Sri Lankan leader insists Chinese-funded projects are viable

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - The President of Sri Lanka on Friday asked a delegation of visitors, led by a senior Chinese diplomat, to help refute the notion that China-funded mega-projects are “debt traps” to influence attract local affairs.
President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa addressed the request to the delegation headed by Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party's Politburo and former Foreign Minister.
China regards the island nation of the Indian Ocean as a critical link in its massive global infrastructure initiative "Belt and Road" and has provided several billion US dollars in loans for projects in Sri Lanka over the past decade. The projects include a seaport, an airport and a port city, highways and power plants.
During their talks, Rajapaksa welcomed Chinese support in upgrading the infrastructure and said the seaport in the south of the island had been proposed by the Sri Lankan government and funded by China.
“Many geopolitical analyzes interpret this project as a debt trap set up by China to take control of Sri Lanka's affairs. I want to prove that it is not and that this major project will help improve people's standard of living. Please help us in this endeavor, "Rajapaksa told the delegation, according to a statement released by his office.
The statement did not explain what help he was seeking from China.
Critics say the projects funded by China are financially unsustainable and Sri Lanka will struggle to repay the loans.
In 2017, Sri Lanka leased the port built in China near the busy shipping lanes to a Chinese company for 99 years to recover from the heavy burden of repaying the Chinese loan the country received for the construction.
The facility is part of Beijing's plan for a number of ports stretching from Chinese waters to the Persian Gulf. China has also agreed to provide a $ 989 million loan to Sri Lanka to build an expressway linking its central tea-growing region to the China-run seaport.
China expanded its presence in Sri Lanka under the leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of current President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajakapaksa, who is currently Prime Minister, held separate talks with Yang on Friday.
China's economic influence on Sri Lanka has worried its neighbor India, who views the Indian Ocean region as its strategic backyard.
Yang's visit comes days after top diplomats from four Indo-Pacific countries - the US, Japan, India and Australia - met in Tokyo to step up their involvement in a regional initiative called "Free and Open Indo-Pacific," China’s growing Assertiveness should counteract in the region.

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