Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun his first foreign visit to the Maldives, on world oceans day, after assuming a second term in the office. With his two day visit to the Maldives & Sri Lanka, the shipping industry is aspiring high for a boost in the import-export business with neighbours in the Indian ocean.
“PM Modi’s visit is considered as a crucial one in term of reviewing and improving bilateral ties. The visits will demonstrate the priority which India attaches to its ‘Neighbourhood-First Policy’ and the SAGAR Doctrine, which is an important part of India’s maritime policy.”
PM Modi’s trip is also a message as the country’s decision to counter the growing influence of China in the India Ocean. PM Modi is likely to push the agenda of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), under the government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy framework.
The PM was quoted as saying by the Press Information Bureau: “I am confident that my visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka will further strengthen our close and cordial ties with our maritime neighbours, in line with our ‘Neighbourhood-First Policy’ and the vision of Security and Growth for All in the Regi”
In June last year, during the Shangri-La Dialogue, Modi had emphasised the need for a “free, open, inclusive region” in the Indo-Pacific region. He had also laid out the concepts of ‘SAGAR’ and ‘SAGARMALA’ as part of his larger vision for the Indo-Pacific.
“The visits to the Maldives and Sri Lanka will demonstrate the priority India attaches to its ‘Neighbourhood-First Policy’ and the SAGAR Doctrine,” the Ministry of External Affairs stated in a release.
While the SAGAR doctrine, launched in 2015, has more of a geo-economic objective — India intends to play the role of a facilitator for the countries in the Indian Ocean region, ensuring their stability and growth — SAGARMALA is about developing India’s own infrastructure along the coast.
India endorses the growth of the Blue Economy in a sustainable, inclusive and people-centric manner through the framework of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The Blue Economy remains a critical aspect of India’s economic development agenda, and more than 95% of our trade is being carried on by sea, union minister Nitin Gadkari had said last year in Nairobi.
Under the SAGAR programme, the government had identified 600 plus projects entailing a huge investment of $120 billion (around Rs 8 lakh crore) by 2020. This, in turn, would save India $6 billion per annum in logistics costs besides creating 10 million new jobs and boosting port capacity by 800 Million Metric Tonne per Annum (MMTPA) to an overall 3500 MMTPA.
Although, there has not been much progress on the SAGAR front since its launch, in the same period, the Chinese influence in the region has continued to grow by leaps and bounds.
China is now actively building infrastructure in Sri Lanka as well as the Maldives, both of which are part of Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. India has recently joined hands with Japan to develop the, in turn, container terminal of Colombo Port. It is also planning to take up certain infrastructure projects in the Maldives, where the previous regime had handed over some crucial development work to the Chinese.