Maldives not obliged to consult neighbours before joining China’s Silk Route, says foreign minister

The Maldives, as an independent and sovereign nation, is not obliged to consult other countries before making foreign policy decisions, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon told the People’s Majlis today.

The foreign minister appeared in parliament to respond to a question tabled by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Nashid concerning the Maldives’ participation in the Chinese ’21st Century Maritime Silk Route’ initiative.

President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jingping has called on the Maldives “to get actively involved” in the creation of a maritime trade route linking China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.

Nashid, MP for Shaviyani Komandoo, asked whether neighbouring countries in the Indian Ocean were consulted before the decision was made.

“If we join this project, is it likely that the longstanding close relations we have with neighbouring countries could be adversely affected?” he asked.

In response, Dunya noted that the agreement signed with the British in 1965 to secure independence “states in clear language that the Maldives is not obliged to consult or seek consent or approval from any other nation to implement Maldivian foreign policy.”

Former Presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom did not join any “military or political alliance” during the Cold War, she added, out of fear of losing the independence gained in 1965 as the Maldives would be obliged to consult major powers before making foreign policy decisions.

“We should all know that the interest of any foreign country should not take precedence over Maldivian national interest,” she said.

MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi – a retired brigadier general – asked whether relations with India could deteriorate if Chinese naval activity is conducted in a Maldivian port, which would threaten Indian “geopolitical interests”.

Dunya declined to answer citing national security concerns and advised raising the issue through parliamentary committees.

Asked if India has expressed concern with the decision, Dunya said the Indian government also welcomed the Silk Route initiative during Chinese President Xi’s visit to New Delhi in September.

Foreign policy

Dunya said President Abdulla Yameen’s foreign policy was based on Article 115(d) of the Constitution, which states that the president has a duty “to guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of the Maldives, and to promote respect for national sovereignty in the international community.”

The government decided to participate in the Silk Route initiative as it would promote national interest and benefit the Maldivian people through trade and commerce, she said.

Dunya referred to a joint communique issued during President Xi’s state visit in the Maldives in September, which declared that the Maldives “welcomes and supports the proposal put forward by China to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and is prepared to actively participate in relevant cooperation”.

Fostering ties with South Asian countries and ensuring national security was one of the most important aims of the government’s foreign policy, she continued, noting that Maldivian security was intertwined with Indian Ocean regional security.

The Maldives would consult all nations and work together to ensure regional security and stability, she assured.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the decision to join the Silk Route initiative, contending that it would threaten Indian Ocean security and risk putting the Maldives in the middle of war or disputes between Asian powers.

China’s rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that China is creating a “string of pearls” to encircle India, including Chinese investments in ports and other key projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Asked if closer ties with China would adversely impact relations with India or Japan, President Yameen told reporters upon returning from a visit to China in August that 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.


Agreements on bridge and airport penned during Chinese president’s visit

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.

New phase

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.


Chinese President Xi Jinping due to visit Maldives

Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in the Maldives on an official state visit next week in the first ever trip to the country by a Chinese head of state.

“During his stay in the Maldives, President Xi will be officially ‎meeting President [Abdulla] Yameen one-on-one,” the President’s Office revealed in a statement.

“The two leaders will chair official talks between high-level delegations of the respective countries.‎”

A number of bilateral agreements “on advancing developmental corporation in various identified ‎fields” would be signed during the visit, the President’s Office said.

“Furthermore, two development projects in the Maldives that are ‎funded by the Chinese Government and implemented by Chinese ‎corporations will also be launched jointly by the two presidents,” the statement added.

President Yameen extended an invitation to visit the Maldives to Xi Jinping during official talks held in Nanjing last month.

A 200-strong delegation, including representatives from major Chinese companies, is expected to accompany the Chinese president.

Speaking at a Progressive Party of Maldives event on Thursday, President Yameen reportedly said that the imminent visit of one of the most influential world leaders was an honour for the Maldives.

China was a global economic powerhouse with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Yameen noted.

“[Xi Jinping] is beginning his Asian tour in the Maldives. He is arriving one month to the day after I returned to the Maldives after visiting China,” Yameen was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

“We will use the visit to bring development for the people. During the Chinese president’s visit, [he] will agree to do many things for the Maldives.”

China bridge

Upon returning from a visit to China last month, Yameen said the Chinese government has pledged assistance in building a bridge connecting the capital Malé and Hulhumalé.

According to the President’s Office, President Yameen expressed his desire for the bridge to be known as the ‘China Bridge’ “to symbolise the friendly ties between the two countries” during a meeting with Xi Jinping.

Speaking to the press, Yameen revealed that the Chinese president recommended forming a high-level China-Maldives joint commission to oversee the project.

The Chinese president was also 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 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.”

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.

“No country has expressed concern so far and I don’t believe they will either,” he said.