His comments came amid a diplomatic row with India over derogatory social media posts by three of his ministers against PM Narendra Modi
Beijing/Male: Returning home after a five-day high-profile state visit to China, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu on Saturday struck a defiant note saying that his country may be small but "doesn't give them the license to bully us".
His comments came amid a diplomatic row with India over derogatory social media posts by three of his ministers against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We may be small but this doesn't give them the license to bully us," Muizzu, who is regarded as a pro-China leader, said without naming any country.
"Though we have small islands in this ocean, we have a vast exclusive economic zone of 900,000 square km. Maldives is one of the countries with the biggest share of this ocean," he told the media on his arrival from China after concluding the state visit, the first after assuming office in November last year.
"This ocean does not belong to a specific country. This (Indian) Ocean also belongs to all countries situated in it," he said, in an apparent jibe at India.
"We aren't in anyone's backyard. We are an independent and sovereign state," he was quoted as saying by the Maldives Sun Online portal.
During his visit to China, Muizzu held talks with President Xi Jinping after which the two countries signed 20 agreements.
"The two sides agree to continue firmly supporting each other in safeguarding their respective core interests," said a joint statement issued at the end of Muizzu's talks with the top Chinese leaders.
"China firmly supports the Maldives in upholding its national sovereignty, independence and national dignity, respects and supports the Maldives' exploration of a development path that suits its national conditions, and firmly opposes external interference in the internal affairs of the Maldives," the statement said, without referring to any country.
In his media briefing in Male, Muizzu said China has granted USD 130 million in assistance for his country.
Muizzu said the bulk of the USD 130 million assistance will be spent on redeveloping the roads in Male, where the mayor election is being held on Saturday.
He was the former Mayor of the capital city before getting elected to the Presidency in November last year.
"That is approximately USD 130 million in grants. This will be spent on developmental projects. The biggest spending will be on the development of the roads of Male," he was quoted as saying by local news portal Sun Online.
Also, China's Ambassador to Maldives Wang Lixin said Maldives will receive support for more development projects from Beijing if they align with President Xi's initiatives.
Wang, who accompanied Muizzu on his visit to China, said there are three key factors to the strong relations between Maldives and China.
"The first and most important factor is mutual political trust. The second factor is to strengthen the docking of President Xi's initiatives and the national development strategy of President Muizzu. And with this docking, I think we can decide on more projects that benefit the Maldivian people," she said.
Wang said that the third one is to follow the principle of extensive consultation, joint construction, and also shared benefits. "I think that with these three key factors, we will have a very fruitful and sustainable cooperation in the future," she said.
"During this visit, the two heads of state have announced the elevation of our bilateral relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership. This will provide a strong political guarantee for the future cooperation between the two countries," the Sun Online said, quoting her interview.
Muizzu's visit to China was marred by the diplomatic row with India over derogatory remarks by his ministers against Prime Minister Modi and the release of a report by the EU Election Observation Mission of Maldives that said the ruling coalition of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the People's National Congress (PNC) deployed anti-India sentiments and attempted to spread disinformation in the 2023 presidential elections in which Muizzu won.
The EU report cast a shadow over Muizzu's Presidential election last November as he contested as part of PPM headed at that time by former pro-China President Abdullah Yameen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for corruption.
During Muizzu's visit to Beijing, the two countries signed a USD 50 million agreement to develop an integrated tourism zone in Hulhumale' besides building 30,000 social housing units in Rasmale'.
China will also provide grant assistance for the development of a 100-bed tertiary hospital in Vilimale', the report said.
The India-built Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male is regarded as the biggest in the country.
The 300-bed hospital was built in 1992 by India well before China made its presence in the island nation with infrastructure projects. The IGMH was remodified with Indian assistance in 2018 with the addition of more diagnostic and treatment facilities.
During Muizzu's visit to China, the two countries also signed an agreement to allow Maldives' national airline, Maldivian, to conduct domestic flight operations in China.