Chinese tourism minister to attend Maldivian president-elect oath ceremony
China has debuted its Tourism and Culture Minister Luo Shugang as the special envoy of President Xi Jinping to attend the swearing-in-ceremony of the Maldives' President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in Male on November 17.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also due to attend the ceremony which marks the end of the term of current President Abdulla Yameen whose pro-China policies, including promoting heavy Chinese investments in the strategically- located archipelago in the Indian Ocean, sparked concerns in India, the US and European countries.
At the invitation of the Maldivian government, Luo will travel to the Maldivian capital Male from November 15-19 to attend the inauguration of President-elect Solih as a special envoy of President Xi, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said here on Tuesday.
Over 120,000 Chinese tourists, the most from any country, have visited the Maldivian archipelago composed of 26 ring-shaped atolls which are part of numerous islands.
The fall of Yameen and the election of Solih has set off concerns in China, especially about the safety of massive Chinese investments as he is expected to pursue a more balanced foreign policy while resetting Male's damaged ties with New Delhi.
Much to the chagrin of India, the Maldives also signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China during Yameen's rule though it is yet to be implemented.
Xi has already greeted Solih and the Chinese foreign ministry earlier said the new Maldivian leader has assured China's Ambassador in Male, Zhang Lizhong, of improving bilateral ties when he called on him soon after the election.
"He (Solih) said that the new government will stay committed to enhancing ties with China following the already signed cooperation agreements and continue to implement the existing cooperation projects and continue to explore cooperation in more areas such as infrastructure, livelihood and tourism so as to move forward our bilateral ties," Luo told the media here last month.
China's big investments, including the building of bridges and airports totalling over USD 1.5 billion, also caused concerns about the rising debt levels of the small island nation similar to the case of neighbouring Sri Lanka which also received huge Chinese loans but ended up mortgaging its Hambantota port on a 99-year lease as a debt swap.
A series of anti-India actions by Yameen including asking New Delhi to remove its naval helicopters sparked speculation about the likely establishment of a Chinese naval base in the Maldives, though both countries have denied such a move.
(With inputs from agencies.)