China to fund Malé-Hulhulé bridge, says minister

An agreement was penned today during President Abdulla Yameen’s visit to China for carrying out the ongoing feasibility survey of the Malé-Hulhulé bridge project with Chinese grant aid.

The “agreement on the economic and technical cooperation of grant” was signed after a meeting between President Yameen and Chinese vice president Li Yuanchao, according to the president’s office.

Speaking to reporters prior to departing to China last night, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef said “a large portion” of the bridge project will be financed through Chinese free aid and the rest through concessional and commercial loans.

Along with the feasibility report, Shareef said the Chinese government will present options for building the bridge as well as the estimated cost for each option.

The government has previously said the project will cost between US$100 million and US$150 million.

China has previously said it would ‘favorably consider financing’ the bridge if the design proves feasible. The economic council has said the six-mile bridge will have six lanes and will span from Malé’s eastern edge to the western corner of Hulhule, where the airport is located.

Last month, a team of Chinese technicians began drilling bore holes on the ocean floor to gather information for the feasibility survey.

Shareef said last night that in his meeting with the Chinese vice president, President Yameen will discuss financing for the bridge project, projects in the Maldives under the Chinese maritime ‘Silk Route’ initiative and expediting a US$40 million loan from the Chinese EXIM bank for developing the international airport.

The government has previously said a total of US$600million is needed for the project. Although the economic council first said they will borrow the funds from China and Japan, the fisheries minister in March said Saudi Arabia had assured loan assistance at a low interest rate for airport development.

Shareef is accompanying President Yameen during his visit to China along with economic development minister Mohamed Saeed and representatives from Maldivian businesses. The president departed on Wednesday morning to attend the 3rd China-South Asia Exposition, and the 23rd Kunming Import and Export Commodities Fair.

The president is due to deliver a keynote address at the joint opening of the fairs. The fairs will take place from June 12-16.

According to state broadcaster Television Maldives, a symposium was held at the Grand Park Hotel in Kunming today to share information with Chinese investors.

More than 80 companies from the Yunnan province participated in the ‘Invest Maldives Symposium,’ said economic development minister Saeed.

An ‘Invest Maldives’ page was launched on Chinese social media network Weibo during the symposium as part of “promotional efforts” for an investment forum to be held in Beijing, Saeed said.

Businesses in the Yunnan province expressed interest in carrying out renewable energy projects in the Maldives, he added.

Shareef meanwhile said the Chinese government will cover almost all of the expenses for organising the investment forum in October. While sponsors funded the first investment forum held in Singapore last year, Shareef said the government covered some costs.

Following an official state visit to China in August last year, President Yameen 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.

In a historic visit the following month, Chinese President Xi Jinpeng said he hoped the government would call the bridge “the China-Maldives friendship bridge”.


President seeks Chinese free aid for Hulhumalé bridge project

The government is seeking concessional or free aid from the Chinese government to finance “a large portion” of a project to build a bridge connecting the capital Malé and Hulhumalé, President Yameen has revealed.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday night (August 14) prior to departing for China to attend the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games, Yameen explained that the Chinese government assured assistance and inquired ahead of the visit about “the most important project for our government.”

“So we discussed amongst ourselves and agreed that the most important project is the ‘youth city’ and the bridge between Malé and Hulhumalé as part of efforts to ease housing [shortage] for the people,” he said.

Yameen noted that as “all major Chinese companies are government companies” – referring to proposals submitted by Chinese companies expressing interest in the project – Chinese corporations would undertake the project with the “blessing” of the Chinese government and would be able to secure loan facilities through “generous concessional assistance”.

The government delayed awarding the project until after the China trip for this reason, he added, during which official talks would take place.

In addition to meeting the Chinese President, Yameen said the Chinese government has made “arrangements” for meetings with business leaders to discuss planned ‘mega projects.’

If the bridge project is to be awarded “under commercial terms,” Yameen said the government has “solid three proposals”.

However, Yameen expressed confidence of securing assistance for the project during the official talks.

Asked for an estimated date for commencement of the project, Yameen said that the talks so far had been “unofficial” but noted that an engineering team would arrive as soon as the Chinese government gives the “green signal” and a feasibility study would be conducted.

Yameen said he expected the project to begin before the end of the year.

Chinese assistance could be either in the form of grant aid or a loan facility from the Chinese EXIM Bank at a low interest rate, he explained.

According to the President’s Office, Yameen was greeted upon arrival at Nanjing Airport by the “‎Vice Governor of Jiangsu Province, ‎Mr. Fu Ziying, Protocol Ambassador of ‎Nanjing Youth Olympic Games, Mr. Gao Zhansheng, Deputy Secretary ‎General of Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee, Mr. Zhou Xu ‎and the Vice Director General of Jiangsu Province, Mr. Sun Yi.”

Yameen also attended a dinner hosted in his honour by the ‎MIND Group last night. ‎

Silk Route

In addition to the bridge project, the government also expects to upgrade the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport with a new runway and a new terminal, Yameen said.

The government has also formulated a project to provide electricity to the Greater Malé Region – including Hulhumalé, Vilimalé, Thilafushi, and Gulhifalhu – from a “single grid” and generate about 500 megawatts, he revealed.

A number of Chinese companies have meanwhile sought information regarding the ‘iHavan’ transhipment port project, Yameen said, adding that he believed various components of the project would be awarded to different parties.

Other projects that would be discussed with the Chinese include the establishment of “a data bank” through the “Smart Maldives Project,” he continued.

Referring to the Chinese ‘New Silk Road’ project, Yameen said the government was “very interested” in participating in the initiative.

Yameen also revealed that a number of bilateral agreements would be signed during the visit, including a framework agreement on trade assistance, while Chinese assistance in providing police vehicles would be “formalised”.

Chinese news agency Xinhua reported yesterday that China’s maritime ‘Silk Route’ would pass through the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project or ‘iHavan’ in the northernmost atoll in the Maldives.

“The design of the project seeks to capitalise on the location of the atoll, which lies on the seven-degree channel through which the main East-West shipping routes connecting Southeast Asia and China to the Middle East and Europe,” reported Xinhua.

A transhipment port in the northernmost atoll would benefit from “the growing trade volumes passing through the region in the wake of strong growth in China and India,” Xinhua noted, adding that an export processing zone in iHavan would enjoy “duty free access” to South Asia through the South Asian Free Trade Arrangement (SAFTA).

“Our positions at the UN and other key multilateral forums highlight the close cooperation between our two countries,” Yameen told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

“Sino-Maldives relations have grown from strength to strength in recent decades, including high-level exchanges and mutual cooperation pacts to sustain regular exchanges.”