China says Sri Lankan prime minister to visit next week

China says Sri Lankan prime minister to visit next week
China says Sri Lankan prime minister to visit next week

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena will visit China, his country's biggest bilateral lender, next week, Beijing's foreign ministry said today. ― Reuters pic

BEIJING, March 22 — Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena will visit China, his country's biggest bilateral lender, next week, Beijing's foreign ministry said today.

“At the invitation of Premier Li Qiang of the State Council, Prime Minister... of Sri Lanka Dinesh Gunawardena will pay an official visit to China from March 25 to 30,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lin Jian said in a statement.

Beijing accounts for around 10 per cent of the island's total foreign debt.

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Sri Lanka defaulted on its US$46 billion (RM218 billion) external debt in April 2022 after the country ran out of foreign exchange to finance even essential imports such as food, fuel and medicine.

It secured a US$2.9 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout last year, with the programme conditional on a debt deal that satisfies foreign creditors.

The IMF said this week that it had reached a staff-level agreement with Colombo to clear the way for the release of US$337 million, the third instalment of the four-year bailout.

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But it said the “critical” next steps were to finalise agreements with creditors.

Beijing said Friday Gunawardena would meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during his visit for “an in-depth exchange of views on continuing China-Sri Lanka traditional friendship”.

“China attaches great importance to the development of China-Sri Lanka relations,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lin said.

It would also seek to “jointly build the Belt and Road with high quality, expand exchanges and cooperation in various fields”, he added, a reference to a vast infrastructure project that is a central pillar of President Xi's bid to expand China's clout overseas.

China also announced today that the foreign minister of Nepal, another South Asian nation with close ties to Beijing, would visit.

“Narayan Kaji Shrestha will pay an official visit to China from March 25 to April 1,” Lin said. — AFP

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