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Maldives and Sri Lanka at 50: A new milestone in bilateral ties

30 October 2017

By Srimal Fernando, Global  Editor The Diplomatic Society

Maldives and Sri Lanka marked the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations in 2015.  The two Indian Ocean island nations share similar lifestyles, cultural and historical affinities, because of their close geographical proximity. Maldives’ strategy requires, above all, the maintenance of strong bonds with Sri Lanka.

Photo: (Seated from l-r)  Former First Lady of the Maldives, Nasreena Ibrahim, Former  Maldivian   President  Maumoon Abdul Gayoom,  Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Maldivian President  Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom,  First Lady, Madam Fathimath Ibrahim and  Former  Maldivian  President Waheed Hassan at  the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Independence of the Republic of Maldives as a Special Guest held at the Dharubaaruge Exhibition Hall in Male on 26th July 2015

The Maldives established formal ties with Sri Lanka on the very first day the nation gained independence, on 26 July 1965.

The long history of Maldivian relations with Sri Lanka goes all the way back to 1906 when Maldives established its first Representative Office in Colombo. There are many  points  of specific intellectual achievement by Sri Lankans which have contributed to the background of Maldivian traditions.  One such was the Maldivian national anthem  "Qaumii Salaam". The melody of the Maldivian national anthem that symbolizes the pride of the nation was composed by Sri Lankan maestro Pundit Amaradeva in 1972.

Going back to 1981 at a state banquet in Male’ the visiting Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs, late Mr. A. C. S. Hameed said,  “ Maldives is Sri Lanka’s nearest and  dearest and small neighbor.” In response the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives Fathulla Jameel  made a rather interesting comment stating that, “relations between our two nations cannot be any better and closer and these go back to the time when Sri Lanka had not tasted Maldivian fish and the Maldives had not tasted Sri Lankan tea (Verinder  Grover 2002).

In fact, the relationship between Male’ and Colombo can perhaps be best described as a unique relationship and one of the strongest and the friendliest bilateral relationships among the eight South Asian nations.

On 8th December 1985, the Maldives joined the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) along with Sri Lanka and five other states of South Asia. Over the years Maldives status as a SAARC member has also changed its relationship with India and Pakistan as well as its immediate neighbors. The year 1978 can be regarded as a turning point in developing close relations with Maldives and Sri Lanka.


Photo: Adaaran Club Rannalhi sits exclusively at the tip of the South Male atoll (Photo Aitken Spence Hotel) Aitken Spence hotel group in Sri Lanka operates a chain of resorts in the Mladives.

It is also important to note that the commercial relationship between the Maldives and Sri Lanka has been increasing during the last thirty years. Sri Lanka is among the three most important trading partners of Maldives. Sri Lanka has become one of the top trading partners of Maldives, having a two-way turnover reaching US$181 million. The current bilateral trade turnover has grown and Sri Lankan products have also gradually gained a foothold.  Sri Lankan exports to Maldives touched US$95 billion in 2016.  Similarly US$ 86 million worth of imports were from Maldives (Sri Lanka Export Development Board Market Development Division 2017).

Maldives represents an interesting market for Sri Lankans and holds considerable potential for Sri Lankan exports. Maldives certainly has a number of favorable conditions to offer for trade and industrial collaborations for Sri Lanka. Some important factors seem to be with its large, well placed hospitality and tourism industry.

In 1978 when President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom took over as Maldives President, the two nations continued to develop more constructive relations during the next thirty years until 2008. Over the course of a long period of time the bilateral ties between the two Indian Ocean island nations have become remarkably strong.  The Former Maldivian President Gayoom strongly supported the forging of stronger ties between Maldives and Sri Lanka. This was evident when Former President Gayoom said,  “The relations between the Maldives and Sri Lanka had been founded over the years on mutual understanding and respect, and shared values on important regional and international issues." (Maldives News Bulletin Department of Information, 2008).

As far as where the diplomatic relationship is concerned the Sri Lankan conflict that lasted for more than 25 years, was most crucial as far as Maldives was concerned. The ending of the Sri Lankan conflict in 2009 precipitated a number of important changes within the bilateral dialogues between Sri Lanka and Maldives. However, soon after Mohamed Nasheed, winning the first ever multi-party elections and assuming duties as President of Maldives in 2008, there came about a change in bilateral diplomatic relations.

Sri Lanka was concerned with the domestic matters in the Maldives when former President Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected President was ousted in February 2012, after weeks of opposition-led protests.  Sri Lanka adopted a policy of watchful waiting for few years until stability returned to Maldives.

Most importantly when new Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom took office in 2014 and Maithripala Sirisena assumed presidential duties in Sri Lanka a year later, the foreign policy of both nations were on a new course.

As both island nations passes through five decades of diplomatic relations, there are as many things in common as there are different. In the context of diplomatic relations between the Maldives and Sri Lanka, it has grown by leaps and bounds in the last fifty years.




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