In a bid to propel the Maldivian economy into a new era, President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu has extended an invitation for support and investment from Chinese entrepreneurs for the ambitious Velana International Airport (VIA) development project. This initiative is a crucial component of the Maldivian government’s 20-year plan aimed at economic transformation.
President Muizzu made the appeal during his keynote address at the Invest Maldives Forum, held at the Fuzhou Strait International Convention and Exhibition Centre on Tuesday morning. Emphasizing the significance of the VIA development project and the concurrent effort to establish a commercial port in Thilafushi, the President outlined these ventures as key strategic initiatives.
The President highlighted the alignment of these projects with the objectives of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), emphasizing the shared vision for enhanced land, ocean, air, and digital connectivity. “The government is eager to explore partnerships for these projects under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative,” President Muizzu affirmed.
Speaking on the historic ties between the Maldives and China, President Muizzu expressed gratitude for the long-standing cooperation between the two nations. He noted that the first international business event attended by his administration was taking place in China, underlining the deep-rooted government-to-government and business-to-business relations.
Delighted by the strong presence of both Chinese and Maldivian businesses at the forum, President Muizzu acknowledged the success of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, to which the Maldives became a party in 2014. President Muizzu emphasized that this initiative has delivered the most significant infrastructure projects in Maldivian history.
Highlighting the enduring friendship between the Maldives and China, President Muizzu recounted the historical ties dating back to the ancient Maritime Silk Road. “Having established diplomatic relations in 1972, China remains one of our closest allies and developmental partners,” he stated.
Addressing the audience at the Invest Maldives Forum in Fuzhou on Tuesday morning, President Muizzu emphasized the historical significance of China as the leading source market for Maldivian tourism before the Covid-19 pandemic. Expressing his earnest desire to reclaim this position, he stated, “China was our number one market pre-COVID, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position.”
President Muizzu outlined his administration’s commitment to diversifying the Maldivian economy and ensuring economic security. While striving to strengthen and revitalize the tourism industry, he announced plans to broaden the tourism product, offering new and immersive experiences. Initiatives include the establishment of a top-tier school of hospitality and the exploration of sports, medical, and cultural tourism.
Highlighting the ambitious goals of his administration’s development plan, President Muizzu stated, “Our plan targets revolutionizing the Maldivian economy and doubling its GDP from the current USD 6 billion to USD 12 billion by 2028.” He emphasized the importance of strategic partnerships with Chinese investors to realize these objectives.
President Muizzu acknowledged that China, with its enduring ties to the Maldives, played a pivotal role in the nation’s tourism landscape. Pre-pandemic, China held the top spot for tourist arrivals, a position currently claimed by India. Notable source markets also include Russia, Germany, and the UK.
President Muizzu, accompanied by First Lady Sajidha Mohamed, is currently on a state visit to China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping. The high-level delegation accompanying them reflects the commitment to strengthening diplomatic and economic ties between the two nations.
The full text of the speech by President Muizzu is as follows;
It is my privilege and pleasure to be here in this beautiful city of Fuzhou and be part of this “Invest Maldives” business gathering and networking event. My government’s vision for the development of the country is one of engagement, partnership building and focused delivery. The fact that I am here in China on my first state level visit is testament to the commitment of His Excellency President Xi Jinping and the people of China to the Maldives. We have no doubt that China will be our closest partner in development.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the leadership of the Fujian Provincial People’s Government and officials of Fuzho for co-hosting this forum and for the excellent arrangements in making such a gathering possible.
The fact that the first international business event that my Government participates in is taking place in China, reflects our long-standing and fruitful G2G and B2B cooperation. I am delighted to witness the strong presence of both Chinese and Maldivian businesses here today. This shows that the close political ties both our countries enjoy are replicated at the commercial level as well.
The relationship between Maldives and China is one that has a long history, dating back to the ancient Maritime Silk Road. Having established diplomatic relations in 1972, China remains one of our closest allies and development partner. Maldives became an early party to His Excellency President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2014 which has delivered the most significant infrastructure projects witnessed in the Maldivian history.
