Over the National Day holidays, I visited Hohhot in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region with my family. While on the road we met a group of Chinese people and they were curious to know where we were from. I told them that we came from the Maldives. Their faces lit up. With huge smiles, they told us Maldives is a very beautiful country and that they wished to go there.
This is a familiar encounter in many of the cities and towns that I have visited in China over the past two and a half years. From Kunming to Shenyang and from Manzhouli to Haikou, the name “Maldives” brings big smiles to people’s faces. As Maldives and China celebrate the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations on October 14, the greatest happiness for me as the Maldives Ambassador to China is to know that wherever you go in China, Maldives is a name recognized and loved by all.
Maldives and China signed an historic agreement 45 years ago to establish diplomatic relations and enter a bilateral relationship based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. The story of the friendship is an example of how a small and big country can enter and sustain a journey of win-win cooperation and common development.
The strong ties of bilateral relations entered a new phase in 2014 when President Xi Jinping made a historic state visit to the Maldives. This was the first such visit by a Chinese president. President Abdulla Yameen also made two visits to China in 2014 and 2015. Maldives-China relations entered a golden era as a result of these visits. During President Xi’s visit, several agreements were signed that heralded a new era of development cooperation between our two countries. The construction of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge project and the expansion of Velana International Airport are two key projects showcasing this new era of cooperation. This year we have also successfully concluded negotiations on a free trade agreement between Maldives and China. The signing of the agreement will raise our commercial and economic cooperation to a new level.
Maldives’ contacts with China go back at least 1,300 years, perhaps even further. China was known in ancient Maldives as Seenu Kara: Seenu, meaning Chinese, and Kara, meaning a large country. Today, hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors arrive at Maldives shores as tourists, creating a vital link in the long evolving and strengthening ties between the peoples of the two countries. Tourism has linked our peoples, creating vital people-to-people connections that continue to enhance the trust and amity between the two countries.
As we celebrate today, we look towards the future with hope and expectation. I have no doubt that the foundations of friendship laid by our leaders, which have been continuously enhanced through solid and pragmatic cooperation and driven by the people of our two countries, will bring mutual benefits and open up new vistas of cooperation, bilaterally and multilaterally, that will stand the test.
The author is the Maldives Ambassador to China