New chapter in Sri Lanka–Korea relations | Daily News

New chapter in Sri Lanka–Korea relations

Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) are marking the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic ties this year. The two countries have however been very close culturally for centuries and are joined by the common thread of Buddhism.

Signifying this significant milestone, President Maithripala Sirisena is now on a three-day State Visit to Korea on an invitation extended by the Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two leaders are scheduled to hold summit discussions at the Cheong Wa Dae or the Blue House, the official residence of President Moon, following which a bilateral meeting will be held with the participation of visiting Sri Lankan Ministers and Korean Ministers.

The highlight of the visit will be the signing of several key agreements on economic cooperation, economic development cooperation fund (EDCF) and cultural cooperation, as well as MoUs on investment cooperation and the Employment Permit System (EPS). There are about 30,000 Sri Lankan workers employed in Korea in manufacturing, construction and fisheries sectors, which is perhaps the biggest concentration of Sri Lankan expatriate employees after the Middle East. Thousands of Lankan youth join these ranks every year. No other country has provided such an opportunity to Sri Lankan youth. Moreover, over 100 Sri Lankan students are studying in Korean universities, many of them on Korean Government scholarships.

There is much scope for expanding Korea-Sri Lanka ties in every sphere from tourism to bilateral trade. Inbound tourism from Korea received a boost with the commencement of direct flights by Korean Air a few years ago. Korean tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka which stood at 4,318 in 2010, jumped to 14,373 in 2015. A bigger tourism promotion campaign should be conducted in Korea, targeting the pilgrimage and leisure sectors. Many affluent Sri Lankans are now discovering Korea and we hope the Korean Government will further relax visa requirements for visiting Sri Lankans.

The Presidential delegation will focus on trade, with Korea identified as a potential partner for a Free Trade Agreement. There has been a modest but steady increase in bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Korea which stands at approximately US$ 500 million. The main export from Sri Lanka to Korea is apparel, accounting for 34 percent of Sri Lanka’s total export earnings from South Korea in 2014. Korean vehicles are a common sight on Sri Lankan roads, having won over Lankan motorists for their reliability and technological excellence. Many other Korean goods from televisions to cellular phones are immensely popular in Sri Lanka.

The delegation will also promote investments in Sri Lanka among the Korean business community. Korea remains one of the most important sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Sri Lanka with over 70 Korean companies being based in Sri Lanka. This has generated more than 4,000 job opportunities for our youth.

Korea is also one of Sri Lanka’s leading donors of Official Development Assistance (ODA). Korean ODA has contributed toward Sri Lanka’s development process through the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF), and grant assistance via the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). Sri Lanka is the second highest recipient of Korean ODA assistance in terms of cumulative disbursements (US$ 430 million) - and is placed at number five in terms of commitments out of 52 developing countries. In Sri Lanka, Korea stands at the fourth place among donors.

There are many lessons that our lawmakers and people can learn from Korea. When World War II ended, Korea was way behind both Sri Lanka and Japan in terms of economic growth. Today, we have slipped far behind, while South Korea is officially recognized as a fully developed Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member, second only to Japan in Asia. In fact, the South Korean economy grew at the second-fastest rate among OECD member countries in the third quarter of 2017.

Korea achieved development through an ambitious programme of local production, industrialization and revival of villages under the Saemaul Undong program or the ‘new village movement’, based on the principles of diligence, self-help and cooperation. The latter is now being trialled in several Sri Lankan villages.

It has recently taken several far-reaching decisions with regard to the elimination of corruption in Government as well as in the private sector, especially the main Chaebols (conglomerates). A solid reform process is underway in many other sectors.

South Korea does face many challenges, one of the biggest being neighbouring North Korea, whose young leader Kim Jong Un has not been reluctant to hide his nuclear ambitions. However, South Korea has acted with extreme caution and responsibility to ward off any unnecessary crisis on its doorstep, keeping the ultimate goal of reunification in mind. Unity is essential for both Sri Lanka and Korea as they face the future. The President’s current visit will lay a firm foundation for further strengthening the relations between the two countries for the next 40 years and beyond. 


 

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