New Delhi: Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu on Tuesday appealed to China to “intensify” efforts to send more tourists to his country, amid a spate of cancellation of reservations by Indian tourists after a diplomatic row erupted over the derogatory remarks by his ministers against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Muizzu, who is on a five-day state visit to China, termed China as the island nation’s “closest” ally and praised its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects.
Muizzu said that China “delivered the most significant infrastructure projects witnessed in Maldivian history”. He also said that his administration is committed to the quick implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed with China, describing it as a symbol of the close commercial ties between the two countries.
“China remains one of our closest allies and development partners,” Muizzu said in his address to the Maldives Business Forum in Fujian Province on Tuesday. He urged China to bolster the flow of its tourists to the Maldives, which is heavily dependent on tourism for its economy.
“China was our number one market pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position,” he said, according to a readout posted on his official website.
Muizzu Turns To China Amid Diplomatic Row With India
Muizzu’s appeal for more Chinese tourists came amid a diplomatic row following the derogatory remarks by some Maldivian ministers against Prime Minister Modi after he posted a video of him on a pristine beach during his recent visit to Lakshadweep. Muizzu’s government suspended three deputy ministers for their derogatory posts on social media, while the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) strongly condemned the comments.
According to data released by the Maldives Tourism Ministry earlier, India has remained the largest tourist market for the country in 2023, followed by Russia and China. However, the recent controversy has led to a backlash from Indian tourists, who have cancelled or postponed their bookings to the Maldives.
Meanwhile, China, which held the top spot before COVID, is currently struggling to revive its domestic and foreign tourism due to a nearly four-year lockdown policy and the continued slowdown of its economy. As a result, Chinese tourists who travelled abroad for holidays in millions before COVID are now restricting themselves given the economic slowdown.
Muizzu, who is regarded as a pro-China politician in the Maldives, told the Forum that his administration is focused on diversifying Maldives’ economic base and ensuring economic security while continuing to strengthen and drive the tourism industry and boost visitor numbers.
He also said that his administration is committed to the quick implementation of the FTA signed with China, which aims to boost bilateral trade and investments, especially increasing Maldives’ export of fish products to China. Maldives and China signed the FTA in December 2014 during the pro-China President Abdulla Yameen administration.
However, his successor, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration did not implement the agreement, according to Maldives media reports. China-Maldives bilateral trade in 2022 totalled to USD 451.29 million of which China’s exports constituted USD 451.29 million against USD 60,000 of exports from Maldives.