Jan 06, Colombo: While assuring Sri Lanka that India that will always be a dependable partner and reliable friend, the visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar emphasized on fulfilling commitments made by the Sri Lankan government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Addressing a joint press conference after meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Minister Dinesh Gunawardena Wednesday at the Foreign Ministry, Dr. Jaishankar said it is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka are fulfilled.
“As we promote peace and well-being in the region, India has been strongly committed to the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Our support for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is longstanding, as indeed for an inclusive political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony,” he said.
The visiting Minister added that progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka will surely be advanced as a consequence of meaningful devolution.
Commenting on his visit at a time when both countries are faced with daunting and common challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister Jaishankar said the Covid has given the two countries an opportunity to collaborate even more closely and reflecting India’s “Neighborhood First” policy, India has supported Sri Lanka’s efforts to tackle Covid through timely medical assistance.
Expressing appreciation to the Sri Lankan Government for its assistance and facilitation in evacuation of Indian nationals who were stuck in the island, the EAM said “We are now looking at post-Covid cooperation and I carry back with me Sri Lanka’s interest in accessing vaccines from India.”
He noted that Covid has not been able to dent the bilateral cooperation between the two countries and High level contacts were maintained and strengthened during the past year. “The Virtual Bilateral Summit between PM Modi and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was a high watermark for us in 2020,” he said.
Speaking about the scheduled meetings with Sri Lanka’s business community, the Indian Minister told them that India will always be a dependable partner and reliable friend, open to strengthening its relationship with Sri Lanka on the basis of mutual trust, mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual sensitivity.
He noted that right now, India and Sri Lanka both face the immediate challenge of post-Covid recovery as it is not just a public health issue but equally, a crisis of the economy.
Pointing out that India’s Covid numbers have come down sharply while the prospect of mass vaccination is in sight, and the Indian economy has also shown strong signs of recovery in the last few months, Dr. Jaishankar said India’s developments will obviously have a positive impact on Sri Lanka
“At the same time, there are specific challenges that need addressing, whether it is in finance or in trade. My visit is aimed at facilitating that process,” he said.
“As two close neighbors with such obvious synergies, the potential for further strengthening our cooperation is enormous. Some of that may help provide immediate relief; others would have very positive medium-term implications for Sri Lanka’s development. There are many proposals under discussion, including in infrastructure, energy, connectivity, etc. Their early implementation is obviously in mutual interest and would definitely accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. Let me stress that Indian business is strongly interested in investing in Sri Lanka. We have discussed some important opportunities including in special zones for pharmaceutical manufacturing as also in tourism,” he said.
Commenting on the long history of cooperation as maritime countries in the Indian Ocean, Dr. Jaishankar said India and Sri Lanka have a shared interest in ensuring maritime security and safety and while India has been the first responder in emergency situations, it stands ready to enhance Sri Lanka’s capabilities to meet growing maritime and security challenges.
With regard to matters covering fisheries, he said India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on this issue has met recently where all outstanding issues were discussed in an open and candid manner. “We naturally look forward to an early return of our fishermen. I will also be meeting Fisheries Minister Mr. Douglas Devananda later this afternoon to discuss this further.”
Sri Lanka has assumed leadership of BIMSTEC and India looks forward to participating in the next BIMSTEC Summit in Colombo, he added.