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Maldives’ UNGA Presidency

  • 11 Jun 2021
  • 7 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Maldives’ Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid was elected the President of the 76th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (GA) for 2021-22.

  • The win was welcomed by India as Indian diplomats had been helping the Maldives and India expects close cooperation with Maldives at the UN.
  • However, the Maldives has made no decision on opening an Indian consulate in its southern Addu Atoll even as the Indian Cabinet cleared a proposal for it.

Key Points

  • President of UNGA:
    • This is a post held on an annual basis, rotated amongst various regional groupings. The 76th session (2021-22) is the turn of the Asia-Pacific group. This is the first time Maldives will be occupying the office of the President of UNGA.
    • Maldives also sees it as a win for the 52-member Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are battling climate change vulnerability and other developmental challenges.
  • Addu Atoll:
    • Addu Atoll, also known as Seenu Atoll, is the southernmost atoll of the Maldives.
      • Apart from its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, Addu is the second largest city in the archipelago, home to over 30,000 people.
  • India's Stand:
    • India approved the opening of a new consulate in the Maldivian city of Addu, in reflection of the importance India attaches to its ties with the strategically located island nation.
    • India's decision to expand its diplomatic presence in the Maldives comes amid China's consistent efforts to increase its influence in the island nation.
    • Also Indian rationale for the consulate was to help Addu residents with speedy visa services.
  • Opposition of the Initiative:
    • Some Maldivians see a new consulate with suspicion, especially on the heels of a USD 33-million Maldivian police training facility that India is helping build in Addu.
      • There is already an Indian Embassy in Male.
  • Geo-Strategic Importance of Maldives to India:
    • Maldives, a Toll Gate in Indian Ocean:
      • Located at the southern and northern parts of this island chain lies the two important sea lanes of communication (SLOCs).
      • These SLOCs are critical for maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia.
      • Nearly 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of its energy imports transit these SLOCs in the Arabian Sea.
    • Part of Important Groupings:

India - Maldives Relations

  • Cooperation Between India & Maldives:
    • Security Cooperation:
      • Through the decades, India has rushed emergency assistance to the Maldives, whenever sought.
      • In 1988, when armed mercenaries attempted a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, India sent paratroopers and Navy vessels and restored the legitimate leadership under Operation Cactus.
      • India and Maldive conduct the joint military exercise ‘Ekuverin’.
    • Disaster Management:
      • The 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Male a decade later were other occasions when India rushed assistance.
      • The Maldives has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Covid-19 assistance and vaccines delivered by India among India’s all neighbouring countries.
      • When the world supply chains were blocked because of the pandemic, India continued to provide crucial commodities to the Maldives under Mission SAGAR.
    • People To People Contact:
      • Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India and patients fly here for superspeciality healthcare, aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India.
    • Economic Cooperation:
      • Tourism is the mainstay of Maldivian economy. Given the geographical limitations imposed on the Maldives, India has exempted the nation from export curbs on essential commodities.
  • Irritants in Relations:
    • Political Instability:
      • India’s major concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighbourhood on its security and development.
      • The February 2015 arrest of Maldives’ opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges and the consequent political crisis have posed a real diplomatic test for India’s neighbourhood policy.
    • Radicalisation:
      • In the past decade or so, the number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based madrassas and jihadist groups has been increasing.
      • Political instability and socio-economic uncertainty are the main drivers fuelling the rise of Islamist radicalism in the island nation.
    • China Angle:
      • China’s strategic footprint in India’s neighbourhood has increased. The Maldives has emerged as an important 'pearl' in China’s “String of Pearls” construct in South Asia.
      • Also, the Maldives have started using the China card to bargain with India.

Way Forward

  • It is hoped that India in the UN Security Council and the Maldivian President of the General Assembly will work in tandem as India pursues its goals for multilateral reform, and re-energise the dormant process of effecting change in the old power structures in the global body.
  • In accordance with the Neighbourhood First Policy of the government, India remains a committed development partner for a stable, prosperous and peaceful Maldives.

Source:TH

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