As I walked through Trincomalee’s Koneswaran and Colombo’s Gangaramaya temples last month, learning of their ancient and important histories, I was struck by the strength and resilience of the Sri Lankan people. Over many centuries and across many generations, Sri Lankans have turned to their faiths and cultures to endure and overcome many challenges. They have also shown a commitment to the future and the hope of new beginnings.
Historic elections were held just one year ago. Today Sri Lankans are seeing the progress that has been born from this new beginning; a renewed commitment to the rule of law, the equal administration of justice, and economic opportunity for all.
During my three decades as an American diplomat, from South Africa to Latin America, I have learned that those nations which embrace pluralism, tolerance, and inclusion will inevitably bear the fruits of peace, prosperity, and progress.
We are seeing this pattern play out in Sri Lanka, as the free and democratic nations of the world have warmly welcomed Sri Lanka’s return to its rightful place on the global stage.
The United States knows well the promise and potential of Sri Lanka, and we are strengthening our relationship and investing in the future. When Secretary Kerry visited last year, he announced the launch of a new U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue. This undertaking will advance our ties across nearly every field of endeavor, and we are looking forward to welcoming Foreign
Minister Samaraweera and his delegation to Washington next month for the inaugural session.
Secretary Kerry also outlined an assistance package that seeks to stimulate Sri Lanka’s economic growth, strengthen its democratic and financial institutions, and help it promote the reforms and reconciliation for which the Sri Lankan people voted.
And one of the premier independent U.S. assistance agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), just last month announced that Sri Lanka had been selected to develop a threshold program. Threshold programs are an important first step in forming a relationship with the MCC, which helps reduce poverty by dismantling barriers to economic growth. This couldboost the confidence of private-sector international investors and bring significant funding for infrastructure and development.
Serious political, economic, and security reforms still lie ahead and are never easy, but as Sri Lanka walks this path – including through full and timely implementation of the historic Human Rights Council Resolution that our nations co-sponsored last year –it will continue to have our full support in addressing these challenges. We offer our support not only because we share the same democratic values, but also the same strategic interests.
We share an interest in safeguarding global maritime commerce in the vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean – one of the world’s most important trading crossroads.
We share an interest in stopping pirates, drug smugglers, and human traffickers from profiting off of human misery. We share an interest insaving lives when our friends and neighbors are struck by typhoons, earthquakes, or epidemics. And we share an interest in demonstrating to the world the political, social, and economic benefits of peaceful reconciliation, promoting the rule of law, and protecting human rights.
In the coming decades, the continued growth of the world’s economies, large and small, will increasingly depend on the stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region. The inevitable logic of geography and the onward march of globalization mean that Sri Lanka is
destined to reclaim its heritage as a vital commercial hub, and one that thrives not just from trade, but also from tourism and technology.
I was lucky enough during my visit last month to see a small part of Sri Lanka’s lush forests, sparkling beaches, and ancient history. So I wasn’t surprised that a recent survey of travel industry leaders put Sri Lanka at the top of their destinations list for 2016. Tourism in 2015 was already over 20 percent higher than in 2014, so the outlook for this year is bright.
That means more jobs, more growth, and more investment, benefitting everyone across the island. It also means more infrastructure and improved connectivity with other countries, which has bonus effects for different parts of the economy.
Take technology, for example. Innovative U.S. companies like Microsoft and Oracle are helping to bridge the digital divide and bring new and transformative products to Sri Lanka, creating exciting opportunities in education, commerce and communication.
And it’s not just U.S. companies that are increasing their investments in Sri Lanka’s future. Total foreign direct investment totaled $1.6 billion in 2015, higher than the year before, and a potential prelude to an even more successful 2016.
There is a direct line that connects all of this increased international engagement and investment with the progress that Sri Lanka made in 2015. One need look no further than the MCC’s words, which attributed its decision to work with Sri Lanka to the country’s “remarkable effort over the past year to reinvigorate its democratic institutions, improve governance, and restore protection of human rights.”
The world has responded to the Sri Lankan people’s expressed desire for a new beginning. Because we know that what happens in Sri Lanka is of global consequence, and we know that success in Sri Lanka will make it a reference point for the rest of the world.
In the coming year, we will continue to support Sri Lanka as it makes meaningful progress on reconciliation, transitional justice, the protection of human rights, good governance reforms, and inclusive economic growth.
We will do all this not only because it is the right thing to do, but because a stronger, more unified, and more prosperous Sri Lanka can play a leading role in the story of the 21st century, to the benefit of the entire globe.
So as we look ahead to a new year, I’m confident that the faith in new hope, new promise, and new beginnings will bring even more blessings to the people of Sri Lanka, the United States, and the world.