“The Maldives is now a brand name in the Global Tourism Market” - Ali Naseer Mohamed, Foreign Secretary
Foreign Secretary of the Maldives His Excellency Dr. Ali Naseer Mohamed
In recent years the South Asian island nation, the Maldives, has made significant strides in diplomacy. The Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the fourteen diplomatic missions around the world spearhead the country’s regional and global outreach. In an exclusive interview with The Diplomatic Society in Male’ on March 19th 2014, the Foreign Secretary of the Maldives His Excellency Dr. Ali Naseer Mohamed spoke to the Global Editor Srimal Fernando. At the interview, the Foreign Secretary shares his thoughts about Maldives diplomatic relations since 1965, relations between the Maldives and the regions in Asia and Africa, people to people level contact with Africa, thoughts of selling the Maldives to the global tourism market and challenges faced by the equatorial island nation.
Srimal Fernando (SF): Excellency can you give a brief background of yourself?
Foreign Secretary ( FS): I have been in the foreign service since 1985. As Foreign Secretary I am responsible for the day to day management of the service, including coordinating of efforts in implementing the government’s foreign policy.
SF: Over the last three decades the Foreign Ministry of Maldives widened the diplomatic relations with many countries. Excellency as the Foreign Secretary what will be your role to enhance these relations further?
FS: The Maldives gained Independence in 1965. In less than two months, we joined the United Nations (UN) on 21st September 1965. Since then we have been broadening and widening our engagements with the international community. Our interest and our engagements on issues of Global importance and particularly for the Maldives have been given top priority. We believe that strengthening the international system is of profound importance for the security in the interest of small states like the Maldives. In that regard the Maldives plays a very important role in the UN system.
SF: What is the Maldives Foreign Ministry's opinion about South, East, West Asian and also about African countries?
FS: The Maldives views the regions in the following manner.
South Asia –Maldives relations
For the Maldives South Asia is the most important. Consolidating and further strengthening regional cooperation in South Asia is a very important objective. We have been working very closely with our neighboring countries like Sri Lanka and India in further consolidating the gains we have made in regional cooperation.
South East Asia–Maldives relations
Looking a bit towards East is South East Asia. South Asia and East Asia works very closely in finding solutions that are mutually acceptable and beneficial to the global system and to these two regions. Usually the Maldives plays an important role in having close relations with the countries in East Asia.
Africa –Maldives relations
Towards our west is Africa. The Maldives has close ties with African countries and with Southern African countries. The Maldives continue to work very closely with those countries in Africa who share our views.
Middle East –Maldives relations
To our North is West Africa and the Middle East. The Maldives plays a vocal role in highlighting the needs and finding a durable settlement in particular to the Arab – Israel conflict, the question of Palestine and on other emerging issues in the region.
We also play an active role in the Human Rights council. The Maldives plays an important role on the issues like Syria, and the democratization of countries in the Arab world.
In the contemporary global politics, it is not size that matters; what matters is whether or not countries can be valuable partners in finding durable solutions on issues of global importance.
SF: How can people from African countries or South Africa establish relations with Maldives at people to people level?
FS: The Maldives has fourteen diplomatic missions around the World. We don’t have a mission in Africa as yet. The Maldives is a very small country with a population of 350,000. But that does not hinder in maintaining a very close and a sound relationship with African countries. At people to people level the Maldives has the potential to offer as a destination for tourist from Africa. Tourists from South Africa is one area of people to people level contact. There are tourists from South Africa and other larger African countries visiting the Maldives. In the Eastern part of Africa the Maldives has been working very closely with countries such as Seychelles and Mauritius in commerce and the financial related sectors.
SF: Can you name some of the main economic projects that have taken off during the last couple of months?
FS : One of the promising project ideas in the Maldives is constructing a bridge between Male’ and Hulhule’ island. This is one of the most promising and potentially important multi million dollar projects. There are other projects in the pipeline. Constructing a transshipment port in the Northern part of the Maldives and a new commercial habour in Male’. There are other construction related projects that will commence in the coming years.
SF: There have been new trends in tourist arrivals to the South Asian region that gives much expectation for the tourism industry. What are your thoughts of selling Maldives to the global tourism market?
FS: The Maldives is a new brand name in the global tourism market. It is in the top end of the market. Last year more than 1.2 million tourists visited the country. Most of the visitors to the Maldives are mainly from China. China is number one followed by Germany, UK, France, Russia and Europe. The European market as a whole is quite important. Visitors from South Asia are mainly from India. India being the second largest population in the world, the Indian tourists visiting the country are increasing. There are tourists from South Asia and South East Asia as well. Tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives. It creates jobs and brings foreign currency to the country.
SF: What are the challenges faced by the Maldives at the moment?
FS: We depend on an inter-dependent World. Challenges in one country can have solutions in the other. As an emerging democracy, the Maldives faces challenges, and is vulnerable to external shocks to its nascent democracy. That is something we would be always vigilant of.
SF: The bilateral and multilateral trade between the Maldives and several South and East Asian countries has seen a marked improvement in recent months . What is the role the Maldives diplomatic missions located in these countries play to improve these trade relations?
FS: Commerce and investments have, in the recent years, been given priority in the Maldivian missions. Maldivian missions are there to promote Maldives exports, and to facilitate investments to the Maldives. Now we are working very closely with the Maldives Tourism Ministry in an effort to promote tourist arrivals to the Maldives. Our core function always will be conventional diplomacy, to which we are trying to inject a commercial dimension.
SF: Is there anything that you would like to add?
FS: I think for small states like the Maldives our domestic as well as our national aspects will be shaped by ecological, environmental, economical, social and political vulnerabilities. In every aspect of life the defined conditions in small states in a global society will be vulnerability. It is therefore profoundly important that small states like the Maldives place increasing emphasis in building national resilience.