Against the backdrop of China's increasing military assertiveness in the Indian Ocean region, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Maldivian counterpart Mariya Didi agreed on Monday to expand the bilateral military ties and called for upholding a rules-based global order during their talks in Male.
On his arrival, Singh was accorded a warm welcome, with the Maldivian defence minister receiving him at the Velana airport in the North Male Atoll, reflecting the importance the island nation has attached to the visit.
"As a special gesture, reflecting the warmth in the bilateral relations, the Defence Minister of Maldives broke protocol and personally received the Raksha Mantri upon arrival at the airport," the defence ministry said in Delhi.
Singh also held talks with Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and discussed issues of defence and infrastructure cooperation in the Maldives by India with him.
On the Singh-Didi talks, the defence ministry said matters relating to mutual cooperation and new initiatives to further strengthen the bilateral defence and security partnership were discussed at the meeting.
India will be handing over a fast patrol vessel, along with an assault landing craft, to the Maldivian Coast Guard at a ceremony on Tuesday.
"Our meeting in Male today was very good. We exchanged views on multiple subjects including further boosting the defence partnership between India and Maldives," Singh wrote on Twitter.
He is scheduled to call on Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Tuesday.
The Madivian defence ministry said Singh's visit represents a "significant milestone in the relationship between the two countries as it brings a new level of dynamism and impetus to the already existing defence ties".
It said the talks between Singh and Didi covered regional and global security issues of mutual concern and that both sides agreed to further strengthen their cooperation in the defence and security domains.
"Both ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability and security in the region, and recognised the need to work together to address common security challenges," the ministry said in a statement.
It said the two ministers underscored the importance of respecting international laws and a rules-based international order, and expressed their commitment to upholding these principles.
"They also noted the importance of sharing best practices and expertise in areas such as counterterrorism, disaster management, cybersecurity and maritime security," it said.
"The ministers agreed to explore new avenues for cooperation, including in the areas of defence trade, capacity building and joint exercises," the Maldivian defence ministry added.
The Indian high commission in Male said Singh interacted with senior officers of the Maldivian defence forces and highlighted that the defence cooperation between the two countries is aimed at confronting common challenges and promoting peace and security in the region.
In a series of tweets, the high commission said the defence minister complimented the armed forces on both sides for their "initiative and zeal" in maintaining the close cooperation.
Chief of Maldivian defence forces Major General Abdulla Shamaal and several other senior officials were among those who welcomed Singh at the airport near capital city Male.
"Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister Didi will attend a formal ceremony to hand over an offshore patrol vessel, along with an assault landing craft, and inaugurate the development project of the MNDF Coast Guard Harbour and repair facility at Sifavaru," the Maldivian defence ministry said.
It is Singh's first visit to the Maldives as the defence minister.
The Maldives is one of India's key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean region and the overall bilateral ties, including in the areas of defence and security, have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years.
In August last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Solih kick-started the India-funded Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), billed as the largest infrastructure initiative in the island nation.
Under the project, a 6.74-km-long bridge and a causeway link will be built to connect Male with the adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
The Maldives is also one of the biggest beneficiaries of India's Neighbourhood First policy.
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