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Sri Lanka discusses loan from China to cover earlier debts

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Sri Lanka’s government said yesterday it is discussing obtaining another loan from Beijing to repay some of its debt to Chinese banks after China told the nearly bankrupt island nation it was not in favour of restructuring the existing loans.

Sri Lanka has nearly USD7 billion in foreign debt due for repayment this year and will need to repay USD25 billion over the next five years. A severe shortage of foreign exchange means the country lacks money to buy imported goods, leading to shortages of food, fuel and other essentials.

The economic crisis has brought weeks of protests across the country calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation.

Government spokesman Nalaka Godahewa said Beijing was balking at restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt because it does not want to set that precedent. He told reporters the fFnance Ministry will announce details of discussions with China later.

Earlier this month, the government said it was suspending repayment of foreign loans pending negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a loan restructuring plan.

Sri Lanka’s debt problems are partly because it built infrastructure like a port, airport and road networks using Chinese loans, but the projects are not making money.

Rajapaksa had asked Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who visited Sri Lanka in January, to restructure those loans.

Central Bank figures show existing Chinese loans to Sri Lanka total around USD3.38 billion, not including loans to state-owned businesses, which are accounted for separately and thought to be substantial.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Chinese funded sea reclamation Port City project in Colombo, Sri Lanka in January. PHOTO: AP