'Don't single out China for blame', Amb hits-back at Nasheed over debt row

Maldives speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed's attempt to single out China for blame diverts focus from the true debt issues facing island nation, Chinese Ambassador to Maldives Zhang Lizhong said Tuesday.

The archipelago, under the former government had amassed massive debt - owed principally to China to fund major infrastructure projects including the stunning over-water bridge linking the capital Male to the reclaimed suburb Hulhumale via the airport island.

Finance ministry data show that soverign guaranteed loans to companies amount to over USD900 million, on top of the USD600 million directly owed to Beijing by the Maldives government.

The change in government last November had thrown Sino-Maldives relations under intense scrutiny dogged by allegations of inflated investment contracts to Chinese companies.

Nasheed has brazenly become the vanguard of the accusations, engaging in a war of words with the Ambassador several times in recent months. The former president has also likened China to the East India Trading Company accusing Beijing of pushing Maldives into a "dept trap".

During an exclusive interview with AVAS, the Chinese envoy dismissed the allegations insisting that a debt crisis in Maldives would also hurt China.

"Debt sustainability is not only a concern of the Maldives side, but also a concern of the Chinese side. We don't want to see Maldives in debt crisis. It’s not good for Maldives and not good for our side," Lizhong said.

"It doesn't help to single out China for blame. Because China is an important development partner for the Maldives. We have made our contributions to the development of Maldives. Our relationship is based on mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual benefit."

The Ambassador also insisted that China was only one of Maldives' many development partners and blaming China does not help the island nation to tackle its debt issues.

"This will divert attention from the real issues by blaming China with some inflated numbers. Because China is just one of Maldives' development partners. Maldives has debt from different countries and international organizations," the envoy noted adding that the debt issues should not be politicized or exaggerated.

Lizhong revealed that he had made attempts to resolve the dispute with Nasheed and noted "positive" discussions with the former president during two separate sit-downs.

"We have exchanged views on a number of issues relating to our relations. And I can tell you that Mr. Nasheed has given many positive remarks on our relations on tourism, investment, climate change and solar energy. He gave me the impression that he is supportive of this relationship," the ambassador revealed.

He also pointed out that China had assisted several development projects during Nasheed's presidency between 2008 and 2012 before he controversially stepped down on the back of a police mutiny.

"He [Nasheed] has made his contribution to the relationship between China and Maldives and I sincerely hope he could continue to do so. I would say that if Mr. Speaker can publicly clarify his positions on these friendly and beneficial relationships, it would help the public understand the things better," he added.

The Ambassador also allayed concerns of strained bilateral relations between the countries insisting that the top brass of both governments remained in constant dialogue to further cooperation.

"We understand that Maldives is a small economy and vulnerable to huge loans. What China wants for Maldives is sustainable development. What China is looking to do is encouraging more investment which does not increase your debt while continuing to provide assistance according to Maldives' needs. It is not our policy to force any country to accept conditions they do not like," he said adding that Beijing would continue to assist socioeconomic development in the Maldives.