Maldives Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on Tuesday held talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, on a visit that officials said was aimed at deepening military ties between the two countries.

Mr. Nazim told Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie that the Maldives “is willing to cement relations between the two countries and their militaries”, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

His visit comes amid deepening economic and diplomatic engagement between the two countries. Tourism from China now accounts for close to one-fourth of the nation’s tourism industry, according to officials, with the market growing 40 per cent last year. Last year, China opened its first Embassy in the Maldives.

General Liang said on Tuesday China would “continue to develop friendly, cooperative and mutually beneficial relations with the Maldives under the principle of building a good-neighbourly relationship and non-interference in internal affairs”.

“China has always positively developed its military relations with the Maldives and hopes to enhance communication and cooperation, promote the construction of both militaries, and safeguard regional peace and stability,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

China views the Maldives as an important Indian Ocean country to court, especially considering its strategically-significant location along sea lines that are being increasingly traversed by Chinese ships on piracy missions to the Gulf of Aden.

General Liang, in an interview with The Hindu in September, said PLA Navy ships “while conducting long-distance voyages, often went to close ports of littoral countries for logistic supply”, but added that media speculation suggesting Beijing was interested in a military base in the region was inaccurate.

The Defence Minister’s visit to Beijing comes amid a row between the Maldives and India over the decision to oust airport operator GMR.

Maldives President Mohamed Waheed in an interview with The Hindu on Monday denied reports suggesting that influence from China — or a Chinese company — had played a role in the GMR decision.

“Absolutely no. Absolutely no,” he said. “The only significant cooperation we have with China at this time is through development assistance.”