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Mahinda Rajapaksa's debt-fuelled infra development didn't help Sri Lanka, says former Indian HC to Lanka

Colombo, Sri LankaWritten By: Sidharth MPUpdated: Sep 01, 2022, 04:48 PM IST
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Foreseeing a long and painful transition for Sri Lanka, the former Indian ambassador to the island nation said that they had the requisite resilience to overcome the same. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Pointing out the impact of China's debt-trap diplomacy on Sri Lanka, Kantha quoted Sri Lankan analysts and stated that Sri Lanka's debt to China is much more than the widely quoted 10 per cent of total foreign debt.

"Mahinda Rajapaksa's model of large infrastructure development based on domestic and foreign borrowing didn’t help their country, as the large infrastructure projects were not economically viable and saw high levels of corruption," said Ashok Kantha, India's former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.

Referring to hugely expensive projects such as the Hambantota port, Port City Project and Matara Airport, he said they were "white elephants" and that such a growth model made the economy vulnerable.

He was speaking at a session on 'Sri Lanka-The Present Crisis, Geopolitical Challenges & Way Ahead', organised by the Chennai Centre for China Studies. He said that by pressing Sri Lanka to explore an alternate growth model, it could capitalise on its vantage strategic location, encourage greater economic linkages with the Indian economy, encourage private investment, establish power-generation projects, tap into its human resources, etc.

Pointing out the impact of China's debt-trap diplomacy on Sri Lanka, Kantha quoted Sri Lankan analysts and stated that Sri Lanka's debt to China is much more than the widely quoted 10 per cent of total foreign debt.

"China's commercial lending to government and state-owned enterprises in Sri Lanka is 19.9 per cent by the end of 2021 and the actual number might be higher, given the opacity of loans." 

Foreseeing a long and painful transition for Sri Lanka, the former Indian ambassador to the island nation said that they had the requisite resilience to overcome the same. He suggests that Sri Lanka look at economic development rather than debt-fueled growth. With regards to India’s stance, he said that India must remain closely engaged without getting involved in Lankan domestic politics, avoid picking favourites, and must let democratic processes play out.