Ahmed Shiaan is the Ambassador of the Maldives to the United Kingdom.
In today’s age of increasing uncertainty, why would a small island nation choose to go it alone? This was the question on the world’s lips when Britain made the decision, after many years of mutual cooperation, to leave the EU.
For those of us in the UK during the Brexit vote, we witnessed a similar, albeit less vociferous reaction, when the Maldives made the decision to leave the Commonwealth a few months later.
Choosing to leave a group that has offered decades of support was not easy. Yet the Maldives, like the UK, is keen to remain engaged in an increasingly complex and intertwined world. We believe that strengthening the relationship between our two island nations is a good place to start.
This position might seem counterintuitive. Why would the Maldives leave the Commonwealth if we want to strengthen our bond with the UK? But for us there is no contradiction.
Our membership of the Commonwealth started out as one of mutual support. The Commonwealth’s charter offered Maldives a chance to strengthen institutions and links to other states. Over recent years, however, the relationship soured.
A plummeting budget meant that Commonwealth development projects have fallen by the wayside. That work was replaced by the ever more ideological Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which soon became a vehicle through which wealthier nations exerted their influence. And with it, a partnership of equals was transformed into a hierarchy of powers.
The Maldives and the UK have a long history of cooperation that predates the Commonwealth. For instance, we provided crucial support during the Second World War. We share a school system, a legal system, and even a love of the Premier League.There is no reason that this should end. In fact, free from the constraints of supranational organisations, both nations have the opportunity to strengthen our historical bonds.
Unfortunately, the friendship between our two countries has been neglected. The EU has always been an important partner for us, but Britain’s role within the EU meant a bilateral relationship fell by the wayside. Now that Britain is regaining its power to directly negotiate trade agreements, there are ample opportunities for this to change.
The prospects for economic partnership have never been stronger. The Maldives recently received its first ever credit rating from Moody’s, which expects healthy GDP prospects and robust growth, allowing for lucrative returns from investments.
The thriving tourism sector has been particularly important, with the numbers showing steady growth, despite continuing uncertainty in the global economy. We are proud to be called the high-end destination in the world, as well as expanding our budget travel options. Naturally, UK investment in the Maldives continues to growing.
The upcoming bilateral investment seminar in London is sure to throw up plenty more mutually beneficial opportunities. When it comes to doing business with the UK, the Maldives is ready to press the accelerator.
To equate leaving the Commonwealth with economic isolation is clearly false. But this is true of diplomacy too. We are not leaving the international stage. In fact, our departure from this grouping presents an opportunity to recalibrate the bond between our nations.
This must first begin with mutual understanding. Currently there is no permanent diplomatic representation in the Maldives, despite nearly 100,000 Britons visiting our islands last year. Recently, this has contributed to diplomacy based on rumour rather than respect. Political alliances stretching over borders have used the media to spread falsehoods about domestic security.
As a nation, we are not in denial about the challenges we face. But when the doom-mongering fails to predict what comes to pass, the world must understand our frustrations. Our economy continues to grow, there have been zero cases of domestic terror, and our media continues to operate freely. We must ensure that the UK understands what is happening on the ground in our nation. We are ready to play our part in this.
Our two countries must seize these joint opportunities. But we also share challenges. The UK and the Maldives must face down the threat of transnational terror and climate change. Efforts have already been made to tackle these dangers together; our two nations recently released a joint mission statement on violent extremism.
This is a powerful start, but more can be done. The efficiency and quantity of intelligence sharing must be stepped up if we are to subdue the threat. Only together can these challenges be overcome.
The Commonwealth used to pride itself on being an organisation in which all nations worked together in partnership and as equals. The Maldives may have left the Commonwealth, but its founding values remain close to our hearts. We hope that our departure will open up a discussion on the future of the collective.
From outside, we hope to aid the reformation of the Commonwealth into an organisation fit for purpose. Despite our size, our voice is strong and clear. Britain and the Maldives now have a new path to forge. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunities on the table.