After years of being subjected to colonial rule, Sri Lanka proclaimed independence on 4th February 1948. Today the country is heading towards rapid economic development under the able leadership of Maithripala Sirisena, President and Ranil Wikremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. The National unity Government has taken vital steps to change in Sri Lanka’s political culture against the politics of ethnic and religious division and against extremism on all sides. Restoration of Sri Lanka’s image on the international stage, working on a new constitution, measures to rid corruption, good governance, setting up of independent Commissions, introducing the Right to Information Act, ensuring media freedom, strong democracy, Reconciliation mechanisms, are some of the important steps taken by the Sri Lankan Government towards achieving twine objectives i.e. reconciliation and development.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country which has always striven to promote understanding, harmony and peace. Ending the conflict in 2009, which had dragged on for 30 years, the country today is emerging into an era of peace, with reconciliation being a corner stone of our development initiative.
Peaceful domestic environment, favorable Government policies, improved investor confidence and liberalizing many areas of the economy have facilitated to foster foreign direct investments to the country.
As you are aware, Sri Lanka has maintained and expanded into a multifaceted and mutually rewarding historically admirable relationship with Nepal since the two countries established diplomatic relations on 1st July 1957.
Sixty years of diplomatic relations with Nepal is an important milestone in our bilateral ties. These relations have grown in strength to strength over the years across the spectrum to include cultural exchanges and people to people contact.
Relationship between Sri Lanka and Nepal has especially based on cultural and religious ties. Although we established formal diplomatic relations sixty years ago, people to people contacts between Sri Lanka and Nepal has existed for many centuries.
People of Sri Lanka consider Nepal as a very special place to visit as it is the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha who later became Gautama Buddha. Sri Lankan Buddhists once in their lifetime want to pay a visit to Lumbini, a sacred place of Buddhists worldwide. These pilgrims as cultural emissaries from a friendly country have significantly contributed in promoting and enriching cultural and religious ties between the two countries. Analyzing the Sri Lankan tourists who visit Nepal yearly, the largest numbers are pilgrims. The noble teachings of Lord Buddha have remained a constant source of inspiration to the Buddhist community in both Sri Lanka and Nepal. Sri Lanka’s association with Lumbini Development Trust has led it to construct an attractive Sri Lanka Maha Viharaya (i.e. Lanka Ramaya) and a Pilgrim Rest in Lumbini further deepening and promoting cultural ties between both countries.
Sri Lankan Government is assisting to reconstruct Anandakuti Viharaya and Rato machchintranath temples which were damaged due to the earthquake in 2015, by further strengthening religious & cultural relations.
The exchanges of high level visits started after the visit of late King Mahendra to Sri Lanka in 1957. After that, there have been several state visits by the leaders of both countries.
The exchange of visits by the high level political leaders, academics and scholars, Businessmen, social workers and Buddhist philosophers from both counties has immensely contributed in cementing the existing relationship between the two countries.
Sri Lanka and Nepal have always enjoyed a very close and warm relationship. With the opening of Resident Missions in Nepal and Sri Lanka in 1993 and 1995 respectively, the relationship between the two countries has been expanded to many areas of cooperation. Interaction between the two countries at regional level under the umbrella of South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has further enhanced the relations. The SAARC has brought Nepal and Sri Lanka closer together to work in concert with other member countries for a common objective which is the wellbeing of the people in the region.
As Nepal and Sri Lanka are both members of SAARC, BIMSTEC and Colombo Plan, the possibility of cooperation at regional level is growing. Both countries are closely working in various international forums to voice their shared interest and concerns. The commitment of both countries to the UN charter and principles of Nonalignment is irrevocable. Sri Lanka and Nepal have signed a number of Agreements and MOU’s during this 60 year period.
Although, Sri Lanka and Nepal had signed Trade Agreement and Avoidance of double taxation Agreement, trade remains almost negligible. Hence, the role of the Private Sector is crucial in expanding and promoting trade and economic relations between the two countries.
The scope for Nepal – Sri Lanka joint ventures in the service sector such as hotel and tourism industries is no doubt promising. Promotion of tourism between Sri Lanka and Nepal is intertwined with the linking two capitals. Sri Lanka known as the pearl of Indian Ocean and Nepal, the land of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, could benefit mutually from cooperation in the tourism sector by restoring the air link between Kathmandu and Colombo. What is important is to promote both the destinations jointly. In this connection the signing of the Air Service Agreement between Sri Lanka and Nepal can be treated as a landmark. There are constraints to expand Trade & Tourism due to non-availability of air connectivity between the two capitals.
Sri Lanka, a wonder of Asia, is home to the most spectacular natural beauty known to a man. Sri Lanka is not only a beautiful place but is rich with history that dates back to many centuries.
Therefore, I take this opportunity to invite you to spend your holidays in Sri Lanka. Bidya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal accompanied by a delegation visited Sri Lanka in May 2017, last year, to attend the UN Vesak day celebrations. President delivered a speech at the closing ceremony as the Chief Guest in front of the temple of the tooth relic in Kandy, one of the most sacred temples in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, there is ample scope for co-operation between Sri Lanka and Nepal at bilateral and regional levels. These potentials have not been fully tapped. As both countries are adopting Liberal Economic Policies, stressed Public Private Partnerships and encourage foreign investment, the possibility of co-operation in these areas in the future will be beneficial to both countries.
The recently concluded Provincial and Parliamentary elections in Nepal were historic with regard to implementation of the federal structure outlined in the 2015 new constitution. We congratulate the Government and people of Nepal for the successful conduct of three-tier elections. The Nepal has entered into a new phase of economic prosperity with the conduct of local, Federal and Provincial Assembly elections. Multi-party democracy will definitely ensure political stability of the country.
The tremendous goodwill of Sri Lanka towards Nepal and its people, the same is reciprocated in Nepal too. Similarly century old relationship which buttressed through high level State visits from time to time by both countries remained close, cordial, friendly and warm ever since. I wish this friendship should further develop from strength to strength in the future.
Having passed 60 years, Sri Lanka – Nepal relations is free from tension and is based on mutual understanding and friendship. On the basis of 60 years of experience, concrete efforts should be made to further consolidate Sri Lanka – Nepal friendship to a higher level.
Swarna Perera is an ambassador of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Excerpts of her statement delivered at the reception organized on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the National Day of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.