India on Sunday said the Maldives can count on it as a sincere friend and the two countries can work together to tackle challleges like terrorism, piracy and drug trafficking to maintain peace and stability, amid China's efforts to gain foothold in the region.
"India has always considered its relation with Maldives as very special," defence minister AK Antony, who is in Maldives on a three-day visit, said while inaugurating 'Senahiya', a military hospital built with Indian assistance.
"India is proud of our partnership and engagement with Maldives and deeply value the friendship of the people of Maldives. Maldives can always count on India as a sincere friend," Antony said.
He said the two countries shared culture, folklore, trade and any traditions and customs and have fostered a close bond of friendship, which has withstood the test of time.
Antony's visit comes at a time when China is increasing its influence in the Maldives, which is of strategic importance to India.
The minister is also scheduled to meet the Maldivian defence minister Colonel Retired Mohamed Nazim and lay the foundation of a Military training school at island of Maafilaafushi in Lhaviyani.
During his visit, Antony will call on Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed.
During the talks, both the Defence Ministers are expected to review ongoing defence exchanges and discuss ways to enhance military co-operation.
Antony said over the two decades the two countries have nurtured their multi-dimensional relationship and hoped that its will be strengthened further as the two sides evolve collaborative and cooperative approaches to tackle common challenges.
"Terrorism, piracy and drug trafficking are some of the common areas in which both our countries need to work together bilaterally and with other countries in the region to ensure the peace, stability and prosperity of our region and our people," he said.
"Senahiya is a shining model of how two friendly neighbouring countries can collaborate and cooperate to create facilities aimed at benefit of their people.
He said setting up of the hospital was yet another "milestone" symbolising the bonds of the close friendship between the two countries and in particular between the armed forces of the two nations.
The minister also announced that India will send a team of two medical officers and four paramedical staff from Indian Armed Forces Medical Services to be stationed at the hospital to set up the services.
Antony said his visit to Maldives was aimed at promoting and furthering existing goodwill between the two countries.
"I assure that India remains steadfast in its commitment to work with the government of Maldives in the spirit of brotherhood and friendship," he said.