Monday, March 18, 2013 - 5.34 GMT
President concludes successful visit to Japan
President Mahinda Rajapaksa concluded his second official visit to Japan with several important outcomes in a number of sectors that officials in both countries felt would serve to further strengthen Sri Lanka-Japan relations that now span 60 years.
In one of the most important outcomes of the President’s visit, the Japanese government committed to a total of Rs. 57.8 billion in development aid to Sri Lanka. Of this amount, Rs. 54.3 billion is being offered under the Official Development Assistance (ODA) program – it is the 43rd Yen loan package Sri Lanka is receiving from Japan. The remaining Rs. 3.5 billion will be provided in the form of grant aid.
The agreement was announced in a joint statement issued after a summit meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe held March 14 at the Prime Minister's Office.
“Our people highly appreciate the generosity and good will extended by Japan to Sri Lanka,” President Rajapaksa said. “I look forward to further strengthening Sri Lanka’s engagement with Japan.”
Prime Minister Abe assured Japan’s continued support for Sri Lanka’s sustainable growth while the two leaders agreed that national reconciliation must take precedence.
“I’m extremely pleased to sign the joint statement which identifies the direction of the bilateral corporation, together with the President,” Prime Minister Abe said. “It is my sincere wish that the bilateral relationship will further deepen and broaden with the visit by President Rajapaksa.”
In renewed cooperation between the two countries, Sri Lanka and Japan also agreed to expand collaborations in the maritime sector. Prime Minister Abe expressed Japan’s interest in this sector while noting that Sir Lanka is poised to become a maritime hub in the region due to its unique location along Indian Ocean sea lanes.
The joint statement also noted that both Sri Lanka and Japan, as maritime nations, have a responsibility towards stability and prosperity in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Sri Lanka’s post-war development and work towards national reconciliation were at the top of the agenda at most of President Rajapaksa’s bilateral meetings during which all officials of the Japanese government who met with the President commended the Sri Lankan government’s efforts toward post-war reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.
"Western nations are underestimating the development in Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict," said Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister of Japan who is also a former prime minister and the current Minister of Finance. "Sri Lanka's security situation is getting better. The economy is on the right track.”
Japan’s Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, also assured continued support to Sri Lanka given the progress the country has already made since the end of the war.
“Japan welcomes the efforts made by Sri Lanka in the areas of reconstruction, reconciliation and human rights after the conflict”, Kishida said when he called on President Rajapaksa.
"Now the conflict is over, Sri Lanka had made great strides under President Rajapaksa's able leadership,” said Itsunori Onodera, the defense minister of Japan.
Also attributing Sri Lanka’s post-war progress to President Rajapaksa’s leadership, Member of Japan’s House of Representatives and Chairman of the Committee in Foreign Affairs Mr. Katsuyuki Kawai said, “Sri Lanka has been making the most remarkable progress in the recent past.”
Some of the most candid remarks on Sri Lanka’s post-war efforts came from Yasushi Akashi, a senior Japanese diplomat who has been involved with Sri Lanka’s peace efforts for a long time.
“I recommend visits (to) Sri Lanka by all those who feel that Sri Lanka's efforts (towards national reconciliation) are insufficient,” Akashi said, speaking to the media after a private meeting with President Rajapaksa. “I think that if you visit Sri Lanka, you will come to know the heroic efforts of people to rebuild their own country, to rehabilitate, to remove mines and last but not the least, to achieve genuine reconciliation among the people. I feel that it is rather unfair for some developed countries, who have much more resources than Sri Lanka, to express impatience with Sri Lanka and its development.”
Asked about his own assessment of the post-war situation in the country, Akashi said, “The post-war developments in Sri Lanka have been phenomenal.”
A significant portion of President Rajapaksa’s visit was also dedicated to enhancing bilateral ties in a number of different sectors.
The President met with members of the Japan-Sri Lanka Parliamentary League during which several members of Japan’s ruling and opposition parties engaged in an informal discussion with President Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan delegation.
In the business sector, the President met leaders of Japan’s corporate and industry sectors and inaugurated the Sri Lanka Business Forum. The delegation that represented Japan’s business leaders expressed particular interest in exploring Sri Lanka’s potential to serve as a trade hub for Japanese companies. They said that Sri Lanka’s ability to maintain good relations with its neighbors was particularly attractive to investors.
When Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Toshimitsu Motegi, called on President Rajapaksa, he said the large number of Japanese companies already doing business in Sri Lanka was evidence of the attractiveness of the South Asian nation as an export and logistics hub. He also said that Japan hopes to send a trade mission to Sri Lanka within this year.
During the visit, President Rajapaksa and the First Lady also had an audience with the Emperor of Japan Akihito and Princes Michiko who hosted a lunch in honor of the President at the Imperial Palace.
During the visit, President Rajapaksa also attended a cultural event organized by the Sri Lankan embassy in Tokyo, visited the embassy office to speak with the staff and gifted two Sri Lankan elephants to Japan’s Tama Zoological Gardens as a mark of friendship between the two countries.
Support Following Earthquakes
President Rajapaksa’s visit took place as Japan marked the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. An earth tremor felt in Tokyo during the President’s visit was a reminder of the dangers Japan faced with natural disasters. It was also a good reminder of the mutual support during the earthquake and tsunami devastations experienced by both countries.
At every bilateral meeting, Japanese officials never failed to thank Sri Lanka for its unwavering support during the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Sri Lanka maintained its diplomatic presence and continued its flights to Japan unlike many other nations who withdrew following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
Remembering Sri Lanka’s solidarity with Japan during the 2011 disaster, the vice president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and member of the Japanese House of Representatives, Masahiko Komura, said, “We, the people of Japan, were very encouraged by your support.”