NATIONAL

Sri Lanka, Korea celebrate thriving economic ties

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Feb 6, 2017 - 18:26
  • Updated : Feb 6, 2017 - 18:34

The Sri Lankan Embassy on Friday marked the 69th anniversary of independence from colonial Britain as well as thriving ties with Korea officially extending to 40 years.

The reception at Millennium Seoul Hilton drew dignitaries from both countries, including Kang Ho-in, Korean minister of land, infrastructure and transport, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Sri Lankan minister of disaster management, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Sri Lankan minister of public administration and management, and Chandrani Bandara, Sri Lankan minister of women and child affairs.

Since independence on Feb. 4, 1948, Sri Lanka has had to confront “formidable challenges,” including three decades of conflict, Sri Lankan Ambassador to Korea Manisha Gunasekera highlighted in a speech. 

(From left) Sri Lankan Ambassador to Korea Manisha Gunasekera, Kang Ho-in, Korean minister of land, infrastructure and transport, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Sri Lankan minister of disaster management, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Sri Lankan minister of public administration and management, and Chandrani Bandara, Sri Lankan minister of women and child affairs (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Sri Lankan Ambassador to Korea Manisha Gunasekera (center) and other ambassadors and dignitaries (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

“Yet today, over seven years since the conflict ended, Sri Lanka stands proud in having successfully defeated the forces of terror and consolidated peace,” the envoy stressed. “We are engaged in a transparent process of bringing about durable peace and reconciliation to all people of different ethnicities and religions.”

The national unity government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has established the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, she noted. It has also taken “concrete measures” to strengthen democratic institutions, good governance and the rule of law, while combating corruption through constitutional, judicial and administrative reforms.

The relations between Sri Lanka and Korea are undergirded by some 25,000 Sri Lankan migrant laborers here, who work in the manufacturing, construction and fisheries sectors through the Employment Permit System, according to the ambassador.

A lighthouse in Galle in southern Sri Lanka (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)
The Golden Temple of Dambulla, a Buddhist cave shrine with murals and statues on a mountaintop, and a UNESCO World Heritage site (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)

Last year was marked by high-level exchanges between the two countries. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera visited Korea in March, accompanied by Foreign Employment Minister Thalatha Atukorale. Their visit was followed by Minister of Western Development Patali Champika Ranawaka in May and Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama in September.

Ranawaka signed a memorandum of understanding with Kang for developing new towns in capital Colombo and its surrounding area, a $40 billion initiative known as the Western Region Megapolis Plan. The ambitious scheme aims to transform the greater Colombo area into an economic growth pole over the next 15 years.

“What really opened the door for our vibrant bilateral exchanges was cooperation in construction,” Kang said. He added that Korea had actively participated in various infrastructure developments of Sri Lanka, including the Puttalam housing project, Colombo port expansion project and waterfront resort construction project.

When Sri Lanka was devastated by a wave of killer tsunamis in 2004, Korea lent a helping hand in reconstruction and rehabilitation, Kang added.

“Sri Lanka has served as a vital hub of maritime transport across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe,” Kang said, calling the country “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean” as it is known. He encouraged Koreans to visit Sri Lanka and experience its Buddhist and other historic treasures, tropical natural beauties and Ceylon tea. 

Ceylon tea cultivators in Sri Lanka (Sri Lankan Embassy)
The Sacred Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the second-largest city in Sri Lanka, in the midst of Kandy plateau hills. (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)

“Korea was the top investor in Sri Lanka in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Yapa. “Our government has an ambitious plan to attract foreign investments, including from Korea, by leveraging our locational advantage that links sea and air routes between Asia and Europe.”

Sri Lanka, located at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, has a per capita gross domestic product of $3,700, according to Trading Economics. Its GDP growth rate has averaged over 6 percent from 2003 onward.

According to the embassy, the Sri Lankan government’s main economic policy is to bolster international trade and investment by tapping global and regional value chains, and harnessing its fledging knowledge economy, for which Korea’s expertise is valued. There are 13 industrial parks and export processing zones for foreign investors throughout Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan locals on a road to Kandy (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)
Elephants by a roadside near Nuwara Eliya (Joel Lee / The Korea Herald)

Currently more than 70 Korean companies are operating in the South Asian country, generating 8,000 jobs. Annual bilateral trade stands at $372 million. Direct flights between Colombo and Incheon were launched in 2013. 

The scenic island nation is a leading producer and exporter of apparel, tea, rubber and rubber-based products in the region. It has also concentrated efforts in promoting its information and communication technologies, business process outsourcing and management services, as well as seafood and fisheries, fruits, agriculture and floriculture products.

Colombo and Seoul will mark their 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties on Nov. 14, with 14 promotional events scheduled here. In May, a Sri Lankan food festival will be held at the Millennium Seoul Hilton, the Ravibandu-Samanthi dance ensemble will perform and a photo exhibition and a film festival will be hosted in collaboration with the embassy.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)