By Ambassador Santhush Woonjin Jeong
Ayubowan, Vanakkam, Annyonghasimnikka (Korean greeting)
I am the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Sri Lanka, Santhush Woonjin Jeong. 14 November is the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic ties between Korea and Sri Lanka.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1977, Korea and Sri Lanka have come a long way together to form a cordial bilateral partnership. Korea and Sri Lanka have been true friends to each other sharing common values and goals. The common historical experiences shared by the Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka have further brought our nations together. In this context, Korea could help and assist Sri Lanka to reach the pinnacle of national development and prosperity.
The Republic of Korea attaches utmost importance to development cooperation. Indeed, Sri Lanka is now one of the principal ODA partner countries of Korea. Korea has the unique experience and knowledge to transform itself from aid recipient to aid donor. Korea wishes its unique experience to be a common experience by sharing its know-how with Sri Lanka. The sum of investment in various ODA projects and grants for Sri Lanka since 1987 exceeds $ 1 billion.
The Sri Lanka offices of KOICA and EDCF have continued to assist and fund commercial and infrastructure projects for Sri Lanka, thus augmenting the development of Sri Lanka. Korea has been promoting projects in the various fields such as education, transportation, water resources, sanitation and regional development in Sri Lanka. As a reliable friend, Korea is a trustworthy partner of Sri Lanka to meet the current needs of national development. With these as a momentum, the bilateral ties are expected to widen and deepen further in coming years.
In 1980-1990s, Korea was the largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka. Korea has considered Sri Lanka as an important economic, trade and investment partner. Korea is extremely keen on further boosting two-way trade and investment in ways which benefit the economies of both countries. KOTRA in Colombo is dedicated to facilitate bilateral trade and promote investment of Korean enterprises in Sri Lanka.
Currently, public and private sectors of both countries are engaging more actively to seek effective ways to move forward in various key sectors including agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, LNG, digital economy and health care. I firmly believe that the strengthened public and private partnership would pave the way to further consolidate our strong bilateral ties. The successes of these investment projects in Sri Lanka illustrate the mutually beneficial avenues to develop our two countries together.
In particular, the ongoing labour cooperation also attests the close relations of both countries. 23,000 Sri Lankan workers are presently employed in Korea, contributing to the economic advancement of both countries. They have transmitted around $ 520 million to Sri Lanka in 2019. In order to make their living experience positive in Korea, the Korean government strictly applies the rule of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ to all the workers, regardless of their nationality. The EPS centre in Colombo has contributed to the facilitation of migrant employment and promotes the bilateral labour relations. Sri Lankan employees in the Republic of Korea are a great asset to strengthen economic and commercial ties of both countries.
Furthermore, both Korea and Sri Lanka are attempting to cope with COVID-19 by placing effective measures to curtail the spread of the virus. Korea is trying to provide support to Sri Lanka to counter and combat COVID-19 this year, strengthening its cooperation to uplift public health in Sri Lanka. It is noteworthy that amidst a pandemic, Sri Lanka was the first South Asian country which held a nationwide election and Korea was the first country in the world to hold a nationwide election successfully.
Under the ‘Stay Strong’ campaign, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea donated reusable fabric masks to Sri Lanka Army and Police. These re-usable masks were manufactured by a Sri Lankan social enterprise which empowers women. Moreover, KOICA distributed these re-usable masks among rural communities in Sri Lanka to uplift the public health among vulnerable communities.
In this regard, I believe that the 43rd Anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations will be a great opportunity for our two Asian nations to redouble our efforts to attain regional peace and prosperity. Korea is one of the most significant countries which can assist Sri Lanka in realising the vision for its future. I hope that more Korean companies and tourists will arrive in Sri Lanka to seek business opportunities and to enjoy the charm and beauty of the island.
While it is early days of my tenure since last July as the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Sri Lanka, I have witnessed the positive development in Sri Lanka. One of my priorities is to strengthen the bilateral relations and provide support to realise the vision of the Government, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’. It would be my pleasure to witness the change in Sri Lanka which has a massive potential in economic development and innovation. I believe that it is the right time for Sri Lanka to change and take a leap to a higher level. Korea is the very country that can help Sri Lanka achieve its goals.
I have observed that the foreign policy of Sri Lanka has been designed to foresee and grasp the opportunities of a changing world. The Asia-centric foreign policy of Sri Lanka is in harmony with the Southern policy of Korea. It is therefore an opportune moment for both countries to pursue mutually beneficial long term economic and strategic interests. With close Asian culture and complementary economic structure, there is a huge potential to be explored, which is mutually beneficial.
As the Korean Ambassador in Sri Lanka, it is now incumbent upon me to safeguard and develop our ever-strengthening relationship to the highest level. I reiterate my sincere willingness to do my best to upgrade our bilateral relationship. As our diplomatic relations come into its forty third year, we should take the opportunity and overcome shared challenges, to bring the Korea-Sri Lanka partnership for a mutually beneficial cooperation to a new height.
Let’s stay strong together!
Thank you. Isthuthi.