ISSN 2330-717X

China To Give 30-Day Free Visas To Maldivians – Analysis

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Meant to shore up Maldivian exports to China

China will be giving Maldivians 30-day free visas as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic loses its virulence and travel becomes possible. This is one of the agreements signed by the two countries during the two-day visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the Maldives that ended on Saturday.

Wang Yi and the Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid witnessed the signing of the agreements.   

The pact on Chinese visas is expected to boost bilateral trade, especially, Maldivian exports to China, which have been very small compared to imports from China. According to the UN, in 2019, China’s exports to the Maldives totaled US$ 338 million as against the Maldives’ exports to China which stood at US$ 30.4 million.

Explaining the significance of this visa concession, an editor of the Maldivian Financial Review said that it will help Maldivian traders and exporters to go to China more easily and stay longer to explore or negotiate deals for export or import. “It will also enable Maldivians to visit their loved ones who might be studying in China,” he added.

Apart from the visa agreement, an Economic and Technical Cooperation on Grant Aid focusing on the development of key areas such as social, livelihood, and infrastructure projects was inked. Other pacts inked were a Letter of Exchange on the Feasibility Study of Management and Maintenance of China-Maldives Friendship Bridge”; a “Supplementary Contract to the Implementation Contract for the China Aided Micro-Grid Sea-water Desalination Project in the Maldives”, and an “Agreement on Establishing a Hospital Assistance and Cooperation Programme between the Ministry of Health of the Maldives and the National Health Commission of China.”

A Maldivian government press release said that the agreements signed “will directly benefit the people of Maldives, improving their quality of health services, providing additional outlets for sea water desalination, and by assisting the Government with the maintenance of the flagship China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.”

Prior to the signing ceremony, Abdulla Shahid and Wang Yi held extensive discussions on a host of bilateral and multilateral issues, and agreed to work closely together to address shared interests, to further enhance the close relations between the two countries, the release said.

Minister Shahid thanked the State Councilor Wang and the Chinese government, for the “generous” assistance provided to the Maldives, including the construction of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, the Housing Units in Hulhumale’, and the expansion of the Velana International Airport.

It is significant that all those projects were undertaken by China at the instance of President Abdulla Yameen who was pilloried for being “pro-China” and getting the Maldives into the “Chinese debt trap”. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which was then in the opposition, effectively used this charge, among other charges, to discredit Yameen and defeat him in the Presidential election.    

Coming back to Wang’s visit, Maldivian Foreign Minister Shahid expressed his gratitude for China’s assistance in providing vaccines and other pandemic related medical supplies to the Maldives to combat the community spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Foreign Minister Shahid and State Councilor Wang Yi reiterated that Maldives and China will “increase their cooperation both bilaterally, through economic and development cooperation, health cooperation, in international fora such as the United Nations.”

Wang called on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih before he left for Colombo, where he is to have substantive talks with Sri Lankan leaders on Sunday.  

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P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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