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Maldives will be pragmatic in seeking trade ties with China: expert

People visit the Maldives pavilion during the fourth China-South Asia Expo in Kunming, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province in 2016. Photo: VCG

For the good of its development, the Maldives’ new government will be pragmatic and make the right choice of seeking a closer free trade relationship with China, an expert said on Tuesday.

The comment was made after a Reuters report said that the Maldives’ new government will pull out of a free trade agreement (FTA) with China.

“The free trade agreement is mutually beneficial, and it was based on friendly and equal consultations. We believe the Maldives will make the correct choice,” Geng Shuang, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told a press conference on Tuesday.

The FTA was signed by former President Abdullah Yameen of the Maldives during a visit to Beijing in December 2017.

Long Xingchun, an associate professor at China West Normal University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that it’s common that the Maldives will change its foreign policy when a leadership transition occurs. However, the new government will maintain the relationship with China for the good of its economic development, since it needs China in terms of commodity trade and building of new infrastructure.

The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, which was built and largely funded by China, is the latest example of the two countries’ commitment to further strengthening bilateral ties and cooperation and setting a global example of how countries of different sizes should treat each other with respect.

The project, which has an estimated investment of 1.26 billion yuan ($184.44 million), was largely funded by China through direct aid and discount loans to the Maldives, which together account for 91.8 per cent of the total investment.

Long further noted that in terms of bilateral trade, China and the Maldives have quite complementary structures. China mainly exports goods that the island nation can barely produce on its own, and China is the largest source of tourists to the Maldives every year.

“The trade imbalance between China and the Maldives is so huge that nobody would think of an FTA between such parties, China is not buying anything from us. It is a one-way treaty,” Reuters reported, citing Mohamed Nasheed, the chief of Maldivian Democratic Party.

“Overall, the two have an equal and mutually beneficial relationship, and there is nothing unfair in this relationship,” Long said.

Because the Maldives is located in the Indian Ocean, “it’s understandable that the new government will try to maintain a good relationship with India, but that won’t be a reason to hinder its relationship with China,” Long said.

China will continue to deepen pragmatic cooperation with the Maldives, and will firmly maintain positive bilateral relations, Geng said.

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