Maldives has declined to send a ministerial-level delegation to India’s Defence Expo, which is being held from April 11 to 14 at Thiruvidanthai near Chennai, while China is yet to respond to the invitation. Male has told New Delhi that it would not be possible for its defence minister to lead a delegation to the DefExpo, a biennial event, since he would be travelling abroad around that time. “A similar invitation was extended to China but we are yet to hear from them,” said an official on Wednesday.
Apart from 677 exhibitors, which include 154 foreign arms companies, 47 official delegations from different countries have confirmed their participation in the DefExpo. “These include 18 ministerial-level delegations,” he said, while admitting participation of foreign companies had gone down by 10% from the last DefExpo in Goa in 2016.
Maldives, incidentally, had also refused to participate to join the multi-national ‘MILAN’ naval conclave, a congregation of littoral navies conducted biennially by Indian Navy at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which was held in mid-March this year.India’s bilateral relations with Maldives have nose-dived after it criticised the Abdulla Yameen government for imposing a 45-day emergency in the archipelago earlier this year, though it ignored calls for military intervention from opposition parties in the island nation.
As was first reported by TOI on Wednesday, Maldives has also asked India to take back one of its Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters deployed in the country, with pilots and ground crew to help in casualty evacuation and search-and-rescue missions.As part of its policy to stem China’s expanding strategic inroads into Maldives, New Delhi has also been helping Male in patrolling its Exclusive Economic Zone by deploying its warships and Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft over the last few years.There is also uncertainty now over India’s ongoing assistance to set up 10 coastal surveillance radar system stations in the archipelago.