Sri Lanka expressed interest in accessing COVID-19 vaccines from India – Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with Dinesh Gunawardena in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has expressed interest in accessing COVID-19 vaccines from India, says External Affairs Minister of India, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who is currently in the island on an official visit.

Addressing a joint press conference with his Sri Lankan counterpart Minister Dinesh Gunawardena this afternoon (January 06), Dr. Jaishankar noted that India sees international cooperation in the region as its duty.

“I come here at a time when both countries are faced with daunting and common challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, I think the COVID has given us an opportunity to collaborate even further.”

Asserting that Covid-19 pandemic has not been able to dent the bilateral relations between the two nations, the Indian External Affairs Minister said India and Sri Lanka are now looking at post-Covid-19 cooperation.

“Reflecting our ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, India has supported Sri Lanka’s efforts to tackle Covid-19 through timely medical assistance.”

Dr. Jaishankar expressed gratitude to the government of Sri Lanka for rendering assistance and facilitation in the evacuation of Indian nations stranded in the island due to the pandemic.

He noted that high-level contacts were maintained and strengthened during the past year. “The Virtual Bilateral Summit between PM Modi and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was a high watermark for us in 2020.”

Apart from his bilateral discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Dr. Jaishankar says he also plans to interact with the business community. “To all of them, I carry the message of an India that will always be a dependable partner and reliable friend, open to strengthening its relationship with Sri Lanka on the basis of mutual trust, mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual sensitivity.”

Indian External Affairs Minister meanwhile plans to meet with Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda to discuss matters with regard to the fisheries industry. “We naturally look forward to the early return of our fishermen,” he noted.

He stressed that India and Sri Lanka both face the immediate challenge of post-COVID recovery at the moment. “This is not just a public health issue but equally, a crisis of the economy. Where India is concerned, you are aware that our Covid numbers have come down sharply and the prospect of mass vaccination is in sight.”

“The Indian economy has also shown strong signs of recovery in the last few months. We are very confident that this will be full-blown by the next quarter.” These developments will obviously have a positive impact on Sri Lanka, says Dr. Jaishankar.

At the same time, there are specific challenges that need addressing, whether it is in finance or in trade, he said adding that his visit is aimed at facilitating that process.

“As two close neighbours with such obvious synergies, the potential for further strengthening our cooperation is enormous. Some of that may help provide immediate relief; others would have very positive medium-term implications for Sri Lanka’s development. There are many proposals under discussion, including in infrastructure, energy, connectivity, etc. Their early implementation is obviously in mutual interest and would definitely accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.”

He also highlighted that the Indian business is strongly interested in investing in Sri Lanka. “We have discussed some important opportunities in the course of yesterday and today, including in special zones for pharmaceutical manufacturing as also in tourism.” The External Affairs Minister said he would ensure an early follow-up for their side.

Dr. Jaishankar continued: “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. Our lines of credit have re-built connectivity, facilitating the restoration of normalcy. We are cognizant of the domestic priorities of the Sri Lankan Government, including in agriculture and technology, education and skill development and urban development.”

India understands the importance President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan government attach to the establishment of vocational training centres, he said further. “We will naturally be guided by these priorities in our future endeavours.”

In his remarks on India’s efforts to peace and well-being in the region, Dr. Jaishankar said India has been strongly committed to the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

He says India’s support for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is longstanding, as indeed for an inclusive political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony.

“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. That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan government on meaningful devolution including the 13th Amendment of the Constitution.”

Dr. Jaishankar is hopeful that the progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka will surely be advanced as a consequence.

Speaking on ensuring the maritime security and safety in the Indian Ocean, he said, India and Sri Lanka have a shared interest on the matter.

“We have a long history of cooperation in this regard. India has always been a first responder in some emergency situations. I am confident that this domain of cooperation will continue to expand in the days ahead.”

India stands ready to enhance Sri Lanka’s capabilities to meet growing maritime and security challenges, he added.

(Source: Ada Derana)