India, Lanka, Maldives agree over maritime cooperation

Sri Lanka, Maldives agree to broad-base maritime security cooperation with India

India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives also agreed to step up cooperation in combating radicalisation and terrorism, extremism, drug, arms and human trafficking

NSA Ajit Doval, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Major General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne and Maldives Foreign Minister Mariya Didi during signing of minutes after a trilateral meeting on maritime security cooperation between the nations. Credit: Twitter/@IndiainSL

Notwithstanding China’s bid to woo them into its orbit of influence, Sri Lanka and the Maldives on Saturday agreed to broad-base trilateral maritime security cooperation with India to help keep watch on the Indian Ocean region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne and Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi took part in a trilateral meeting on maritime security cooperation in Colombo. They exchanged views on common security threats and “agreed to broad-base cooperation by expanding the scope to improve intelligence sharing”, according to a joint statement.

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Senior officials of two other Indian Ocean nations — Mauritius and Seychelles — also virtually participated in the meeting as observers.

Doval, Gunaratne and Mariya Didi “took stock of the current maritime security environment in the region and discussed mutual cooperation in the areas of maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, joint exercises, capacity building, maritime security and threats”. They agreed to further strengthen cooperation in dealing with the challenges, “to ensure peace and security in the region for common benefit”.

Though India took the lead in institutionalising trilateral talks maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 2011, no meeting was held after the third and the last in March 2014.

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The meeting held in Colombo on Saturday was the fourth and was held after a gap of six years, amid an intense contest between India and China for influence in the Indian Ocean region. The delegates of the three nations agreed to meet regularly in future.

What added to the significance of the meeting in Colombo on Saturday was that it was hosted by Sri Lanka—one of the Indian Ocean nations China has been trying to pull into its orbit of influence in order to spread its geo-strategic tentacles around India.

Since the stand-off between Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started along the disputed boundary between the two nations in eastern Ladakh in early May, New Delhi renewed focus on reaching out to the Indian Ocean nations to counter the communist country’s moves to build strategic assets and expand its footprints in the maritime neighbourhood of India.

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India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives on Saturday also agreed to step up cooperation in combating radicalisation and terrorism, extremism, drug, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, cybersecurity and effect of climate change on the maritime environment.