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Sri Lanka president to visit China as debt talks progress – source

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© Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe addresses the 78th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 21, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Uditha Jayasinghe

COLOMBO () – Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe will visit China next week as the crisis-hit country makes progress on debt restructuring talks with its biggest lender, a source in his office told on Friday.

Wickremesinghe took office in July last year, after a popular uprising, brought on by an economic meltdown, had forced his predecessor out of power. His Oct. 15-19 visit to Beijing will be his first to China since then.

Wickremesinghe, who is also finance minister, has been leading Sri Lanka’s push to manage its heavy debt and keep funds flowing from a $2.9 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.

He will attend a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing that would mark the 10th anniversary of the initiative championed by China’s President Xi Jinping to develop global infrastructure and energy networks.

Wickremesinghe is expected to meet Xi on the sidelines of the forum, said the source who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak with the media. The Sri Lankan leader could also meet China’s finance and foreign ministers, the source added.

The president’s media office and Sri Lankan foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sri Lanka owes Chinese lenders – bilateral and commercial – around $7 billion.

It reached an agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China on Thursday covering about $4.2 billion of outstanding debt but is still working with other key bilateral creditors including Japan and India on reaching a debt restructuring plan.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debt in May last year after its dollar reserves fell to a point where the island nation of 22 million people could no longer pay for essential imports like fuel and medicine.

Sri Lanka needs to reach agreements with creditors to push forward its first review of the IMF programme, which will release a second tranche of about $334 million. The first tranche was released in March.

The country has been a key receiver of loans under China’s Belt and Road infrastructure drive, helping it to build highways, a port, an airport and a coal power plant.

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