President’s Japan visit signals Sri Lanka’s tilt towards Asia for economic recovery

This pronounced tilt towards Asia has been viewed as a significant evolution in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.


June 5, 2023

Colombo – During his recent visit to Japan, President Ranil Wickremesinghe highlighted the country’s resolute tilt towards Asia, signalling a strategic shift in its foreign policy. Building on the government’s vision to elevate Asia as a global centre of economic integration, President Wickremesinghe’s address at the Nikkei Forum, Future of Asia, outlined his vision for the region.

This inclination towards Asia is not a new development, as the President had previously reached out to Japan upon assuming office, following the footsteps of former President J.R. Jayewardene, who placed significant emphasis on fostering strong ties with Japan. With this visit, President Wickremesinghe has firmly established Sri Lanka’s intention to actively shape Asia’s future rather than remaining on the side-lines and allowing global powers to determine the region’s destiny.

This pronounced tilt towards Asia has been viewed as a significant evolution in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, positioning the country as an active participant in the decision-making processes of the region.

During his address in Tokyo, President Wickremesinghe reiterated that Asia should not be dragged into the power rivalry between China and the United States. He emphasized that the role of the Asian region in global politics should be decided through multilateral dialogue among its member states.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, speaking after President Wickremesinghe at the Nikkei Forum, expressed a similar sentiment. Prime Minister Kishida highlighted Japan’s pursuit of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) policy, which ensures each country’s sovereignty and decision-making regardless of its size.

The President’s message resonated with other Asian leaders present at the forum, including former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, President of Laos, and Deputy Prime Ministers of Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand. They all shared the belief that Asia should have a seat at the table of global powerhouses.

One key aspect highlighted by both President Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Kishida was the need for multilateral cooperation among Asian states. While acknowledging the advanced positions of China, India, and Japan, both leaders emphasized the importance of involving the rest of Asia, including ASEAN and Indian Ocean states, in shaping the region’s future. This aligns with Japan’s “New Plan for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), which emphasizes multi-layered connectivity across Asia.

President Wickremesinghe’s foreign policy direction has been welcomed by regional and domestic interest groups in Sri Lanka. The country has been a passive observer as Asia progressed on the global stage, and the President’s vision to reclaim Sri Lanka’s role in regional and global politics is seen as a positive step forward. Coming out of a year of economic crisis and political instability, Sri Lanka is eager to re-establish its presence on the international stage.

During his visit, President Wickremesinghe held crucial meetings with Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and Minister of Digital Transformation Taro Kono. The discussions covered a wide range of topics, including debt restructuring talks, cooperation in various fields beyond economics, climate change targets, nuclear disarmament, and digitization efforts in Sri Lanka.

In the meeting with Prime Minister Kishida, President Wickremesinghe expressed gratitude for Japan’s support during Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and debt restructuring talks. He assured Japan that China’s involvement in the talks was limited to bilateral discussions and that Sri Lanka also engaged with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The President requested China’s full membership in the creditor talks and outlined plans to resume Japanese projects, subject to further discussions.

Prime Minister Kishida expressed Japan’s commitment to supporting Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and expressed willingness to explore avenues for enhanced cooperation. The leaders discussed potential areas of collaboration, including infrastructure development, technology transfer, investment promotion, and capacity building.

In the meeting with Foreign Minister Hayashi, President Wickremesinghe emphasized the importance of strengthening bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and Japan. They discussed the need for increased people-to-people exchanges, cultural cooperation, and educational opportunities. President Wickremesinghe expressed his desire to expand Japanese investments in Sri Lanka and attract Japanese tourists to boost the country’s tourism sector.

The meeting with Minister of Digital Transformation Taro Kono focused on leveraging technology to drive economic growth and digital transformation in Sri Lanka. President Wickremesinghe highlighted the government’s initiatives to promote innovation and entrepreneurship and sought Japan’s expertise in areas such as e-governance, digital infrastructure, and smart cities.In addition to the official meetings, President Wickremesinghe interacted with representatives from the Japan-Sri Lanka Parliamentary Friendship League and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).

These interactions aimed to enhance parliamentary ties, explore trade and investment opportunities, and strengthen cooperation in various sectors, including trade, tourism, agriculture, and fisheries.

The visit also witnessed the signing of several agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between the two countries. These included agreements on economic cooperation, tourism promotion, cultural exchanges, and academic collaboration. The agreements aimed to facilitate greater cooperation and create conducive environment for bilateral trade and investment.

Overall, President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to Japan marked a significant milestone in strengthening the bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and Japan. The discussions and agreements reached during the visit set the stage for increased collaboration in various fields and demonstrated Sri Lanka’s commitment to actively shaping the future of Asia. The visit provided an opportunity for Sri Lanka to leverage Japan’s expertise, technology, and investments to drive its economic recovery and achieve sustainable development goals.

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