China offers Maldives medical aid, visa concessions

China on Saturday 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 visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in 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.

It gave no details of the agreements, but said one of them 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 to fly to neighbouring Sri Lanka on the final leg of his first foreign tour of 2022, which has taken him to Eritrea, Kenya 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.