By Sugeeswara Senadhira
“Yes Your Excellency, we have gone to the extent of arranging a Missile fire to salute you instead of the mere gun salute,” quipped a South Korean VVIP, when President Maithripala Sirisena thanked the Koreans for the grand welcome and warm hospitality accorded to him during the 3-day State visit. Sirisena and others burst into laughter at the VVIP’s not so subtle reference to North Korean missile test carried out when the Sri Lankan President was in Seoul.
Although the city of Seoul was brimming with activities, one could notice the tension in the air after the last week’s missile test-fire by the hostile neighbour. This columnist felt it at closer quarters, on the quick visit to the Demilitarized Military Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas on Friday (29 November), the last day of President Sirisena’s visit. “The unification I yearn for will not come in my lifetime,” lamented Yoo Young Rok, Mayor of Gimpo City, “We have opened the floodgates of peace culture. Gimpo and Jogang, the estuary of the Han River, where the streams connect the Korean Peninsula to the world,
“1,260 years ago, Gimpo carved out its name on Korea and is now proud to be the best centre of peace culture and reconciliation between South and North Korea. But I am afraid the future of reunification is very bleak,” he said.
President Sirisena did not hesitate to condemn the hostile missile threat. In the Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit. The two Heads of State strongly condemned North Korea’s test of a long-range ballistic missile, violating relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. President Moon Jae-in expressed his appreciation, for Sri Lanka’s strong condemnation of the DPRK’s continued nuclear and missile tests, and its faithful implementation of sanctions under relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.
The two Heads of State reaffirmed their support for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner and urged North Korea to comply with its obligations under the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolution.
President Sirisena and President Moon agreed on active cooperation for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions and underscored the importance of resuming a meaningful dialogue for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. President Sirisena expressed his firm support for the efforts of the Republic of Korea to improve inter-Korean relations and establish permanent peace in the Korean Peninsula, including the initiative of the Republic of Korea proposed in Berlin on 6 July 2017.
Jogsaye Temple visit
President Moon’s unscheduled visit to the Jogsaye Temple to meet President Sirisena, to “establish a firm friendship and a personal rapport with the leader I admire” and the conferment of Honorary Citizenship of Seoul Metropolitan Government on the Sri Lankan leader showed the love and affection the Korean leader, the Government and the people have for President Sirisena and Sri Lanka.Korean President hailed President Sirisena as a champion of democracy and human rights. As partners with common values of democracy, and commitment to regional peace, security and stability, the two leaders agreed to increase exchanges of high-level government officials. They also reconfirmed their commitment to further strengthen cooperation in defence, including exchanges between the armed forces, strategic communication, increased training opportunities, and cooperation in regional dialogues. Speaking at the State banquet held in honour of President Sirisena at the Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House) the Presidential House in Seoul,
President Moon lauded the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka under the leadership of President Sirisena in national reconstruction and reconciliation and promotion of human rights. He further expressed the hope that Sri Lanka will achieve reconciliation and prosperity, and will continue to engage with the international community in this endeavour.During the visit an agreement on economic cooperation, a framework on finance assistance and three memorandums of understanding were signed to enhance bilateral cooperation. The Agreement on Economic Cooperation will provide for the establishment of a joint commission to promote bilateral investment, trade and tourism. The MOU between the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) and the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka will cover further expansion of investment opportunities for Korean and Sri Lankan companies.
The two leaders welcomed the ongoing cooperation between the two countries under Sri Lanka’s Western Region Megapolis Project, and were pleased to note the engagement of Korean companies in projects under the Megapolis Plan. They agreed to actively seek ways to further enhance opportunities for Korean companies to engage in major infrastructure and development projects in Sri Lanka. Korea agreed to increase in Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) for Sri Lanka from $300 million to $500 million for 2017-2019, and the EDCF Framework Arrangement was signed for this purpose. The two countries agreed to continue development cooperation, including through the EDCF and KOICA, for Sri Lanka’s sustainable economic development.President Sirisena expressed his deep appreciation for the employment opportunities granted to Sri Lankan youth in Korea under the Employment Permit System (EPS). Acknowledging the contribution of Sri Lankan workers to the economies of the two countries, it was decided to further enhance cooperation under the EPS.
The two Heads of State, welcoming the recent increase in cooperation in ICT and medical sectors, agreed to expand cooperation in the fields of science, technology, innovation and ICT. They also agreed to expand mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of agriculture, noting the progress made under the Korea Programme on International Agriculture (KOPIA) and the Asian Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (AFACI). With respect to the fisheries sector, they agreed to make progress in Sri Lanka’s Multipurpose Harbour project, based on the MOU signed by the two countries in 2016.President Sirisena and President Moon, acknowledging the bilateral cultural ties throughout history and in recent times, welcomed the continued increase in people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. They agreed to further promote such connectivity through cultural and tourism exchanges and the revision of the bilateral Air Services Agreement.
Both leaders also welcomed the signing of the new Agreement on Culture, Arts, Education, Youth and Sports. They expressed satisfaction with the many cultural events held in the two countries in 2017 to mark the 40th Anniversary, including the issuance of commemorative stamps by both countries.Korea also agreed to continue its contribution to Sri Lanka’s nursing education through the Korean Government’s leading University Project for International Cooperation. President Moon agreed to look into the possibility of further strengthening cooperation under the Global Korea Scholarship Programme and promote Korean language education in Sri Lanka.All in all, the deafening sound of missile fire just 60 kilometres away could not silence the achievements of President Sirisena’s productive visit to Seoul.