Amid row with India, Maldives president meets China's Xi Jinping; receives 21-gun salute grand welcome
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu received a grand reception, complete with a red carpet welcome and a 21-gun salute. The official media reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Muizzu held talks, but specific details were not disclosed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday engaged in discussions with Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu during his five-day state visit. This meeting took place against the backdrop of a diplomatic dispute with India, triggered by derogatory comments from Maldivian ministers directed at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President Muizzu received a grand reception, complete with a red carpet welcome and a 21-gun salute. The official media reported that Xi and Muizzu held talks, but specific details were not disclosed.
Muizzu, known for his pro-China stance, arrived in China amid tensions with India. The dispute arose after some Maldivian ministers made offensive remarks about Prime Minister Modi, resulting in a wave of cancellations of reservations by Indian tourists. Indian visitors constitute the largest group of tourists to the tourism-dependent Maldives.
In addition to his discussions with President Xi, President Muizzu is anticipated to meet with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other high-ranking officials before concluding his visit and returning to Male on January 12.
Muizzu arrived in Beijing last night after spending two days in the Chinese city of Fujian. During his address at the Maldives Business Forum in Fujian Province on Tuesday, he urged China to enhance its efforts in sending more tourists to his country.
"China was our (Maldives') number one market (for tourism) pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position," he said.
His plea for an increased influx of Chinese tourists coincided with a diplomatic dispute involving India. In response to derogatory social media posts by three deputy ministers, Muizzu's government took action by suspending them. The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) also strongly denounced these offensive remarks.
As per recent data from the Maldives Tourism Ministry, India retained its position as the largest tourist market for the country in 2023. With 209,198 arrivals, India led the chart, followed by Russia in second place with 209,146 arrivals, and China in third place with 187,118 arrivals.
Muizzu also said that China remains "one of our closest allies and development partners." He praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects launched by President Xi in 2014, saying that they "delivered the most significant infrastructure projects witnessed in Maldivian history", according to his speech.
He emphasized his administration's dedication to the swift execution of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, characterizing it as a representation of the strong commercial bonds shared between the two nations.
The FTA was signed in December 2014 during the presidency of Abdulla Yameen, who was known for his pro-China stance. However, reports from Maldives media suggest that his successor, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's administration, did not put the agreement into effect.
The President reiterated that the FTA remains a significant symbol of the close economic relationship between China and the Maldives.
"The FTA's aim to boost bilateral trade and investments, especially increasing our export of fish products to China is a key priority for us through the FTA," he said.
In 2022, the bilateral trade between China and the Maldives amounted to USD 451.29 million, with China's exports contributing USD 451.29 million, while Maldives exported goods worth USD 60,000.
Additionally, during the Maldives Investment Forum, President Muizzu actively sought investments from Chinese companies for 11 projects in the Maldives.