Sin-Maldives bilateral relations are at an “all-time high” with the establishment of a cooperative partnership between the countries last year, President Abdulla Yameen has said.
President Xi Jinping in his historic state visit in September invited the Maldives to “journey with China on the high-speed bullet train to progress and prosperity,” President Yameen said in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 10th China-South Asia Business Forum yesterday.
“This was an invitation that my people accepted wholeheartedly. We needed no second invitation,” he said.
“With our first class tickets, we have taken our seats in the Maldives’ cabin. We are belted up and awaiting the station master’s signal.”
A ‘Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation’ was established following the leadership visits in 2014, Yameen noted, and many agreements were signed on tourism, maritime cooperation, defence, and “a number of ambitious infrastructure development programmes.”
Yameen said China’s role in the Maldives’ economic development is “unmistakable” with Chinese visitors accounting for a third of annual tourism arrivals.
“It is also among the highest value and fastest growing markets, with a staggering 92 percent of visitors coming to our serene shores for the first time,” he added.
The Maldives has also become one of the first partners in the Chinese ‘Maritime Silk Route’ initiative and a founding member of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Yameen continued.
“I have always believed that economics and not politics present us with the pragmatic solutions needed to overcome our current development challenges,” he said.
Yameen said he was elected with a “clear mandate to transform the country’s economic fortunes” by creating jobs for youth, restoring macroeconomic stability, and inspiring investor confidence.
China has meanwhile presented to the Maldives and other South Asian countries a “golden opportunity of infrastructure development” through the Silk Road initiative, the AIIB, and joint economic commissions, he said.
The 21st century is the “Century of Asia,” Yameen said, and no Asian country showcases the industry and potential of Asians more than China.
“Transcending from the outdated geopolitics of suspicion and imperialism, China has presented to the world a clear vision of ‘win-win’ cooperation, based on trust, sincerity and support,” he suggested.
“The initiative to jointly build the Belt and Road, embracing the trend toward a multipolar world, economic globalisation, cultural diversity and greater IT application, is designed to uphold the global free trade regime and the open world economy in the spirit of regional cooperation.”
The Maldives and other South Asian countries can be beneficiaries of the the initiative and “can look forward to all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks, and the realisation of diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development.”
Many of the government’s planned ‘mega projects’ are benefiting from Chinese support and assistance, Yameen said, adding that civil works on the construction of a bridge connecting Malé and its suburb Hulhumalé – to be called the “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” – will begin at the end of the year.
He added that “a major portion of the airport development will also bear the hallmark of Chinese cooperation.”
During his ongoing visit, President Yameen met Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao on Thursday and signed an agreement on carrying out the feasibility survey for the bridge project with Chinese grant aid.
Other development projects, such as a link road in Laamu atoll and a social housing programme, are also being carried out by “Chinese contractors with Chinese funding.”
“The outlook is bright for the Maldives. Investor confidence in the country is today at an unprecedented and previously unattained level,” he said.
“We are implementing a number of strategic measures to entice major investors to the Maldives, including some of China’s largest overseas contractors and investors. We have recently passed a Special Economic Zones Act, which gives new incentives for large-scale investment projects.”
An investor forum is due to take place later this year in Beijing, Yameen noted, and the government hopes to promote its future development projects “while tapping into the vast trade and investment potential offered to South Asia by the Chinese government.”
“Furthermore, the ongoing dialogue to establish a Free Trade Area with China and expanding the trade benefits that we enjoy with India through the SAFTA mechanism of SAARC will further enhance the investment potential of the Maldives, especially in the trading and shipping sectors,” he said.