Asia centric foreign policy extended to southern Antipodes

by Sugeeswara Senadhira

It became quite evident that Sri Lanka is not limiting its middle path foreign policy to the continent of Asia. Last week, several concrete steps were taken to expand it to the southern Antipodes region in general and to Australia in particular.

Warmly welcoming President Maithripala Sirisena who paid a visit to Australia – the first ever State visit by a Sri Lankan President – to the most important nation in the region of Antipodes, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “Our deep and enduring friendship is anchored in the shared history as Commonwealth countries and through our shared interests as Indian Ocean nations.”

As Turnbull expressed confidence prior to the visit, President Sirisena’s visit resulted in further expansion of bilateral cooperation in education, defence, science and technology, economic development, medical research and the fight against people smuggling, drug smuggling and sea piracy.

During bilateral discussions the two countries expressed commitment to harness the significant opportunities of greater trade and economic integration in the Indo-Pacific region. Both countries agreed to vigorously expand bilateral trade and investment, particularly in agribusiness, energy, education, tourism, hospitality and mining.

President Sirisena held talks on bilateral issues with Premier Turnbull, several key ministers including Defence Minister Marise Payne, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton. All of them expressed appreciation over Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process and economic reform agenda for deeper integration with the global economy and progress toward becoming an important Indian Ocean economic hub present new opportunities to expand the economic relationship.

Prime Minister Turnbull hailed President Sirisena’s ‘courageous efforts’ to establish a plural society where all communities could live in peace and harmony and prosper.

The two countries have strong historical ties, common values and many shared interests – including a commitment to democracy, the rule-of-law, and support for a stable, liberal rules-based international order.

Defence Minister Ms Payne, referring to the close cooperation on security and defence matters, said the cooperation has been particularly effective in countering people smuggling and enhancing regional security.

The menace of drug smuggling

President Sirisena pointed out that drug smuggling has also become a major threat to many countries and emphasized the need for broad international cooperation to eliminate that menace.

Defence Minister, explaining the experience gained by Australian Navy over the years to prevent drug smuggling, said that drugs have become a major threat to many societies because of its harmful effects on the young generation. On the other hand the drug smugglers use the profits to fund terrorist organizations and it is a major problem to law and order in many countries, she pointed out. Hence, Australia is willing to closely cooperate with Sri Lanka in this field and provide every possible assistance to Sri Lanka Navy and Coastguards, Ms Payne assured the President.

Australia currently provides training to military cadets from Sri Lanka, and the Defence Minister acceded to the President’s request to expand training facilities to include middle-level and senior military officers.

During the visit, two countries took steps to expand cooperation into a new sphere – the medicinal utilization of nuclear energy.

Australia and Sri Lanka commit to explore opportunities for enhanced collaboration to address the prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown aetiology (CKDu) in Sri Lanka through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Presidential Taskforce on CKDu in Sri Lanka.

President Sirisena, despite his heavy schedule, visited the Australia’s nuclear agency in Sydney on an inspection tour to see its advanced research on utilization of nuclear science for disease diagnosis and medication. He went to different sections of ANSTO, including the Nuclear Power generator.

ANSTO already provides nuclear technology based medicines to cancer patients in many countries. The research has found out many effective nuclear technology based medicines for diseases such as thyroid cancer, prostate cancer and liver cancer.

Chief Executive Director of ANSTO, Dr. Adi Paterson explained to the President that ANSTO could use nuclear technology to test ground water for possible harmful minerals due to pesticides and suggest possible treatments.

President Sirisena and Premier Turnbull stressed the importance of cooperation between Indian Ocean countries. The President recalled his last meeting with Premier Turnbull at the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) meeting in Indonesia recently, stated that the two countries, as members of IORA and trading nations mutually benefit from a peaceful and secure maritime domain.

Both countries are committed to closer cooperation and engagement in the Indo-Pacific to help create a more prosperous and secure region.

In the Joint Declarations issued after the conclusion of President Sirisena’s State visit, the two countries stated that they would continue to work together to shape the future of the region and the broader global environment by supporting, reinforcing and strengthening regional norms and the rules-based order, including through forums, particularly IORA, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. “We will enhance our dialogue on strategic policy matters, both bilaterally and through regional forums such as the Galle Dialogue and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).”

As a result of the agreements reached during the bilateral discussions, Australia and Sri Lanka will maintain the efforts to prevent people smuggling and to ensure a close working relationship between relevant agencies. Both countries commit to enhance Police and legal cooperation on other transnational crime, including human trafficking and modern slavery, money laundering, narcotics smuggling and international terrorism.

Australia and Sri Lanka are committed to ongoing defence engagement, particularly on maritime security. “Our navy-to-navy links have been a highlight of the bilateral relationship. Both countries commit to explore additional, individual training opportunities and provision of expert assistance,” the Joint Statement said. “Recognising our mutual interests in the Indian Ocean, both countries will continue to cooperate on search and rescue, and maritime safety through the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control.”

In parallel to the State visit, a forum was held in Sydney to promote investment, trade and commerce. Addressing Australian entrepreneurs, Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha De Silva explained the facilities Sri Lanka offers to investors. Both countries are committed to explore the possibility of improving market access, trade promotion and investment facilitation. Australia will continue to support Sri Lanka by providing technical advice in support of trade facilitation reform and improving its business-enabling environment. This may include establishing a bilateral framework to expand the economic relationship.

Geoscience Australia

There is vast potential in expansion of cooperation in energy sector. Australian private sector investment expertise in energy infrastructure holds potential to drive future economic growth in Sri Lanka.

Australia and Sri Lanka recognized the opportunities for closer cooperation in the minerals and mining sector. Australia will help Sri Lanka map its natural resources and establish a sustainable mining sector under an exchange of letters between Geoscience Australia and the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.

President Sirisena visited the National Arboretum in Canberra, where he planted a Mahogany (Toona Ciliata) sapling, which would be an important symbol depicting the rapid growth of excellent bilateral ties between Sri Lanka and Australia in which the State visit of the Sri Lankan leader was an important landmark.

 

(Courtesy; Ceylon Today)

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