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Sri Lanka debt restructuring: opposition MP warns of “China go home” protests

TNA MP Shanakiya Rasamanickam – Image credit: Facebook

ECONOMYNEXT — Sri Lanka opposition legislator Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, who has been on the warpath with Beijing over an apparent lethargy in helping the crisis-hit island nation restructure its debt, has warned of a “China, go home” protest campaign similar to the “Gota, go home” protests that unseated the country’s powerful former president in July.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP told parliament on Friday December 02 that Sri Lanka owes 7.4 billion dollars to China, a nearly 20-trillion dollar economy, and if the latter was was a true friend, it would agree to either write off this debt or at least help restructure it.

Nearly a fifth of Sri Lanka’s public external debt is held by China, according to one calculation.

“If China, who has nearly 20,000 billion dollars, is truly Sri Lanka’s friend… offering 9 million litres of diesel or half a million kilos of rice isn’t real help,” said Rasamanickam, speaking in Sinhala.

“I say to China and the Chinese embassy that, as 22 million Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnic or religious differences got together to say ‘Go home, Gota’, don’t push us to a place where we will be saying ‘China, go home’,” he said.

The Batticaloa district lawmaker has been raising his voice in parliament and elsewhere in recent days over what he claims is a hesitance on the part of China to assist in Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring efforts. The 2.9 billion dollar extended fund facility (EFF) that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered to extend to the island nation is contingent upon the successful restructure of this outstanding in addition some stringent reforms that experts say are long overdue.

Colombo has been vague at best on the status of ongoing restructure talks with Sri Lanka’s creditors, and opposition lawmakers and others have expressed concern over what seems to be a worrying delay. Rasamanickam and others have claimed that China, Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral creditor, is the reason for the apparent standstill.

Addressing parliament on Wednesday, the TNA MP said China was not Sri Lanka’s friend but rather a friend of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s. He pointed to the Colombo Lotus Tower and the largely unused convention centre in the southern Rajapaksa stronghold of Hambantota as examples.

“What have the Chinese done in this country? If you look at the [Chinese built] Hambantota Port, China has taken it over. Tell me a single investment that the Chinese have made in this country where Sri Lankan people have been given employment [besides labour]. There’s not a single industry,” he said.

“They have forced  investments down this country thanks to the Rajapaksa family. Investments that are useless,” he added.

If China was a true friend, the MP reiterated, it would help the IMF programme.

“There is no democracy in China, no human rights, Uyghur Muslims are being detained and ‘rehabilitated’. Is such a country trying to turn Sri Lanka into a state like that, a state that doesn’t respect human rights? Is that what China wants?”

The Twitter account the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, known for its sardonic tone, was quick to respond. It said the MP’s understanding of the issue was wrong and incomplete.

“Sorry Mr. MP, your understanding is incorrect and incomplete. China is the biggest supporter to Sri Lanka in fighting COVID=19 and livelihood relief, including in your district Batticaloa. China is also the first responder to Sri Lanka”s financial crisis since its default in April.”

“As a major shareholder of IMF, China has been encouraging IMF and other international financial institutes to promptly support Sri Lanka. China actively participated all the creditors’ meetings of Sri Lanka, and China is not the only or the largest creditor of the island,” the embassy said in a five-tweet long thread.

China also funded the Norochcholai coal plant, the best investment the country has made since Mahaweli projects of the 1980s, according to the Auditor General of Sri Lanka.

However, China gave several monetary instability loans to Sri Lanka from 1980s onward when forex shortages emerged from money printed under flexible inflation targeting, sometime called ‘bridging finance’ in Sri Lanka.

Related:

China on track to bail out Sri Lanka with US$1.25bn in 2018

Sri Lanka signs US$500mn loan with China Development Bank

Sri Lanka inks deal for RMB2.0bn loan from China Development Bank

Such loans are were not tied to growth creating reforms unlike budget support loans given by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

India also gave credit lines to Sri Lanka in 2022 as forex shortages emerged. Analysts say India has stepped up its lending to countries in the South Asian region, in a bid to counter Chinese influence.

