Tue, 27 Sep 2022

Colombo [Sri Lanka], July 27 (ANI): China is seeking to increase its influence in the Indo-Pacific region by bolstering its investments in debt-ridden Sri Lanka along with aligning with "corrupt" politicians of the island nation, media reports said.

Former Sri Lankan Prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had deepened his influence in the country when a 26-year-long civil war with ethnic Tamil separatists came to an end but that only became possible when China stepped in, the Maldives Voice reported.

Sri Lanka started depending heavily on China for economic support, and military equipment and also took loans in bulk for various development projects.

China infuses billions not only to help Sri Lanka but also for corrupt politicians like Mahinda Rajapaksa.

When the word was spilt out to the United Nations about the use of heavy weapons and atrocities by the Sri Lankan military against the Tamil Tigers, it was China who blocked the UN statements warning against attacks on civilians in the island country.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was in office from 2005 to 2015.

The Maldives Voice citing a New York Times article, which was published in 2018, alleged that China Harbour, the company that had built the Hambantota port, was involved in financing the Rajapaksa brothers' campaign during the country's 2015 parliamentary election, from funding cash to clothes for supporters.

During both the 2015 and 2018 elections in Sri Lanka, China invested in the Rajapaksas' campaign, the Maldives Voice reported.

Not only Sri Lanka, but China also had tried to lure the Maldives into their debt trap. In September 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping made an official visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen had a very optimistic outlook for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because the loans provided by the Chinese were easy money for unfeasible projects with the aim of gaining control over assets.

The Male-Hulhumale bridge conceived in 2007, was constructed by China Harbour Engineering Company at a cost of USD 210 million. Similarly, Beijing Urban Construction Group completed the stalled Male international airport expansion project at Hulhumale in 2018.

The overall debt accumulated through loans taken from China amounts to USD 1.5 billion. This includes USD 600 million in loans taken directly by the then government, while the remaining are loans taken by companies that the government issued sovereign guarantees for.

According to a report in Singapore's Strait Times, the Maldives owes over USD 1 billion in debt to Beijing while its total debt stands at USD 5.6 billion, according to the World Bank.

Sri Lanka's economic crisis had triggered protests all over the country. On July 9, a revolutionary moment for Sri Lanka, the people forced then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with no option but to flee the nation and resign. For a country that has treated the Rajapaksas as kings, especially Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is no less than a deity for many Sri Lankans, they had to quit their posts.

The country is facing a severe shortage of fuel and other essential supplies and is in the throes of its worst-ever economic crisis with soaring inflation. The oil supply shortage has forced schools and government offices to close until further notice.

Reduced domestic agricultural production, a lack of foreign exchange reserves, and local currency depreciation have fuelled the shortages. (ANI)

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