Sri Lanka is facing the biggest economic crisis since its independence. Its policy was wrong in some cases:

  1. Chinese debt trap.

  2. Due to lack of industrial growth, the Government of Sri Lanka provided government assets to Chinese companies and one port is within a lease for 99 years taken by the Chinese.

  3. Sri Lanka is governed as a private business by the Rajapaksha family.

  4. Significant amount of losses in the tourism business.

  5. Tax cut to business personal

etc. Now, they have few options:

  1. IMF bailout

  2. Credit line from India

Even if there was a debt trap, the country may not lose sovereignty to the credit line provider.

How does the Chinese debt trap work here for the economic crisis as many countries are in debt to China and they did not have much economic crisis except Pakistan and China?

  • I'm confused what you could mean by "Privatization of Chinese companies". And I'll give you option 3: default and force creditors to take some haircut. Apr 17, 2022 at 5:46
  • @Fizz why anyone will allow haircuts the way Rajapaksa wants? But Rajapaksa wants 20% relief from the principal amount of 50% from the interest payout and IMF bailout.
    Apr 17, 2022 at 5:54
  • It looks like the IMF will not give them any money until after debt restructuring. And the major debt holders appear to the China and Japan, although they only make 10% so it's really rather distributed. Apr 17, 2022 at 7:55
  • And what India was willing to lend insofar is not enough to cover the debt. I have no idea if they seriously think of supplanting the IMF. Apr 17, 2022 at 8:01

1 Answer 1


The causes of the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka have more to do with other bad decisions by their government, including:

The government made a slew of policy decisions which resulted in macroeconomic imbalances on all fronts and this exacerbated the economic crisis, says Dr. W.A Wijewardena, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. These mistakes range from the tax cuts to poorly thought out borrowing to selling forex reserves to prop up the exchange rate with the dollar to an overly ambitious shift to organic farming which caused a significant drop in agricultural output.

Although the Chinese reluctance to discuss debt restructuring with Sri Lanka may have added to the current problems (they apparently asked in January, but have yet to hear back, according to The Economist) only 10% of Sri Lanka's debt is officially owed to China directly, at least according to official figures.

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Similar analysis here

Most of this debt took the form of international sovereign bonds (ISBs). But this quick and dirty solution came at a price: higher interest rates, shorter maturity periods, and greater risk. By 2019, commercial borrowing, which was a mere 2.5 percent of foreign debt in 2004, had ballooned to 56 percent.

In comparison, Chinese-owned debt (including public debt and publicly guaranteed debt) represented only 17.2 percent of foreign debt in 2019. But the real devil lies in the effective interest rates of the ISBs, which are more than double those of Chinese loans. Sri Lanka’s interest payments alone took up 95.4 percent of government revenue in 2021. For comparison, its credit-rating peers Ethiopia and Laos have rates of 11.8 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively.

While Sri Lanka’s higher development status should have resulted in more direct taxation and the growth of the tax-to-GDP ratio, its tax system is highly inequitable, with indirect taxation accounting for an estimated 80–82 percent of revenue. The falling tax-to-GDP ratio is due in part to the failure to expand the tax base, reliance on indirect taxation, tax policy instability, and an excess of tax concessions and relief.

Import duties are Sri Lanka’s preferred form of revenue collection—more than half of government revenue is raised this way. Rich and poor are taxed equally on consumption of essential food imports, cooking fuel, and even sanitary pads. Heavy taxes on consumer goods have created a regressive tax system that struggles to collect sufficient revenue to finance public spending. In contrast, progressive taxation has failed to grow since the 1990s, with the number of individual taxpayers not keeping up with economic expansion.

The irony here is that as the Sri Lankan government limited imports in order to stem the outflow of foreign reserves, due to the tax structure that also significantly cut their tax revenue. This on top of the pandemic-related loss of tourism income.

It's also true that China was the major lender to Sri Lanka in 2020, but that's because ISB money had dried out, after their credit rating was cut in late 2019 (as a result of their tax cuts), so they could no longer roll over ISBs. And the Chinese didn't lend them enough money to fully cover this shortfall, so Sri Lanka's forex reserves rapidly diminished as they were used to cover the difference.

  • 1
    I think credit line from India is increased recently up to 2B ~ 2.5B (approx). Also, India provided aid to Sri Lanka with fertilizers, rice, wheat, etc.
    Apr 17, 2022 at 10:33
  • 2
    @CADENTIC: still won't cover the shortfall even according to the Indian press though indianexpress.com/article/india/… (I avoided talking about India my answer since you mainly asked about China). Apr 17, 2022 at 10:35
  • Tourism also seems to have been a big factor due to church bombings by an Islamist terrorist that killed hundred and collapsed the industry overnight combined with COVID impacts on tourism. Tourism is the #1 industry in Sri Lanka, although agricultural products and textile production are also important.
    – ohwilleke
    May 27, 2022 at 18:57

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