Washington,DC: Sri Lanka emerging from self-imposed isolation deserves special attention as it continues to consolidate democratic gains in the past two elections and put the country on a path to reconciliation, a top U.S. official says.
The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal says Sri Lanka, which is rebalancing its own foreign and economic policy as it emerges from its self-imposed isolation, will benefit from its strategic location as a maritime gateway to some of the largest markets in Asia.
Speaking at the Center for a New American Security in Washington on U.S. Policies and Priorities for 2016 in South and Central Asia, Biswal said that the United States was among the first to welcome the changes in Sri Lanka and offer support and assistance.
“Both Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power visited last year - and I myself visited four times in 2015 - and this year we launched our first-ever Partnership Dialogue,” Biswal noted.
She said that while there is still much to be done to pursue justice, strengthen political rights, and establish enduring peace, the current government has shown that it is committed to moving the country forward.
Among many other moves, the government has already returned over 3,400 acres to displaced families, including another 177 acres just this past week. USAID has launched several programs to stimulate economic growth and development in the country’s north and east, and U.S. businesses are seeing many new and attractive investment opportunities, the official continued.
Comparing the developments in Sri Lanka with the neighboring Maldives, the official said the positive momentum of Sri Lanka stands in sharp contrast to the largely negative trajectory of Maldives, which has seen a steady weakening of its fragile democracy and an erosion of the rule of law.
“Opposition politicians remain behind bars simply because they gave voice to their views, and because the government’s skin is too thin to brook any criticism or competition. History shows that such tactics are short-sighted and counterproductive, and we strongly encourage the Maldives to return to the democratic practices that will best ensure its future success, economic and otherwise.”
Speaking of the region, Biswal said economically, the United States is already South Asia’s largest trading partner, and the past few years have seen some major successes that create opportunities for even stronger trade and investment ties.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, which had previously focused mostly on Africa and Latin America and is now looking to invest more in Asia, has recently announced a threshold program with Sri Lanka, she noted.
This could not only bring in much-needed investment and expertise, but also trigger the “MCC Effect,” where international businesses are drawn to countries that have proven themselves MCC eligible, the official added.