The historic visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng today saw MoUs signed on the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and promoting the construction of the Male-Hulhulé bridge.
Following a lively welcoming ceremony – featuring a Chinese dragon, Maldivian dancing, and a 21 gun salute – President Xi and President Abdulla Yameen observed the signing of eight MoUs.
The visit has also seen the signing of a preliminary contract agreement on the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
Xi’s arrival marks the first visit to the Maldives by a Chinese president in the 42 years since diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in October, 1972.
The most notable MoU concerned the promoting the construction of the long-awaited Male-Hulhulé Bridge – with a replica awaiting President Xi’s arrival at Republic Square this morning.
A foreign ministry statement has said that the Chinese government will “favourably consider” providing financial support for the project.
Both presidents also launched two Chinese funded and implemented projects concerning housing in Hulhumalé and a link road in Laamu Atoll. The housing project is to be financed through concessional loans, while the 15.1km Laamu road project will be constructed through non-reimbursable aid financing.
Other MoUs were signed on health sector promotion, establishing a joint committee on trade and economic cooperation, strengthening cooperation between the foreign ministries of both countries, and establishing a joint mechanism on dealing with the issue of safety and security of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives.
President Yameen also revealed that further development of the tourism industry had been discussed during today’s talks, expressing hope that Chinese arrivals would increase three-fold over the next four years. Chinese tourists currently make up around 30 percent of all arrivals to the country.
During a joint press conference on Monday at the President’s Office, President Yameen thanked China for its assistance, stating that “graduation from a less developed country has come with enormous challenges and hardships.”
“As a small island state, we are at a disadvantaged position in global commerce and trade. Our socio-economic development forecast changed dramatically with the status of a middle income country”.
“At such a crucial juncture in our development, it is indeed a source of major encouragement and inspiration that one of our most trusted economic partners is willing to support our national effort to transform our economy, bringing happiness to our youthful population and promoting trade and investment,” he stated.
In addition to the Maldivian President, President Xi Jinping and his delegation have also met with Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed and other senior government officials.
Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives Wang Fukang – signatory of a number of today’s MoUs – told Chinese media that, after decades of development ties, the bilateral relationship had entered a new phase
“China has helped with several construction projects in the Maldives, including the foreign ministry building, and the national museum. This has been totally free of cost. We have also helped the country build a thousand residential homes,” said Wang.
A press release from the President’s Office reveals that the Housing Project’s Phase II will be funded through concessional loan financing by the Government of China, and implemented by the China Machinery Engineering Corporation.
Yameen also praised the New Silk Road project, reported by Chinese state media to be pass the intended site of the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project – or ‘iHavan’ – in the northernmost atoll in the Maldives.
“Maldives is now honoured to feature among China’s partners in building a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – a unique vision of President Xi which will bring Asian neighbours closer together,” said Yameen at this morning’s press conference.
In an op-ed published in local media ahead of the visit, President Xi called for the 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,” wrote President Xi.
The foreign ministry reports that the Maldives is prepared to actively participate in relevant cooperation with regard to the establishment of the Silk Road, and that the two countries further agreed to cooperate in the fields of maritime issues, economy, and security.