New Delhi, Aug 13 (efe-epa).- India on Thursday pledged a $500 million economic package to fund a major infrastructure development project in the Maldives amid growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region.
The financial assistance, which includes a grant of $100 million and a $400 million new line of credit, will support the Male connectivity project to link the Maldives capital with three nearby islands of the country, the Indian foreign ministry said.
The announcement was made during a video conference between India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid.
Jaishankar noted that the plan to connect Male with the islands of Villingili, Thilafushi, housing a new industrial zone, and Gulhifahu, where a port is being built under India’s financial support, will be the “largest civilian infrastructure project in the Maldives.”
The plan includes the construction of a bridge-and-causeway link spanning 6.7 km to “streamline connectivity between the four islands, thereby boosting economic activity, generating employment and promoting holistic urban development in the Male region,” said the Indian minister.
The two ministers also signed an air bubble agreement, making the Maldives the sixth country in a list of countries where Indians can travel amid the restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The first flight under the air bubble (agreement) is expected to commence on Aug.18,” the Indian foreign ministry statement said.
The announcements are part of New Delhi’s diplomatic efforts to step up Indian influence and investment in the Indian Ocean region where China’s presence has grown significantly over the years.
The island nation during previous president Abdulla Yameen’s rule took billions of dollars from Beijing and gave contracts to Chinese firms for infrastructure development projects in the archipelago nation of nearly 1,200 islands located on major East-West shipping lanes.
Yameen, a known pro-China strongman, lost the presidential election in September 2018 to Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Solih took office in November 2018 while Yameen, under whose mandate the island nation strengthened its ties with China, was prosecuted for alleged corruption.
The former president was found guilty of benefiting from the so-called biggest graft scandal in the island’s history as $90 million were allegedly laundered from a state-owned tourism board.
New Delhi has been trying to regain its diplomatic influence in the island nation since Solih assumed office.
“Since November 2018, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, India and Maldives have embarked on a dynamic and ambitious phase of the partnership that builds on our enduring ties based on mutual trust and shared interests,” the foreign ministry said.
“The ‘Neighbourhood First’ foreign policy of India and the ‘India First’ policy of Maldives complement each other and now demonstrate concrete outcomes.”
Modi and Solih have met four times in the last one-and-a-half years. Solih is likely to visit India later this year, subject to the Covid-19 related conditions. EFE-EPA