Maldives' President Muizzu urges China to send more tourists after backlash from India

Muizzu's appeal comes amid a diplomatic row following derogatory remarks made by some Maldivian ministers against Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu (pictured) included among his election promises the eviction of Indian military personnel from his country—and upheld it in 2023 (photo: @Sangu_TV/X)
Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu (pictured) included among his election promises the eviction of Indian military personnel from his country—and upheld it in 2023 (photo: @Sangu_TV/X)
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PTI

Maldivian president Mohamed Muizzu on Tuesday, 9 January, appealed to China to "intensify" efforts to send more tourists to his country.

This came amid an alleged spate of reservation cancellations by Indian tourists after a diplomatic row erupted over certain derogatory remarks made by some Maldives ministers about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On the second day of his five-day state visit to China, Muizzu in his address to the Maldives Business Forum in Fujian province termed China one of the island nation's close allies.

"China remains one of our closest allies and development partners," he said.

He praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects launched by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2014, saying that they "delivered the most significant infrastructure projects witnessed in Maldivian history".

He urged China to bolster the flow of tourists to the Maldives too.

'China was our (Maldives') number one market pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position,' according to a readout posted on his official website.

Maldivian media also reported that the two countries have signed a $50 million project to develop an integrated tourism zone in the Indian Ocean island.

Muizzu's appeal for more Chinese tourists came amid a diplomatic row with India, following the derogatory remarks by some Maldivian ministers against Prime Minister Modi after he posted a video of himself on a pristine beach during his recent visit to Lakshadweep.

Muizzu's government suspended three deputy ministers for their derogatory posts on social media.

Also, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) strongly condemned the derogatory comments.

According to data released by the Maldives tourism ministry earlier, India has remained the largest tourist market for the country in 2023.

The highest number of visitors to the Maldives were from India, with 209,198 arrivals, followed closely by Russia in second place with 209,146 arrivals and China in third place with 187,118 arrivals.

In 2022 too, India was Maldives' top tourism market, with 240,000 arrivals. Russia followed in second place with 198,000 tourists and Britain ranked third with over 177,000 arrivals.


Before the coronavirus pandemic, China held the top spot, with over 2.80 lakh tourists visiting Maldives, but it is currently struggling to revive its domestic and foreign tourism due to a nearly four-year lockdown policy and the continued slowdown of its economy.

As a result, Chinese tourists who travelled abroad for holidays in millions pre-pandemic are now restricting themselves, given the economic slowdown.

Regarded as a pro-China politician in the Maldives, Muizzu told the Forum that his administration is focused on diversifying Maldives' economic base and ensuring economic security while continuing to strengthen and drive the tourism industry and boost visitor numbers.

He also said that his administration is committed to the quick implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed with China, describing it as a symbol of the close commercial ties between the two countries.

Maldives and China signed the FTA in December 2014 during the pro-China president Abdulla Yameen's administration. However, his successor, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, did not implement the agreement, according to Maldives media reports.

Muizzu, however, said the FTA is a symbol of the close commercial ties between the two countries.

"The FTA's aim to boost bilateral trade and investments, especially increasing our export of fish products to China is a key priority for us through the FTA," he said.

China–Maldives bilateral trade in 2022 totalled $451.29 million, of which China's exports constituted $451.29 million, against $60,000 of exports from Maldives.

Muizzu also sought investments from Chinese companies for 11 projects at the Maldives Investment Forum. These projects include the relocation of the Male commercial port to Thilafushi, the Velana International Airport development project, the construction of 15 more airports, and the expansion of its SEZ, the Maldives web portal edition.mv reported.

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