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Sri Lanka considers big China loan to repay foreign debts

January 17, 2019

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka is considering a $300 million loan offer from the Bank of China as it prepares to repay foreign debts this year, a Finance Ministry official said.

The government has appointed a three-member committee to negotiate the deal, according to Finance Ministry spokesman M.R. Hasan.

The loan is repayable in three years, he said Wednesday.

Sri Lanka must repay $5.9 billion in foreign loans this year, of which 40 percent needs to be serviced during the first three months. It paid back $1 billion this week.

A large chunk of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt is from China, which considers the island nation to be part of its Belt and Road Initiative. China has heavily invested in Sri Lanka infrastructure such as a seaport, airport and highways.

It has invested $1.5 billion in a port city being built on reclaimed land off the island’s west coast.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s government had criticized the previous administration for leading the country into a Chinese debt trap by allowing unsolicited projects at high commercial interest rates. However, it has retracted its opposition to Chinese projects owing to economic pressures.

The seaport and airport generate little revenue despite their high maintenance cost and Sri Lanka has leased out the seaport to a joint China-Sri Lanka venture, with China holding a major share.

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