By Himalee Arunatilaka
Sri Lanka is a country with a rich history spanning more than 2500 years. Its strategic location and abundant natural resources have attracted the attention of the world from ancient times.
Sri Lanka was an important trading hub on the ancient silk route and a place where the east met west.
Following a long period of colonial rule, on 4 February 1948 Sri Lanka, known as Ceylon at the time, regained its independence, after a long struggle. On this occasion, I pay tribute to all Sri Lankan leaders and national heroes who were committed and laid down their lives, to achieving Independence of our country.
We are a proud democracy and the oldest one in Asia. Sri Lankan people have enjoyed universal franchise since 1931. All Sri Lankan leaders who have held office since then, have been elected by the people through the ballot.
Similarly, on 16 November last year, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the 7th Executive President by the majority vote of the people; with a clear mandate to lead the country towards a safer, secure and prosperous future where all Sri Lankans can live freely and in full enjoyment of their freedoms ensured by the Constitution.
In his election manifesto President Gotabaya Rajapaksa elaborated his vision to “safeguard national security without compromising the democratic space available to (the) people”.
In his National Day address on 4th February 2020, President Rajapaksa further reiterated his vision to safeguard and strengthen the people’s freedom, while guaranteeing political and economic freedom in a democratic country.
The President said that addressing inequality and eradicating poverty will be a priority for the Government, as the “public will only achieve true freedom when social and economic inequalities are minimized.”
Since independence, Sri Lanka has come a long way in terms of political, economic and social development, despite many challenges, including the biggest threat posed to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The country owes a deep debt of gratitude to our valiant armed forces, whose professionalism and sacrifices safeguarded the country by defeating terrorism, and ensuring that Sri Lanka remain a democracy.
Since ending the thirty year-long brutal conflict in which the socio economic fabric of the entire country suffered under terrorism, Sri Lanka was able to transform itself into a fast growing economy, positioning itself as an emerging hub in the South Asian region within a short span of time.
We are now an upper middle income country, while our human development indices are on par with some developed countries. Our diverse populace is multi-cultural while the four major religions of the world, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam have co-existed in harmony. Endowed with a rich culture and history, our people are hospitable, hard working and educated, and we welcome trade and investment as well as visitors.
As a responsible member of the community of nations, Sri Lanka has maintained a non aligned foreign policy. Our longstanding engagement with the non-aligned movement, is something we share with Nepal.
In his policy statement, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to a non-aligned foreign policy with friendship towards all.
Long before formal diplomatic relations were established between Sri Lanka and Nepal in 1957, peoples of our two countries have been interacting with each other and these human connections continue to remain a mainstay in our bilateral engagements.
In acknowledging the congratulatory messages of Nepali leaders on his election victory, President Gotabaya Rajapaska has highlighted the special place Nepal holds in the hearts of the Sri Lankan people, being the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Every year, over 50,000 Sri Lankan pilgrims visit Lumbini to pay homage at this Buddhist sacred site.
The links between the two countries pre-date the advent of the modern state, while Buddhism continues to be a golden thread that binds our peoples to the present day. In the 1940s a delegation of prominent Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka were engaged in a diplomatic endeavour which resulted in the reestablishment of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal.
Our multi dimensional bilateral relations have been strengthened over time, by regular exchanges of high level visits and close interactions at officials’ level.
Following the 2015 earthquake, Sri Lanka came forward to provide immediate relief as well as reconstruction assistance to Ananthkuti Vihar in Kathmandu and Rato Machindranath Temple in Bungamati. The reconstruction work at Ananthkuti Vihar has now been completed.
The historically strong links between Sri Lanka and Nepal provide a solid base upon which to build an economic partnership. Bilateral trade has seen an increasing trend over the past couple of years, while there is potential for greater opportunities to be harnessed in this regard. Private sector investment in each other’s country must be encouraged. Sri Lankan companies have invested in Nepal in different sectors including in hydropower and IT. Nepali companies have also invested successfully in Sri Lanka.
As an established logistics hub in South Asia, Sri Lanka provides many attractive business opportunities. Strategically located in the pathway of sea lanes connecting the East and the West, seven sea ports and three international airports, Sri Lanka provides world class logistics services to be leveraged by Nepali entrepreneurs.
The country is endowed with natural beauty, and archly diverse landscape with easily accessible attractions within a small land area, offering a variety of adventures for the discerning tourist to explore and enjoy.
The famous Ceylon tea and cinnamon are world renowned for their high quality, and I was pleased to see Ceylon tea on supermarket shelves in Kathmandu.
Sri Lanka offers a niche product in information technology and IT enabled services, with an innovative workforce, enabling infrastructure and the largest number of British qualified accounting professionals outside the United Kingdom.
The Island is connected to the internet through seven submarine cables providing robust connectivity. Sri Lanka was the first to implement 4G network in South Asia, as well as, the first to bring 5G to the region and to demonstrate the fastest speed.
Global giants such as the London Stock Exchange, HSBC, Pearsons of USA and IFS of Sweden, amongst many others, have invested and established their own operations in Sri Lanka to leverage the local IT talent.
Sri Lankan companies have provided solutions across the globe to many customers and amongst them are some well known names such as Ebay, London Stock Exchange, Expedia, CISCO and Emirates Airlines. Most recently Sri Lanka unveiled its very own fully electric super car called “Vega” which is being showcased at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 2020.
With a wide network of high quality educational institutions in both government and private sector, Sri Lanka welcomes foreign students.
Trade and investment opportunities in Sri Lanka span across multiple sectors. Colombo Port City is now open for investments while business opportunities are abundant in sectors including hospitality, printing and packaging, food and beverage, electronics and light electrical appliances, to name a few.
Whether you are a student, traveler, trader, tourist or entrepreneur, Sri Lanka offers unique opportunities to learn, to explore, to indulge and to profit from, and it is not so far away. To make it even easier for you to visit my beautiful country, we are working towards establishing direct air links between Kathmandu and Colombo.
(Excerpts of the address by Sri Lankan ambassador Ms Himalee Arunatilaka at a reception hosted by the Embassy on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of independence of Sri Lanka in Kathmandu on 6 February.)