Chinese President Xi vows to deepen ties with Maldives; congratulates Muizzu on his election as President

Mr. Muizzu is due to take over the office on November 17.

October 04, 2023 02:45 am | Updated 02:45 am IST - Beijing

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday pledged to deepen bilateral ties with the Maldives as he congratulated President-elect Mohamed Muizzu, whose party campaigned for forging close ties with Beijing.

Mr. Muizzu, from the People’s National Congress and a close associate of former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen who forged close ties with China during his Presidency from 2013 to 2018, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held on Saturday.

Mr. Yameen is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for corruption.

In his message, Mr. Xi said that China and the Maldives enjoy a long history of friendly exchanges.

Mr. Xi, who visited Maldives in 2014 and announced several Chinese investments under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which subsequently evoked criticism of being “debt traps” by the country’s Opposition parties, said the two countries are not only friends of sincere trust and mutual assistance but also partners of joint development and common prosperity.

He said he attaches great importance to the development of bilateral relations and stands ready to work with President-elect Mr. Muizzu to carry forward the traditional friendship, deepen practical cooperation and push for new progress in the future-oriented, all-round friendly and cooperative partnership between the two countries, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Mr. Muizzu's election raised expectations in China that the archipelagic state strategically located in the Indian Ocean close to India’s southern coast will pursue pro-Beijing policies, unlike Solih who pursued India's first policy and established close ties with New Delhi.

Mr. Muizzu is due to take over the office on November 17 after which he was expected to outline his foreign policy priorities.

During Mr. Solih’s tenure, India besides undertaking many infrastructure projects and providing economic assistance to Maldives which has a population of 5.21 lakh people also actively campaigned for Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid election as President of the UN General Assembly. India also provided vaccines to Maldives during the Covid crisis.

Observers say despite his party's pro-China rhetoric, Muizzu, a British-educated civil engineer, may follow a more nuanced foreign policy as the country faces a precarious economy with several debt repayments due, taking a cue from the worst economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka.

India stepped in with $4 billion in assistance to Sri Lanka while China dithered despite massive BRI investments in the country including the Hambantota port which Beijing took over for a 99-year lease as debt swap.

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