President Xi Jinping has emphasised the importance of China-Maldives relations and reiterated his strong support for strengthening the bilateral strategic partnership, as Beijing steps up its influence in the Indian Ocean archipelagic nation.

President Xi conveyed this message to his Maldivian counterpart Mohamed Muizzu on his 46th birthday, the president’s office said here in a statement on Saturday. Interestingly, Xi also celebrated his 71st birthday on Saturday.

China’s Ambassador to the Maldives, Wang Lixin, paid a courtesy call on President Muizzu, known for his pro-China leanings, at his official residence and presented a congratulatory letter from President Xi to his Maldivian counterpart on the occasion of his birthday, the statement said.

In the letter, President Xi expressed his sincere greetings and best wishes to President Muizzu.

He also emphasised the importance of China-Maldives relations and reiterated his enthusiasm for strengthening the China-Maldives Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership and jointly building a China-Maldives community with a shared future, the statement said.

President Muizzu expressed gratitude to Ambassador Wang for personally delivering Xi’s letter and stated that it was a tremendous pleasure to receive it. The President had also written a congratulatory message to President Xi Jinping, who celebrates his birthday on the same day, the statement said.

The discussions between Muizzu and Wang further focused on enhancing collaboration and improving bilateral relations between the Maldives and China, it said.

They also discussed future agreements and forthcoming collaborative initiatives for development. Additionally, the Chinese Ambassador stated that China is determined to assist with the Maldives’ economic development and inquired about areas where the Maldivian Government requires additional assistance.

Since he assumed office in November last year, President Muizzu has taken several steps to bolster Male’s ties with Beijing.

After the Maldives and China signed a defence agreement on March 4, Muizzu announced that Beijing would supply military equipment and train soldiers under the agreement.

The March agreement was the first time the Maldives had signed a deal with China for military cooperation of this level.

Muizzu’s administration also allowed a high-tech Chinese research vessel that was denied entry to some countries, to dock in Male’ after spending a month near the border of the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

Soon after assuming charge as the President, Muizzu asked India to withdraw all its military personnel manning three aviation platforms in the Maldives. Under a bilateral agreement, India has now sent civilians to the Maldives to operate two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft gifted by New Delhi.

However, Muizzu was among a few foreign leaders who attended Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on June 9. He also met Modi and other top Indian leaders during his stay in New Delhi.