Indian Minister’s tour centres on post-Covid economic revival | Sunday Observer

Indian Minister’s tour centres on post-Covid economic revival

10 January, 2021
A discussion between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the Presidential Secretariat
A discussion between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the Presidential Secretariat

“It is a great pleasure to be back in Sri Lanka again. I thank HE the president for his gracious welcome. Our discussions today will surely strengthen our partnership and facilitate our shared ability to overcome Covid challenges. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister, India. 6 Jan 2021.”

Indian External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar penned this in the Visitors’ Book at the Republic Building, which houses the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.

The Indian envoy’s arrival the previous day, on an invitation by his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena an year ago, unfolded a packed itinerary of meetings for the top Indian dignitary with numerous political leaders and the business community in Colombo. It was the first visit by a top foreign dignitary to the country in the new year, signifying the high regard the two countries have placed on each other’s bilateral relations. The visit also happened to be Dr Jaishankar’s first overseas trip for 2021 as well.

Daunting challenges

“I visit Sri Lanka at a time when both our countries are faced with daunting and common challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, I think Covid has given us an opportunity to collaborate even more closely,” he said at a joint press briefing at the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday afternoon. The press conference was open to a limited number of media personnel, hence, was streamed live on Facebook.

The Indian External Affairs Minister said a visit to this beautiful country with which India shares civilisational ties going back to thousands of years, was always a pleasure, professionally as well as personally.

The Indian envoy’s discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat early Wednesday, revolved round the possibility of Sri Lanka accessing Covid-19 vaccines from India. “The President stated that Sri Lanka would like to obtain the Covid vaccine, which is being produced by India following an accurate assessment of the need for treatment,” a statement from the President’s office said.

The duo held a one-on-one meeting which lasted for over an hour with only President Rajapaksa and Dr Jaishankar in attendance.

The Indian Minister said his Government was ready to give priority to Sri Lanka when it started supplying the drug Covaxin to other countries. This would be the best channel for Sri Lanka, cost and health wise, to bring down the Covid-19 vaccine if the supply starts early, health sector officials said. Among other topics discussed with the President were Indian help to revive badly tattered local tourism industry and starting up pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in special zones in Sri Lanka.

“Several other areas for cooperation identified during the discussions included the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port, LNG power plant, construction of houses and roads, development of agriculture and research, communication technology and development of alternative energy sources,” a media release from the President’s Media Unit stated.   Dr Jaishankar said the implementation of these proposed projects will accelerate Sri Lanka’s post-Covid economic revival.

High level contacts

Despite Covid lockdowns in both countries, the two close neighbours maintained and strengthened high level contacts through virtual mode during 2020. A virtual bilateral summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa was held last year. The Indian envoy said it was a high watermark for them in 2020.

“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,” he said.

India had proposed to resume tourism and aviation activities with appropriate Covid-19 restrictions through the Travel Bubble Concept to revitalise economic activities. India is sending tourists to the Maldives under this concept. Foreign Minister Gunawardena sought more Indian foreign direct investments in Sri Lanka, particularly in the proposed pharmaceutical and textiles manufacturing zones.

Dr Jaishankar said the Indian Government will be cognizant of the priorities of the Sri Lankan Government referring to the Government’s policy framework ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ and will enhance cooperation in the areas of agriculture, technology, education and urban development. In response to a proposal by President Rajapaksa, the Indian External Affairs Minister has agreed to set up vocational training centres for the Sri Lankan youth.

Inclusive political outlook

“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,” Dr.Jaishankar said, adding it has been supporting reconciliation in Sri Lanka which encourages inclusive political outlook and ethnic harmony. 

He said that 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, emphasising the importance of meaningful devolution under the 13th Amendment. 

Dr Jaishankar also met Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda to review cooperation in the ‘Covid-challenged’ fisheries sector, after the Sri Lanka-India Joint Working Group on Fisheries concluded recently. They have discussed the prospect of repatriating the Indian fishermen who were arrested while in Sri Lankan waters to India.

During his stay, the Indian top envoy met a team of opposition parliamentarians led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. He also met UNP Leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Dr Jaishankar later tweeted,” Pleasure to catch up with former PM, @RW_UNP. Appreciate his longstanding support for our bi-lateral relationship.” He had an interaction with business leaders in Colombo to share insights on bilateral cooperation in the economic sector.

Dr. Jayashankar also met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure State Minister Jeevan Thondaman. 

The Indian Minister at a discussion with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar signing the Visitors’ Book at the Foreign Ministry