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USAID chief calls on China to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt


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NEW DELHI (AP) — The head of the U.S. government aid agency called on China on Wednesday to help Sri Lanka and other nations that had borrowed heavily from Beijing with debt restructuring, not just with lines of credit and emergency loans.

Samantha Power, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, contrasted India’s “critical” measures to aid Sri Lanka during its worst economic crisis with the two decades during which China offered “opaque loan deals at higher interest rates than other lenders” and financed infrastructure projects that often served little practical use.

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“The biggest question of all is whether Beijing will restructure debt to the same extent as other bilateral creditors,” she said during a visit to India, warning that the crisis in Sri Lanka, albeit a result of different factors, wasn’t unique. Several countries in Africa and Asia were similarly hoping that their calls for restructuring debt would be answered.

“It is really essential that Beijing participate in debt relief transparently and on equitable terms with all other creditors,” Power said.

Sri Lanka is bankrupt and has suspended repayment on its $51 billion foreign loans. The crisis has led to severe shortages of fuel, cooking gas and medicine and long lines for essential supplies, which led to massive protests and the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

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The government is in the process of preparing a debt restructuring plan, a condition for a rescue package it is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund. China, which accounts for 10% of Sri Lanka’s debt, has resisted offering a debt cut.

With climate shocks walloping the economies of nations already battered by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine compounding global food and fuel shortages, Power pointed to the protests related to food and fuel prices in over a dozen countries as inflation soars.

“If history is any guide, we know that Sri Lanka’s government will likely not be the last to fall,” she said.

Power traveled in East Africa earlier this month to spotlight the hunger crisis in the region where more than 50 million people are expected to face acute food insecurity this year. She said that millions of tons of grain and oil, crucial for bringing down global food prices, were blocked in Ukrainian seaports because of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

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She said that “India’s voice and its diplomacy” was crucial in brokering the deal to clear the way for the grain to be exported from Ukraine. But with Russian missiles hitting Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odess hours after it was inked, she admitted that the deal was “very much hanging in the balance.”

At a news conference after her speech, Power said that the fact that Russia agreed to a deal was a “better circumstance” than the alternative, but added that the only way those grains could reach global markets was if Russia allows them to be transported without attacking them.

“So far what we’ve seen from the Russian Federation is a string of lies and broken promises,” she said, and added that it was crucial for all countries, not just the U.S. or India, to hold Russia to the terms of the deal.

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