State Minister hails Sri Lanka’s ‘civilisational link’ with India, calls China ‘important trading partner’

State Minister hails Sri Lanka’s ‘civilisational link’ with India, calls China ‘important trading partner’

February 23, 2024   12:33 pm

Tharaka Balasuriya, Sri Lanka’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, spoke to WION’s diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal on the sidelines of Raisina Dialogue 2024 in New Delhi.

Balasuriya weighed in on several issues ranging from the India-Lanka relationship, Colombo’s ties with China, tourism, Unified Payments Interface (UPI), and more. 

While speaking on China, Balasuriya said that “both countries are friends”, but in India’s case it’s a “civilisational link” as he pointed out the historical connection of cultures. He said that China is an “important trading partner”, but so are other countries.

Read the excerpts of the full interview below:

WION: How do you see the India-Sri Lanka relationship, especially in the light of financial connectivity? We saw recently the launch of UPI in your country. 

Tharaka Balasuriya: I think India and Sri Lanka’s relationship is at an all-time high. The UPI is beneficial for both countries. If you look at the events of Sri Lanka and what took place one and a half years ago, it mainly started out as a foreign exchange crisis mainly a lack of dollars. So we have to ensure that our dollar dependency is reduced. And we now for example, our biggest tourist market is from media and if we can collect the tourist’s remittance from India and we import about $5.5 billion worth of goods from India and use those, the Indian rupees, to pay in Indian rupees for the Indian imports, then we will reduce our dollar dependency. and it also becomes very flexible and it becomes very easy for the Indians to travel to Sri Lanka and then they pay in Indian rupees.

WION: Sir, essentially we recently saw the Indian External Affairs Minister saying that one should go to Sri Lanka. How do you see that comment and how do you see Sri Lanka as a tourist destination for many Indians?

Tharaka Balasuriya: Have you visited Sri Lanka?

WION: I have visited Sri Lanka but not on a very fortunate note. It’s after the Easter bombings but maybe I’ll visit on a happier note. 

Tharaka Balasuriya: Your External Affairs Minister is absolutely correct because Sri Lanka is a country with an area of over 65,000 square kilometres, but it has something for everybody. It’s no wonder Markopolos said it’s the best island of its size in the world. We have some of the best beaches in the world. We have the hill country which is very cool in temperature and we have wildlife and wildlife parks for example, the Yala National Park has the highest concentration of leopards in the world. We have the historical the cultural triangle, which is to pass and then we also are trying to develop the Ramayana trail. We have five Shiva Lingam temples in Sri Lanka. And also Sri Lanka is in close proximity to India. So the maps when you look at the ticket prices for somebody in the North of India to travel to the southern city and for that person to travel to, Sri Lanka, I don’t think there’ll be much of a cost difference. So I would encourage all Indians to visit Sri Lanka and it will be absolutely a brilliant experience.

WION: There is the China factor as well when it comes to the India-Sri Lanka relationship and the Sri Lanka-China relationship. Is it an act of balancing or is India your natural ally? 

Tharaka Balasuriya: When you say it’s our natural ally I think that has an implication saying in other countries our enemy or something. No, it’s not like that. You know, both countries are friends, but in India’s case, it’s a civilisational link. You know, If you read the books, the people of Sri Lanka came from India. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country, and Buddhism came from India. So it is a much stronger big brother-small brother relationship with India and Sri Lanka. China is an important trading partner. But so are other countries. So if you look at most of our exports, they go to Europe and they go to the United States. And they are also very important trading partners. And I think the look at the quantum of the volume of trade, which India does with China, you know, ours is minuscule. So, Sri Lanka is a small country. We don’t have political huge international political ambitions but we want to do is trade with all countries and ensure that you know, the people of Sri Lanka will benefit.

Source: WION

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