By Susitha Fernando
Colombo, Jan 20 (SocialNews.XYZ) Visiting External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Friday reassured India's strong ties with Sri Lanka and insisted that New Delhi would standby it southern neighbour which is going through the worst ever economic crisis in its post-independent history.
"I would like to underline that India is a reliable neighbour, a trustworthy partner, one who is prepared to go the extra mile when Sri Lanka feels the need. My presence here today is a statement about Prime Minister Modi's commitment to 'Neighbourhood First'," Jaishankar said while making a statement in the presence of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry.
"We will stand by Sri Lanka in this hour of need and are confident that Sri Lanka will overcome the challenges that it currently faces," he asserted.
Jaishankar went on to say this his "primary purpose of coming to Colombo at this time is to express India's solidarity with Sri Lanka during these difficult moments".
"As you all know, last year, India extended about $4 billion in terms of credits and roll overs to help Sri Lanka get through an economic crisis. For us, it was an issue of 'Neighbourhood First' and not leaving a partner to fend for themselves."
He also handed over an invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to President Wickremesinghe to visit India at an early date to discuss how partnership between the two countries could facilitate the island nation's strong recovery.
India, one of the main bilateral creditors of Sri Lanka, this week assured the International Monetary Fund (IMF) its assistance to the debt restructure programme that Colombo is desperately awaiting to get the four-year IMF bailout package of $2.9 billion.
Following the 2019 Easter Sunday attack, Covid 19-pandemic as well as wrong political and economic decision making, Sri Lanka, one of South Asia's most famous tourist hotspots, was forced to undergo an unprecedented economic crisis with shortages of food, medicine, fuel and cooking gas since early 2022.
Coming to Sri Lanka's rescue, India within the first six months from January 2022 extended credit line and financial assistance worth nearly $4 billion and provided essentials like food and medicine as aids.
Going through high inflation and a dollar crunch, Sri Lanka is desperately awaiting the $2.9 billion IMF bailout package to strengthen cash-strapped economy.
But to obtain the package, bilateral creditors including India, China and Japan, must agree for the debt restructuring process.
On his part, Foreign Minister Sabry expressed the country's extreme gratitude to India for taking the initiative to inform the IMF of its support to Sri Lanka.
"We are all aware that Sri Lanka is at a decisive moment with the discussion with the IMF. In order to place our economy on a path of IMF-assisted recovery, we needed the time assurance from our creditors.
"Once against India has extended its hand in support of the first country to officially back our debt recovery restructuring programme by conveying financial assurances to the IMF. Dr. Jaishankar, we are profoundly grateful to India once again for demonstrating your confidence and solidarity with Sri Lanka," Sabry added..
While taking the lead in assuring Sri Lanka's debt restructuring, India also urged other creditors, including China who hold nearly $7 billion as loans from Sri Lanka, to help the island nation at this crucial moment.
"We felt strongly that Sri Lanka's creditors must take proactive steps to facilitate its recovery. India decided not to wait on others but to do what we believe is right. We extended financing assurances to the IMF to clear the way for Sri Lanka to move forward. Our expectation is that this will not only strengthen Sri Lanka's position but ensure that all bilateral creditors are dealt with equally," Jaishankar reiterated.
While helping Sri Lanka during its worst financial crisis, India assured investment to help "a strong economic recovery".
"India will encourage greater investments in the Sri Lankan economy, especially in the core areas like energy, tourism and infrastructure. We count on the government of Sri Lanka to provide a more business-friendly environment to create a powerful pull factor," he said.
While highlighting Sri Lanka's serious challenge for energy security, Jaishankar highlighted the island nation's enormous renewable energy potential and stressed the capability of developing Trincomalee in the eastern coastal region as an energy hub.
While informing of Indian tourists' "positive sentiments" for Sri Lanka as a tourist destination, the Minister stressed the importance of "strengthening connectivity and promoting travel" and urged the need to encourage Indian tourists to make RuPay payments or Indian multinational financial services and payment service system and utilise Unified Payments Interface (UPI).
"In a turbulent world, it is essential that India and Sri Lanka steady their trade. The use of rupee settlement for trade is obviously in our mutual interest," Jaishankar stressed.
Following a three-decade-long Civil War and an urgent need for a reconciliation for the country that is going through a political turmoil, the Indian Minister highlighted the need to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which was result of Indo-Lanka Accord signed in 1987.
Meanwhile, Sabry also thanked New Delhi of its continued support and signing of an MoU on an Indian grant assistance for the implementation of high impact community development project and gifting of the Kandian dancing academy under the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligwawa) heritage project, several housing projects in a number districts around the country.
He said that while being one of the largest and fasted economies in the world, "India's growth is beneficial to the region and as well as to Sri Lanka".
"We are watching India's economic success and international prestige with great admiration. India has recently taken over the chairmanship of G20. We have noticed with respect also the intellectual impetus in favour of the global South that Prime Minister Modi and yourself, Dr. Jaishankar, personally infused to the international agenda," Sabry added.