Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera in Berlin on Friday (22 May). Their talks focused on political developments in Sri Lanka, German support for the democratisation process and the strengthening of bilateral relations in fields including business.
Steinmeier welcomed his counterpart Samaraweera to the Federal Foreign Office, calling him one of the “really great architects of change in Sri Lanka.” The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister took office following elections early this year. He had previously resigned the same post in 2007 in protest at “the militaristic course” then pursued by the government, as Steinmeier put it. The German Foreign Minister expressed his respect for Sri Lanka’s political developments over the past few months, telling his guest that not only was the high turnout in the presidential elections impressive, but that the subsequent peaceful handover of power and the reforms undertaken by the new government were also admirable. Germany would “do all it could to support” Sri Lanka on its path of political and economic consolidation, Steinmeier assured Samaraweera.
Respect for the country’s latest reforms
Germany and Sri Lanka have maintained diplomatic relations for 62 years. Foreign Minister Steinmeier underscored the fact that the countries’ political and economic relations have developed greatly over the decades. The two Foreign Ministers took advantage of this visit to the Federal Foreign Office to view historic and diplomatic documents from the early years of the bilateral relationship. Foreign Minister Samaraweera stressed that Germany had stood by the people of his country “in good times and in bad”. In this context he specifically mentioned the projects carried out by the GIZ and the work on developing vocational training in Sri Lanka.
Strengthening economic relations
Both Ministers were also in favour of further strengthening relations in the economic sphere, noting that more than 100,000 German tourists had visited the island state in the Indian Ocean in 2014. Germany is, in turn, the largest importer of goods from Sri Lanka within the European Union. In addition to tourism, the key issue is developing Sri Lanka as a location for investment. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister emphasised that his country was also a “gateway” to India and Pakistan, with which free trade agreements are in place. As regards strengthening cooperation, Steinmeier underlined after their talks that Germany wanted to support projects in fields such as fostering social cohesion and assisting small and medium-sized enterprises and, if possible, in the field of vocational training. He stated unequivocally: “You are an important partner of ours in the region.”
Reconciliation process important for a shared future
Together with its EU partners and other Western countries, Germany is carefully monitoring respect of human rights and humanitarian developments in Sri Lanka. After almost 30 years of civil war, attention is focused above all on lasting reconciliation between the various ethnic groups, especially the majority Sinhalese and the Tamils. Speaking in Berlin, Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that the reconciliation process was worthwhile, and was the prerequisite for a shared future. He encouraged his interlocutor to continue along this route.