India rejects China threat, ready to embrace democratic Maldives

November 10th, 2008 - 7:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Male, Nov 10 (IANS) India Monday rejected speculation about China’s threat to its interests in the Maldives and underlined its close and special ties with the Indian Ocean archipelago that it said will continue to thrive under the new democratic dispensation. Hailing “smooth democratic transition” in the Maldives, known better as a luxury holiday getaway, Vice-President Hamid Ansari said the multi-party elections that brought Mohamed Nasheed, a former political prisoner, to power last month has been “widely welcomed” in India.

“It has been widely welcomed in India. India’s relations with the Maldives remain very close,” Ansari told reporters aboard his special aircraft on way to Male to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Nasheed, who ousted Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest-serving leader, in the historic polls Oct 28.

“There will be no change. Let him take stock of things,” Ansari said when asked how he envisaged the future of bilateral relations under the new democratic dispensation in Maldives, a strategically important country, 800 km away from India’s southern tip and one where China is reportedly trying to make inroads.

As Ansari arrived here on a two-day visit Monday afternoon, Male rolled out the red carpet to welcome him. He was received warmly by Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid at the international airport.

Ansari will be among a galaxy of world leaders and dignitaries who will attend the oath-taking ceremony of Nasheed - the 41-year-old pro-democracy activist who has come to epitomize a new Maldives - Tuesday at a grand ceremony at Dharubaaruge, an international convention centre located on the eastern seafront in Male.

The vice-president will hold talks with Nasheed and his counterpart Mohamed Waheed Hasan on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including the intensification of economic ties, developmental assistance, climate change, and issues relating to SAARC.

The vice-president will also call on Gayoom, who is not planning to devote his life to his pet cause: climate change.

“The government is delighted at a very democratic election and a smooth transition,” he said, indicating New Delhi’s comfort level with the new leadership in Male.

“I don’t know how credible these reports are,” Ansari replied when asked whether the growing influence of China, as reported in a section of international press, posed a threat to India’s interests in the Indian Ocean islands comprising 1,190 islands that are home to 370,000 people.

“We are an open society. He is not an unknown entity in India,” Ansari said when asked whether political parties in India cold-shouldered Maldives new president-elect when he was seeking support from influential sections in India for the democratic battle against the three-decade dictatorial rule of Gayoom.

Some Maldives watchers in India have expressed concerns at China’s efforts to scale up its economic and strategic presence in the Maldives that may pose a threat to India’s interests. They cite China’s funding of many development projects in the Maldives and allude to reports about China entering into a deal to build a naval base in one of the Maldives islands.

Outgoing president Gayoom has vehemently denied these reports about Maldives’ perceived drift towards China. New Delhi has taken note of these reports, but is confident its multi-faceted ties with the Maldives will prevent it from slipping under Beijing’s influence.

“Our relations go much beyond government-to-government contacts. It’s a people-to-people relationship,” he stressed while alluding to nearly 20,000 Indians who live and work in the Maldives. A large number of Maldives diplomats have been trained in India.

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