On Wednesday, during the inaugural state visit of newly elected President Mohamed Muizzu to Beijing, Maldives and China has elevated their relationship, marking a significant development in their diplomatic ties. President Xi Jinping, addressing Muizzu at the Great Hall of the People, referred to him as “an old friend” and laid the groundwork for enhanced Chinese investment in the Indian Ocean archipelago by formalizing a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.”
Emphasizing the historical significance of their relations, Xi conveyed, “China and the Maldives’ relations are facing a historic opportunity to carry forward the past and forge ahead into the future.” This move comes in the aftermath of Muizzu’s electoral victory, where his campaign prominently portrayed India, China’s regional rival, as a threat to Maldives’ sovereignty.
President Muizzu, who assumed office in November, has pursued a stance characterized by distancing from India, prompting the relocation of numerous Indian military personnel while simultaneously expressing openness to Chinese investments, despite substantial indebtedness to Beijing. The strained relations between India and China, exacerbated by a deadly clash in the western Himalayas in June 2020, have created geopolitical shifts in the region, with Sri Lanka already aligning itself more closely with China.
The upgrading of diplomatic ties between China and the Maldives is seen as a strategic move by Beijing, positioning itself for further investments in a region where India traditionally held influence. During the discussions, Muizzu expressed gratitude for China’s role in the Maldives’ economic success and infrastructure development. The presidential office’s statement highlighted the signing of “20 key agreements” between the two nations.
It is worth noting that the Maldives carries a substantial debt burden, with $1.37 billion owed to China, constituting around 20% of its public debt, according to World Bank data. Chinese investments in the Maldives have also amounted to $1.37 billion since the country joined the Belt and Road Initiative in 2014.
President Xi, as reported by state media, affirmed China’s support for the Maldives in safeguarding its national sovereignty and independence. The willingness to “exchange experience of state governance” underscores China’s commitment to fostering closer ties with Male, the capital of the Maldives.
The World Bank, in an October development report on the Maldives, cautioned against excessive reliance on China, citing a potential “build-up of sovereign exposure” during the pandemic and a “lack of domestic investment opportunities.” Despite these concerns, Xi expressed support for increasing direct flights between China and the Maldives, a move that could significantly benefit the Maldives’ travel and tourism sector, which accounted for 79% of economic growth in 2022, according to the Asian Development Bank.