Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) arrives with with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena prior to a meeting in New Delhi (Photo: AFP)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) arrives with with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena prior to a meeting in New Delhi (Photo: AFP)

In neighbourhood-first policy, PM to visit Maldives, Sri Lanka

  • Modi will embark on a tour of the island nations this weekend, indicating India’s priority to its neighbourhood
  • In 2014, Modi had invited South Asian heads of state to his inauguration in a signal that New Delhi would be giving importance to its immediate neighbourhood

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will this weekend visit two neighbouring countries—the Maldives and Sri Lanka—a foreign ministry statement said Monday, his first visits abroad after taking office in his second term.

The visit to Maldives, an Indian Ocean atoll nation, on 8-9 June underlines the new government’s priority to giving primacy to India’s neighbourhood—a policy that the Modi government followed in its first term as well. Soon after taking office in May 2014, Modi had chosen Bhutan as the first destination for his travel abroad.

The Maldives visit “is reflective of the new momentum in high-level exchanges between India and Maldives. Earlier, President Solih had made a State visit to India in December 2018," the statement from the Indian foreign ministry said.

“Prime Minister Modi’s forthcoming visit will provide an important occasion to review the recent developments in bilateral relations and exchange views on issues of mutual interest with the objective of further strengthening the special relationship between the two countries," it said.

“Prime Minister Modi will also visit Sri Lanka on 9 June 2019 at the invitation of Maithripala Sirisena, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka," the statement said.

“The visits to Maldives and Sri Lanka will demonstrate the priority India attaches to its ‘Neighbourhood-First Policy’ and the SAGAR Doctrine," it said. SAGAR refers to “Security And Growth for All in the Region"—a doctrine outlined by Modi in 2015 aiming to keep the Indian Ocean region peaceful and secure.

In 2014, Modi had invited South Asian heads of state to his inauguration in a signal that New Delhi would be giving importance to its immediate neighbourhood. This time round, Modi invited the leaders of BIMSTEC—an economic grouping straddling South and Southeast Asia—to his inauguration. The decision to visit the Maldives demonstrates India’s commitment to its ties with Male which is not part of BIMSTEC but an immediate neighbour, said a person familiar with the development.

Ties between India and the Maldives have altered dramatically especially after the election of Ibrahim Mohammed Solih as president in September. Modi had visited the Maldives in November to attend Solih’s swearing-in ceremony. This came after tensions between India and the Maldives over the latter’s close ties with India’s strategic rival China during the tenure of Solih’s predecessor Abdullah Yameen.

In December, India announced a $1.4 billion financial assistance package for the Maldives, weighed down reportedly by $3 billion in debt to China. Maldives owes the money to China for infrastructure projects undertaken by Chinese companies during Yameen’s tenure in office.

Modi could announce further financial assistance to Male during his 8-9 June visit.

On his way back, Modi will be visiting Sri Lanka in a trip that aims to express solidarity with the country against the backdrop of the 21 April Easter bombings. Sirisena was one of eight foreign leaders who visited India for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on 30 May. During their talks on 31 May in New Delhi, “the leaders noted that terrorism and extremism continue to pose threat to humanity and committed to closer bilateral cooperation for peace and security in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region," an Indian foreign ministry statement said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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