In a significant diplomatic move, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu announced the elevation of their bilateral ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership on Wednesday.
This declaration came after in-depth talks between the two leaders, marking a crucial development in their relationship. President Muizzu, who is on his first state visit to China, expressed his honour in being the first foreign head of state hosted by China this year, underscoring the mutual importance attached to the bilateral relations.
President Xi emphasized China's respect and support for the Maldives in determining its development path in line with national conditions. The official Xinhua news agency reported that China firmly supports the Maldives in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and national dignity. The elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership signifies a deeper commitment to collaboration between the two nations.
20 Key Agreements Signed
During Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu's state visit to China, the two nations signed a comprehensive set of 20 key agreements, solidifying their commitment to multifaceted cooperation. The Maldivian President's office, in a statement on X, outlined the breadth of these agreements, spanning crucial sectors such as tourism, disaster risk reduction, blue economy, and digital economy investments. Notably, the agreements also encompassed grant assistance from China to the Maldives, although specific financial details remain undisclosed.
The first key agreement focuses on enhancing ties in the vital tourism sector. Both nations aim to foster collaborative initiatives that will contribute to the growth and sustainability of the tourism industry in the Maldives.
Recognizing the vulnerability of island nations to natural disasters, the second agreement emphasizes collaborative efforts to mitigate risks and enhance resilience. This includes joint disaster preparedness measures and response strategies.
A significant focus lies on sustainable development in fisheries and marine resources. The third agreement aims to bolster the blue economy, promoting responsible and environmentally conscious practices in the fisheries sector.
As technology continues to play a pivotal role in economic development, the fourth agreement underscores the commitment to strengthening investments in the digital landscape. This includes initiatives to foster innovation and digital infrastructure development.
The fifth agreement highlights joint efforts in accelerating the formulation of the Cooperation Plan on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This strategic collaboration aligns with China's ambitious global infrastructure project, fostering connectivity and economic development.
Addressing the pressing housing needs of the Maldivian populace, the sixth agreement outlines plans for a social housing project on Fushidhiggaru Falhu. This initiative aims to provide affordable and sustainable housing solutions.
The seventh agreement signifies a commitment to enhancing the fisheries industry through the establishment of fisheries products processing factories. This move is expected to boost the value chain of the fisheries sector and contribute to economic growth.
Recognizing the importance of robust urban infrastructure, the eighth agreement focuses on critical infrastructure projects for the re-development of Male’ and Villimale’ roads. This initiative aims to enhance connectivity and facilitate urban development.
One aspect crucial to this diplomatic engagement is the undisclosed grant assistance from China to the Maldives. According to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Male owes Beijing about $1.3 billion, making China the largest external creditor to the island nation. The grant assistance is expected to play a significant role in supporting the Maldives' economic initiatives and addressing pressing socio-economic challenges.
China-Maldives Relations Amidst Challenges
President Muizzu's visit to China is shadowed by a diplomatic row with India, sparked by derogatory remarks made by his ministers against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Additionally, a recent report by the EU Election Observation Mission accused the ruling coalition of deploying anti-India sentiments and spreading disinformation during the 2023 presidential elections.
Xi Jinping assured that China stands ready to exchange governance experience, strengthen development strategies, and advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation with the Maldives. The Chinese leader also pledged support for more Maldivian students to study in China and the promotion of direct flights between the two countries.
Chinese Investments and Appeal for Tourism
President Muizzu, facing criticism for rupturing relations with India, sought investments from Chinese companies for 11 projects during the Maldives Investment Forum. With a diplomatic row leading to cancellations of reservations by Indian tourists, President Muizzu appealed to China to intensify efforts to attract more tourists from the country.
According to data released by the Maldives Tourism Ministry, India remained the largest tourist market for the country in 2023, followed by Russia and China. In 2022, bilateral trade between China and the Maldives totalled USD 451.29 million, with China's exports constituting the majority.
President Muizzu's visit includes meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other senior officials. The cooperative partnership aims to set a new benchmark for China-Maldives friendship, with both nations poised for enhanced economic, strategic, and diplomatic collaboration.
As the Maldives charts its course in diplomatic engagements, the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership with China introduces a new element to the complex geopolitical landscape of the Indian Ocean region. The impact on India-Maldives relations remains uncertain, given the longstanding historical ties and the challenges posed by recent diplomatic disagreements.
From the Indian perspective, the strengthening collaboration between the Maldives and China adds a layer of strategic consideration. The Indian Ocean has traditionally been an area of strategic interest for India, and any deepening ties between neighbouring nations and other major players are closely monitored. The evolving dynamics demand a nuanced approach from Indian policymakers to maintain regional stability and balance.
The unfolding narrative underscores the delicate dance between nations in the region as they navigate economic and strategic partnerships in a rapidly evolving global landscape. As the world watches, the coming chapters in the India-Maldives-China dynamic will undoubtedly shape the future trajectory of regional alliances and cooperation.