The administration will seek Chinese investment, through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or Silk Road Initiative, to realise the recently announced vision to further develop Velana International Airport (VIA), and develop the Malé Commercial Port at Thilafalhu, President Mohamed Muizzu confirmed while speaking at the Invest Maldives Forum in Fuzhou, China, which began Tuesday morning.

The President said the recently announced vision for VIA and the Malé port are important projects for his administration and that they were also linked to the goals of the BRI.

“The [Maldives’] government is keen to seek [China’s] participation in these projects within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative,” Muizzu said.

Muizzu, speaking previously at the inauguration of the second phase of VIA last week, announced that the Malé Commercial Port would be shifted to Thilafalhu as building the facility at Gulhifalhu, as originally set out by the previous administration, was less practical — the administration has yet to disclose further details on the reversal while significant resources have already been deployed at Gulhifalhu for the project.

The BRI was launched in 2013 with the stated objective of increasing China’s participation in contributing to the infrastructure development of developing countries.

At a summit in Beijing last October, marking the 10th anniversary of the BRI, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that he would increase funding for the BRI project by more than US$100 billion. The increased funds would be deployed through China Development Bank, with US$47.9 billion; Export–Import Bank of China, with US$47.9 billion; and the Silk Road Fund, with US $11 billion.

Under President Muizzu’s vision, the international passenger terminal currently under construction at VIA will initially be able to handle seven million visitors annually, with a capacity increase through expansion in a second phase to to 25 million — meaning VIA will be able to cater to 4,000 passengers per hour. The domestic terminal, which currently serves 300 passengers per hour, will also be developed to be able to handle 2,000 visitors per hour.

Additional improvements will include; a designated terminal for budget airlines with the capacity to serve 1,000 passengers per hour; a designated terminal for private jets; a seaplane terminal at Furanafushi Island, currently Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort; the establishment of a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility; increased capacity of the cargo terminal to 3,000 metric tonnes; and an increase in parking capacity able to accommodate upto 70 aircraft at a time.

The Maldives became part of the BRI during the Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom administration. The Sinamalé bridge project was the largest infrastructure development project to be completed in the Maldives under the initiative, with President Muizzu, as then Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, largely responsible for the project overall. China provided 50 percent of the US$200 million cost of building the structure.

More than 150 countries are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to provide loan assistance from China to implement major infrastructure development projects in those nations. Critics have described China’s actions as a ‘debt trap’ with nations currently owing more than an estimated US$300 billion to the Export–Import Bank of China alone. Some nations, through negotiations, have restructured their loans and have taken bailout loans from other financial institutions.