Maldives govt denies seeking 'new deal' on China debt

Foreign Ministry has denounced reports in Associated Press (AP) that said the archipelago is looking to restructure its massive debt to China.

Citing Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, AP reported that the debt owed to China has put the Maldives in a difficult situation, and that the government is currently consulting with the Chinese government on restructuring the loans to reach a solution.

Denying the reports, Foreign Ministry on Saturday clarified that the minister in his interview with AP did not state that the Maldives wishes to 'restructure' its debt to China.

Although he did speak about the reckless and irresponsible borrowings of the former regime in the interview, he also expressed his confidence that the Maldives-China relationship was strong enough to resolve any matter between the two countries through dialogue, said Foreign Ministry.

"He also expressed his confidence that Maldives-China relationship is strong and vibrant enough to allow for discussions on all matters of mutual interest and hoped to see the relationship grow to new heights during President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih administration," a tweet posted by the Foreign Ministry read.

Chinese ambassador to Maldives Zhang Lizhong has also expressed concern on the reports, and described the report by AP as 'fake news'. Ambassador Zhang said he has been assured by Foreign Minister Shahid that the report by AP was 'out of context' and 'misquoted'. He was explicitly told by the Foreign Minister that he did not state that the Indian Ocean archipelago wants to 'restructure' its debt to China in the interview, said Ambassador Zhang.

The Maldives debt to China currently totals about $1.5 billion for several infrastructure-related projects such as the construction of the Sinamale' Bridge connecting capital Male' and reclaimed suburbs Hulhumale' with the country's main airport, and large-scale housing projects.

The change in government last November had thrown Sino-Maldives relations under intense scrutiny dogged by allegations of inflated investment contracts to Chinese companies. Although relations between Maldives and long-time ally India were strained during the tenure of former President Abdulla Yameen due to its friendship with the global superpower, the government of President Solih has been maintaining good relations with both China and India.