India and the Maldives on Friday agreed to set up a core group to further deepen their partnership as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a 'productive' meeting with newly-elected Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu and discussed ways to enhance the bilateral friendship across diverse sectors.
The decision to set up the core group was taken at the first meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Muizzu on the sidelines of the COP28 World Climate Action Summit in Dubai.
'President @MMuizzu and I had a productive meeting today. We discussed ways to enhance the India-Maldives friendship across diverse sectors. We look forward to working together to deepen cooperation for the benefit of our people,' Modi tweeted after the meeting.
According to the Prime Minister's Office, the two leaders discussed ways to further bolster India-Maldives relations in sectors pertaining to economic relations, development cooperation and people-to-people ties.
A close associate of former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, who forged close ties with China during his Presidency from 2013 to 2018, Muizzu, 45, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September.
On Friday, Modi personally congratulated Muizzu on his assumption of office as the President of Maldives.
'Both leaders reviewed the wide-ranging bilateral relations between the two countries including people-to-people linkages, development cooperation, economic relations, climate change and sports,' the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
'The two leaders also discussed ways to further deepen their partnership. In this regard, they agreed to set up a core group,' the statement said.
The meeting took place days after President Muizzu requested India to withdraw 77 Indian military personnel from the country and decided to review more than 100 bilateral agreements between the two countries.
Muizzu's request came when India's Union Minister Kiren Rejiju paid a courtesy call on the new president at the latter's office on November 18.
Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in the Prime Minister's vision of 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the 'Neighbourhood First Policy'.
Maldives' proximity to the west coast of India (barely 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy and 300 nautical miles away from India's West coast), and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean gives it significant strategic importance to India.
Observers say despite his party's pro-China rhetoric, Muizzu, a British-educated civil engineer, may follow a more nuanced foreign policy as the country faces a precarious economy with several debt repayments due, taking a cue from the worst economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka.
India stepped in with $4 billion in assistance to Sri Lanka while China dithered despite massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investments in the country including the Hambantota port which Beijing took over for a 99-year lease as debt swap.