by Huang Haimin
MALE, Maldives, July 21 (Xinhua) -- China and Maldives are now in a position to expand their economic cooperation in wide-ranging areas, including investment, agriculture and infrastructure development, said Chinese Ambassador to Maldives Wang Fukang in an interview with Xinhua on Monday.
The ambassador said that the current Maldivian government is trying to diversify its single economic structure and is committed to attract more foreign investments, including those coming from China.
Wang noted that since Maldives is located in the heart of the Indian Ocean, it is an ideal hub for trade between East and the West and that every year a large number of cargo ships pass through the Maldivian territorial waters.
Since Maldives is also a member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), it enjoys preferential tax in the region. With the help of these benefits, the Maldivian government aims to actively attract foreign investments, establish special economic zones and develop transshipment and manufacturing industries.
The Maldivian government organized the first "Maldives Investment Forum" in Singapore in April, promoting five mega- projects, including the special economic zones, expansion of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Hulhumale' Phase II development, expansion of Male Harbor and oil exploration.
Currently, the Maldivian government is formulating a Special Economic Zone Bill which aims to provide more incentives to foreign investors in terms of tax breaks, relaxed financial requirements and preferential land use.
Ambassador Wang stressed that China and Maldives could focus on enhancing cooperation in three areas.
"The first is tourism cooperation. Since 2010, China has remained the largest source of tourist arrivals in the Maldives. In 2013 alone, more than 330,000 Chinese tourists visited Maldives. In the future, both sides could encourage more Chinese tourists to visit Maldives. Maldives could attract potential Chinese companies to invest in the tourism sector of the country," Wang said.
The second area for cooperation between the two countries is infrastructure development. The new Maldivian government could initiate large-scale infrastructure projects where Chinese enterprises could participate, he said.
The third area is maritime cooperation. Wang said that China is willing to train maritime personnel, discuss and sign memorandums of understanding in the area of maritime cooperation, strengthening cooperation in fisheries, marine research, protection of ecology and environment as well as climate change.
Ambassador Wang noted that although China is the largest tourism market for Maldives, no Chinese enterprises have so far invested in Maldivian resorts.
The "one island, one hotel" feature of the Maldivian tourism is a unique one, with a mature management and development model. Although more than a 100 resorts have been opened up for tourism, more resources are still waiting for further development.
The Maldivian government welcomes foreign investors to the country and lately Chinese investors have started visiting Maldives for opportunities in the tourism sector.
In the past 40 years, China has assisted Maldives in various fields, and in the view of Ambassador Wang, China has adhered to the principle of equality and mutual benefit in its assistance of Maldives, focusing on practical results, keeping pace with the times, respecting the needs of Maldives and providing assistance without any political strings attached.
"In assisting Maldives, China has put emphasis on the special needs of the Maldives. For instance, in recent years China has carried out housing projects with 1,000 flats under concessional loans, in order to assist Maldives in achieving sustainable development. The project is welcomed by the Maldivian people and who, as sign of gratitude, named the project as the 'China town,' " Wang said.
He also noted that Maldives is recognized around the world for its tuna products. Currently, some Chinese enterprises have made investments in Maldives in fisheries sector, aquatic products and other related businesses though they are still in the initial stage, Wang added.
China has the expertise and technical knowhow that can help develop fishing, aquaculture, and farm product processing in Maldives.
"In recent years, in order to support the development of Maldivian fisheries and agricultural sector, the Chinese government has invited the Maldivian side to attend training programs in China and has developed and implemented small-scale cooperation projects with the Maldivian government," the ambassador said.