Aid to Sri Lanka shows depth of ties
A batch of China-donated COVID-19 vaccines arrives at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Aug 28, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]
China's willingness to assist Sri Lanka during the country's economic difficulties not only reflects the depth of their strategic cooperative partnership but also showcases efforts for common and sustainable development, according to analysts and officials.
In a phone call with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China is willing to provide, within its ability, any assistance urgently needed by the country to improve people's well-being. Li expressed his concerns for Sri Lanka during its current bout of economic hardship.
Sirimal Abeyratne, an economics professor at the University of Colombo, said Sri Lanka needs help from many quarters in dealing with the financial crisis.
Due to shortages of foreign currencies after years of shrinking state revenues, compounded by the pandemic and the rising inflation of recent months, Sri Lanka faces not only economic hardship but also difficulties in importing medicine and fuel too, said Kelum Shivantha, editor-in-chief of the Sri Lanka Mirror.
China has always been a most reliable friend and partner of Sri Lanka, Eastern Province Governor Anuradha Yahampath told Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong on Sunday.
Qi briefed the governor on incoming humanitarian assistance donated by China's central and local governments as well as poverty relief and Red Cross societies. Yunnan province in southern China, in particular, is sending food packages to eastern Sri Lanka to help 10,000 poverty-stricken households.
Wang Se, assistant researcher of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that although China also faces challenges, its offer of help for Sri Lanka embodies its commitment to acting as a responsible major country and striving for common and sustainable development envisioned by Chinese President Xi Jinping's Global Development Initiative.
Shivantha said it is impressive to see that over the decades, China has provided assistance for Sri Lanka's economic development in many ways, while Sri Lanka has also assisted China on several occasions.
Answering questions from local media outlets on Monday, Qi noted that contrary to some media outlets' accusations that Chinese financing is creating a "debt trap" for countries like Sri Lanka, China is neither the only creditor nor the largest creditor of the island country. And its loans mainly serve economic development and infrastructure that are conducive to the nation's walking out of a "development trap".
The ambassador stressed that government departments in both countries are in communication about Sri Lanka's financing needs.
Responding to a question, he noted that between July 2021 and January, China provided 730,000 metric tons of fuel to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, with payments of $390 million yet to be made.
The Sri Lankan government decided last week to suspend repayment for all debts for a limited period.
Sri Lankan Finance Minister Ali Sabry went to Washington last week for talks with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among other entities.
Anne-Marie Gulde-Wolf, acting director of the IMF's Asia and Pacific Department, told an online news conference on Tuesday that Sri Lanka must tighten monetary policy, raise taxes and adopt flexible exchange rates to address its debts. "We see a need for flexible exchange rates," she was quoted by Reuters as saying.
There needs to be trust built between the IMF and Sri Lanka, Abeyratne noted, and Sri Lanka also has to depend on the support of friendly countries like China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last week that China has always supported Sri Lanka's socioeconomic development. "We will offer support and assistance to the best of our capability to help Sri Lanka reinvigorate its economy and improve people's livelihood."
Wang Se said Sri Lanka's new cabinet is facing protests. The Sri Lanka Mirror reported on a proposed no-confidence motion against the prime minister.
Qi told reporters that no matter how the global and domestic situations evolve, China will always be a staunch friend that offers support to Sri Lanka.
Shivantha said China has been the largest contributor to Sri Lanka's battle against the pandemic. According to Qi, China provided 26 million doses of vaccines, along with medical supplies and $2.8 billion of financial assistance since the island's outbreak of COVID-19.