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Muizzu's visit: Giving new boost to China-Maldives relations

Imran Khalid

The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge in the Maldives, August 28, 2019. /Xinhua
The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge in the Maldives, August 28, 2019. /Xinhua

The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge in the Maldives, August 28, 2019. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Imran Khalid, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a freelance columnist on international affairs. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The state visit of Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu to China signifies a pivotal moment in bilateral relations. As the inaugural foreign head of state welcomed by China in the new year, Muizzu's visit carries significant weight, poised to usher in a fresh era of cooperation.

Both Beijing and Male view this diplomatic encounter with anticipation, seeking not just economic pacts but also cultural and ecological collaborations. This visit represents a strategic juncture, promising a renewed synergy between two nations eager to navigate the complexities of modern geopolitics hand in hand. The crux of this narrative lies in the nuanced dance of mutual respect and ambition between China and the Maldives.

Over the past half-century, since the inception of their diplomatic ties, both nations have fostered a paradigm of cooperation that underscores the possibilities inherent in a symbiotic relationship between a major power and a smaller nation. Chinese President Xi Jinping's 2014 state visit was seminal, laying the groundwork for a future-oriented partnership that transcended transactional exchanges. This vision has borne tangible fruit, with bilateral trade surging to $451.35 million in 2022 – a testament to the vitality of their economic collaboration. Beyond trade, the Maldives has emerged as a preferred destination for Chinese tourists, underlining the multifaceted nature of their engagement.

The mutual visa-free policy further amplifies this bond, facilitating people-to-people exchanges. Notably, Chinese enterprises have been pivotal in bolstering the Maldives' infrastructural landscape, spanning social housing, new energy initiatives, and waste management solutions. Such endeavors epitomize the Belt and Road cooperation's ethos, encapsulating China's commitment to fostering sustainable development across its partner nations.

The Maldives' geopolitical choices, particularly under President Muizzu, have stirred a whirlwind of speculation and misinterpretation in Western and Indian media. Western and Indian perspectives often paint the Maldives as a geopolitical prize, conveniently overlooking its distinct national interests and aspirations. The notion that the Maldives must choose between India and China is not only simplistic but also reflects a patronizing attitude that undermines the nation's sovereignty. As Muizzu himself has articulated, the Maldives seeks to engage with all nations on its own terms, without being ensnared in the machinations of larger powers.

A bridge built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) in Hulhumale, Maldives, March 30, 2022. /CFP
A bridge built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) in Hulhumale, Maldives, March 30, 2022. /CFP

A bridge built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) in Hulhumale, Maldives, March 30, 2022. /CFP

China's foreign policy approach is anchored in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, emphasizing mutual respect, non-interference and sovereign equality. Beijing's stance resonates with a genuine commitment to fostering partnerships based on shared interests rather than strategic opportunism. The Maldives' engagement with China should be viewed through a lens of mutual respect and strategic alignment, rather than through the narrow confines of geopolitical rivalry. It is high time the international community recognized and respected the Maldives' pragmatic approach to diplomacy, unshackled from the outdated binaries of Cold War-era geopolitics. Beijing champions an inclusive approach, devoid of imposed alliances or third-party stipulations.

China's partnership with the Maldives has blossomed through strategic initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Noteworthy collaborations, including the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, a Hulhumale housing project, and an airport expansion, stand as testament to mutual growth and infrastructure development. Such endeavors resonate beyond mere construction; they embody China's commitment to fostering genuine camaraderie, prioritizing the well-being of the Maldivian populace. Amid global flux, Beijing's approach exemplifies a harmonious blend of regional cooperation and shared prosperity, echoing its broader vision for interconnected, thriving communities along the BRI.

China-Maldives relations exemplify a pragmatic approach. China's approach, marked by equitable treatment and symbiotic cooperation, exemplifies a constructive model for interactions. This dynamic showcases a model of equitable engagement, debunking the notion that size determines diplomatic significance. Such state-to-state interactions, rooted in mutual benefit, offer a template not only for the prosperity of both nations but also as a blueprint for others aspiring to cultivate healthy diplomatic ties. 

This nuanced, respectful diplomatic blueprint extends beyond rhetoric, establishing a precedent for genuine collaboration in international relations, transcending traditional power dynamics for the greater good of nations seeking normalized diplomatic relations. The China-Maldives relationship serves as a microcosm of Beijing's broader diplomatic strategy – one rooted in shared prosperity, mutual respect, and strategic collaboration.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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