China advises its tourists to avoid Maldives until political tensions ease

Opposition supporters protest against the government's delay in releasing their jailed leaders, including former Maldives resident Mohamed Nasheed, despite a Supreme Court order, in Male on February 4. (Reuters)
Updated 05 February 2018

China advises its tourists to avoid Maldives until political tensions ease

BEIJING: China’s foreign ministry on Monday advised Chinese citizens to avoid visiting the Maldives until political tensions subside on the Indian Ocean archipelago.
A tropical paradise for holidaymakers, the Maldives has been beset by fractious politics for years, but concern over potential instability heightened after its attorney-general warned on Sunday that the government would resist any attempt by the Supreme Court to impeach President Abdulla Yameen for disobeying its order to free jailed opposition leaders.
“China suggests that Chinese citizens who are preparing to go to the Maldives in the near term to postpone going until the situation on the ground stabilizes,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a regular briefing, noting that the upcoming Chinese New Year was a peak period for Chinese tourists to visit the Maldives.
Geng said that China supports the resolution of differences between all relevant sides in the Maldives through dialogue and consultation to protect its national and social stability.
The Chinese embassy to the Maldives on Friday issued a travel warning urging Chinese citizens to be cautious when traveling to the country, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Mohamed Anil, attorney general of the Maldives, said on Sunday that the government had received information that the Supreme Court was preparing to fire Yameen, but such a move would be illegal and the police and army had been instructed not to carry out such an order.
Yameen has fired two police chiefs since Thursday, when the Supreme Court threw out terrorism convictions against former president Mohamed Nasheed and eight other opposition figures. Police had indicated they would enforce the ruling.
In power since 2013 and facing elections in October, Yameen is under international pressure to heed the court decision, while hundreds of protesters have taken to the country’s streets to demand compliance with the order.
President Yameen’s government has had good relations with China and a free trade agreement between the two countries was signed in December, despite criticism from the opposition.
China has been striking deals with countries in Asia and Africa in line with its “belt and road initiative” to improve imports of key commodities, upgrade infrastructure and trade routes in the region and boost its diplomatic clout.

Saudi Arabia, on Sweden Island, in Dubai

Updated 14 August 2018

Saudi Arabia, on Sweden Island, in Dubai

  • Yes, you heard that correctly. The World archipelago is taking shape off Dubai
  • Saudis are the most prominent buyers of its first residences in the Heart of Europe, including the world’s first floating underwater villas

DUBAI: Billionaire investors from Saudi Arabia are reportedly snapping up a slice of Europe — minutes from Dubai's coast — as development on a luxurious man-made archipelago gathers haste.

On the emirate’s “The World” archipelago, the Heart of Europe project is an island destination comprising a complex of opulent palaces, island villas and 13 luxury hotels stretching across six small islands. Each offer a different aspect of European life and aim to bring European hospitality “with a Maldivian twist” to the Middle East’s Arabian Sea.

And, according to its developer, Joseph Kleindienst, chairman of the Kleindienst Group, wealthy investors across the Kingdom are among the most prominent buyers of the multimillion-dirham properties that are being developed on the island, with nearly a quarter of all investments (23 per cent) to date being by Saudi nationals.

“We have a very, very good interest from Saudi in the Heart of Europe project,” said Kleindienst, speaking to Arab News during a private tour of what has been named Sweden Island. “Here in Sweden Island, soon you will find very, very famous Saudi names. It is not for us to disclose these names, but later on, as the development grows, you will meet very interesting Saudis here.”

The Heart of Europe is the first big project to go ahead as part of The World project, a 60-square-kilometre archipelago, comprising over 200 islands laid out in the shape of a world map, which was created from millions of tons of sand and rock. Currently, Lebanon Island is the only one open to the public; it operates The World Island Beach Club.

Construction on the Heart of Europe project was due to begin in November 2008 before it was delayed by the global financial crisis. Yet development finally began in 2014, and the project’s value has grown from an initial Dh1.5 billion ($408 million) equity undertaking by Kleindienst Group to Dh5 billion ($1.36 billion) after sales.

A trip to the Heart of Europe on Monday showed thousands of workers busy with ambitious contraction work across the islands before its completion deadline of 2020, ahead of Dubai’s Expo; with an initial focus on Germany Island and Sweden Island.

