China’s President Xi Jinping said he hoped the Maldives would help build a “21st century maritime silk road” as he began a South Asian tour in the strategically located Indian Ocean island chain on Monday.
Xi said he was eager to boost relations with the Maldives, which is best known for its tourist industry but also straddles major international shipping routes.
“Maldives was an important stop of the ancient maritime silk road,” Xi wrote in an article published in the local Sun Online news portal late Sunday.
“China welcomes Maldives to get actively involved in building the 21st century maritime silk road by leveraging its own strength.”
The “maritime silk road” — touted by Xi during a visit to Indonesia last year — is intended to revive a trade route running from China through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean to Europe.
Xi will also visit close ally Sri Lanka as well as India this week on a tour set to focus on China’s growing economic influence in the region.
He is due to hold talks with Maldives President AbdullaYameen after an official welcome ceremony at the Republic Square in the capital island of Male on Sunday.
It is the first visit by a leader from Beijing since the former British protectorate gained independence in 1965, but will be the second meeting between the two leaders in a matter of weeks, following their talks last month in the Chinese city of Nanjing.
“The focus will be on building what they discussed last month,” a source close to Yameen’s government told AFP. “The thrust of the talks will be on trade and aid rather than security.”
The source said the Maldives was keen to avoid upsetting India by bringing up sensitive security issues as New Delhi considers the islands to be within its sphere of influence.
Yameen is keen on securing China’s funding for an ambitious project to build a road bridge between central Male island and nearby Hululle island, where the international airport is located.