Ties with China 'very close', 'far more precious' with India: Maldives President

Ties with China 'very close', 'far more precious' with India: Maldives President

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen today described the island nation's relationship with China as "very close" but assured India that his country's ties with it are "far more precious".

Yameen, who was elected President less than two months ago, told PTI in an interview here that he had assured Indian leaders during his just-concluded visit that ties with India were based on "sentiments". It is a "heartfelt" relationship, he said.

Answering a question on the perception that his country was getting close to China, he replied, "I would like to tell you that the relationship we have with China is very close."But ties with India "will precede any other relationship", he said.

India has been concerned over the growing proximity between Maldives and China in a number of strategic areas including on security issues.

The security agencies here have repeatedly been saying that the 'Marao Island' which was leased by Maldives to China in 1999 for maritime traffic management was also being used by the Chinese to monitor Indian and US warships in the Indian Ocean, and in future could be developed into a submarine base.

Talking about his discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Yameen said, "India's primary concern has been security in the region, particularly in the Indian Ocean and our views on the issues are exactly similar to India's views."

"So, it was not a difficult proposition at all. We have agreed and we have exchanged views on areas of concern such as security, fighting against terrorism and fighting against piracy in the Indian Ocean. So we are largely to gain from these matters that are a concern to India while we share the Indian sentiments and we have totally endorsed them," he said.

Yameen admitted that relations between India and Maldives went through a rough patch following scrapping of the airport development deal with GMR.

In 2012, Maldives had cancelled its biggest foreign investment project, a USD 511 million deal with Indian firm GMR Group to develop its international airport.

"We have had a slight rough patch with India. But the time of good relations far outway the rough patches we had. I suppose it is easy for us to be on the right track again," he said.

He said though the issue was a source of some amount of worry, it was not going to impact the old age relations between the two countries.

"My trip here is the testimony to that (our relationship). This is my first visit after I assumed office and India has been gracious enough to host me," he said.

The Maldivian President also expressed happiness over outcome of his talks with Singh and said the Prime Minister was very generous in heeding to his requests on various issues.

"The Prime Minister has been very generous. Very kind. Talks were absolutely satisfying," he said.

Asked about concerns India about growing radicalism in Maldives, Yameen said there are people in his country with orthodox views but that cannot be linked to extremism.

"There are people with different thoughts. Very orthodox views. But that has not escalated into an issue of concern. It has not been a source of concern. But yes India and Maldives, we both have agreed on our position against terrorism, on piracy in the Indian Ocean Region.

"Islamic sentiments people privately hold. I would not like to categorise that... This is not an issue to worry at this point in time," he said.

In their talks, Singh and Yameen had agreed on a number of initiatives to strengthen bilateral defence and security cooperation, including through training, supply of equipment, capacity building, joint patrolling and aerial and maritime surveillance.

India had agreed to provide further assistance and support to Maldives in strengthening its ability to address security challenges. 

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