January 12, 2024
BEIJING – President Xi Jinping and Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu announced the elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership on Wednesday, with both nations pledging further cooperation on the building of the Belt and Road, the digital economy and green development.
Xi rolled out the red carpet for Muizzu at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing with a welcoming ceremony that included a review of a guard of honor and a 21-gun salute. The Maldivian president is on a five-day state visit to China that started on Monday.
The two leaders witnessed the signing of an action plan for developing the comprehensive strategic partnership, as well as agreements ranging from the blue, or ocean, economy to infrastructure.
Xi called his Maldivian counterpart “old friend” at the start of their talks, saying the fact that Muizzu is the first foreign leader he has hosted this year and that Muizzu chose China as the destination of his first state visit overseas since taking office, speaks volumes about the emphasis both nations place on the relationship.
“China-Maldives relations are presented with a historic opportunity to build on past achievements and forge ahead toward the future under the new circumstances,” he said.
Xi underscored that China respects and supports the Maldives in exploring a development path that suits its national conditions, and firmly supports the Indian Ocean nation in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national dignity.
China will welcome the arrival of more students from the Maldives, and support the increase in the number of direct flights between the two nations, Xi told his guest.
Muizzu reaffirmed the Maldives’ adherence to the one-China policy, saying that his country looks forward to further expanding new channels of bilateral cooperation and adding new dimensions to bilateral relations.
He said that the Maldives welcomes the arrival of more Chinese tourists, as China had been the nation’s largest source of inbound tourism before COVID-19.
Muizzu arrived in Fujian province, the first stop of his China visit, on Monday, where he toured the Xiamen Free Trade Zone, the provincial museum and a fishery company.
He told a business gathering in Fujian that he has no doubt that “China will be our closest partner in development”, as he explained the Maldives’ national target to double its GDP from the current $6 billion to $12 billion by 2028, according to a statement released by his office.
Liu Zongyi, director of the Center for South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said that Muizzu has adopted a more balanced foreign policy, and that support from China is crucial for the nation’s recovery from COVID-19.
“The Chinese market is crucial both for the tourism and fisheries sector of the Maldives, the two largest pillars of its economy, and Muizzu knows that he can rely on China for his economic agenda,” he said.
Lu Yang, a research fellow at the Institute of the Belt and Road Initiative at Tsinghua University, said the elevation of ties between China and the Maldives was built on outcomes from years of pragmatic cooperation.
She explained that the landmark projects built by China, such as the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge and an ophthalmology center built through bilateral cooperation, have garnered public support for stronger bilateral ties in the nation.
“The visit will undoubtedly elevate bilateral relations and pragmatic cooperation to a new level, and both countries have vast cooperation opportunities in the fields of the economy and trade, tourism, environmental protection and new energy,” she said.