'China-Maldives friendship is an example to the world'

Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has stated that the friendship between Maldives and China is an example of friendship between small and big countries in the international community.

In an interview to Chinese media 'Xinhua News Agency', Minister Shahid said the friendship between Maldives and China is "an example of how one of the smallest members of the international community can have a mutually productive and progressive relationship with one of its biggest and most powerful members".

The Minister said the friendship between the two countries is built on a strong foundation of historical ties and sovereign equality and mutual respect for territorial integrity.

Minister Shahid assured that the government of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is committed to ensuring that the already strong relations between the two countries are further enhanced new heights.

"The heightened cooperation between our two countries has indeed been mutually beneficial to our peoples. China will remain as an important economic and bilateral development partner for the Maldives, in its journey to become one of the most vibrant middle-income developing countries", said the Minister.

Minister Shahid further stated that the Maldivian people have benefited immensely from the assistance provided by the Chinese government and are appreciative of the key developmental projects such as the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, the second runway of Velana International Airport and the several housing projects.

Noting Maldives Economic Minister Fayyaz Ismail's high-level participation in the recent Belt and Road Forum held in China, the Foreign Minister said Maldives is a close partner and supporter of their Belt and Road Initiative.

Speaking on the tourism cooperation between the two countries, Minister Shahid said in the interview that China is the biggest market for tourism in the Maldives for the past decade.

The latest statistics reveal that during the first quarter of the year, 95,272 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives, accounting for 14.7 percent of the overall foreign tourists, he added.

According to Xinhua News Agency, Minister Shahid said the Maldives will continue to work with the government of China to attract and encourage Chinese investments to the Maldives and engage in mutually beneficial development partnerships that conforms to the common principles of both countries.

The minister's acclamation on the relationship between Maldives and China comes after a recent exchange between Speaker of the parliament Mohamed Nasheed and Chinese ambassador to the Maldives Zhang Lizhong over the debt owed to China by the Maldives government.

Nasheed had stated that the Maldivian government owes over US$ 3.4 billion to different Chinese companies and proposed to allocate 15% of the national budget for the loan repayment.

Responding to Nasheed, Ambassador Zhang said while the Sinamale' Bridge project cost US$ 200 million, the Maldivian government has to repay only 50% of the loan as large percentage of the remainder was funded under Chinese grant aid.

"Maldivian government has to pay back US$ 100 million only, which is half of the project cost, spread over a 20 year period after completing a five year grace period." Ambassador Zhang said.