China on Saturday pledged $63 million in grants to Maldives for infrastructure projects, in a bid to deepen cooperation between the two countries.
The grant is among several agreements signed by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi during a visit to the island nation on a tour that began in Kenya and continued to Sri Lanka.
Wang met Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his counterpart Abdulla Shahid. His visit was part of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the Maldives.
The foreign minister offered the Maldives infrastructure maintenance, medical aid and visa concessions as Beijing moved to strengthen its connections with the strategically placed Indian Ocean archipelago.
The Maldivian foreign ministry said a mutual visa exemption agreement was signed during the Wang’s visit to the capital Male.
Wang “witnessed the signing of a number of key agreements on important areas such as infrastructure development, health, and travel”, the ministry said.
Maintenance for Key Bridge
It gave no details of the agreements, but said one was for the maintenance of the $200-million China-Maldives Friendship Bridge linking Male with the airport island of Hulhule, which was commissioned in 2018.
China will also give an unspecified amount of medical aid to the Maldives, the ministry said.
Regional superpower India offered $500 million in 2020 to build bridges and causeways in the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered across the equator.
The country is also strategically located, straddling key east-west international shipping routes.
After talks with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the Chinese minister was due to fly to neighbouring Sri Lanka on the final leg of his first foreign tour of 2022, which has took him to Kenya, Eritrea and the Comoros.
The Maldives was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but was one of the first to reopen its international borders to tourists in July 2020.
Maldivians will be able to travel to China visa free and stay for 30 days after the virus restrictions are relaxed, the foreign ministry said.
• AFP and Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard