US State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, is embarking on a diplomatic visit to India and the Maldives from 26 January 26 to January 31. This visit underscores the United States’ commitment to engaging with key South Asian nations to bolster cooperation and address regional concerns.

During his stay in India, Assistant Secretary Lu will lead a US delegation’s participation in the India-U.S. Forum in New Delhi. Joining him will be Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources, Geoffrey R. Pyatt. The delegation aims to foster discussions and explore opportunities for collaboration between the United States and India. Their interactions will span across Indian government officials, private sector representatives, academics, and members of the media.

Following their engagements in India, Assistant Secretary Lu and the delegation will proceed to the Maldives. In Malé, they will meet with senior Maldivian officials to strengthen cooperation between the United States and the Maldives. One significant agenda item is the advancement of plans to establish a permanent US Embassy presence in the Maldives. Additionally, the delegation will engage with civil society members and higher education officials to further broaden the spectrum of interaction.

This diplomatic visit takes place against the backdrop of recent developments in the region. Last week, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the Maldives in maintaining peace, security, and sovereignty. President Mohamed Muizzu and Admiral John Aquilino, the Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, discussed ongoing efforts to enhance the capabilities of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) through training programs. Commander Admiral John Aquilino emphasised the enduring relationship between the Maldives and the United States and expressed eagerness to explore additional avenues for cooperation.

This meeting followed President Muizzu’s inaugural state visit to China and coincided with a diplomatic dispute between the Maldives and India. During his visit to China, a joint statement declared China’s support for the Maldives’ national sovereignty, independence, and dignity while opposing external interference in the Maldives’ internal affairs.

A recent telephone conversation between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Maldivian Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer underscored Washington’s dedication to strengthening ties with the Maldives, aiming for a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. Topics discussed included defence cooperation, economic development, climate change, democratic governance, and the rule of law.

The emphasis on democratic governance and the rule of law in these discussions holds particular significance amid recent criticisms of the Maldivian government. These criticisms revolve around concerns such as restrictions on anti-government websites, alleged encroachments on constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, and the Ministry of Homeland Security’s announcement regarding the implementation of capital punishment.