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Ally China urges citizens not to visit Maldives, issues travel advisory

China asks citizens to put off visit to Maldives, a favourite holiday destination for millions of Chinese.

world Updated: Feb 06, 2018 11:29 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
Maldives,Turmoil,Abdulla Yameen
This handout image received from the Mihaaru newspaper on February 5, 2018 shows security forces guarding the Supreme Court in Male after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency. (AFP)

China, which accounts for most tourist arrivals in the Maldives, has advised its citizens against visiting the Indian Ocean nation, where a political crisis triggered by a supreme court order to release opposition leaders is deepening.

Thousands of Chinese tourists were expected to visit the Maldives, an upmarket holiday destination, in the next couple of weeks for the Chinese new year.

Following the political turmoil and declaration of 15-day emergency by embattled President Abdulla Yameen, the numbers are now expected to fall.

The Chinese embassy in the capital city of Male issued an advisory, asking its citizens to be careful while travelling around the islands.

In the advisory that is valid till February 9, the Chinese government reminded its citizens “…to pay close attention to the situation there and to proceed with caution in the near future to the Maldives”.

It also said there was “higher security risk” facing Chinese citizens. “China suggests that Chinese citizens who are preparing to go to the Maldives in the near term to postpone going until the situation on the ground stabilises,” foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a regular media briefing on Monday.

The new year holidays, which officially begin mid-February, see millions of Chinese head abroad. It is also a peak period for Chinese tourists to visit Maldives, an archipelago of around than 1,200 islands.

For seven years running, Chinese have topped tourist arrivals in Maldives. Tourism is a vital part of the country’s economy and brought in $2.7 billion in revenue in 2016.

The upswing has coincided with the strengthening of ties between the two countries, much to India’s disquiet.

Last December, China and the Maldives signed 12 agreements, including a free trade agreement, to strengthen cooperation in several sectors including economy and infrastructure.

The first free-trade agreement (FTA) pact signed by Maldives also included an memorandum of understanding that made the country a part of the maritime silk road component of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

The FTA was signed when Yameen visited China.

“Maldives is a small economy but very important strategically. With increased Chinese investments, it limits freedom in making foreign policy decisions,” Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New-Delhi based Centre for Policy Research, told the Financial Express newspaper.

“The FTA has strategic importance for India. The FTA will strengthen China’s economic throttlehold and spur instability in the Indian Ocean.”

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 11:27 IST