President Dr Mohamed Muizzu has actively sought China’s support in advancing major infrastructure developments in the Maldives, aligning with the objectives of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Maldivian government’s ambitious vision to expand Velana International Airport (VIA) and relocate the commercial port to Thilafushi aligns with the objectives of the BRI, a project initiated by China in 2013 to boost its role in global infrastructure development.
During the Invest Maldives Forum held in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province, President Muizzu emphasized the significance of these projects for the Maldives. The expansion of VIA under Phase II is noteworthy. The international terminal, currently under construction, is set to increase its passenger handling capacity from 7 million to an impressive 25 million annually. This expansion includes enhancing the capacity of the domestic terminal, establishing a dedicated terminal for budget airlines, and building a special terminal for private jets. Additionally, the development plan encompasses a Seaplane Terminal at Furanafushi (currently Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort), an MRO facility for aircraft repairs, an expansion of the cargo terminal capacity to 3,000 metric tonnes, and increased parking capacity for up to 70 aircraft.
China’s financial commitment to the BRI, reaffirmed by President Xi Jinping at the 10th-anniversary summit in Beijing, includes substantial investments from the China Development Bank, China Exim Bank, and the Silk Road Fund, totalling over $100 billion. This reflects China’s ongoing strategy to finance significant infrastructure projects in participating countries. The Maldives, having joined the BRI during President Yameen’s administration, has already seen the fruition of this partnership with the construction of Sinamale bridge, partially funded by China.
However, there are concerns about the potential debt implications for participating countries. Critics argue that the BRI could lead to a debt trap for economically vulnerable nations. Indeed, countries engaged in the BRI owe substantial amounts to China’s Exim Bank. Some have had to restructure their loans and seek bailout loans, highlighting the financial risks associated with such large-scale borrowing.
As the Maldives continues to collaborate with China under the BRI framework, the economic and infrastructural benefits are evident. Yet, the long-term financial implications of these developments remain a topic of close scrutiny and debate.