By Priti Naik
Marking 50 years of diplomatic relations, Maldives and China on Saturday signed major bilateral agreements during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit. The agreements were focused on development and maintaining infrastructure in the Indian Ocean and also agreeing on visa-free travel arrangement for Maldivians intending to travel to China.
Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and his Chinese counterpart unveiled a special official logo to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between the countries. The visa-waiver agreement would allow the Maldivians to travel to China on 30-day visa free basis once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. The two countries signed an agreement on ‘Economic and Technical Cooperation’ on grant aid, focusing on social, livelihood, and infrastructure projects. Maldives signed a ‘Letter of Exchange’ on a ‘Feasibility Study of Management and Maintenance of China-Maldives Friendship Bridge’, for Chinese assistance in maintaining the 1.4-km bridge connecting capital Male with the island of Hulhumale. This bridge is considered China’s flagship project and is built with $200 million Chinese assistance in Maldives.
China also agreed to back a sea-water desalination project and cooperate in the health sector. Foreign Minister Wang’s visit to Maldives is regarded as one of “great significance to the future development of our bilateral relations”.
China’s visit to Maldives will be closely watched by India as the latter has great bilateral relations with Maldives government openly pursues an ‘India First’ foreign policy. India has committed $1.4 billion for the development in the island nation that is home to about 5.5 lakh people.
Maldives has described China as “one of the most important development partners” and has also said that China “has continued to contribute to the socio-economic development” of the Maldives. The Foreign Ministers also discussed “strengthening the many areas of cooperation” during official talks.