We’ll stand by Sri Lanka in this hour of need: Jaishankar

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar joins Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe in inaugurating projects that emphasize India’s deep and abiding friendship with the people of Sri Lanka on Friday.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar joins Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe in inaugurating projects that emphasize India’s deep and abiding friendship with the people of Sri Lanka on Friday.Pic: ANI

Colombo, Jan 20: Visiting External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Friday reassured India’s strong ties with Sri Lanka and insisted that New Delhi would stand by its southern neighbour which is going through the worst-ever economic crisis in its post-independent history. 

“I would like to underline that India is a reliable neighbour, a trustworthy partner, one who is prepared to go the extra mile when Sri Lanka feels the need. My presence here today is a statement about Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to ‘Neighbourhood First’,” Jaishankar said while making a statement in the presence of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry.

“We will stand by Sri Lanka in this hour of need and are confident that Sri Lanka will overcome the challenges that it currently faces,” he asserted.

Jaishankar said that his “primary purpose of coming to Colombo at this time is to express India’s solidarity with Sri Lanka during these difficult moments”.

“As you all know, last year, India extended about $4 billion in credits and rollovers to help Sri Lanka get through an economic crisis. For us, it was an issue of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and not leaving a partner to fend for themselves.”

He also handed over an invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to President Wickremesinghe to visit India at an early date to discuss how the partnership between the two countries could facilitate the island nation’s strong recovery.

India, one of the main bilateral creditors of Sri Lanka, this week assured the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its assistance to the debt restructuring programme that Colombo is desperately awaiting to get the four-year IMF bailout package of $2.9 billion.

Following the 2019 Easter Sunday attack, Covid 19-pandemic as well as wrong political and economic decision-making, Sri Lanka, one of South Asia’s most famous tourist hotspots, was forced to undergo an unprecedented economic crisis with shortages of food, medicine, fuel and cooking gas since early 2022.

Coming to Sri Lanka’s rescue, India within the first six months from January 2022 extended credit line and financial assistance worth nearly $4 billion and provided essentials like food and medicine as aids.

Going through high inflation and a dollar crunch, Sri Lanka desperately awaits the $2.9 billion IMF bailout package to strengthen the cash-strapped economy.

But to obtain the package, bilateral creditors including India, China and Japan, must agree for the debt restructuring process.

On his part, Foreign Minister Sabry expressed the country’s extreme gratitude to India for taking the initiative to inform the IMF of its support to Sri Lanka.

“We are all aware that Sri Lanka is at a decisive moment with the discussion with the IMF. In order to place our economy on a path of IMF-assisted recovery, we needed the time assurance from our creditors.

“Once against India has extended its hand in support of the first country to officially back our debt recovery restructuring programme by conveying financial assurances to the IMF. Dr. Jaishankar, we are profoundly grateful to India once again for demonstrating your confidence and solidarity with Sri Lanka,” Sabry added..

While taking the lead in assuring Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring, India also urged other creditors, including China who hold nearly $7 billion as loans from Sri Lanka, to help the island nation at this crucial moment.

“We felt strongly that Sri Lanka’s creditors must take proactive steps to facilitate its recovery. India decided not to wait on others but to do what we believe is right. We extended financing assurances to the IMF to clear the way for Sri Lanka to move forward. Our expectation is that this will not only strengthen Sri Lanka’s position but ensure that all bilateral creditors are dealt with equally,” Jaishankar reiterated.

While helping Sri Lanka during its worst financial crisis, India assured investment to help “a strong economic recovery”.

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