China says India made ‘great efforts’ to help Sri Lanka; South Asia remains its priority

China on Wednesday praised India for making “great efforts” to help Colombo overcome its worst financial crisis, even as it refuted Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comments that Beijing has shifted its strategic focus from South Asia, including Pakistan, to Southeast Asia. region remained her priority.

Sri Lanka has struggled with unprecedented economic turmoil since independence from Britain in 1948. The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has sparked political unrest and protesters have demanded the resignation of President Rajapaksa.

“We also found that the Indian government has made tremendous efforts in this regard. We recognize that,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a media briefing here while answering questions about whether China, which has made major investments in Sri Lanka, is hesitant to help it when the island nation is facing the worst economic crisis.

“We are also ready to work with India and other members of the international community to help Sri Lanka and other struggling countries help these developing countries get through this situation,” he said.

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India has chased approximately $3 billion in aid in the form of line credit and other forms of aid to help Sri Lanka, which has been declared virtually insolvent and defaulted on all foreign loans, including those from China, for a total amount of 51 million dollars. billion dollars.

China has announced support of RMB 500 million (about $73 million) for the supply of essential goods, but has remained silent about President Rajapaksa’s request to delay the repayment of the loan and his earlier announcement to grant a loan facility of $2.5 billion for Colombo to consider.

Beijing appeared annoyed at Rajapaksa’s comments that China appears to be shifting its strategic focus to Southeast Asia and Africa, noting that South Asian countries in financial trouble are not getting the same attention from Beijing as before.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Monday, Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka was unable to tap $1.5 billion (Beijing line of credit) and has not yet complied with his request to President Xi Jinping for a $1 billion loan to buy essential goods. . †

Rajapaksa said China indicated it would help Sri Lanka but added they “usually don’t like” lending more money to cover past debt payments.

“My analysis is that China has shifted its strategic focus to Southeast Asia,” Rajapaksa said. “They see more strategic importance in the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia, that region and Africa.” “They have less interest in this region,” Rajapaksa said. “I don’t know if I’m right or not, even the focus on Pakistan has decreased. That shows that their interest here isn’t like it used to be. Their interest has shifted to two other areas,” the Sri Lankan president said.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan are the largest recipients of China’s largest investments and loans in the region. While Colombo received about $8-10 billion in investments and loans from China, Beijing is currently committed to building $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that India has protested while being constructed through Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (PoK). ).

Significantly, both countries are looking for IMF rescue packages to overcome the worst economic crisis.

Commenting on Rajapaksa’s comments, Zhao said: “As a traditional friendly neighbor, China always follows the situation in Sri Lanka closely and we deeply sympathize with the current difficulties and challenges facing the country and we are doing our utmost made to aid the socio-economic development of that country.” While Zhao emphasized RMB 500 million aid for medicines, Zhao tried to downplay Rajapaksa’s observations that China has shifted its focus from South Asia, where it competed fiercely with India to expand its influence.

“Priority for China’s diplomacy is in China’s neighboring countries, including South Asian countries. China attaches great importance to developing good neighborly relations with these countries,” Zhao said.

“We are wholeheartedly committed to developing such a friendship,” he said, citing Beijing’s assistance in natural disasters, the global financial crisis and COVID.

“China has always stood side by side with the countries of South Asia and joined together to overcome the difficulties. Under the current circumstances, China will continue to work with all relevant parties to build BRI and maintain the good momentum and see greater benefits for the people of this region,” he said.

He said China has noted with concern that South Asian countries are facing financial, fiscal problems and also difficulties in their balance sheets.

“This has to do with the challenges of COVID-19. These difficulties also have something to do with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as well as the subsequent unilateral sanctions that the US and Western countries have imposed on Russia,” he said.

“The relevant sanctions have further exacerbated the food crisis facing developing countries, as well as their financial difficulties, worsening the situation for their people,” he said.

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