China offers medical aid, visa concessions to Maldives

MALE, Maldives – China has offered the Maldives infrastructure maintenance, medical aid and visa concessions as Beijing moves to strengthen ties with the strategically placed Indian Ocean archipelago.

The Maldivian Foreign Ministry said a mutual visa waiver agreement was signed during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the capital Male.

“Wang witnessed the signing of a number of key agreements in important areas such as infrastructure development, health and travel,” the ministry said.

He gave no details of the deals, but said one was for the upkeep of the $200 million China-Maldives Friendship Bridge linking Male to the airport island of Hulhule, which was commissioned in 2018.

China will also provide unspecified medical aid to the Maldives, the ministry said.

India’s regional superpower has 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 major east-west international shipping routes.

After talks with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the Chinese minister was due to fly to neighboring Sri Lanka on the final leg of his first overseas tour of 2022, which took him to Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros. . The Maldives has been hit hard 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 without a visa and stay there for 30 days after virus restrictions are relaxed, the foreign ministry said.