The Modi government is now funding a 500 million dollar, 7km bridge linking Malé, the capital of the Maldives, to a number of islands in the archipelago, four years after Chinese engineers built a 2km bridge from Malé to the airport.

India has lent over 32 billion dollars to foreign governments in lines of credit since Modi came to power in 2014, and “development” assistance has doubled to 107 billion dollars from 55 billion dollars in 2014, according to the Financial Times.

Indian companies have also expanded in South Asia over the recent years.

Analysts, however, say that India has a long way to go to catch up with China.

Meanwhile, a Johns Hopkins University research authored by Sri Lanka’s Umesh Moramudali and Thilina Panduwawala noted that Chinese lending at the end of 2021 came to 19.6% of public external debt, much higher than the often-quoted 10-15% figures.

During 2008-2021, the effective interest rate on overall Chinese lending averaged 3.2%, higher than average rates on Japanese,
World Bank, and ADB loans to
Sri Lanka (0.9%-1.6%). But Chinese rates were significantly lower than Eurobonds which averaged
6.9%.
(Colombo/Dec02/2022)

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Sri Lanka could get US$500mn from ADB in 2024

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka could receive 500 million US dollars in support from the Asian Development Bank in 2024 based on the progress of policy reforms, Country Director of the Manila-based lender, Takafumi Kadono said.

The ADB expect to go to its Board around March or April with a 100 million US dollar power sector loan subject to the cabinet of ministers of approving a revised electricity reform bill.

A 100 million dollar loan to support SMEs could also be approved in the early part of the year. Sri Lanka is setting up a credit guarantee agency to support credit for small firms.

A 200 million dollar credit for financial sector was also slated for the year. The ADB gave the first tranche of the financial sector policy loan late last year.

A $100mn for the water sector could also be approved later in the year.

Sri Lanka could get around 200 to 300 million US dollars a year at the lowest rate, or concessional ordinary capital resources (COL) rate of 2 percent.

The balance of would come at the ordinary capital resource rate linked to SOFR.

The ADB has also started work on a ‘Country Partnership Strategy’ for Sri Lanka covering the 2024-2028 period, Kadodo said. (Colombo/Feb25/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy based on friendship: Min

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none, its Minister of Foreign Affairs has said.

“Non-alignment means not becoming a bystander. Non-alignment means you are not forced or coerced into a camp to take sovereign decisions… you make your own choices. Whether it is commercial, security, regional or otherwise,” M U M Ali Sabry said on X (twitter).

“I have repeatedly stressed that sovereignty is the right to have your own opinion on what’s right and wrong, and to stand by your principles. Our multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none,” Sabry was quoting from his speech at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) Foreign Policy Forum, on the theme ‘Reassessing Non-Alignment in a Polarised World’.

Sri Lanka is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The strategically located island has been increasingly walking a fine line between opposing global factions as it seeks to come out of a financial crisis. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank Dec net down on tax provisions

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank of Ceylon reported profits of 6.9 billion rupees from the December 2023 quarter down 21 percent, despite an improvement in net interest income and lower provisions, amid a change in tax provisions.

Pre-tax profits were 8.89 billion rupees up from 2.4 billion rupees. There was a 6.4 billion tax reversal last year compared to a 1.7 billion rupee tax charge this year.

Commercial Bank reported earnings of 5.26 rupees for the quarter. For the year to December 2023 earnings were 16.07 rupees per share on total profits of 21.1 billion rupees, down 11.3 percent.

Net fee and commission income was down 1.2 percent to 6.1 billion rupees.

Net interest income went up 16.8 percent to 25.5 billion rupees, with interest income rising marginally by 1.3 percent to 73.0 billion rupees and interest expense falling 5.45 percent to 47.5 billion rupees.

Loans and advances to customers grew 4.06 percent to 1.17 billion rupees in the year to December. Debt and other financial instruments fell 10.5 percent to 649 billion rupees.

Financial assets measured and fair value through other comprehensive income was at 287 billion rupees, up from 117 billion rupees.

Impairment charges were 13.1 billion rupees, down from 19.6 billion rupees last year.

Gross assets were up 6.45 percent to 2.36 billion rupees. Net assets were up 5.51 percent to 214 billion rupees. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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