China has extended a guarded welcome to the election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, widely viewed as an ally of India, as Maldives’ new President, a day after he defeated the pro-Beijing incumbent, R. Abdullah Yameen, and hoped that the new government would keep a conducive environment for Chinese investments. China is willing to work with Maldives to consolidate 'our friendship and deepen the cooperation between the two countries', the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said.
The victory of Solih has a geopolitical significance in the South Asian region as the archipelago is strategically located in the Indian Ocean where China is flexing its muscles. Maldives under Yameen also became an 'important partner' in China’s 21st century maritime silk road, despite India’s serious reservations.
In 2014, it had signed a MoU with Beijing in support of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a project which is opposed by India as it includes the China Pakistan-Economic Corridor which transverses through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
China had also opposed any external mediation, including by the UN, when the Yameen government early this year imprisoned Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, former president M A Gayoom and other opposition politicians, saying that the crisis is its internal affair and should be resolved through dialogue and consultations.
'China congratulates the Maldives on its successful presidential election as well as Solih’s victory,' Mr. Geng said in a guarded reaction. 'We respect Maldives’ people’s choice and we hope the country can maintain stability and development.'
The comments were China’s first reaction to Mr. Solih’s unexpected victory. India, US and several other countries had congratulated him on Monday itself. Responding to strong criticism of large scale Chinese investment in the island nation and the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), to which Mr. Solih belonged, Mr. Geng hoped the new government would create enabling environment for the Chinese firms to continue to work there.
'As to the FTA…we have always encouraged Chinese enterprises to invest and operate in Maldives in accordance with the market based rules and regulations,' he said.