By Gaurav Sharma
A wary China on Tuesday hoped that the Maldives' new government will provide an "enabling environment" to Chinese companies and stick to the controversial Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Beijing had signed with the now ousted President Abdulla Yameen.
China congratulated the Maldives for holding successful elections in which Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) defeated incumbent Yameen, perceived to be close to Beijing.
The MDP was critical of increased Chinese investment and the FTA which was rushed through the country's Parliament without debate last year.
"China congratulates the Maldives on its successful Presidential election and as well as Solih's victory. We respect Maldives people's choice and we hope the country can maintain stability and development," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.
"As to the FTA signed between China and the Maldives, we believe we have always encouraged the Chinese to invest and operate in accordance with the market-based rules and the regulations.
"And we hope the Maldives will maintain consistency and stability of their policy and create an enabling environment and atmosphere for the Chinese operation there," Geng added.
"China and Maldives signed an FTA. China will work with the Maldives to ensure the sound implementation of FTA and expand trade and investment cooperation between both the sides for the greater benefit and development of people of both the nations," Geng said.
The Chinese Ministry later clarified that the FTA was yet to come into effect.
Geng was responding to a question on whether China was worried over the election of the new government which might renegotiate deals signed by Yameen's government.
The Maldives sits on one the world's busiest shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean where both India and China vie for influence.
The Maldives has always been a traditional ally of India. But under Yameen's presidency, the country moved closer to China, worrying New Delhi.
China, which didn't even have an embassy in Male until 2011, has stepped up its engagement in the country by building bridges, airport and high-end housing complexes.
Yameen also approved China's Belt and Road project, which India does not support.
Maldives former President Mohammad Nasheed, a fierce critic of China and Yameen and living in exile, has already said the victory of the opposition party means resetting ties with India.