Male, Oct 28 (efe-epa).- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on an Asia trip to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region, arrived in the Maldives on Wednesday, becoming the first top United States government official to visit the Indian Ocean island nation in nearly three decades.
Pompeo arrived in the Indian Ocean island nation from Sri Lanka on the third leg of his four-nation Asia trip that will also take him to Indonesia. He began his week-long trip on Monday in India.
During his brief stay in the Maldives, Pompeo will meet President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his Maldives counterpart Abdulla Shahid for talks to deepen bilateral partnership on maritime security and counter-terrorism measures.
According to a statement released by the Department of State ahead of the trip, Pompeo would seek to advance partnership with the Maldives on regional maritime security and the fight against terrorism.
“We look forward to additional opportunities to advance our relationship, including a significant milestone in the US-Maldives relationship that Secretary Pompeo will announce during his trip,” the statement said.
The Maldives Foreign Ministry in a statement said Shahid and Pompeo would discuss several subjects, including the ongoing and future collaboration between the two countries and also about the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
Pompeo’s visit comes after the US and Maldives signed, in September, a framework for defense cooperation for peace and security in the strategic Indian Ocean.
“The framework sets forth both countries’ intent to deepen engagement and cooperation in support of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean, and marks an important step forward in the defense partnership,” the Pentagon said.
China has pumped in billions of dollars to built various infrastructure projects in the Maldives, triggering concerns in India and the US.
President Solih last month said his government would not build any foreign ties at the cost of the nation’s sovereignty.
The remarks came in response to allegations by the opposition Maldives Progressive Party that India was undermining the country’s sovereignty.
Solih’s administration has been building ties with India since assuming office two years ago after the bilateral ties suffered setbacks during former President Abdulla Yameen’s rule.
Yameen, who is currently serving five years in jail for alleged money laundering, was more pro-China, which effectively distanced the Maldives from India during his term.
China heavily invested in the island nation’s development projects during Yameen’s rule, loaning massive amounts of money, most notably $200 million to build a bridge connecting Male and Hulhumale.
The Maldives debt to China amounts to around $3 billion, according to parliament speaker Mohamed Nasheed.
However Chinese ambassador Zhang Lizhong has dismissed it as “fiction” and “highly exaggerated.” EFE-EPA