BEIJING, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Beijing has recently received the first state visit from a foreign head of state this year, President of the Republic of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu. He highly commended the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at a business forum in east China's Fujian Province, his first stop in China, saying that the Maldives became a BRI partner in 2014. The BRI brought his country the most important infrastructure project in its history.
It is expected the two countries will further deepen BRI cooperation as the two heads of state announced an upgrade of bilateral ties during Muizzu's China visit.
-- Bridge of dream
The previous collaboration with China has greatly contributed to the development of Maldives' infrastructure. For instance, the expansion of upgrading of Velana International Airport in the capital city of Male and the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, the first cross-sea bridge in the Maldives built by a Chinese company, are notable achievements resulting from this partnership.
President Muizzu, who had taken the position as the country's minister of Housing and Infrastructure in July 2018, had witnessed the efforts of Chinese constructors for the bridge construction and praised the bridge, which officially opened in August of 2018, as the archipelagic country's most iconic and transformational project.
This photo taken on Aug. 31, 2019 shows the illuminated China-Maldives Friendship Bridge in Maldives. (Xinhua/Du Cailiang)
He said that the 2-km bridge, connecting the islands of Male and Hulhumale, changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, benefiting both locals and tourists.
Carrying the long-held dreams of Maldivians, the cross-sea bridge has attracted many pedestrians to stop for photos. When celebrating the fifth anniversary of its inauguration, local media said that more than a physical structure, it has changed many people's lives, provided convenience for daily commuting, and created new opportunities for the Maldives.
Hulhumale, connected to Male by the bridge and separated by sea, is a new city built on an artificial island and a key focus of development in the Maldives. After the completion of the bridge, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) has undertaken housing projects in the new city, providing affordable housing for residents moving from the crowded Male. The 4,000 units built by the CMEC in three phases have all been delivered as of June 2023.
Amitha Shaifa, a resident who moved into the China-built housing project, still remembers the time they moved to the new apartment, saying that her family of six are very satisfied with their life now.
-- A tale of tourism and trade
The island country highly expects to further dig up the potential of trade and tourism as President Muizzu chose Fujian Province as his first stop in China, said Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University.
Xiamen's development experience may shed light on cities of the Maldives as it has also quickly become one of the most famous tourist destination countries in the world. President Muizzu may want to draw some experience from Xiamen's development in attracting tourists as China is also a large tourist source of the Maldives, said Qian.
China had remained as the largest source of tourist arrivals in the Maldives for years before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The return of Chinese tourists is expected to help economic recovery of the Maldives following the pandemic. According to Wang Lixin, Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives, in 2023, the Maldives received over 1.87 million foreign tourists, among which 187,000 were Chinese, accounting for 10 percent of the total.
Wang added that tourism is also conducive to promoting cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two sides. There is a growing popularity of learning Chinese now in the Maldives and a dedicated training of tourism Chinese has been available to Maldivians.
It is believed that the China-Maldives mutual visa exemption and more direct flights between the two countries will further facilitate personnel exchanges between the two countries.
Trade is another focus between the China-Maldives ties, as Muizzu stressed the importance of the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) at the business forum in Fujian, noting that increasing aquatic products export to China will be one of the top priorities.
Bilateral trade between China and the Maldives reached nearly 700 million U.S. dollars in the first 11 months of 2023, up 75.2 percent year on year, data from China's Ministry of Commerce (MOC) showed.
The ministry also noted that it will work with the Maldivian counterpart to enhance economic and trade cooperation, and help improve the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries.
(Edited by Li Shimeng with Xinhua Silk Road, firstname.lastname@example.org)