Chinese President Xi Jinping began a weeklong tour of South Asia on Monday, choosing the tiny island nation of the Maldives to tout his vision for a modern maritime "Silk Road."

Maldives President Yameen Abdul Gayoom said his country was ready to participate actively in the initiative to create a shipping route from China to Europe via West Africa.

Smaller Indian Ocean nations like the Maldives and Sri Lanka could become key stops along such a route, and China has already begun investing in ports along the way.

The original Silk Road was a series of overland routes that linked China with the Mediterranean Sea, opening the way for economic, political and cultural interchange.

China's involvement in the Maldives has increased rapidly in recent years, with Beijing opening an embassy in 2011 and funding projects such as a national museum and a conference center. Almost a third of the tourists to the Indian Ocean nation are Chinese, with the number rising.

The two countries signed nine agreements during Xi's visit, including ones on the expansion of the Maldives' main international airport, a power station project, road construction, and a bridge to connect the capital island of Male with nearby Hulhumale. The value of the projects was not announced.

Xi, the first Chinese president to visit the Maldives, also pledged to help the country cope with rising ocean levels that will result from climate change — a major threat to its 350,000 people and 26 tropical atolls.

Maldives state media quoted Xi as saying that "China will continue to pursue close cooperation with it (the Maldives) on climate change, human rights and other issues."

China is the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming, followed by the United States.

The Chinese leader, who arrived in the Maldives late Sunday, is to visit Sri Lanka on Tuesday and meet with new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday.