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Saturday, April 20 2024

Maldives Seeks Chinese Tourism Boost Amid Indian Criticism

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President Mohamed Muizzu of the Maldives made an appeal to China on Tuesday to “intensify” its efforts to bring more tourists to his nation, following a wave of Indian travelers canceling reservations due to a diplomatic spat sparked by his ministers’ disparaging remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Muizzu referred to China as the island nation’s “closest” ally during his speech to the Maldives Business Forum in Fujian Province on Tuesday, the second day of his five-day state visit to China.

“China remains one of our closest allies and development partners,” he said.

He praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014, saying that they “delivered the most significant infrastructure projects witnessed in Maldivian history”, according to his speech.

He urged China to bolster the flow of its tourists to the Maldives.

“China was our (Maldives’) number one market pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position,” according to a readout posted on his official website.

According to Maldivian media, the two countries have signed a USD 50 million project aimed at developing an integrated tourism zone on the island in the Indian Ocean.

Calls by Muizzu for more Chinese tourists came at the same time as a diplomatic row broke out over criticism of Prime Minister Modi by some Maldivian ministers following the latter’s upload of a video of himself on a pristine beach during a recent trip to Lakshadweep.

Three deputy ministers were suspended by Muizzu’s government due to their disparaging social media posts.

Also, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) strongly condemned the derogatory comments.

According to data released by the Maldives Tourism Ministry earlier, India has remained the largest tourist market for the country in 2023.

The highest number of visitors to the Maldives were from India, with 209,198 arrivals, followed by Russia in second place with 209,146 arrivals, and China in third place with 187,118 arrivals.

In 2022, India remained the top Maldives tourism market, with 240,000 arrivals. Russia followed closely in second place with 198,000 tourists, and Britain ranked third with over 177,000 arrivals.

Prior to COVID, China ranked first with over 2.80 lakh visitors, but because of a nearly four-year lockdown and ongoing economic slowdown, it is currently having difficulty reviving both domestic and international travel.

Because of the economic downturn, Chinese tourists who traveled abroad for vacation in their millions prior to COVID are now making travel restrictions.

Muizzu, who is seen as a pro-China politician in the Maldives, informed the Forum that his administration’s goals are to diversify the Maldives’ economy, maintain economic security, and grow the travel and tourism sector while also increasing the number of tourists.

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.

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.

The FTA, according to him, is a representation of the close economic relations between the two nations.

“The FTA’s aim to boost bilateral trade and investments, especially increasing our export of fish products to China is a key priority for us through the FTA,” he stated.

The bilateral trade between China and the Maldives in 2022 amounted to USD 451.29 million, of which USD 451.29 million came from Chinese exports and USD 60,000 from Maldivian exports.

At the Maldives Investment Forum, Muizzu also asked Chinese businesses to invest in 11 of its projects.

Read More

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