“[Chinese President Xi Jinping] said let us form an economic council or committee. So we have come after determining representatives from our side on the joint committee,” Yameen told reporters at the airport.
Once the high-level joint commission is set up, Yameen said a feasibility study would be conducted with a team of Chinese engineers due to arrive this year.
The team would study the strength of ocean currents, he explained, which was necessary to determine the “strength of the structure” of the bridge as well as an estimated cost.
“When that is completed, the Chinese government informed us during the meetings that one of the contractors [that have expressed interest] would then begin work,” he said.
“So God willing, we hope work could begin very soon.”
The Chinese ambassador is due to arrive in the Maldives in a few days with a list of Chinese representatives on the joint commission, he revealed.
Yameen also said the likelihood of the bridge project being awarded to a Chinese company was “99 percent” and that “a large portion” of the project would be financed through free or concessional aid from China.
The Chinese president was meanwhile briefed about other ‘mega projects’ the government plans to commence, Yameen said, adding that “major Chinese contractors” would undertake the projects.
The Chinese government could ensure that loan facilities sought from the Chinese EXIM bank would be provided at a very low interest rate, he explained.
Meetings also took place between the Maldivian delegation and “large Chinese civil works companies,” Yameen noted.
Based on assurances from Xi Jinping, Yameen expressed confidence of receiving significant assistance from the Chinese government for the bridge project.
The Chinese government also provided MVR250 million (US$16 million) as grant aid during the president’s trip.
Discussions also focused on “important matters for China in international diplomacy,” Yameen revealed, referring to the the Chinese ‘New Silk Road’ project, which he said was intended to foster economic relations and increase trade between China and Asia-Pacific nations.
“We requested participation in the Silk Road initiative and were immediately welcomed,” he said.
Yameen said he also invited the Chinese president to visit the Maldives for next year’s 50th anniversary of independence and Xi Jinping “promptly” accepted the invitation.
“So we believe [Sino-Maldives] relations are very good and [the Chinese government] was very well-prepared for our visit,” he added.
Yameen said the Maldives would back China in the international arena as the two countries shared “the same principles on a number of issues, especially concerning the Indian Ocean region, human rights and many such matters.”
He stressed, however, that the “main focus” of the discussions was the development projects envisioned by the government.
Asked if closer ties with China would adversely impact relations with India or Japan, Yameen 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.
On relations with Japan, Yameen noted that a project for the construction of a new terminal at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) would be jointly undertaken by the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) and two Japanese companies.
“No country has expressed concern so far and I don’t believe they will either,” he said.