Ahead of a UN Security Council meeting today to discuss the situation in the Maldives after UN officials offered to facilitate all-party talks to resolve the crisis, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told media in Beijing that China is for relevant parties in the island nation to hold parleys.
Asked whether China is averse to UN mediation in the Maldives, Mr Geng said "I made myself clear. The international community should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Maldives and provide support and convenience for dialogue between the relevant parties and play a constructive role in this aspect".
China earlier opposed any international role saying that the crisis should be internally resolved by "relevant parties".
Mr Geng's comments came as beleaguered Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen, who is under pressure from international community to lift emergency and release the arrested Supreme Court judges and leaders, dispatched Maldivian Minister for Economic Development Mohamed Saeed as a special envoy to China to seek its support.
It is not clear however whether China looks to play the role of a facilitator to arrange a meeting between Yameen, who Maldivian opposition parties allege is tacitly backed by Beijing, and former presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
While Mr Nasheed, who has accused China of being a land grabber threatening peace and stability of the Indian Ocean, is in exile in Sri Lanka, 81-year-old Mr Gayoom is under detention.
Mr Geng did not directly respond to questions whether Beijing is in touch with opposition parties of Maldives.
"We are maintaining close communication with relevant parties in Maldives and the diplomatic channels between two countries is also smooth," he said.
But at the same time Mr Geng refuted allegations by Mr Nasheed saying that "I think that kind of remarks (by Nasheed) is totally wrong. When Nasheed was president China has offered assistance to Maldives and promoted pragmatic cooperation and has achieved a lot of outcomes. I don't know whether Nasheed will regard such cooperation as grabbing," he said.
He defended the Chinese investments saying China has contributed to the transformation of economic structure and improvement of livelihoods of people of the Maldives.
Mr Nasheed said in Colombo last month that China is indulging in land grabbing which he alleged is threatening not just the Maldives, but the peace and the stability of the entire region.
Mr Geng said "China has not attached political strings for cooperation with the Maldives. China will never endanger the independence of the Maldives. Friendly cooperation is for all the people in the Maldives and it serves the interest of the two countries and the two peoples," he said.
Besides India, the US, the UN, and the EU have also expressed concern over Mr Yameen jailing the Supreme Court judges and Mr Gayoom besides a number of opposition legislators.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Maldives government to uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety of the people of the island nation.
The UN chief expressed serious concern about the unfolding situation in the Maldives and urged the government to uphold the Constitution and rule of law, lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, and take all measures to ensure the safety and security of the people, in statement issued by his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
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.
Also today, China further strengthened its travel advisory to thousands of Chinese tourists by asking travel agencies not to organise group tours to the Maldives during the week-long Chinese New Year holiday this month.
Tourism is the Maldives' biggest industry. It accounts for around a fifth of its GDP and generates billions of dollars every year in revenue. In 2016, the sector was worth almost USD 9 billion.
About 1.4 million people visited the Indian Ocean archipelago last year, of which Chinese tourists constituted about 30 per cent.
The Chinese New Year was stated to be biggest season for tourists from China to visit the Maldives.
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