China today warned its citizens not to travel to the Maldives for holidays due to the political turmoil there, in a setback to beleaguered President Abdulla Yameen whose country’s economy relies heavily on Chinese tourists. The Maldives has plunged into political crisis as the Supreme Court yesterday asked Yameen to comply with its order to release political prisoners and reinstate dissident lawmakers. This led to a tense standoff as Yameen has not yet implemented the apex court’s ruling leading to agitations by the Opposition parties. “China is closely following the developments in the Maldives,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told media here asking the Maldivian government and the political parties to resolve differences through dialogue while maintaining national stability and social order.
He, however, declined to join the calls by the United Nations, the US and India asking Yameen who is widely regarded as pro-China to implement the Supreme Court order. “What happened in theMaldives is Maldives’ internal affair. China supports the relevant parties in the Maldives to properly resolve their differences through dialogue and consultation and maintain national stability and social order,” he said. But at the same time he said China has issued a “security reminder” asking its tourists not to travel to the Maldives in view of the situation which could drastically affect the island nation which relies heavily on tourism revenue.
China’s travel advisory coming ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday season starting from February 15 is likely to deter thousands of Chinese who travel to the Maldives during the week-long holiday. Chinese tourits constitute about 30 per cent of the Maldives tourist arrivals. The Spring Festival holiday, which includes Chinese New Year celebrations is peak season for Chinese citizens to travel to the Maldives for tourism, Geng said.
Currently, over 6,000 Chinese tourists were reportedly holidaying in the island nation. “In light of the relevant situation we advise the Chinese tourists in the Maldives to closely follow the situation and strengthen security awareness. At the same time, we advise those people who plan to go to the Maldives not to travel to go there before the situation get stabilised,” he said. President Yameen in recent years has allowed largescale Chinese investments and signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which came under sharp criticism from opposition parties and also raised concerns in India due its strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
China views the Maldives as key to its Maritime Silk Road project in the Indian Ocean as it has already acquired Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Former president and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, who was controversially convicted of a terrorism charge and jailed for 13 years in 2015, termed the FTA as “disgraceful” and said it was not in the Maldivian national interest.
Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, was toppled in 2012. He was barred from contesting elections after his 2015 terrorism conviction, which was internationally criticised as politically motivated. He has been in exile since 2016, when he left on prison leave for medical treatment. He is currently in Colombo, meeting Maldivian dissidents based in Sri Lanka.