In a significant increase in engagement in South Asia and the wider Indian Ocean region, Australia announced it would open its High Commission in the Maldives and invest $36.5 million over five years in the region.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement: “Australia will open a High Commission in Male to enhance engagement with an important Indian Ocean neighbour. A permanent Australian diplomatic presence in the Maldives will ‘will build on Australia’s and the Maldives’ shared aspirations for a stable, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific.”

With this announcement by the end of 2023, all Quad members will have permanent assignments in the Maldives.

The United States had announced in 2020 that it would open a mission in the country. The Maldives is a key country in the Indo-Pacific and holds a vast Exclusive Economic Zone in the Indian Ocean, a region that sits at the crossroads of international trade.

Foreign Secretary Payne explained in a statement that the new Australian High Commission “will foster enhanced cooperation on maritime security, the fight against transnational crime and collaboration on climate change and the blue economy”.

The mega-investment that has been announced will be in sectors such as disaster preparedness, trade, connectivity.

About $11.4 million of the announced $36.5 million will be used to improve regional cooperation in maritime transport, disaster resilience and information sharing.

Bangladesh will be a key target for investment with $10.2 million earmarked for the country’s digital sector and $4.3 million has been earmarked to support relationships across the LNG supply chain between the Australia, India and Bangladesh.

The Foreign Minister’s statement said: “Together, these measures will support opportunities for trade, investment and connectivity in the northeast Indian Ocean.” The statement said the Morrison government will invest $4.8 million to improve understanding of Australian resources and mining equipment, technology and services (METS) markets in South Asia and approximately $5.8 million to promote business opportunities. investment in the region’s infrastructure with Australian companies.

The development comes even as Chinese engagement in the region has led to a debt crisis.

Interestingly, the announcement came on a day when Quad – the foreign ministers of India, Australia, the United States and Japan are meeting in Melbourne.