Against the backdrop of China’s increasing military assertiveness in the Indian Ocean region, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Maldivian counterpart Mariya Didi agreed on Monday to expand the bilateral military ties and called for upholding a rules-based global order during their talks in Male.

Singh held wide-ranging talks with Didi and top military officials of the Maldivian defence forces on the first day of his three-day visit to the island nation.

On his arrival, Singh was accorded a warm welcome, with the Maldivian defence minister receiving him at the Velana airport in North Male Atoll, reflecting the importance the island nation has attached to the visit.

“The visit of Rajnath Singh represents a significant milestone in the relationship between the two countries as it brings a new level of dynamism and impetus to the already existing defence ties,” the Maldivian defence ministry said.

It said the talks between Singh and Didi covered regional and global security issues of mutual concern and that both sides agreed to further strengthen their cooperation in the defence and security domains.

“Both ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability and security in the region, and recognised the need to work together to address common security challenges,” the Maldivian defence ministry said in a statement.

It said the two ministers underscored the importance of respecting international laws and a rules-based international order and expressed their commitment to upholding these principles.

“They also noted the importance of sharing best practices and expertise in areas such as counterterrorism, disaster management, cybersecurity and maritime security,” it said.

“The ministers agreed to explore new avenues for cooperation, including in the areas of defence trade, capacity building and joint exercises,” the ministry added.

The Indian high commission in Male said Singh interacted with senior officers of the Maldivian defence forces and highlighted that the defence cooperation between the two countries is aimed at confronting common challenges and promoting peace and security in the region.

In a series of tweets, the high commission said the defence minister complimented the armed forces on both sides for their “initiative and zeal” in maintaining the close cooperation.

Chief of Maldivian defence forces Major General Abdulla Shamaal and several other senior officials were among those who welcomed Singh at the airport near the capital city Male.

During his May 1-3 visit, Singh will hand over a fast patrol vessel and a landing craft to the Maldivian defence forces as India’s “gift” to help them enhance maritime surveillance.

“Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister Didi will attend a formal ceremony to hand over an offshore patrol vessel, along with an assault landing craft, and inaugurate the development project of the MNDF Coast Guard Harbour and repair facility at Sifavaru,” the Maldivian defence ministry said.

Singh will also call on Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and hold talks with Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid.

It is Singh’s first visit to the Maldives as the defence minister.

The Maldives is one of India’s key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean region and the overall bilateral ties, including in the areas of defence and security, have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years.

In August last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Solih kick-started the India-funded Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), billed as the largest infrastructure initiative in the island nation.

Under the project, a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link will be built to connect Male with the adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.

The Maldives is also one of the biggest beneficiaries of India’s Neighbourhood First policy.

Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane visited the Maldives in March and held talks with his Maldivian counterpart, Major General Abdulla Shamaal.

Aramane is also accompanying Singh.