19 June 2016; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Her Excellency Ms. Dunya Maumoon gave an Interview to Avas today on the Government’s Foreign Policy. During the Interview Minister Dunya highlighted on the relations Maldives has with its neighbours and developmental partners and the foreign Policy achievements of the Government.
Read the full text of Minister Dunya’s Interview below.
Questions and Answers
1. Managing the foreign affairs of the nation at this moment is critical. What were the challenges and successes you have achieved during your tenure as minister?
For a small island state foreign policy is essential and a number of achievements have been made in this regard, since His Excellency President Yameen took office, including the strengthening of bilateral ties with other nations, and further, ensuring that the Maldives has a voice on the international stage.
President Abdulla Yaameen made a number of official and state visits to India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Japan and Pakistan and a number of bilateral cooperation agreements on key areas were concluded with these countries. This includes the Government’s biggest projects, the Maldives-China Friendship bridge, most of which is financed through in-kind grants from the Chinese Government and the airport expansion project which commenced recently with the assistance of the government of Saudi Arabia.
In the past two and half years, important world leaders have also visited the Maldives. President Xi Jinping of China visited the Maldives in 2014 and President Maithiripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka visited in 2015. Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Palestine, New Zealand, India, Sweden and UAE have also visited the Maldives and held official talks with the government leading to strengthening of bilateral ties between these countries.
During President Yameen’s recent visit to Malaysia, the Malaysian government informed of its decision to provide a 90 days entry visa on arrival visa for Maldivians travelling to Malaysia reaffirming the close bond between our nations. This would be very helpful to Maldivians given the large numbers that travel there.
Providing support and assistance to Maldivians living abroad or those who face difficulties during travel abroad is a key priority of HEP Yameen’s foreign policy. In this regard we continue to assist Maldivian communities in Sri Lanka, South Indian and in Malaysia. One significant achievement is the very successful classes being conducted in Islam, Quran and Dhivehi at Sosun Villa in Colombo. Recreational and social activities are also being conducted there.
In order to strengthen the cooperation between the Maldives and EU member countries, the Maldives has had two policy dialogues to date. Key issues discussed were on economic cooperation, human rights and democracy consolidation, strengthening the governance sector and ways to strengthen cooperation on counter terrorism efforts.
The Maldives Internationally
On the multilateral front, one of the notable achievements includes the Maldives being elected as the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in 2014. The Maldives assumed chairmanship in January 2015, and has been the leading voice of Small Island States at the International stage. Maldives as the chair of AOSIS played a key role in the negotiations for COP21 and the summit held for the adoption of the 2030 development agenda. SIDS had a number of remarkable achievements in the Paris Agreement. Paris represented a major victory for AOSIS and is an affirmation of over two decades of passionate advocacy by the Maldives as well as determined leadership in this historic year.
The Maldives also won its candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council in November 2013 for the second time and has been an active voice at the Council debating on key human rights issues. I have myself addressed the Human Rights Council on a number of occasions.
One of the biggest challenges that our small foreign service faces is seeking to address the negative opinions about the Maldives. Our economy is heavily dependent on tourism and hence, the effort by some, to portray the Maldives as a place where religious extremism is widespread has negative impacts on the economy and the country as a whole.
There is now a comprehensive strategy in place to deal with those very same issues of terrorism that almost all states across the world are facing. Maldives is committed to working to address this global challenge and has already taken a number of key steps to ensure security of Maldivians and tourists alike.
2. The issue of severing ties with Iran is a hot topic, especially given the growing relationship with Saudi Arabia. Many agree that the decision was premature. What is your comment on this?
The decision to sever ties with Iran was not in any way connected to our relations with Saudi Arabia. The Maldives is a sovereign country and the government’s foreign policy decisions are made solely by government of Maldives.
The Maldives severed ties with Iran because it believes that the policies that Iranian Government pursues in the Middle East, and in particular, in the Arabian Gulf region, is detrimental to peace and security in the region, which, in many ways, is also linked to stability, peace and security of the Maldives.
The Islamic Summit held in April in Turkey called on Iran to pursue a policy based on the principle of “good neighbourliness, non-interference in their domestic affairs, respect for their independence and territorial sovereignty, [and] resolving differences by peaceful means in accordance with OIC and the UN Charters”.
3. A large number of Maldivians have been leaving for the civil conflict in Syria. How has this impacted on the stance the country has in the international arena?
The government considers this issue very seriously. It is currently working with it’s a number of international partners to prevent Maldivians from traveling to join foreign wars, especially to take part in the civil conflict in Syria.
The new Anti-Terrorism law criminalizes recruitment, training, travelling overseas to participate in unlawful wars. For those who return, the law stipulates imposition of harsh penalties whilst subjecting them to special procedures for monitoring and controlling their activities. These special procedures to monitor and control activities of terrorism suspects are subject to judicial process before the law enforcement authorities can impose the measures on such suspects.
In the longer term we need to strengthen programmes to prevent our young people being drawn into extremism and violent terrorist activities.
4. The Maldives foreign policy has been of late a polarizing one; the president declares the country would prioritize on India, in a landscape littered by China, Saudi Arabia and other parties. What is your stance on the future of foreign policy?
As important neighbor and a strategic partner the Maldives has always given importance to its relations with India. Cooperation between India and Maldives is not limited to any particular sector. It ranges from health, education, economic and trade as well as defence and security cooperation. The Maldives will hence continue to pursue its ‘India first Foreign Policy’.
At the same time Maldives continues to maintain close and warm ties with a number countries including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China and also a number of countries in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has continued to support Maldives development in a variety of areas. We also value our partnership with the UK, EU and the US.
The current government has launched a very extensive economic transformation agenda which requires cooperation with a wide range of partners. Therefore the government will continue to strengthen relations between countries which assist and support the government’s economic agenda.
5. Now that Nasheed has allegedly been granted refugee status, what will be the next step for the government? How will this affect national reconciliation?
The former President, first and foremost, is still a serving prisoner, and therefore is legally obliged to return to the Maldives to serve the remainder of his sentence, pending the appeal that is currently before the Maldivian Supreme Court. He was granted a special medical leave to travel to the UK, at his request.
The former President has deemed it appropriate to pursue a political agenda rather than the appropriate legal avenues.
The decision to grant refugee status does not affect any steps taken being taken by the government and its proposed dialogue with the opposition parties.
The Government of the Maldives has offered and will continue to offer its commitment to all-party talks. It is a matter for the opposition parties as to whether they wish to continue their adopted position of belligerence or whether they will now sit down with the Government so as to pursue the reforms needed.