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Crisis-hit SL asks China to restructure debt repayments

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 Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has asked China to restructure the crisis-hit island nation’s debt repayments as part of efforts to help the South Asian country navigate its worsening financial situation, the BBC reported.

Rajapaksa made the request during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday.

In the last decade, China has lent Sri Lanka over $5 billion for projects including roads, an airport and ports, the BBC report said.

China is Sri Lanka’s fourth biggest lender, behind international financial markets, the Asian Development Bank and Japan.

But critics say the money was used for unnecessary schemes with low returns.

“The President pointed out that it would be a great relief to the country if attention could be paid on restructuring the debt repayments as a solution to the economic crisis that has arisen in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Rajapksa’s office said in a statement.

The statement also said China was asked to provide “concessional” terms for its exports to Sri Lanka, which amounted to around $3.5 billion last year, without providing further details, the report added.

Rajapaksa also offered to allow Chinese tourists to return to Sri Lanka provided they adhere to strict coronavirus regulations.

Before the pandemic, China was Sri Lanka’s main source of tourists and it imports goods from the Asian giant more than from any other country.

In recent months, Sri Lanka has been experiencing a severe debt and foreign exchange crisis, which has been made worse by the loss of tourist income during the pandemic, the BBC report said.

The country has received billions of dollars of soft loans from China but the island-nation has been engulfed in a foreign exchange crisis which some analysts have said has pushed it to the verge of default, as per the BBC report.

Sri Lanka has to repay about $4.5 billion in debt this year starting with a $500 million international sovereign bond, which matures on January 18.

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India, Australia review cooperation under Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese on Tuesday reviewed the multi-dimensional cooperation under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

Cooperation under the partnership includes in the sectors of trade and investment; defence manufacturing; renewable energy, education; science and technology; agricultural research; sports; and people-to-people ties.

The two Prime Ministers met on the sidelines of the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo.

Modi congratulated Albanese for his win in the May 21 federal election.

The two leaders affirmed their desire to continue the positive momentum in the bilateral relationship.

Modi also extended an invitation to Albanese to visit India at an early date.

In a tweet after the meeting, Modi said: “India’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Australia is robust and benefits not only the people of our nations but also the world.”

He said he was delighted to meet Albanese and “take stock of bilateral ties. We discussed ways to add even greater momentum across key sectors”.

Also on Tuesday, a bilateral meet is scheduled between Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, during which they will review the strategic partnership between New Delhi and Tokyo.

Earlier in the day, Modi met US President Joe Biden.

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New South Korean President takes oath, vows to rebuild nation

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Yoon Suk-yeol, a former prosecutor, took the oath of office as the 13th President of South Korea on Tuesday and vowed to rebuild the nation on the foundation of a liberal democracy and market economy.

The 61-year-old kicked off his five-year term at midnight in the underground bunker of the new presidential office building in Yongsan by receiving a briefing from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

To usher in the new administration, a bell-ringing ceremony was held at the stroke of midnight in downtown Seoul.

His inauguration ceremony was attended by 41,000 people, including foreign envoys such as US Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan.

In his inaugration address, Yoon outlined various challenges facing the country and the world from pandemics and rearrangements in global supply chains to record-low growth and rising unemployment in South Korea.

“It is our generation’s calling to build a nation that espouses liberal democracy and ensures a thriving market economy, a nation that fulfils its responsibility as a trusted member of the international community, and a nation that truly belongs to the people,” he said before some 41,000 people gathered at the ceremony, noting that he is mindful of his “solemn duty to rebuild
this great nation”.

The new President also offered North Korea an olive branch amid its increased saber rattling

“While North Korea’s nuclear weapon programmes are a threat not only to our security and that of Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat.

“If North Korea genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearization, we are prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people,” he added.

Yoon takes over at a time when South Korea is struggling to deal with economic challenges stemming from the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and other factors resulting in the phenomenon of “three simultaneous highs” in inflation, interest rates and exchange rates.

Both economic security and North Korea are expected to feature high on the agenda of Yoon’s first summit with US President Joe Biden in Seoul on May 21.

On the domestic front, he faces a hostile National Assembly controlled by the main opposition Democratic Party.

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China’s intent has been to keep the boundary issue alive: Indian Army Chief

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China seems to lack the intention to find a resolution to the border dispute at the Line of Actual Control, Army Chief General Manoj Pande said on Monday, stressing that Indian troops continue to hold important positions along the LAC.

During an interaction with media persons, General Pande said, “Our guidance to them (troops deployed at LAC) is to be firm and resolute and prevent any attempt to alter the status quo.”

Talking about the current situation at the border and China’s intention, General Pande stated: “The basic issue remains the resolution of the border. What we see is that China’s intent has been to keep the boundary issue alive. What we need as a country is a ‘Whole of nation’ approach and in the military domain, this is to prevent and counter any attempt to alter the status quo at the LAC.”

The Army chief said that his aim and intention is to establish status quo ante prior to 2020 and re-establish trust and tranquility. But he clearly stated that it can’t be a “one way affair” and efforts should be made from both sides.

He stated that in the last couple of years the Indian Army has taken the decision to rebalance and reorient to deal with the situation in Eastern Ladakh.

Ever since the border dispute, the force is carrying out reappraisal and reassessment and taking certain actions to have a robust posture along the LAC. “Adequate forces are available to deal with all types of contingencies,” he added.

The Army’s focus at the LAC is to upgrade Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and build our infrastructure to support operations and logistics. Induction of new technologies is part of the ongoing process of capability development along the entire northern border, he said.

To resolve the border dispute with China, the Army chief said, India is engaging in diplomatic and military talks which so far has resulted in disengagement in the north and south of Pangong Tso, Gogra and PP 14 (Galwan valley).

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