China on Saturday offered the Maldives infrastructure maintenance, medical aid and visa concessions as Beijing prepared to strengthen its ties with the strategically placed archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldivian Foreign Ministry said a mutual visa waiver agreement was signed during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the capital Male.

Wang “has witnessed the signing of a number of key agreements in important areas such as infrastructure development, health and travel,” the ministry said.

He gave no details of the agreements, but said one of them was for the maintenance of the $ 200 million China-Maldives Friendship Bridge connecting Male ‘with the airport island of Hulhule, which was commissioned in 2018.

China will also provide an unspecified amount of medical aid to the Maldives, the ministry said.

The regional superpower India has offered $ 500 million in 2020 to build bridges and causeways in the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered across the equator.

The country is also strategically located, straddling the main international east-west shipping routes.

After talks with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the Chinese minister was due to fly to neighboring Sri Lanka for the last leg of his first overseas tour of 2022, which took him to Eritrea, Kenya and the Comoros .

The Maldives have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic but were one of the first to reopen its international borders to tourists in July 2020.

Maldivians will be able to travel to China visa-free and stay 30 days after restrictions on the virus are eased, the foreign ministry said.

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