Xi congratulates Mohamed Muizzu on his election as Maldives president; ‘new progress’ expected in BRI cooperation, experts say
Published: Oct 03, 2023 05:00 PM
Mohamed Muizzu speaks with supporters in Male, Maldives, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. Photo: VCG

Mohamed Muizzu speaks with supporters in Male, Maldives, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. Photo: VCG

Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Mohamed Muizzu on Tuesday on his election as Maldives president, saying that China and the Maldives have a long history of friendly exchanges. China and Maldives are not only friends who sincerely trust each other and help each other, but also partners who work together for development and common prosperity, Xi said. 

Xi said he attaches great importance to the development of China-Maldives relations and is willing to work with president-elect Muizzu to carry forward traditional friendship, deepen practical cooperation, and promote the future-oriented comprehensive friendly cooperative partnership between the two countries to continuously achieve new progress.

Some Chinese experts said compared to the Maldives-China relations under the pro-India incumbent presidency, future bilateral ties will surely advance, especially cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, as a small country, the Maldives is unlikely to take sides in its diplomatic stance, but will continue taking a balancing approach between the major countries. 

Maldives opposition candidate Muizzu, who is widely described as a local politician who supports closer ties between the South Asian country and China, won the presidential runoff on Saturday with more than 53 percent of the vote, according to media reports. 

As a small country with a relatively fragile economic foundation, the Maldives has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. India, given its own COVID-19 situation and economic capacity, faces challenges in effectively assisting Maldives in economic recovery, Tian Guangqiang, an assistant research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

“Maldivian voters are eager for economic improvements, especially in their crucial tourism industry. In this regard, it appears that India may lack the capability to provide the necessary support, while China could contribute to their economic development,” Tian said. 

During an official visit of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Maldives in January 2022, he said that facts have shown that the joint construction of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road by China and the Maldives serves the common interests of the two peoples. For example, the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge is a landmark project in the cooperation under the BRI between our two countries. 

Muizzu will basically carry on the China policy of the former president Abdulla Yameen, which is to balance between developing relations with India while enhancing cooperation with China. The facts have proven that during the presidency of Yameen, the China-Maldives cooperation has yielded fruitful results including the projects such as the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge and other infrastructure projects which have laid a solid foundation for the local development, Long Xingchun, a professor at the School of International Relations at Sichuan International Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

“It’s natural that Maldives will embrace the BRI [under the new presidency],” Long said, noting that the BRI has brought a lot of opportunities for the country in the past, and the new president will enhance such cooperation during his tenure. 

However, some Western and Indian commentators have closely observed the election, and described Muizzu’s winning as a “serious blow” to India “in its geopolitical rivalry with China in the India Ocean region.”

Muizzu said he will stick to his campaign promise to remove Indian military personnel stationed in the archipelago state, promising he would initiate the process, the AP reported on Tuesday. 

“Such speculation is typical of a Western mindset of binary thinking of either-or. But as a small country, Maldives needs to cooperate with countries worldwide, especially with its closer neighbors like China and India, which is not contradictory,” Long said. 

Whether it's India or Western countries, they should have a healthy mindset and respect Maldives' diplomacy, respecting Maldives' relationships with countries around the world, including China, the expert said. 

Under the presidency of Muizzu, some BRI projects will be launched, which will focus more on quality rather than quantity, prioritizing smaller but more targeted ones that offer better value for investment, some experts said. 

“Also, the Maldives government and people will take into account their own economic capacity and focus on improving projects related to the tourism industry,” Tian said, who also believes that the future cooperation between China and Maldives may include visa facilitation, agricultural trade, and infrastructure development.