Maldives president to visit Japan, China

Colombo, Jan 22: Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Wednesday said he is planning a visit to China within the next few months to promote bilateral relations between the two countries.

Yameen, who is currently on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka, told reporters that his next official state visits will be to China and Japan and are likely to take place in February or March, Xinhua reported.

Responding to questions, Yameen said the international community, including China and India, have responded positively to his appointment as president and he looked forward to strengthening relations with countries on an “equal footing”.

“In the next month or two, there is an upcoming trip to Japan and hopefully very soon a visit to China as well and also to some of the Arab countries. But presently to Japan, China, very shortly,” he said.

Tourist arrivals from China to the sunny shores of Maldives have boomed in recent years accounting for about a quarter of the total of one million travellers that annually come to the Indian Ocean group of islands.

Yameen added that as many as 10 Chinese companies have expressed interest in constructing a bridge connecting the Maldives’ main international airport to the capital city Male. In total, 19 companies have sent applications to date.

China has also expressed interest in increasing investment in infrastructure and other sectors as well.

Yameen noted that his government would not at present consider an agreement that could enable the US to set up a military base in the country.

In early 2013, the US reportedly began talks with the previous Maldives government to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would include troop presence and the potential establishment of a US military base, local media reported.

The possibility created much controversy before being put on the backburner by subsequent elections that saw Yameen come into power in November 2013.

Security and other matters regarding the Indian Ocean will be negotiated with India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Yameen added.

Recalling his recent visit to India, Yameen noted that the Maldives now has “exceptional” relations with that country and said he would work to make them even better.

“Putting the country on a more economically sound footing is my main focus and I believe that all the Maldivian people are behind me on this,” he said while acknowledging that the recent presidential elections polarised sections of the population.

“I have no intention of going after the opposition politicians like the previous government and they also seem quite content,” he added.