Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou departed Sunday night after concluding a three-day official visit to the Maldives for the sixth round of consultations between the Maldives and Chinese foreign ministries.
According to the Maldives foreign ministry, the consultation is a follow-up to the last round that took place in January 2014.
The discussions focused on “cooperation in areas of mutual interest including development cooperation, tourism promotion, human resources development, youth and sports, trade as well as investment cooperation between the two countries,” the foreign ministry said.
Planned events to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the countries was also on the agenda.
During the visit, Xuanyou visited the project site of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge and inspected expansion work at both the Velana International Airport and a China-funded social housing project in Hulhumalé.
He was briefed on the progress of the current administration’s flagship projects. The government in December 2015 had secured a US$373 million concessionary loan from the Chinese EXIM Bank to finance the airport expansion and enlisted China’s Beijing Urban Construction Group to build a new 3.2-kilometre runway, a fuel farm, and a cargo complex.
The US$210 million bridge project was awarded to China’s CCCC Second Harbour Engineering Company, which was blacklisted by the World Bank over fraudulent practices during a road improvement project in the Philippines.
Xuanyou also paid courtesy calls on President Abdulla Yameen and Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim, who hosted an official luncheon in honour of the visiting delegation on Sunday afternoon.
Asim had concluded his first official visit to China in early January, during which he met with the Chinese vice president and foreign minister as well as the presidents of the Chinese EXIM Bank and the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The Maldives is among the 57 founding members of the AIIB, which was formed in October 2014 to fund Asian energy, transport and infrastructure projects and to rival the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, dominated respectively by the US and Japan.
According to the president’s office, Yameen expressed gratitude to the Chinese assistant foreign minister and emphasised that the government “attaches very high importance to its relations with China”.
Xuanyou said the mega projects ongoing with Chinese assistance are “symbolic of the friendly relations between China and the Maldives” and “conveyed assurances of continued assistance from China to the Maldives under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.”
Following the historic visit of Xi Jinping in September 2014, the Maldives had agreed to become a partner in China’s maritime silk route.
Negotiations are also underway for a China-Maldives free trade agreement. Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed told the press on Monday that the government is hopeful of signing the Maldives’ first bilateral free trade deal by June.
The negotiations have concluded successfully and the relevant institutions of both countries are finalising the deal, Saeed told reporters today after inaugurating a two-day training workshop organised by the World Trade Organisation for “enhancing trade negotiation capacity of government officials and other stakeholders”.
Ahead of commencing the bridge project, Yameen had meanwhile noted that said China is now the “number one donor country for infrastructure development in the Maldives.”
In June 2015, Yameen declared that Sino-Maldives relations are at an “all-time high” with the establishment of a cooperative partnership between the countries last year.
One year after assuming office, the president announced that his administration is “looking east” for development partners as economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state posed by “Western colonial powers,”