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Sri Lanka in Crisis: From Debt Traps to Soft Coups

Sri Lanka was plunged into a political crisis in late October when President Maithripala Sirisena suspended parliament and attempted to install his former ally and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister. Decried as illegal and unconstitutional by incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his supporters, the extra-constitutional maneuver has been opposed by a majority in parliament and several court rulings. Nevertheless, Sirisena and Rajapaksa have refused to disband their new shadow government and the country’s political crisis endures. The turmoil is unfolding at a time Sri Lanka is grappling with the consequences of a major expansion of Chinese influence and investments, portrayed as a warning to others about the risks of Chinese “debt traps” and the strategic ambitions underpinning the Belt and Road Initiative. As China and India compete for influence in Colombo and prepare for the potential return of the Rajapaksas, the Trump administration has suspended a major aid package and urged the country to resolve the crisis through democratic means.

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