President Abdulla Yameen has called upon the SAARC nations to “walk the talk” and make their voice heard on the international stage.
“As a region, SAARC has the right, and surely has the might, to make it one of the most powerful regions in the world. Yet we continue to be led, rather than lead,” Yameen told the inaugural session of the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu.
“This region accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population, yet as a region we hold limited sway, have limited say and we have not been heard enough, in the power rooms of the world.”
Despite the association’s charter calling for meetings at least once a year, the two-day summit is the first to be convened since 2011, when the Maldives hosted the event in Addu City.
Following the meeting of SAARC leaders at the inauguration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May – dubbed the ‘mini SAARC summit’ by the Indian media – led to the reactivation of the meetings.
Since assuming office, Modi has actively pursued regional cooperation, with his ‘neighbourhood first’ policy being applauded by President Yameen today.
“We are inspired, Excellency, by your various initiatives, in this short period of time, towards strengthening regional relationships including the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy. These are steps in the right direction, a signal of the renewed activism with which India is facing SAARC,” said Yameen.
Other initiatives of the Modi government have included a firmer commitment to improving ties within Asia – dubbed the ‘Look East’ policy.
At home, President Yameen has also recently declared a foreign policy shift to the East after accusing “Western colonial powers” of attempting to interfere with the sovereignty of the Maldives.
During the same speech on Republic Day (November 11) Yameen noted that the rapidly growing ties with China did not involve “any such compulsion”.
China’s increased involvement in the region appears to have invoked the concern of India, who reacted firmly to rebut suggestions made by the Maldives’ foreign minister this month that India had discussed joining China’s New Silk Road project.
India was also reported to have rebuffed suggestions from Pakistan during this week’s summit to promote China from its current observer status within SAARC.
“As far as we are concerned, we need to first deepen cooperation among Saarc (members) before we try and move horizontally,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told media.
Continuing his speech this morning, President Yameen repeated his view that trade and commerce were the key to peace and prosperity within the region.
“SAARC must attune itself to the realities of the day and seize the opportunities that are presented to us. We must not be left behind.”
Yameen also stated that, despite being one of the regions to be worst affected by climate change, “we continue to be complacent in taking action as a group”.
He pointed out that, as the next chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, the Maldives would expect support from its friends.
“I ask you, should we not demand for what we want? Should we not stand up for what we believe? Dare we not speak up for what is right for our people? Is it not time, Excellencies, that we stand up to receive our share, raise our voice, in the international arena?”
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