After Pact With China That Upset India, Maldives Reaffirms 'India First'

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After Pact With China That Upset India, Maldives Reaffirms 'India First'

Discussions were productive, says India after Maldives foreign minister met Sushma Swaraj

After the Maldivian Parliament approved a Free Trade Agreement with China in November, New Delhi had asked the island nation to be sensitive to India's concerns and keep in mind its "India First" policy

Maldives Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim on three-day India visit. He may invite PM Narendra Modi to visit Maldives. In 2015, PM Modi turned down visit as Maldives faced political unrest

On a visit to India to soothe New Delhi that has been upset at Maldives signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China last month, foreign minister Mohamed Asim reaffirmed the island's "India First" policy at a meeting with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

"External Affairs Minister (Sushma Swaraj) conveyed our commitment to achieving the full potential of our relationship in line with India's Neighbourhood First policy," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

India said the discussions centred on strengthening of the development partnership between the two countries and "enhancing defence and security cooperation".

Mr Asim, who is also the Maldives President's Special Envoy, underlined that Maldives attached the highest priority to its ties with India, the statement said. He also called on PM Narendra Modi.

Mr Asim is on a three-day visit to India in what is being seen as a move to mend bilateral ties that have been under strain since Male rushed through the agreement, much to the shock of India. The Ministry of External Affairs had then said Maldives should be sensitive to India's concerns and keep in mind its "India First" policy.

As per the agreement, Maldives' first such deal with any country, signed during the visit of President Abdulla Yameen to China last month, China won't impose any taxes on fisheries imports from the island nation, and Maldives will not levy tax on goods imported from China.

Over the last two years, the government has focused afresh on its strategy in the Indian Ocean, cultivating nations at key points in the Persian Gulf, the Malacca Strait and southern Africa.

Last month, the US said it supports India's "leadership role in Indian Ocean security" and throughout the broader region. While China did not react to the Donald Trump administration's statement, its close ally Pakistan had issued an angry response, questioning how one nation can "bestow" such a role on another.