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India seeks to counter China sway in Maldives with bridge project

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India to overtake China’s bridge diplomacy in Maldives

Malé (Maldives) – India on Thursday pledged $500 million to build bridges and causeways in the Maldives, as New Delhi seeks to counter growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives borrowed billions of dollars from Beijing and hired Chinese firms for infrastructure projects under previous President Abdulla Yameen.

This stoked concerns in India and the West that China was saddling countries in Asia and beyond with unsustainable debts while expanding its sphere of influence.

Under the new Maldives government, India has sought to regain influence in the archipelago nation of 340,000 people and 1,192 islands located on major East-West shipping lanes.

The new investment announced takes India’s total pledged outlay to over $2 billion since President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came to power, India’s foreign ministry said.

Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said the new money was part of a financial package to build bridges and causeways linking the capital Male to three neighbouring islets.

“Once completed, the project will be the single largest infrastructure project in the Maldives,” Shahid said in a statement.

In total, they will also be more than three times longer than the $200-million “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” completed under Yameen with Chinese loans which has since been re-named.

It was not clear how long the new project would take.

Shahid also id his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in their talks Thursday had pledged $250 million to meet urgent needs and support efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The virus has infected over 5,300 people and claimed 21 lives in the Maldives, where its crucial tourism industry took a battering.

“There has been a reset in our relations,” an Indian diplomat said after the bilateral talks via video conference.

“In the last one-and-a-half years, President Solih and his government have acted on its ‘India First’ policy in right earnest. In line with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India has worked proactively to deepen its ties with the Maldives.”

 



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Economic crisis: 100,000 families already starving

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Govt. to provide monthly assistance package – official

By Ifham Nizam 

Plans are underway to assist an average needy family of  four with a monthly package of Rs. 15,000, a senior adviser to President Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday, adding that the move was expected to help ameliorate the plight of nearly 65,000 families.

Food Security Committee Chairman Dr. Suren Batagoda told The Island yesterday that at present some 100,000 families across the country were starving.

He said financial assistance would be provided to those families for three months. Within three months, the government would design a package in the form of food stamps, etc.

Dr. Batagoda said the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the World Bank, and state agencies would also team up to strengthen food security, focusing especially on needy pregnant mothers and pre-school children.

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GR govt. ignored Chinese lenders’ request for debt restructuring

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government had ignored suggestions by Chinese lending institutions that Sri Lanka to restructure the debt in 2021, Prof. Samitha Hettige said yesterday.

“The Rajapaksa government started talking of debt restructuring earlier this year. The Opposition had been asking for this before,” he said.  By 2021, before the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration decided on debt restructuring, the Chinese institutions that had given Sri Lanka loans suggested that a restructuring process should start since Sri Lanka would have trouble repaying the loans, the Strategic Studies scholar said.

However, the request had gone unheeded, and if the government had started discussions then, Sri Lanka would not have been in crisis, Prof. Hettige said.

The Sri Lankan foreign policy, in the last few years, had also been misguided, Prof. Hettige said. A number of Indian and Chinese companies faced unnecessary issues by the behaviour of the government, he said.

Prof. Hettige said that the government must focus on establishing free trade ports and reducing negative lists for investments.

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SJB dissociates itself from SF’s call for protest

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By Chaminda Silva

MP Sarath Fonseka’s call for people to join anti-government protests was not a decision taken by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), party MP J.C Alawathuwala said.

The SJB believed that they had to help President Ranil Wickremesinghe stabilise the country, economically and politically, he said.

MP Alawathuwala said the President must be given some time to solve the problems faced by the people and that the SJB was holding discussions with the government to guide it on a people-friendly path.

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