Noting that the “strategic significance” of China-Maldives relations has become more prominent, the two countries committed to greater strategic cooperation this week, while China said it “firmly opposes” external interference in the internal affairs of the Maldives, according to a joint press communiqué. 

“The two sides agree to elevate China-Maldives relations to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, better leverage the political guidance of high-level engagement, expand practical cooperation between the two countries in various fields, strengthen collaboration on international and multilateral affairs, enhance the well-being of the two peoples, and work towards a China-Maldives community with a shared future,” said the communiqué issued on Thursday, on the penultimate day of Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s five-day state visit to China. 

The move is among many initiatives the two countries announced, including Maldives’ participation in the Global Security Initiative (GSI), following Sri Lanka’s affirmation in October 2023. The two governments agreed to draw up an action plan for building a ‘China-Maldives Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership’ from 2024 to 2028. 

The decisions assume greater significance, a month after the Muizzu government decided to skip the India-led Colombo Security Conclave’s NSA-level meet held in Mauritius in December, while signalling clear shift in Malé, from the predecessor Solih government’s strategic policy of close defence and security cooperation with India and the US. 

President Muizzu’s visit coincides with a diplomatic row between Maldives and India, after three junior Ministers in the Maldives posted controversial remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, referring to his recent trip to Lakshadweep. The social-media posts sparked a strong backlash from Modi’s supporters in India, who launched a Boycott Maldives campaign online, threatening to impact the Indian Ocean archipelago’s crucial tourism sector. While President Muizzu has not commented on the tensions, the deputy ministers in his government have since been suspended. 

Meanwhile, the Maldivian President made a significant pitch for the country’s tourism industry in his ongoing visit, urging Chinese tourists to reclaim their top spot in arrivals, effectively replacing Indian tourists holding the position for the last two years. 

In his meeting with President Xi, the newly elected Maldivian leader hailed the BRI, and said his country looks forward to expanding new channels of cooperation and promote high-quality partnership in the construction of the Belt and Road, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. China said it “respects and supports” Maldives’ “exploration of a development path that suits its national conditions”, and “firmly opposes” external interference in the internal affairs of the Maldives, according to the joint statement. 

Two governments agreed to cooperate — the two leaders presided over the signing of 20 MoUs — in several areas, including blue economy, digital economy, infrastructure development projects linked to the Belt and Road Initiative [BRI], disaster and risk mitigation, and news cooperation, through an MoU between the Public Service Media of the Maldives and the Xinhua news agency of China.