MALE (Maldives) - Cordial diplomatic ties and pristine scenery have made the Indian Ocean island nation of Maldives a highly preferred, if not the top, destination for Chinese tourists.
Chinese nationals are now the biggest group of tourists to visit the Maldives, which consist of more than 1,100 islands scattered across the equator.
Just-married Chen Hui and Fang Ye, 20-something business executives from Shanghai, recently returned to the Maldives for a second trip.
They stayed at a resort where over-the-water bungalows start at US$500 (S$626) a night.
"Most of our friends come here on their honeymoon," Ms Fang said, adding that she would fish and pose for photos on the sun-kissed white sands that draw nearly a million visitors a year.
The Maldives have been promoted as a destination in China's media, she said, with the Islamic republic benefiting from its status as an "approved destination" by the Chinese government.
Chinese now comprise nearly a quarter of the Maldives' tourists annually, triggering a recruitment race for Mandarin-speaking hosts, waiters and diving instructors at five-star hotels.
Across the water from the airport island lies the capital Male, where Chinese aid paid for the foreign ministry building.