Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu called China one of its “closest allies and development partners” as he held talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Wednesday. Muizzu’s five-day state visit to China comes amid the Maldives’s diplomatic row with India over derogatory remarks made against Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his ministers.
The row erupted after PM Modi paid a visit to Lakshadweep last week and promoted it as a tourist destination. Some Maldivian ministers inferred it to be an attempt by PM Modi to wean away tourists from the island country, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism.
State media outlet Xinhua reported that the two leaders held talks but did not share the details of what was discussed. The two governments also signed 20 key agreements, according to the office of Mohamed Muizzu.
During their meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping called Muizzu an “old friend”, reported state media. Xi also said China was looking forward to developing bilateral ties with the Maldives and take relations between the countries to a new level, the report said.
Besides talks with Xi, Muizzu is expected to meet Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other senior officials before his return to Male on January 12.
Muizzu reached Beijing on Tuesday night after staying in the Chinese city of Fujian for two days. He was accorded a red carpet welcome and a 21-gun salute.
MALDIVES’ DIPLOMATIC ROW WITH INDIA
Muizzu, who is perceived to be close to China, is visiting the country amid a row with India after some Maldivian ministers posted derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Modi over the latter’s recent visit to Lakshadweep. The Maldivian President won the elections in October last year on the back of an “India Out” campaign in which he pledged the removal of Indian troops from the archipelago.
A report issued by the European Union on Tuesday said the ruling coalition in the island nation fanned anti-India sentiments and attempted to spread disinformation during the 2023 presidential elections.
In his address to the Maldives Business Forum in Fujian Province on Tuesday, Muizzu appealed to China to “intensify” efforts to send more tourists to his country. “China was our (Maldives’) number one market (for tourism) pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position,” he was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
His appeal for more Chinese tourists came after several Indian tourists cancelled their trips to the Maldives following the row. Indians constitute the largest number of visitors to the tourism-dependent island nation.
In 2023, the highest number of visitors to the Maldives were from India, with 209,198 arrivals, followed by Russia with 209,146 arrivals, and China with 187,118 arrivals.
MUIZZU PRAISES CHINA
In his address to the Maldives Business Forum, Mohamed Muizzu praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014. Muizzu said they “delivered the most significant infrastructure projects witnessed in Maldivian history”.
He also said that his administration was committed to the quick implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed with China, describing it as a symbol of the close commercial ties between the two countries.
Maldives and China signed the FTA in December 2014 during the pro-China President Abdulla Yameen administration. However, his successor, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration did not implement the agreement, according to media reports.
He said the FTA was a symbol of the close commercial ties between the two countries.
China-Maldives bilateral trade in 2022 totalled $451.29 million, of which exports to China constituted $451.29 million.
(With input from PTI)
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