Hello and welcome to the details of China and Maldives upgrade ties with infrastructure deals and now with the details
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - The photo taken on January 10, 2024 shows Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu (right) and Chinese President Xi Jinping walking during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. — CNS/AFP pic
BEIJING, Jan 11 — China pledged today to extend funding for infrastructure in the Maldives, after it upgraded ties with the strategic Indian Ocean archipelago.
With Beijing and New Delhi tussling for influence, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu was elected in September after pledging to cultivate “strong ties” with China and eject Indian troops.
Muizzu embarked this week on his first state visit to China — the Maldives’ largest external creditor — and today, the two sides issued a joint communique detailing the “broad consensus” reached by their two leaders.
China vowed to “continue to provide support within its capacity to the Maldives side in areas of priority concern”, the statement published on state broadcaster CCTV said.
That included “infrastructure construction, medical care and health care, improvement of people’s livelihoods, new energy sources, agriculture and marine environmental protection”, it said.
Muizzu, in turn, thanked China for its “selfless assistance” in providing the Maldives with development funds.
The communique followed a meeting on Wednesday with President Xi Jinping at which Beijing announced the “elevation of bilateral ties”.
“Under the new circumstances, China-Maldives relations face a historic opportunity to build on past achievements and forge ahead,” Xi told Muizzu, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.
Xi “stressed that China respects and supports the Maldives in exploring a development path suited to its national conditions”, it said.
Beijing “supports the Maldives firmly in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national dignity”, he said.
Muizzu thanked Xi for “China’s significant role in the Maldives’ economic success” and Beijing’s role in the “infrastructure development of the Maldives”, according to a readout from his office.
Muizzu’s party was an eager recipient of funds from the Belt and Road infrastructure programme, a central pillar of Xi’s bid to expand China’s influence overseas.
His mentor, former president Abdulla Yameen, borrowed heavily from Beijing for construction projects and spurned India.
That left it owing 42 per cent of its total external debts of more than US$3 billion (RM13 billion) to Beijing in 2021, according to the World Bank, citing the Maldives’ finance ministry.
Eleven per cent of that debt was owed to China’s Exim Bank, a key Belt and Road creditor.
The Maldives signed several fresh agreements with China yesterday, including ones on climate, agriculture and infrastructure, Muizzu’s office said.
No details about the value of the agreements were shared by either side.
The Maldives, primarily known as one of the most expensive holiday destinations in South Asia, with pristine white beaches and secluded resorts, has also become a geopolitical hotspot.
Global east-west shipping lanes pass the nation’s chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands, stretching around 800 kilometres across the equator.
Muizzu was elected promising to remove a unit of Indian security personnel, deployed to operate three aircraft gifted to the Maldives to patrol its vast maritime territory.
He said last month he had secured their withdrawal but did not give a timeframe.
Shekhar Sinha, a retired Indian navy admiral with the India Foundation think tank, told AFP that the partnership between China and the Maldives “presents the most challenging security concern for India in the immediate future”.
“The comprehensive nature of the agreements has the potential of making Maldives a maritime satellite of China in the region,” he added.
Muizzu has denied seeking to redraw the regional balance by bringing in Chinese forces to replace Indian troops.
But tensions have flared with India as Muizzu’s administration works to untangle a diplomatic row with New Delhi after three of its junior ministers reportedly called Modi a “clown” and a “terrorist” in since-deleted social media posts last week.
Bollywood actors and some of India’s cricket greats have responded with calls for their compatriots to boycott their southern neighbour and instead book their next holidays closer to home.
Tourism accounts for nearly a third of the Maldives’ economy, with Indians making up the largest share of foreign arrivals. — AFP
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