Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is traveling to five countries in Eritrea, Kenya, Comoros Island, Maldives and Sri Lanka

Maldives and China on Saturday signed key bilateral agreements during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on the development and maintenance of infrastructure in the Indian Ocean archipelago, in addition to an agreement on a travel arrangement visa-free for Maldivians intending to travel to China.

Wang arrived in Male on Friday, as part of his trip to five countries in Eritrea, Kenya, the island state of Comoros, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and his Chinese counterpart unveiled a special official logo to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between the countries. Describing China as “one of the most important development partners” of the Maldives, Shahid said China “has continued to contribute to the socio-economic development” of the Maldives. Foreign ministers discussed “strengthening many areas of cooperation” during official talks, according to Shahid’s tweet on Saturday.

A statement released by the Maldivian Foreign Ministry said the visa waiver agreement would allow Maldivians to travel to China visa-free for 30 days once pandemic restrictions are lifted. The two governments signed an “economic and technical cooperation” agreement on grants, focusing on social projects, livelihoods and infrastructure. In addition, the government of Maldives signed a “letter of exchange” on a “feasibility study of the management and maintenance of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge”, for the Chinese maintenance aid. the 1.4 km bridge connecting the capital Malé to the island of Hulhumale.

It was built with Chinese aid of $ 200 million during the tenure of former President Abdulla Yameen, whose government was close to Beijing. The bridge is considered to be China’s flagship project in the Maldives. Male owes Beijing about $ 1.4 billion in past loans, which President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has sought to “restructure”.

China has also agreed to support a seawater desalination project and cooperate in the health sector, the foreign ministry said. Minister Wang’s visit would be “of great importance for the further development of our bilateral relations,” Chinese Ambassador to Male Wang Lixin said in a tweet.

The Chinese foreign minister’s visit will be closely watched by New Delhi, which has maintained frequent and high-level contacts with the Solih government, which openly pursues an “India first” foreign policy. Following the regime change in Male in 2018, New Delhi committed $ 1.4 billion for the development of the island nation which is home to around 5.5 lakh of people.

Mr. Wang’s visit also coincides with a growing “India Out” campaign among sections of the Maldives that oppose the “Indian military presence” in the country. The government denied the allegation. The “India Out” campaign has more recently intensified, with the support of President Yameen, whose conviction in a money laundering case was recently overturned by the Supreme Court.