Sri Lanka set to regain its lustre as Pearl of the Indian Ocean

Ambassador of Sri Lanka, H.E. Kandeepan Bala

By Reaven D’Souza
Executive Managing Editor

Sri Lanka and Kuwait established formal diplomatic relations in 1971, and since then the two friendly nations have been enjoying a mutually rewarding diplomatic journey. However, even before inking formal ties, in 1963 Sri Lanka had extended support to Kuwait in its bid to gain UN membership following independence, said H.E. Kandeepan Bala the Ambassador of Sri Lanka, during a recent wide-ranging interview with The Times Kuwait.

“Over the years, Sri Lanka has stood in solidarity with Kuwait throughout its trying times. During the invasion and occupation of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in 1990-91, Sri Lanka voted in favor of all UN Security Council Resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Sri Lanka was also one of the first countries to reopen its Embassy in Kuwait after the Gulf war,” said Ambassador Bala while providing a back-drop to relations between the two countries.

He added, “In 2021, Sri Lanka and Kuwait celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations by holding a series of commemorative events in both capitals. Throughout the past few decades, mutual visits by leaders of both countries has served as an impetus to strengthen ties between the two states.

On the multilateral front Sri Lanka and Kuwait share many platforms such as non-alignment movement, Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) Secretariat and in many specialized United Nations agencies, including the UN Human Rights Council, and we continue to exchange support in these multilateral international fora.”

“Today, the multifaceted relations between the two nations continue to grow in various fields, including in trade, employment, tourism and overseas development assistance. Underlining the importance of bilateral economic ties, Ambassador Bala noted that these relations witnessed an upsurge, especially following the initial signing of bilateral trade agreements in the early 1990s.

The volume and range of products traded have expanded propelled by regular holding of joint Trade Ministerial Committee Meetings between the two countries, and bilateral trade has continued to grow over the years. With the aim of enhancing mutual relations among business entities, an MoU was signed to hold regular meetings between the Chambers of Commerce and Industry alternatively in both capitals.

I would also like to acknowledge with gratitude that the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) has been a main source of funding support for many infrastructure, irrigation and rehabilitation projects that have helped the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka. Most recently, the KFAED provided funding for several projects to equip and upgrade key universities of Sri Lanka. Kuwait also serves as one of the chief sources for foreign exchange earnings in Sri Lanka, with remittances by our diaspora contributing nearly USD7 billion annually.”

Turning to the tourism sector in his country, the ambassador said, “The tourism sector has recovered substantially in the post COVID-19 period. Despite the economic downturn and catastrophe that the country encountered following the pandemic, Sri Lanka received almost 1.5 million tourists in 2023. Tourist arrivals from Kuwait have also remained steady with some 8000 plus tourists arriving from Kuwait each year.

“Sri Lanka is determined to regain its position as one of the most visited countries in South Asia that consistently ranked among the world’s favourite destinations for travellers seeking the experience of a lifetime. Sri Lanka is endowed with everything that caters to a wide variety of holidaymakers, from beautiful beaches to lush green vegetation to well-presented ruins of an ancient civilization, and a hospitable people, all of which make Sri Lanka a wonderful tourist destination for Kuwaitis.

“Moreover, having recognised the importance of cultural exchanges that, in these modern times, have become an influential source of soft power, the Sri Lanka embassy in Kuwait, in collaboration with the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, has organised several cultural events in Kuwait.

On Sri Lanka’s National Day each year, celebrations are spiced up by exclusive performances by talented cultural troupes flown in to portray different forms of arts, music and dances of Sri Lankan society that reflect the secular nature of the country. Over the past five decades, World renowned Sri Lankan cultural troupes have visited every year to showcase cultural strengths of Sri Lanka and thereby strengthen people to people contacts.”

Emphasizing the role of the Sri Lankan community in building and strengthening people-to-people ties between the two countries, Ambassador Bala stated: “Kuwait is home to around 130,000 Sri Lankan migrant workers who contribute to strengthening relations between the two nations in terms of sourcing the much needed remittances to Sri Lanka and building a positive image of the country among people in Kuwait.

In recent years, Sri Lanka has been successful in diversifying deployment of migrant workers to Kuwait, from the traditional domestic sector to various skilled, semi-skilled and professional workers in the fields of construction, infrastructure, education and health services including caregiving. Such diversification helps build the positive image of Sri Lanka in this part of the world, while contributing to the socio economic progress of Kuwait.”

Asked about the potential for Kuwaiti entrepreneurs to invest in Sri Lanka, the ambassador noted: “Sri Lanka, a lower middle-income country with a population of approximately 22 million is on a recovery path following the worst economic crisis it faced in 2022, and there are opportunities for investors to take part in its growth story. The Government of Sri Lanka has embarked on a slew of reforms to tide over the crisis in the last few months.

“Given Sri Lanka’s conducive business climate the Sri Lankan Board of Investment has identified sectors such as information technology services, agriculture, tourism and hospitality industry, real estate, electronics and light manufacturing facilities, as feasible and rewarding opportunities for Kuwaiti businesses to invest in Sri Lanka.

‘Sri Lanka’s strategic location off the southern coast of India along the main east-west Indian Ocean shipping lanes gives it a regional logistical advantage, especially as Sri Lanka has comparatively advantageous deep-water ports that enable maritime trade in important commodities. This geographic advantage remains relatively untapped. Prospective Kuwaiti investors may wish to explore other possible investments in Sri Lanka in their desired areas of interest.”

In conclusion, Ambassador Bala said that he considered his diplomatic assignment in Kuwait as very enriching in terms of understanding the regional politics and dynamics, as Arab nations increasingly become very relevant and active in the sphere of international relations. They have emerged as an integral part of the multilateral system in recent years taking up responsibilities that contribute to the peace and security of the region.

Their contribution to the third-world by way of ODAs, grants and loans are on the increase which in turn helps the socio economic developments of countries such as Sri Lanka. Also, the presence of a large number of diplomatic missions in Kuwait offer opportunities for close and intense interaction with nations from across the globe, thus strengthening relations between nations with mutual benefits.

“Moreover, my previous assignment in Kuwait, not very long ago, allowed me to establish contacts which I still am able to make use of and I continue to further expand the network and solidify working relations with leaders and key institutions. The wealth of experience I gathered makes my job much easier. My network of friends both in the public and private sectors has expanded over the years which serves as a useful conduit of the much needed information which is critical for the Embassy to initiate timely measures to arrest without delay adverse situations.

“I find Kuwaiti society to be very moderate, friendly, accommodative and hospitable and as a result I have been successful so far in delivering on our national interests and priorities consistently. I am thankful to His Highness the Amir, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Interior, and a number of other Government institutions for their support and cooperation.”

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