Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday expressed his appreciation for China for its “continued friendship, particularly during these trying times”, as he thanked his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for wishing him on his birthday.
Rajapaksa was born on June 20, 1949.
“Thank you President Xi Jinping for the warm birthday wishes. Along with all of #lka I also want to thank #China for her continued friendship, particularly during these trying times. May the ties between our two nations grow from strength to strength,” he tweeted, referring to the worst economic crisis faced by the island nation and Rajapaksa’s bid to restructure debts owed to Beijing.
It is estimated that Sri Lanka owes debt payments to China in the region of USD 1.5 to 2 billion this year. China’s loans and investments in Sri Lanka were estimated to be more than USD eight billion in the last few years.
China’s takeover of the Hambantota port on 99 years’ lease for USD 1.2 billion debt swap drew international concerns over Beijing acquiring strategic assets far away from home by providing heavy loans and investment to smaller nations to build unviable infrastructure projects.
Xi sent a birthday letter to Rajapaksa and underlined the spirit of the Rubber-Rice Pact “independence, self-reliance, unity & mutual support” against the current situation, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka tweeted last week.
China always stands ready to extend its support to Sri Lanka, Xi, also General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China, wrote in his letter to Rajapaksa.
“2022 marks the 65th anniversary of China and Sri Lanka diplomatic ties. We have been understanding & supporting each other for 65 years. I attach great importance to the development of our relations and would continue work to elevate it to new heights,” he wrote.
Sri Lanka has been grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The economic crisis has also created political unrest in the country.
There have been street protests in Sri Lanka against the government since early April due to its mishandling of the economic crisis.
A crippling shortage of foreign reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas, and other essentials while power cuts and soaring food prices have heaped misery on the people.
On May 9, the political crisis saw the unleashing of violence with 10 people, including a parliamentarian, being killed. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa had to resign as prime minister amidst the political and economic turmoil.