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Sri Lanka looks beyond China, expands defence and trade ties with South Korea

A file photo of Korean Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Korean expatriates welcoming a Korean naval ship, ROKS Chungmugong Yisunshin at the Port of Colombo (Image courtesy: Korean Embassy in Sri Lanka)

Looking beyond China, Sri Lanka is planning a major expansion of military coordination, as well as trade investment, with South Korea.

This includes Colombo not only working extensively to revive a special investment zone in the country for entrepreneurs from South Korea but also making renewed efforts in buying naval vessels from Seoul.

The Lankan Foreign Minister G L Peiris discussed the planned partnerships between the two countries in detail with his counterpart Chung Eui-yong in Seoul on Friday.

Trade and investment, political cooperation, defence initiatives, tourism and labour issues dominated the talks between the two foreign ministers, said the Lankan Foreign Ministry.

South Korea's defence industry has grown at a considerable pace in recent years with the country being a major ally of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region.

Seoul's major defence exports include patrol corvettes to Malaysia, FA-50 light combat aircrafts to Philippines, FA-50 advanced trainers to Indonesia and Thailand besides military vehicles to Philippines.

As reported by IndiaNarrative.com last month, Philippines' Department of National Defence has signed a PHP 28-billion contract with South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) for the acquisition of two brand-new corvettes for the country's Navy.

South Korea

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Sri Lanka too has been expressing its willingness to enhance the defence ties with South Korea.

On Friday, Peiris paid tribute to the multi-faceted relationship which had developed between the two countries during their 44-year relationship, and its present robust character.

"The Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka reiterated his country's interest in receiving two naval craft from ROK," said the Lankan Foreign Ministry.

Considering that the Korea Business Association (KBA), which was formed in 1982, had been very active in Sri Lanka till a couple of decades, both ministers also agreed that "it would be timely" to consider reviving the special investment zone for entrepreneurs from South Korea in the island nation.  

The balance of trade between the two countries is significantly in South Korea's favour right now. Exports from Colombo to Seoul are of approximate value of USD 71 million while imports into Sri Lanka from South Korea is at the threshold of about USD 192 million.  

Both countries agreed on exploring practical ways of overcoming some of the significant trade barriers, including in particular customs levies on value-added products such as flavoured teas.

Chung Eui-yong, said Colombo, responded positively to the request by Minister Peiris for enhanced dollar assistance from the Exim Bank of South Korea and greater development assistance from Korea International Cooperation Agency or the KOICA.

Like India, South Korea is also involved in development programmes in Sri Lanka, especially in the fields of water management, waste disposal and secondary education.

The Lankan minister called for engaging the South Korean private sector to consider greater investment in the country, especially in the fields of computer technology, electronics and pharmaceutical products.

The two countries will also be working to consolidate the number of tourists visiting Colombo from Seoul and stimulating greater South Korean investment into the hospitality sector in Sri Lanka.

It was noted that about 12,500 tourists visited Sri Lanka from South Korea before the onset of Covid 19 pandemic.

Peiris also expressed appreciation of approximately 300,000 US Dollars' worth of medical equipment sent by South Korea to Sri Lanka as part of Covid-19 assistance.

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