President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jingping has called on the Maldives “to get actively involved” in the creation of a 21st century maritime silk road linking China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.
In an op-ed published in Sun Online ahead of an official state visit, Xi said Maldives’ strategic location in the Indian Ocean had made it an important stop in the ancient maritime Silk Road.
“China welcomes Maldives to get actively involved in building the 21st century maritime Silk Road by leveraging its own strength. China looks forward to working with Maldives to speedily translate this cooperation initiative into reality so as to boost the development and prosperity of all countries and the rise of Asia.”
According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, the Maritime Silk Road and a separate overland Silk Road will bring “new opportunities and a new future to China and every country along the road that is seeking to develop.”
China envisions a trade network where “goods are more abundant and trade is more high-end,” said Xinhua.
Xi is scheduled to arrive in the Maldives at 5:30pm today along with a 200 strong delegation that includes representatives from major Chinese companies.
The visit marks the first ever trip to the country by a Chinese head of state, and is part of an Asia tour that began with a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Tajikistan. After his two-day visit to the Maldives, Xi will also visit Sri Lanka and India.
In his op-ed, Xi said China and the Maldives should strengthen political trust, intensify practical cooperation, boost cultural and people to people exchanges and enhance coordination on multilateral issues.
He noted two-way trade between the two countries, particularly in tourism, has been growing in recent years. Chinese holiday-makers now make up nearly one third of all visitors to the Maldives.
“China has been the largest source of tourists for Maldives for four years running. To the Chinese, especially the young people, Maldives is an ideal holiday destination and a romantic retreat.”
He encouraged more Maldivians to visit China for sightseeing and studying, and said the two governments should facilitate travel exchanges and more air routes.
“With these efforts, we will feel close even when we are thousands of miles away from each other.”
Appreciating the Maldivian government’s commitment to the one China policy, Xi said China “will, as always, respect the choice of the political system and development path made by the Maldivian people in light of your national conditions.”
China will pursue close cooperation with the Maldives on climate change and human rights, Xi said.
“The ship of China-Maldives friendship has set sail. I am confident that with our joint efforts, it will brave winds and waves and forge ahead toward an even brighter future.”
According to the Maldives President’s Office, China and the Maldives will sign a number of bilateral agreements on advancing developmental cooperation in various fields, and Xi and President Abdulla Yameen will launch two development projects funded by the Chinese government and implemented by Chinese corporations.
Minivan News understands the two projects include a bridge connecting the capital Malé and suburb Hulhumalé and the development of a new runway at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
China’s rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that China is creating a “string of pearls” that surrounds India and threatens its security, including Chinese investments in ports and other key projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
When asked if closer ties with China would adversely impact relations with India or Japan, President Yameen last week said Sino-Maldives economic cooperation would not affect “the very friendly, close relations with India”.
“All these projects are also open to India and we are doing a lot of diplomatic work with India,” he said, referring to his administration’s decision not to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States as an example of cooperation.