Amid China`s overtures, Manmohan to court Maldives

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Male after the 17th SAARC summit in Addu Atoll.

New Delhi: India is set to seal an all embracing agreement and a counter-terror pact with the Maldives when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets President Mohammed Nasheed in Male on Friday.

Amid China`s attempt to increase its clout in the Indian Ocean island, Manmohan Singh will meet Nasheed for bilateral talks after the end of the two-day SAARC summit in the capital Male, the first time an Indian Prime Minister is visiting the 1,190 island archipelago in nearly a decade.

In a special gesture underlining time-tested ties between the two countries, Manmohan Singh will address the People`s Majlis, the Maldivian Parliament on Friday before returning to Delhi in the evening. He will be the first world leader to address the Maldivian Parliament in its 78-year history.

In their talks, the two leaders are expected to discuss an entire gamut of bilateral issues, including piracy, terrorism, climate change and the intensification of development and economic ties, said reliable sources.

After the talks, the two sides are expected to ink an overarching agreement that seeks to expand cooperation across an entire spectrum of areas.

The pact could entail India increasing its developmental and capacity building assistance that could include India helping set up a police academy, sources said. New Delhi is also expected to unveil a fresh line of credit for development projects in the atoll nation.

With piracy in the Indian Ocean region threatening the interests of both countries, the two sides are also likely to ink a counter-terror agreement.

India hopes that the Prime Minister`s visit will "inject new momentum and content to its relations with this close and strategic neighbour in the Indian Ocean".

The meeting comes against the backdrop of China`s renewed foray to deepen its diplomatic footprints in the strategically located island. India has taken note of the visit of Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People`s Congress (NPC) of China, to the Maldives in May, but has rejected any rivalry with Beijing.

"We have a very strong relationship with Maldives including a very close defence relationship. In our interactions with the Maldives, they are fully cognisant of our interests and our concerns," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said here on Saturday. "We do not see any reason to be concerned," he added.

In fact, the Maldivian President has assured that he would never do anything that threatens India`s security. "I trust democracy far more than any other system," Nasheed said in Perth on the sidelines of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).


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