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SL Finance Minister to plea for aid again in his second Indian visit

Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa would lead a delegation to the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ summit to be held from 10 to 12 January, ‘official sources disclosed.

 He is likely to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during this visit, his second to India in about a month.

Official sources said the Minister would travel to India a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi concludes his two-day visit to the island nation, signaling Colombo’s intensive engagement with both New Delhi and Beijing at a time when it faces one of its worst economic setbacks in history.

Basil Rajapaksa was in New Delhi from 30 November to 2 December. Despite officials indicating that he was scheduled to call on PM Modi, the meeting did not take place, reportedly due to scheduling issues – something that Sri Lankan media highlighted prominently in their coverage of the high-profile visit.

He, however, held talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. They drew up a ‘four pillar’ initiative as part of which India agreed to extend emergency Lines of Credit for import of food, medicines and fuel, and a currency swap to help the island nation tide over its relentless dollar crisis.

Sri Lanka’s external reserves stood at $ 3.1 billion at year-end, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka said on Wednesday — an increase from the $ 1.6 billion reported last month — although some have challenged the claim, asking if the bank was including the $ 1.5 billion currency swap cleared by China earlier this year.

Colombo-based think tank Pathfinder Foundation has warned of a “a very real possibility of a sovereign debt default” next year, citing the $ 1 billion due in debt-service payment in January and a total $ 7 billion to be served throughout the year.

American credit rating agency Fitch on 17 December downgraded Sri Lanka to ‘CC’ rating, the lowest before default.

A month since MP Basil’s last visit seeking assistance from New Delhi, Colombo awaits news. In fact, New Delhi is yet to move on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s request for a debt freeze, made personally to PM Modi almost two years ago, as well as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request for a ‘special’ $ 1.1 billion currency swap made in May 2020.

Going by diplomatic signals, the operative part of the recent bilateral initiative of the ‘four pillars’ appears centred on bilateral energy pacts, especially the ‘early modernization’ of the Second World War-era oil tanks in the eastern Trincomalee district, a long-stalled project coveted by India for decades.

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