French President Emmanuel Macron with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry at the Colombo airport late Friday night (All images courtesy: Office of the President of Sri Lanka)
Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe discussed the coordinated debt restructuring process led jointly by India, Japan and France during key meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Colombo late Friday night and early Saturday.
Returning home from his trip to the South Pacific islands, Macron made a brief stopover at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, becoming the first French President to have set foot on the island nation.
Welcomed by Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry around 11:30 pm local time, Macron and Wickremesinghe then “held friendly and productive bilateral discussions” at the airport itself that lasted for an hour and 15 minutes.
Besides discussing the country’s economic recovery, Macron also expressed keen interest in collaborating with Sri Lanka during its upcoming chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), of which France is a member.
Less than seven hours later, the Lankan President had a 75-minute breakfast meeting with Hayashi who flew in from New Delhi late Friday on what is the first visit of a Japanese Foreign Minister to Sri Lanka since 2019.
“President Wickremesinghe expressed his gratitude to the Japanese Government for their support in the debt restructuring process and shared details of French President Emmanuel Macron’s offer, aiming to play a pivotal role in enhancing the common platform for debt restructuring and expediting the process,” said the Lankan President’s office in a statement.
Hayashi, on the other hand, expressed his hope for further progress in the debt restructuring process and underscored the importance of a transparent and comparable debt restructuring that involves all creditor countries.
“President Wickremesinghe stated that he will take utmost care to the transparency and comparability of the debt restructuring,” stated the Japanese Foreign Ministry adding that the fact that the Lankan leader has visited Japan twice during his first year in office symbolises the deepening bilateral relationship between the two countries.
In May, 17 countries formed an official creditor committee, co-chaired by India, Japan and France, to discuss the Sri Lankan authorities’ request for a debt treatment. The committee includes Paris Club creditors as well as other official bilateral creditors. The first meeting occurred after the successful launch of the debt restructuring process for Sri Lanka led by the co-chairs on April 13.
During his visit to New Delhi last week, Wickremesinghe specially appreciated India’s “timely, unprecedented, and crucial support” to his government and the people of Sri Lanka as they continue to fight economic difficulties.
While spotlighting that Sri Lanka has an important place in India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) vision, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated time and again that New Delhi stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Sri Lanka in this hour of crisis.
At the same time, PM Modi also believes that a closer and deeper partnership between the two countries provides a unique opportunity to forge and enhance growth in the Indian Ocean Region.
With persistent external pressure applied by China which had developed high stakes in the country through its “expansionist and debt trap” Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), India’s long-standing strategic partners are also focusing intensely on the region.
While France considers itself an Indo-Pacific resident power and calls its partnership with India as a major pillar of its strategy in the region, Tokyo views New Delhi as an “indispensable partner” in its new Indo-Pacific strategy.
In his talks with Hayashi on Saturday, the Lankan President also discussed implementation of significant projects like the Light Rail Transit (LRT), the East Terminal, the Kandy Development Plan, Central Highway, and the expansion of the Bandaranaike International Airport.
“Additionally, they delved into bilateral, regional, and global issues, emphasising their shared commitment to maintaining the region as a peaceful and stable area,” said Wickremesinghe’s office.