Xi backs economic growth in Maldives

Updated: 2014-09-16 07:01

By Wu Jiao in Male and Zhao Shengnan in Beijing(China Daily USA)

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The picturesque Maldives, with its stunning scenery and turquoise waters, has long had a hold on the imagination of Chinese people, and the growing links between the countries will take on a more substantial form with a range of key infrastructure initiatives.

A housing and a road project involving China was unveiled on Monday, part of a number of infrastructure projects that include building a landmark bridge and upgrading the main airport in the island country.

China will examine the viability of building a bridge linking the capital Male to the nearby island of Hulhule, where Ibrahim Nasir International Airport is located, President Xi Jinping told his Maldives counterpart Abdulla Yameen.

A preliminary contract agreement expanding and upgrading the airport was also signed.

China fully supports enterprises that will drive Maldives' economic development and key projects, Xi said on the first visit by a Chinese state leader to the Maldives.

Yameen said, "At such a crucial juncture of our development, it is indeed a source of major encouragement and inspiration that one of our most constructive economic partners is willing to support our national effort to transform our economy, bring capital, and promote trade and development."

Yameen proposed calling the Male-Hulhule bridge "a bridge of China-Maldives friendship".

Sun Shihai, an expert on South Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said these agreements will upgrade the Maldives' limited infrastructure to boost its backbone tourism industry.

Infrastructure is also an ideal field for China to invest in as the Maldives' market is too small for Chinese goods exports, Sun said.

Tourism accounts for more than a quarter of the country's $2.3 billion economy. The Maldives, which is known as an upmarket destination for well-heeled vacationers, welcomed more than 1 million tourists last year - more than 30 percent of them Chinese.

China has been the biggest source of tourism for the past four years in the Maldives, an island nation scattered across the equator and straddling international shipping routes.

Wang Xu, a researcher on South Asian studies at Peking University, said cooperation with the Maldives, because of its strategic location, could boost Beijing's proposed construction of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Xi also called for a joint committee of economic and trade cooperation to plan for pragmatic cooperation.

The establishment of the committee was announced on Monday and its inaugural meeting is expected this year.

On Tuesday, Xi is due to travel to Sri Lanka before ending his three-nation South Asian tour in India.

Contact the writers at wujiao@chinadaily.com.cn and zhaoshengnan@chinadaily.com.cn


 Xi backs economic growth in Maldives

President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, are welcomed by Maldives President Abdulla Yameen and his wife, Fathimath Ibrahim, in the Maldives capital of Male on Monday. Photo by Agence France-Presse

(China Daily USA 09/16/2014 page4)