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Maldives to revive bilateral talks with China; resumption of Chinese tourism

The Maldives and China are set to hold the seventh round of the bilateral talks on Tuesday virtually. Both countries will discuss the resumption of trade and tourism and post COVID-19 economic recovery among other issues.

The bilateral consultation between the two countries are being held after a gap of four years, the last one was held in 2017 during the tenure of former President Abdullah Yameen.

“The bilateral consultations will aim to enhance cooperation between the two countries on mutual areas of interest, such as in combating the COVID-19 global pandemic, on economic cooperation and also on multilateral issues.” reads a statement released by the Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday.

The resumption of tourism with China remains among the top issues for the archipelago as China used to be the biggest market for it in the pre-Covid era. Since the pandemic hit the world, China has not yet resumed its international travel. The ban impacted the Maldives’ economic recovery efforts in the second half of the last year. The issue has also been raised with China on various earlier engagements last year.

In the statement, the Maldives said it was interested in “strengthening the development cooperation” between the two nations and looking forward to “discuss future projects and new areas of cooperation.”

“The Government of Maldives is keen on continuing its dialogue with its developmental partners, such as China, as the country embarks on a path of resilience and recovery post-Covid pandemic.” the statement reads.

Earlier in December last year, the two nations had held a  director-general level bilateral consultation. At the time, the Maldives expressed its desire to hold foreign minister-level talks with China. However, the scenario looks unlikely now as the Tuesday talks would be at the deputy foreign minister-level.

Significantly, the Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid also held talks with the Chinese envoy last week.

The Maldives is also likely to discuss the restructuring of its loans taken from Chinese commercial loans. In the post-pandemic situation where its tourism-dependent economy flattened, the country seems unable to fulfil its debt obligations in 2021. The issue, however, didn’t figure in the statement issued by the foreign ministry.

The Maldives walks a tight rope in its relations with two Asian giants, India and China. Earlier, during the tenure of former President Abdullah Yameen, the country strategically tilted towards China,  impacting its ties with India.

Yameen went to the extent of signing a free trade agreement with China in 2017. India reacted sharply to it, and said as a “close and friendly neighbour” India expected the Maldives to be “sensitive to our concern.”

The relation between the two neighbours, however, improved when the new administration under President Ibrahim Mohammad Solih took charge of the Maldives in 2018 and revived close strategic ties with India.

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