September 25, 2018 / 9:47 AM / 3 months ago

China urges 'stability' in Maldives after opposition wins presidential election

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday called for “continuity and stability” in the Maldives after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the leader of an opposition that has vowed to review Chinese projects, defeated incumbent president Abdulla Yameen in a weekend election.

Maldivian president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih arrives at an event with supporters in Male, Maldives September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ashwa Faheem

China and India are going head-to-head for influence in the Indian Ocean nation, a string of palm-fringed islands and atolls 325 miles (523 km) southwest of India’s southern tip.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang congratulated Solih, saying China respected the Maldivian people’s choice and wanted to consolidate their traditional friendship.

“China has always encouraged Chinese companies to invest in and operate in the Maldives in accordance with market principles, to play a positive role in the Maldives’ socio-economic development,” Geng told a daily news briefing.

He was responding to a query whether China was concerned the new president could seek to renegotiate the two countries’ free trade deal.

Before the election, the Maldives opposition said it would review China’s investments in its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, partly out of concern over terms, as experts have warned that the archipelago risked falling into a debt trap.

China has part-funded and built an extension to the Maldives’ international airport, as well as a bridge linking it to the capital, Male.

Both countries had benefited from cooperation within the Belt and Road framework, Geng added.

“We hope that the Maldives side can preserve continuity and stability of the relevant policies, and create good operating conditions for Chinese companies working there.”

China is willing to work with the Maldives to fully put into practice the free trade agreement to continue expanding investment and trade cooperation, he added, without elaborating.

Yameen, who had drawn the Maldives closer to China since 2013 in a Beijing-backed infrastructure boom, conceded defeat after election officials said Solih, who wants to normalize ties with traditional ally India, had won.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Christian Shepherd and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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