Japan stresses SL's importance in FOIP to counter China's influence

Japan stresses SL's importance in FOIP to counter China's influence

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Japan-SL

Susitha Fernando

Colombo, July 30 (IANS) While assuring support for debt restricting and promising to help the ailing economy, Japan stressed Sri Lanka's importance in realising "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP), a Tokyo-led initiative planned at countering Chinese influence in the region.

"Sri Lanka is located at a strategic juncture along the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean and is an important partner in realising a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific". I explained about the new plan for FOIP that Prime Minister Kishida announced in March this year, and said that Japan attaches importance to cooperation with the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), which Sri Lanka will chair from October," Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in Colombo after meeting Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday.

In March, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida informed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the FOIP and action plan for the new Indo-Pacific initiative to curb Beijing's growing influence in the region.

The initiative provides Japanese assistance to emerging economies, support for maritime security, a provision of coast guard patrol boats and equipment and other infrastructure cooperation.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi, who is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, met President Wickremesinghe, Prime Minster Dinesh Gunawardena held a joint media briefing with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and stressed importance of Sri Lanka to Japan.

"It is the hope of Japan and myself that Sri Lanka will overcome the current crisis as soon as possible and bring itself back on track for further economic development, serving as a hub in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has and will continue to have Japan's support in this endeavour," Japanese Foreign Minister assured.

Being one of the three main bilateral creditors along with China and India, Japan also stressed
the need to credible debt restructuring.

"I conveyed my expectations for further progress in the debt restructuring process and stressed the importance of a transparent and comparable debt restructuring that involves all creditor countries. I welcomed Sri Lanka's efforts under the IMF agreement, including its anti-corruption measures and transparency in the policy-making process," Japanese envoy stressed.

In April this year, Japan together with India and France initiated a common platform for talks among bilateral creditors to coordinate the restructuring of Sri Lanka's debt. 

However, China, debt-ridden island's biggest bilateral creditor, did not the join the group but had only
announced a two-year debt moratorium.

Meeting the Japan's Foreign Minister, President Wickremesinghe expressed his gratitude to the Japanese government for their support in the debt restructuring process and shared details of recently
visited French President Emmanuel Macron's offer, aiming to play a pivotal role in enhancing
the common platform for debt restructuring and expediting the process.

Traditionally, Sri Lanka's strong ties with Japan tattered with former regime lead by the Rajapaksas getting closer to China and specially cancelling a light rail transit (LRT) project which was to be financed through a low interest loan from the Japan International Co-operation Agency, abruptly.

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Gunawardena, a cabinet minister in the previous government, who met Japan's Foreign Minister Hayashi on Saturday admitted that the previous government made a mistake in suspending the proposed LRT project and urged Japan to resume the project.

"Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi agreed to consider it as a Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) project," Prime Minister's office announced while adding that a MoU was also inked with Japan awarding scholarships to Sri Lankan public servants, academics and scholars for higher studies in Japan, a project for which Japan had allocated 611 million Sri Lankan rupee and the project is to continue till 2025.

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