Hence, it was a privilege for me to have got the opportunity to send a special envoy on my behalf to the Third Belt and Road Forum held in October of last year, just few weeks after our election victory. As emphasized by President Xi Jinping at the forum, BRI has indeed created land, ocean, and air, and digital connectivity channels truly transforming the way goods, capital, technology, and people move between partner countries.
The new vision for our central airport that I launched just few days before I arrived here, and the Commercial Port Project are key strategic initiatives of my Government that are in alignment with the BRI vision of land, ocean, air and digital connectivity. The Government is keen for exploring and taking partnerships for these projects under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The Free Trade Agreement signed between our countries stands as a symbol of the close commercial ties between China and Maldives. I am told that it is the first comprehensive FTA between China and a South Asian country. 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. My government is committed to ensure quick implementation of the agreement.
Other initiatives such as the Global Development Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank spearheaded by China, have also been crucial in accelerating the implementation of our developmental projects. It was an honor for me to have served as the first Governor from Maldives to AIIB in 2017. This made me understand firsthand, the potential that initiatives like these have in transforming the development path of countries like us.
My administration’s developmental agenda is based on the premises that while we capitalize on our strengths to further strengthen tourism and pursue diversification into additional sectors, we will do so with due consideration of the environment and our ocean resources. Our Government is committed to implementing a bold developmental agenda aimed at transforming the Maldivian economy in the next 10-15 years.
A project close to my heart in this respect is the new city development in the central region – RasMale. With a plan to reclaim over 1000 hectares within 8 months, we intend to develop RasMale as the first eco-friendly city in the country, to serve a total population size of 325,000 people. The city will be complete with well-rounded infrastructure services and commercial opportunities.
Increasing the mix of renewable sources in meeting our energy requirements is also a key pledge of my Government. We announced a target of meeting 33% of power demand through renewable energy sources by 2028 at the COP28 in Dubai. I am pleased to note that we received positive response from the private sector on this endeavor, with the Government receiving its first proposal under the SEZ framework to develop a project of 110 MW of floating solar and battery storage. Once successfully rolled out, this project has the potential to produce 34% of electricity consumed in Male and Hulhumale’.
We also have plans for a large-scale project targeted towards food security, dedicated investments to enhance fish processing capacity and investments for regional development by scaling up infrastructure, health, higher education, waste management, and coastal protection.
To focus on diversifying our economic base and ensuring economic security, the Government has recently established a company – Maldives Industrial Development Free Zone. The company will act as a master developer for strategic initiatives to bring in additional income to the country while also making investments as necessary to ensure a stable standard of living for our citizens.
While we do all this, we will continue to strengthen and drive the economic industry and boost visitor numbers. The Government has plans to diversify the tourism product and offer new experiences. Initiatives include a top-tier school of hospitality and exploring sports, medical and cultural tourism. China was our number one market pre-COVID, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position.
Our development plan targets to double our GDP from the current 6 billion dollars to 12 billion dollars by 2028.
My Government firmly believes that broad-based, private sector-led growth is essential to achieve these goals of transformation that we aspire for. We believe that private sector capital, in particular foreign investments as well as access to external financial resources, are absolutely crucial for successful rollout of our key initiatives.
I am here to give my Government’s full assurance to engage with you in the spirit of partnership, to ensure that your entry into investing in the Maldives is seamless, and to guarantee that doing business in the Maldives is truly a rewarding experience.
I would like to note here that one-stop business services have been rolled out and a one-day turnaround for company formation is now possible. We also recently ratified a new Companies Act that recognizes single shareholding companies and allow for professional directorship. The Special Economic Zones framework has been reactivated, which provides attractive incentives for strategic investments of over USD 100 million. A completely new Foreign Investment Law is in the pipeline with provisions guaranteeing investment security as well as paving the way for investment treaties.
Before I conclude, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all the delegates present here today. I also note the excellent efforts of all my Ministers and their teams, and the support provided by the Fujian Provincial People’s Government in organizing this excellent forum. I am confident that this is the start of a series of similar interactions to follow in the next five years.
The Maldives looks forward to further strengthening the collaboration between our two countries and establishing long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with businesses and provincial governments across China. With the unwavering support of China, we are confident that we can attain and exceed our goals and create a prosperous future for our people.