Colombo: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday said he had a ”very productive” conversation with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang and thanked him for assuring support to his government to address some of the crucial needs affecting peoples’ livelihoods and well-being, amidst the worst economic crisis in the island nation.
The telephone conversation between Rajapaksa and Li comes as Sri Lanka is grappling with its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across the country as the government ran out of money for vital imports which has seen the prices of essential commodities skyrocket and led to acute shortages of fuel, medicines and electricity.
”Had a very productive conversation with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. I reiterated #SriLanka’s gratitude to #China for the longstanding friendship and for assuring support to address some of the crucial needs affecting peoples’ livelihoods and well-being in these difficult times,” Rajapaksa tweeted.
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The meeting between the two prime ministers came a day after the Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Qi Zhenhong met Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof. G L Peiris and discussed the current social & economic situation in the island nation.
The Chinese embassy tweeted that the envoy also discussed China’s aid/assistance to the Sri Lankan people and bilateral and international cooperation between the two countries.
Earlier, Qi also met the Leader of the Opposition & Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa and assured him that China is doing all-out efforts to help Sri Lanka overcome the crisis.
In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry announced this week that it will soon send emergency humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka.
So far, Beijing remained silent on Chinese Ambassador Qi’s announcement that China is considering a USD 2.5 billion credit facility to Sri Lanka.
Also China has so far parried questions on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request made to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit in December last year to restructure Colombo’s debt repayments to bail out his government.
It is estimated that Sri Lanka owes debt payments to China to the tune of about USD 1.5 to 2 billion this year. Overall China’s loans and investments in Sri Lanka were estimated to be more than USD eight billion in the last few years for projects including roads, an airport, and ports.
But critics say the money was used for unnecessary schemes with low returns.
Anti-government protesters in Sri Lanka are demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as they blame his policies for the crisis, but he and his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa have refused to quit. However, they have offered to amend the Constitution to clip the President’s powers and empower Parliament.