MALE, Maldives, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Maldives seeks closer trade and culture ties with China, the president of the Indian Ocean island nation said.
Waheed Hassan Manik, who became president this month following the departure of President Mohamed Nasheed, told reporters it would be detrimental for his country not engage with the world's emerging powerful nation in the region, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.
Nasheed -- who became Maldives' first democratically elected president in 2008 after 30 years of autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom -- has said he was ousted in a coup. The Waheed government has denied it.
Nasheed's election ended 30 years of autocratic rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Waheed was quoted as saying he would continue the Chinese mission started by his predecessor and carry on the good relationship with China, Xinhua reported.
"Like everybody in the world we are trying to promote our trade in China. China is emerging as one of the most powerful countries in the world economically," he was quoted as saying. "It will be to the detriment of Maldives not to engage with China. So we will continue to work with China and promote trade and cultural relations."
In the latest development, the Maldivian government, under a deal brokered by neighboring India, has agreed to new elections which the supporters of Nasheed have been demanding.
India has extensive contacts with Maldives and has been concerned about China's growing military might and spreading influence in the Indian Ocean. The two countries fought a war in 1962.
Maldives, with its population of about 350,000, has drawn the interest of the United States and Britain because of its strategic location along vital sea lanes. There are concerns about reports of radicalization of some of its predominantly Muslim population.