India will remain a dependable partner and friend of Sri Lanka - External Affairs Minister Dr. S.Jaishankar | Daily News

India will remain a dependable partner and friend of Sri Lanka - External Affairs Minister Dr. S.Jaishankar

India will remain a dependable partner and a reliable friend of Sri Lanka open to strengthening its relationship on the basis of mutual trust, mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual sensitivity, visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar said yesterday.

The Indian External Affairs Minister was addressing a joint press conference with his counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena at the Foreign Ministry in Colombo.

Jaishankar arrived in Colombo on Tuesday night on a three-day visit at the invitation of his Lankan counterpart.

In the morning he had cordial discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo. The press conference preceded the bilateral talks between the two ministers.

Speaking further, Jaishankar said: “India has a solid record as a development partner of Sri Lanka in the social, community and human resources sectors. Whether it is in mass housing or ambulance services, heritage conservation or education, our partnerships have made a real difference to the lives of the people all over the island. Our Lines of Credit have re-built connectivity, facilitating the restoration of normality.”

“We are cognizant of the domestic priorities of the Sri Lankan Government, including in agriculture and technology, education and skills development and urban development. In particular, we understand the importance President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka attach to the establishment of vocational training centres. We will naturally be guided by these priorities in our future endeavours.”

Pointing out that both the countries are faced with daunting and common challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the visiting Minister said “At the same time, I think COVID has given us an opportunity to collaborate even more closely. Reflecting our Neighbourhood First policy, India has supported Sri Lanka’s efforts to tackle COVID through timely medical assistance. I should also place on record my appreciation to the Sri Lankan Government for its assistance and facilitation in evacuation of Indian nationals who were stuck here. We are now looking at post-Covid cooperation and I carry back with me Sri Lanka’s interest in accessing vaccines from India.”

He also said it is gratifying to note that COVID has not been able to dent our bilateral cooperation. High level contacts were maintained and indeed strengthened during the past year and the Virtual Bilateral Summit between PM Modi and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was a high watermark for us in 2020, he added.

“In line with our shared democratic traditions, meetings are also planned with other important political and community leaders. There is also an interaction with the business community.

Right now, he said, India and Sri Lanka both face the immediate challenge of post-COVID recovery. “This is not just a public health issue but equally, a crisis of the economy. Where India is concerned, you are aware that our Covid numbers have come down sharply and the prospect of mass vaccination is in sight. The Indian economy has also shown strong signs of recovery in the last few months. We are very confident that this will be full-blown by the next quarter. These 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.”

As two close neighbours with such obvious synergies, he said: “The potential for further strengthening of bilateral 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. I will ensure an early follow-up.”

“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. 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. That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka will surely be advanced as a consequence.”

“As maritime countries in the Indian Ocean, India and Sri Lanka have a shared interest in ensuring maritime security and safety. We have a long history of cooperation in this regard. India has been the first responder in emergency situations. I am confident that this domain of cooperation will continue to expand in the days ahead. We stand ready to enhance Sri Lanka’s capabilities to meet growing maritime and security challenges.”