As Chinese influence looms, Antony to visit Maldives

September 12th, 2012 - 7:15 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 12 (IANS) Defence Minister A.K. Antony Saturday heads to Male on a three-day visit during which he will inaugurate a military hospital and a training academy for Maldivian forces — key initiatives against the backdrop of the growing influence of China in the atoll country.

Antony, who last visited the Maldives in 2009, has been invited by Maldivian Defence Minister Col. Mohamed Nazim.

This is the first ministerial visit from India since the Feb 7 regime change in the Maldives.

Antony will participate in the inauguration of a military hospital and also the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the training academy of the Maldivian National Defence Forces, said officials of the defence ministry.

Enhanced military exchanges, anti-piracy cooperation and maritime security are among key issues that will be discussed between the two sides, reliable sources said.

Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, Western Naval Commander Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Director General Military Training Lt Gen S.P. Tanwar and DGAFMS Air Marshal D.P. Joshi are among those who will be accompanying Antony during the visit.

Antony is also expected to call on Maldives President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik. India hosted the new Maldives president in May this year and has consistently pushed for an inclusive political reconciliation after the Feb 7 transfer of power in the Indian Ocean atoll nation.

Antony’s visit to the Maldives acquires an added significance in view of China’s enhanced forays into the strategically located island nation. In November last year, China opened a grand embassy in Male, signalling Beijing’s strategic intent to intensify relations with the Maldives.

India has been steadily ramping up security and military cooperation with the Maldives over the years through regular exchanges and interactions between the armed forces of both sides, including joint exercises and training programmes.

The two countries have also been cooperating for regular EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) surveillance.

The security cooperation has acquired an added urgency in view of reports of the rise of Islamic redicalism in the Indian Ocean island nation, better known for coral beaches and exotic holiday islands.

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