The following is an op-ed by the Chinese embassy in Maldives.
In the rich tapestry of international diplomacy, China and the Maldives stand as an enduring testament to friendship. Spanning over half a century, our diplomatic relations have been interwoven with threads of mutual respect, equality, and unwavering support, crafting an unparalleled model of cooperative synergy between nations with distinct systems and cultures. As the Maldives joins hands in the construction of the "Belt and Road," our partnership has forged "five links" grounded in the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits. These links have woven mutual trust, economic convergence, and cultural inclusiveness into the fabric of our relationship.
In September 2014, President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to the Maldives, which is the first time for the head of state of China visited the Maldives. In July 2021, President Xi Jinping engaged in a phone conversation with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and reached significant consensus on deepening and expanding exchanges and cooperation across various fields, charting the course for the development of China-Maldives relations. In January 2022, then-Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi's successful visit to the Maldives elevated relations between our two countries to new heights. In April 2023, a delegation from the China International Development Cooperation Agency visited the Maldives and signed the "Memorandum of Understanding on the China-Maldives Development Cooperation Plan (2023-2025)" and other cooperation agreements, promoting cooperation between China and the Maldives under the Global Development Initiatives. Concurrently, both sides successfully hosted a "Belt and Road" business forum in 2022 to enhance Chinese companies' understanding of Maldives’ investment policies.
The 2-kilometer China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, a flagship project under China's “Belt and Road initiative”, represents the first cross-sea bridge developed in the Maldives. This transformative project not only facilitates travel between different landmasses in the capital area but also brings a multitude of socio-economic benefits. Officially launched in August 2018, this bridge has paved the way for improving the lives of the Maldivian people.
Expansion of Velana International Airport
As the gateway to the Maldives, Velana International Airport plays a pivotal role in the country's economy, serving as a lifeline to its largest economic driver, the tourism sector. The expansion and upgrading project of VIA, also carried out with China's assistance, doubles the airport's capacity and enhances the Maldives' external connectivity capabilities. Executed by BUCG, this project involves the expansion of the west apron of Velana International Airport, the development of a larger runway, and the construction of a new VIP terminal. On 31 January 2022, the new runway of the Velana International Airport was put into use and has upgraded the Velana International Airport from Code-4E to Code-4F. After expansion and upgrading of VIA, 21 aircrafts can land hourly on the new runway as opposed to the 8 flights previously, and VIA can now serve 8.57 million passengers annually whereas only 4.3 million passengers previously. The VIA now has the capacity for 121000 tons of cargo compared to the previous 65000 tons, and its fuel capacity has increased from 15 million litres to 45 million litres. The introduction of direct flights by Capital Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines between China and Malé has significantly promoted tourism and economic development in the Maldives.
China has actively supported several housing projects in the Maldives. Since 2010, the Chinese government has assisted the Maldivian government in constructing over 10,000 housing units, greatly improving the living conditions of thousands of families.
Hulhumale Phase-II represents the continuation of the China-Maldives housing project initiated in 2010. During Phase-I, completed in 2012, China built 1,000 housing units in Hulhumalé. In 2014, the government of the Maldives signed the Hulhumale Phase-II agreement with China, constructing 1,500 housing units. In March 2018，the Housing Project Phase III in Hulhumalé, providing 1344 housing units and parking facilities, was commenced and has completed now. In March 2020, the 7000 housing project, know as Hiyaa Flats and constructed by CSCEC, was completed, providing 7000 housing units with 16 buildings in Hulhumalé. All the housing projects benefit thousands of Maldivians.
Notable projects undertaken by China in the Maldives include the Laamu Link Road project. Initiated in 2014, this project involved the development of a 16.5-kilometer-long link road that connected four islands in Laamu, including Fonadhoo, Kadhdhoo, Maandhoo, and Gan. The project was successfully completed, and the road opened in 2016.
China's assistance to the Maldives extends to various sectors. In 2014, China generously gifted the Maldives with 200 trash cans valued at $31,525 to bolster waste management and environmental protection. China continued its support by collaborating with 25 countries, including the Maldives, to launch the 'BRI International Green Development Coalition' during the 2019 Belt and Road Forum. China also aided the Maldives in combating COVID-19 by donating 200,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses. The Maldives expressed its gratitude for China's role in achieving an 80% vaccination rate. To foster cultural ties, China gifted cultural items in 2014 and supported the establishment of the China-Maldivian Cultural Association (CMCA). The CMCA facilitates cultural exchanges and sponsors Maldivian students to study in Chinese universities, promoting bilateral cooperation across various fields.
In recent years, China-Maldives bilateral trade has flourished, with trade volume steadily increasing. In 2022, bilateral trade between China and the Maldives reached $451 million, marking a year-on-year increase of 10.1%. China and the Maldives have reached an agreement on the China-Maldives Free Trade Agreement, which is currently awaiting approval by the Maldivian side. The implementation of this agreement will help remove trade barriers and reduce trade costs.
In recent years, people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and the Maldives have continued to strengthen. Both sides have established language and culture courses for each other. The Chinese table tennis team has visited the Maldives for coaching on multiple occasions. The Chinese-aided eye center in Hulhumale hospital has provided much-needed assistance to local patients. The training programs offered by China have not only imparted professional knowledge but also deepened the Maldivian people's understanding of China. Furthermore, the "China-Maldives Agreement on Mutual Visa Exemption," which took effect at the beginning of this year, will further enhance exchanges and connections between our two nations, fostering stronger people-to-people bonds.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of President Xi Jinping's proposal of the “Belt and Road Initiative”. Both China and the Maldives are eager to collaborate with each other to further bolster practical cooperation and promote the high-quality joint construction of the “Belt and Road” , aiming to achieve even more remarkable results.