President Mohamed Muizzu has arrived on his inaugural state visit to China, marking a significant departure from the tradition of Maldivian presidents choosing India for their first state visit since the enactment of the Maldives’ current constitution in August 2008. Accompanied by his spouse and a high-ranking government delegation, Muizzu arrived in Xiamen, Fujian Province, responding to an invitation extended by the President of China, Xi Jinping.

This state visit is expected to facilitate high-level talks between the Maldivian and Chinese governments, with the objective of signing pivotal agreements to enhance trade and professional and socioeconomic development in the Maldives. This visit will also pave the way for collaborations in technology and other areas between the two countries, according to the President’s Office.

During his state visit to Fujian Province, President Muizzu visited the Xiamen Free Trade Zone on Monday. In addition, he received a courtesy call from senior officials of China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC), the contractor responsible for the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge project.

Moosa Zameer, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed optimism about the potential outcomes of the visit in a video posted online by Ibrahim Khaleel, the Minister at the President’s Office for Strategic Communications. “We hope that President [Muizzu’s] visit is very fruitful for the people of the Maldives,” Zameer stated.

The timing of the visit coincides with a period of heightened tension in relations between India and the Maldives. On the same day that President Muizzu arrived in China, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs summoned Ibrahim Shaheeb, the Maldivian High Commissioner to India, escalating the diplomatic row between the two nations.

This diplomatic tension follows a recent controversy involving derogatory remarks by senior Maldivian government officials, including Deputy Minister Mariyam Shiuna. These comments have sparked a diplomatic and political uproar, prompting both nations to take reciprocal diplomatic actions.

While three Deputy Ministers at the Ministry of Youth, Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Maajid, are currently facing suspensions over the incident, there have been widespread calls across social media in India for their dismissal. A boycott campaign has been launched, urging Indian travellers to cancel their plans to holiday in the Maldives.

The boycott movement appears to be gaining momentum, with the Indian Association of Tour Operators anticipating a more pronounced effect of the boycott in the next 20-25 days. This sentiment is reflected in the Indian travel market, with numerous individuals on social media stating that they have cancelled their vacation plans to the Maldives.

During his campaign, President Muizzu leveraged the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih administration’s close relations with India to garner support for the then-opposition’s ‘India Out’ campaign. This campaign called for the removal of Indian soldiers stationed in the Maldives, a rhetoric that was central to his presidential campaign. He had also pledged to remove Indian troops from the Maldives.

While Muizzu’s backing for the ‘India Out’ campaign was lambasted by Indian media, labelling him a pro-China president, Muizzu has stated that he would maintain a pro-Maldives foreign policy stance. Despite the geopolitical tensions between India and China, the two most populous countries and global powers, Muizzu maintains that he does not wish to step into the middle of these issues.

During his tenure as the housing minister under former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, some of the largest infrastructure projects were carried out in partnership with the Chinese government and contracted to Chinese companies.

Additional reporting by Andrew Richards