahid is to arrive in India on Thursday and will meet his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar on Friday for “discussions on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest", an Indian foreign ministry statement said.

“Foreign minister Shahid will participate in the Raisina Dialogue in virtual mode in sessions on ‘Financing for Sun’ and ‘Global public health after the Pandemic’, " the statement added.

India views the Maldives as a key partner in the Indian Ocean region where China—India’s strategic rival—has been making steady inroads in recent years. China has been looking to increase its footprint in the Indian Ocean region with its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative and by expanding its naval presence. In 2017, China opened its first overseas base in Djibouti and is scouting for more.

During a visit to the Maldives in February, Jaishankar oversaw the signing of an agreement with the Maldives to extend a $50-million line of credit to strengthen Male’s maritime capabilities. A total of five pacts were signed during the visit.

“The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region and occupies a central and special place in the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘SAGAR’—Security and Growth for All in the Region. Foreign minister Shahid’s visit is expected to lend further momentum to the close bilateral cooperation between the two countries," the Indian foreign ministry statement said.

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