Describing the "time-tested" relationship between India and the Maldives as a "force for stability" in the region, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday that the shared responsibility of the two countries is to nurture and strengthen it.
Speaking at a joint press appearance alongside Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid after their talks here, Jaishankar said that "our time-tested relationship is poised for a quantum jump" to touch the lives of the people of the two countries like never before.
"We are partners in development, we are promoting peace and security, and our relationship, in many ways, serves as a model for the region. It is a partnership that delivers for its stakeholders – the citizens of our countries – both in good times and in bad times,” he said.
"This is a partnership that tackles common challenges of regional development, which addresses disruptions and disasters. It is a partnership that is a force for stability in the region. And, it is our shared responsibility to nurture, to strengthen it and to take it forward," said Jaishankar, who arrived here earlier in the day as part of his five-day two-nation visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The Maldives is one of India's key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean region and the bilateral defence and security ties have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years.
India and the Maldives also agreed to mutually recognise the COVID-19 vaccine certificates issued by each other, a move that will facilitate easier travel between the two countries and give a boost to the tourism sector.
Jaishankar congratulated the Maldives for scripting a success story during the COVID-19 pandemic and said the cooperation between two sides has actually witnessed and withstood the arc and anguish of the pandemic together under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
"Today’s Agreement on the mutual recognition of COVID-19 certificates is a step forward in the same direction and will certainly contribute to easier travel between us,” he said.
India, one of the world's biggest drugmakers, had provided over two lakh doses of Covishield vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), to the Maldives last year as part of its grant assistance.
Describing the development partnership as central pillar of the bilateral ties, Jaishankar said it is a "very transparent partnership, driven directly by Maldivian needs and priorities – today ranges upwards of USD 2.6 billion in terms of grants, concessional loans, budgetary support and capacity building and training assistance."
Jaishankar said he had wide-ranging discussions on the bilateral partnership during talks with Maldivian counterpart. “We took stock of ongoing projects and initiatives across a very wide range of sectors. We looked at socio-economic development, trade and investment, and, tourism,” he said.
He said India is supporting projects in a range of sectors - infrastructure, tourism, fish processing and health in Addu.
On the iconic Greater Male Connectivity Project which holds the potential of actually transforming the transport landscape of the capital, Jaishankar said geo-technical surveys are ongoing and hoped that a ground-breaking can be done in the coming months.
"I am pleased to hear that the DPR of USD 40 million Sports Line of Credit announced when I was here in February last year is near completion. Under this LOC, the National Stadium will be renovated and sports infrastructure would be built across Maldives," he said.
Jaishankar and his Maldivian counterpart Shahid acknowledged strides made in fields of capacity building and training as the two countries inked an agreement paving the way for connectivity between India's National Knowledge Network and the Maldives' Higher Education Network.
"With the signing of the Peering Agreement today, over 1500 Indian institutes and a host of universities and centres of learning from Singapore, Europe and the US are now connected to the Maldives. The NKN is a real expression of the best of our regional cooperation in the digital and education arenas,” he said.
He also commended both the governments and the people of Maldives for their efforts and ambition in the area of climate change and said India stands ready to share its capabilities with Maldives.
"We are already engaged in the development of water and sanitation facilities on 34 islands through LoC financing. Apart from extending basic civic amenities to island communities, the project that is one of the largest climate adaptation measures ongoing in the Maldives at a cost of more than USD 100 million, I think is very noteworthy. We exchanged views on how we take climate change and renewable energy development forward,” he said.
The two minister also had a discussion on regional security and maritime safety issues. "The threat of transnational crimes and terrorism and drug trafficking is indeed very serious...I think it is for both of us, strengthens our defence and security,” he said.
He said the National College of Policing and Law Enforcement will assist the Maldives Police Service to train its officers and enhance its crime-fighting capacities.
He said India will tomorrow also be handing over formally, the Coastal Radar System which is already operational and will help in enhancing maritime security.
On his part, Shahid the Maldives-India relationship “remains strong, fortified and building on our long-standing ties."