Xi greets Maldives president-elect Solih, hopes to lift ties to new level
Chinese President Xi Jinping has greeted the Maldives President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who defeated pro-China incumbent Abdullah Yameen, raising concern in Beijing over its big investments in the strategically located country in the Indian Ocean.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R); Maldivian president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih
China, which has invested millions of dollars in different projects in the Maldives, is weighing its options in the country as Yameen has been trounced by Solih, widely regarded as a pro-India leader.
State-run Xinhua news agency reported about Xi's congratulatory message to Solih on Sunday after the election commission in the island nation confirmed his win, putting to rest speculation that Yameen plans to dispute election results in a bid to continue in power.
Solih is scheduled to take over power from Yameen on November 17. The long gap for transfer of power raised concerns among Solih's supporters whether Yameen would hand over power smoothly.
Election of Solih has raised anxieties in Beijing over its massive investments as well as the likely strategic shift of the Maldives towards India after Yameen's consistent attempts to burn bridges with New Delhi.
In his message to Solih, Xi said China highly values the development of China-Maldives relations and is willing to join hands with him to lift the comprehensive friendly cooperative partnership between China and Maldives to a new level, the report said.
He said China and Maldives share a longstanding friendship, and China is committed to developing relations with Maldives on the basis of the 'Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence'.
China is willing to work with the Maldives to continue to cement their friendship and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields to better benefit the people of both the countries.
China's big investments including the building of bridges and airport totalling to over USD 1.5 billion also caused worries about the raising debt level of the Maldives as neighbouring Sri Lanka which had also received huge Chinese loans ended up mortgaging its Hambantota port on 99-year lease as a debt swap.
China has established a logistics base at Djibouti in the Indian Ocean and a series anti-India actions by Yameen including asking New Delhi to remove the naval helicopters sparked off speculation about the likely establishment of a similar base in the Maldives.
Yameen also signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China last year though it is yet to become operational.
The FTA was expected to provide major opening for Chinese goods and services in the Maldives.
Last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang slammed Solih's party colleague and former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed for his criticism of the Chinese projects questioning their commercial viability as well as lacking in transparency and democratic procedures.
Nasheed, who is currently exiled in Sri Lanka, is the leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), to which Solih belonged and has in the past accused Beijing of "busy buying up the Maldives" during Yameen's presidency.
Commentaries in the official media attributed Yameen's defeat more to domestic politics than anti-China mood prevailing in the Indian Ocean archipelago.