The Heart of Europe includes 10 beach palaces on Sweden, 32 beach villas on Germany and 131 “Floating Seahorse” villas, marketed as the world’s “first luxury underwater living experience.” 

Kleindienst expects that all of the homes for sale across the Heart of Europe project will be handed over by the end of this year. 

In total there are 4,000 residential and hotel units that will eventually be available across the project, about 1,000 of which have already been bought by investors, Kleindienst revealed. 

Besides handing over residences to owners by the end of the year, The Heart of Europe is slated to have the first of its planned hotel “soft openings,” at the Portofino Hotel in Italy, in December this year.

Lying about five kilometers (3.1 miles) off mainland Dubai, the Heart of Europe will feature classic Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss and German architecture as well as landscaped gardens and streets that will, in some cases, feature artificial snow, due to advanced climate control technology. And, for those that miss the drizzly temperatures of Europe in the winter, some streets will also feature artificial rain. 

Sweden will feature 10 villas in a Scandinavian style and, this week, the Kleindienst Group unveiled the first completed six-floor Sweden Beach Palace, which Arab News got a first look at.

With a price tag of Dh100million, the majestic villa comes fitted out Bentley Home interiors, equipped with seven plush bedrooms, a full gym and fitness centre, an underground “snow room” that can be set as low as minus –5C, a Swedish massage room, an entertaining room and an observation deck – designed to mimic the upturned hull of a Viking boat– which provides 360-degree views of the sprawling Arabian Gulf.

Each property has its own private section of beach, and unique to the palaces, a fully-owned piece of the marine area plot, including a private coral reef.

Of the 10 that are for sale, three have already been bought by investors based in Saudi Arabia, said Kleindienst.

Saudis, along with other wealthy Middle Eastern residents, represent an important segment of the investors the Kleindienst Group are hoping to attract, he said. 

“Saudi is a very important market for us,” he stressed. “It is an excellent product for investors from Saudi Arabia because we are selling this ‘second-home’ concept here in the Heart of Europe. 

"People from Saudi Arabia can travel to Dubai and enjoy their time in the Heart of Europe. And when they are not here, we hope they can rent their homes out and produce an income from the property.”

The Heart of Europe properties, Kleindienst stressed, are not for people to live in 365 days a year, but designed for the uber rich looking to snap up a second home in the Middle East, yet offering a very different setting than can be found elsewhere in the region.

The project represents Dubai’s first purpose-built luxury area for UAE residents to own a holiday property in their own country, he said, instead of jetting to the Maldives, Mauritius or the Seychelles. 

"The second-home market is a new concept for Dubai,” he said, adding that while New York has places such as The Hamptons and multiple cities in Europe have their own countryside and seaside getaway spots, Dubai has lacked an area where people leave their primary property and head to a second home for the weekend. 

"The Heart of Europe is a unique and ambitious project aiming to develop Dubai’s luxury freehold second-home market in an idyllic island location,” he said. "Our journey to date has taken us to the unveiling of the Sweden Beach Palaces, one of the most luxurious freehold second homes in the UAE. Our vision is now turning into reality as we make real progress towards completing our project.”

Aside from Sweden Island, Saudis are also busy purchasing the Floating Seahorse vessels, which come with a slightly less eye-watering price tag of Dh16million, said Kleindienst. Of the 131 vessels for sale, 60 have already been purchased, he said. Figures from April show that about 40 per cent of the buyers so far have been from the Kingdom.

On the tour, Arab News saw a completed prototype. The bespoke floating homes, which come in one-, two-, three- or four-bed options, feature an underground bathroom and bedroom which allow dwellers to sleep with just a pane of glass separating them from hundreds of fish and an abundance of coral and marine life. 

Kleindienst hopes the Heart of Europe project will be the catalyst for world-breaking firsts – including a record he aims to break this year. 

The last quarter of 2018, he said, will see the soft opening of the 488-room Portofino Hotel, located on the Main Europe Island, despite only breaking ground on the construction site this year. 

“No one has broken ground on a hotel then completed it the same year,” he said. “We want to show that it is possible. That anything is possible. That there is the ability to build a hotel in a year on an island."