The Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh, is set to embark on a three-day visit to the Maldives from Monday, aimed at bolstering bilateral defence and strategic ties between the two countries. Meanwhile, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari is expected to visit Sri Lanka on the same day.
These planned visits by high-ranking Indian officials to its key maritime neighbours come amid growing concerns over China’s persistent efforts to expand its influence in the region. China’s presence in the Indian Ocean region has increased significantly in recent years, with the country establishing a naval base in Djibouti, acquiring stakes in strategic ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, and engaging in infrastructure projects across the region through its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Maldives and Sri Lanka are strategically important for India’s security and economic interests in the Indian Ocean region. Both countries lie along major shipping routes and provide India with crucial access to the waters of the Indian Ocean. In recent years, China has also been making inroads into these countries, with significant investments in infrastructure projects, including ports and airports, as well as defence cooperation agreements.
During his visit to the Maldives, Rajnath Singh is expected to meet with top officials, including President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Defence Minister Mariya Didi, to discuss ways to enhance defence and security cooperation between the two countries. The two sides are expected to sign several agreements, including one on the joint development of a military training centre in the Maldives.
The Defence Minister’s visit to the Maldives comes just weeks after the Maldives’ Foreign Minister, Abdulla Shahid, visited India and held talks with his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar, to discuss ways to strengthen ties between the two countries. During the visit, the two sides signed a number of agreements, including one on the establishment of a $100 million line of credit for the development of infrastructure projects in the Maldives.
Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari’s visit to Sri Lanka is aimed at boosting bilateral cooperation in the defence sector. Sri Lanka is a key partner of India in the Indian Ocean region, and the two countries have been working together to enhance maritime security and counter-terrorism cooperation.
During his visit, the Air Chief Marshal is expected to hold talks with top Sri Lankan officials, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, and discuss ways to enhance cooperation in areas such as joint training exercises, exchange of intelligence, and capacity-building in the defence sector.
India and Sri Lanka have a long-standing relationship, with India being one of Sri Lanka’s largest trading partners and providing significant assistance in areas such as defence, infrastructure development, and disaster relief. However, China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka, particularly through its investments in infrastructure projects, has raised concerns in India over its strategic interests in the region.
In recent years, India has been stepping up its engagement with its neighbours in the Indian Ocean region, including the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Seychelles, to counter China’s growing influence in the region. India has been providing significant assistance to these countries in areas such as infrastructure development, capacity-building in the defence sector, and disaster relief.
India has also been working to enhance cooperation with other countries in the region, including the United States, Japan, and Australia, through initiatives such as the Quad, a grouping of the four countries aimed at promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.