President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expects that the negotiations now underway regarding bridging funds from Japan will conclude soon.
The President made these remarks addressing the 27th International Conference on the Future of Asia (Nikkei) held in Tokyo, Japan, via video call, today (26).
Japan’s Nikkei newspaper has been organizing the conference annually since 1995. The theme of this year’s two-day conference is “Redefining Asia’s Role in a Divided World”.
Speech for the 27th International Conference on the Future of Asia (Nikkei)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I take great pleasure in addressing you today at the 27th International conference on ‘Future of Asia’, which is centred on redefining Asia’s role in a divided world.
At the outset, I congratulate Nikkei for organising this event again this year despite the ongoing global challenges.
I recognise the presence of Honourable Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, and many other world leaders participating at this conference.
I recall with great satisfaction the strong friendship between Sri Lanka and Japan fostered for the last seven decades, and the many historical and cultural connections between our nations that span a much longer period.
These historical ties strengthen the multifaceted and robust partnership between our two nations across many fields.
It is a matter of great pride to us that Japan has always been and continues to be one of Sri Lanka’s key development cooperation partners, providing significant aid and financial assistance for our nation’s socioeconomic development over time.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is no secret that the last several months have been extremely difficult for Sri Lanka.
We are presently undergoing a severe economic crisis that has profoundly impacted the lives of all Sri Lankans, resulting in social unrest.
The virtual shutting down of the tourism industry and the sharp decline in inward remittances from expatriate workers due to COVID19 in the past two years and increasing inflation due to other events combined with Sri Lanka’s high outstanding debt obligations to cause a severe financial crisis.
In April, Sri Lanka announced a ‘Debt Standstill’ with the intention of restructuring this external public debt through negotiations with our creditors, whilst simultaneously approaching the International Monetary Fund for a suitable programme.
In parallel to these efforts, we have appointed a new Prime Minister and a Cabinet of Ministers with representation from multiple political parties, and we are fostering ongoing discussions in Parliament towards forming a national consensus on the way forward.
Sri Lanka is Asia’s oldest democracy. It is crucial that the solutions to our present national crisis are supported through our nation’s democratic framework.
As we work through such solutions, however, we urgently require the assistance of our friends in the international community to ensure that our immediate needs in terms of the importation of essential medicines, food supplies, and fuel are met.
We are also in urgent need of bridging financing to restore confidence in our external sector and stabilise our economy until the debt restructuring process is completed and an IMF programme commences.
Sri Lanka is grateful for the support provided by India, our close friend and neighbour, which responded with generosity in our time of need. The support extended by our other neighbours and development partners, as well as regional and global institutions, is also deeply appreciated.
Japan remains one of Sri Lanka’s key development partners, and we hope that the negotiations now underway regarding bridging funds from Japan will conclude soon, and support Sri Lanka as we try to stabilise our economy and our nation.
I appeal to the other friends of Sri Lanka present here today, to also explore the possibility of extending support and solidarity to my country at this very difficult time.
A positive aspect of recent events in Sri Lanka has been the increased engagement of our youth in the nation’s politics.
We have seen similar activism in other countries too, where the loss of confidence in prevailing systems has led to strong displays of opposition against governments.
It is important to ensure that these systems undergo the reforms that are essential to their improvement so that future generations will benefit from better opportunities in education and employment, leading to an increase in their productivity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The grave difficulties facing Sri Lanka are an early indication of the long tail effects of the COVID19 pandemic, made worse by the ongoing conflict in Europe, that may affect other vulnerable nations too.
Supporting such vulnerable nations through these difficulties is essential for regional as well as global stability.
It is therefore earnestly hoped that nations able to do so, lend a helping hand to these countries as they seek to overcome the very serious threats they face.
An even more widespread problem that the world will face in future concerns food security.
The shortages of food items and sharp increases in food prices likely to occur in the months ahead will place considerable strain on many countries.
It is therefore essential that we pay attention to this crucial problem and prioritise agricultural production locally and improve our resilience in the face of this coming issue.
Increased cooperation amongst nations will also be necessary to ensure that we overcome this issue.
As we look to the future, it is no secret that even more widespread challenges caused by human induced climate changes lie ahead for the Asian region as well as the world.
The adverse impacts of such climate change, including loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and pollution, degradation of air quality and ecosystems, will all contribute to significant challenges for many nations including in food security.
It is a matter of concern that several agreements, protocols, and conventions on these issues, of which many nations are members of, have not been adhered to.
Ensuring widespread commitment towards ambitious climate targets has also been difficult, which is very concerning.
I am sure you would agree that it is only through shared commitments that we will be able to preserve the environment, which belong not only to us but even more importantly for our future generations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Maritime security in Asia is another thorny issue that require serious policy attention.
In addition to traditional security concerns involving the projection of naval power, many non-traditional issues including piracy, human trafficking, drug-smuggling, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing continue to pose challenges in this region.
Sri Lanka has a great interest in the security of the Indian Ocean region, and the protection of the sea-lanes has established a strong relationship between Sri Lanka and dominant regional players including Japan.
Sri Lanka has responsibility over protecting sea routes, maritime resources and combating maritime crime over a significant region of the Indian Ocean, and we look forward to partnering with the Asian community as we seek to expand our capacities in these areas in future.
Another enduring regional concern has been civil unrest, conflicts, and communal violence.
Sri Lanka too has been marred by sectarian tensions throughout its history.
I am of the view that policymakers must come together to devise collaborative regional mechanisms on such issues.
Exchanging expertise and experience to build capacity in the fields of peacebuilding and reconciliation is essential. So too is the empowerment of the underprivileged, because this is one of the root causes of unrest.
In this context, I respectfully submit to this forum that the core objectives and functioning of some existing regional bodies are presently affected by conflicts of member countries on matters relating to economic, political, or strategic interests.
It is my hope that member countries will be able to overcome such impasses and work together in the true spirit of Asia to fulfil the region’s priorities.
In concluding, I once again thank Nikkei for having organised this conference, and the Government of Japan for hosting this event.
As Sri Lanka overcomes its present difficulties and starts rebuilding for tomorrow, we look forward to constructively participating in future such events too, for the betterment of Asia.