Sri Lanka owed Chinese lenders USD 7.4 billion – nearly a fifth of its public external debt – by the end of last year, calculations by the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) published on Wednesday showed, an estimate higher than many others.
The figure was above the “often-quoted 10 to 15 percent figures,” the study said, adding a “significant portion” of the country’s debt to China had been recorded under lending to state-owned enterprises rather than central government.
Crisis-hit Sri Lanka is in the midst of a debt restructuring after years of economic mismanagement combined with the COVID-19 pandemic saw the country plunge into the worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 and tip into default.
Export-Import Bank of China (EximBank) and China Development Bank are the two largest Chinese lenders, accounting for $4.3 billion and $3 billion respectively, according to the data collected by CARI at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
China is Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral creditor and, with India and Japan, part of official creditor talks to restructure the country’s debt.
“China will have to play a major role in Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process,” CARI researchers Umesh Moramudali and Thilina Panduwawala wrote in the report