President's Korea visit takes ties to next level
Seoul pledges US$ 500 million in development aid; two countries sign multiple agreements
Both, Sri Lankan and South Korean flags fluttered on the way to the ‘Blue House’, also known as ‘Cheong Wa Dae’ -literally, the pavilion of blue tiles -- in Seoul on Wednesday, as President Maithripala Sirisena’s motorcade was escorted through the streets last Wednesday.
A visiting media team after going through tight security procedures were already in place to witness the events at the Presidential palace. The events were to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
South Korea's President Moon Jae-In received President Sirisena before amilitary guard of honour was accorded to him. According to the itinerary, it was on this occasion that the two presidents were to meet for the first time. But the previous day, President Moon gave the visiting head of state a surprise by showing up at a Buddhist temple and welcoming him in a move that underlined the close relations between the two nations.
Soon the official talks between the two heads of state were on track. Later they were joined by six Sri Lankan cabinet ministers and South Korean officials. Most of the issues discussed were set out in a joint statement.
Beside the official ceremony, visits to places of religious and cultural importance, trade agreements, a meeting with representatives of some 30,000 Sri Lankans working or living in South Korea were packed into President Sirisena’s two and half day programme during his first official visit to the country after assuming duties as President in 2015.
The state banquet was followed by a musical performance which included a dance act by little girls singing the well known baila ‘Suragani’.
One of the significant outcomes of the visit was South Korea's pledge to give Sri Lanka US$ 500 million development aid during the next two years. An agreement was signed, formalising the pledge.
Yet another achievement was the agreement on an Employment Permit System, under which South Korea will offer more jobs to Sri Lanka workers.
A memorandum of understanding between the Korea Trade- Investment Promotion Agency ( KOTRA) and the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka was also signed to further expand investment opportunities for Korean and Sri Lankan companies in each others' countries. Another significant highlight was the the President's participation at a Business Summit attended by South Korean business leaders.
The two countries also agreed to explore avenues to enhance opportunities for Korean companies to engage in infrastructure and development projects in Sri Lanka, including Megapolis projects.
They also agreed to expand cooperation in science, technology, innovation and ICT and to make progress on the MOU signed last year on a Multipurpose Harbour project in Sri Lanka.
Another area of cooperation was on promoting connectivity through cultural and tourism exchanges and the revision of the bilateral Air Services Agreement.
Both leaders also welcomed the signing of the new agreement on culture, arts, education, youth and sports.
Sri Lanka appreciated the collaboration with a Korean University in developing a college of nurses under the Colombo University.
The two leaders strongly condemned North Korea’s tests of long-range ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Sri Lankan President extended an invitation to President Moon to visit Sri Lanka next year.
President Sirisena on Tuesday visited the famous Jogyesa Temple where he was welcomed by Most Venerable Seol Jeong, head of the Jogye Order, the most prominent Buddhist sect in Korea.
President Sirisena expressed his happiness about the opportunity to visit Jogyesa Temple where the sacred Buddha relics gifted by Anagarika Dharmapala in 1913 have been enshrined.
A host of other meetings took place. Among them was the President's meeting with 200 Sri Lankans either working or living in South Korea. The President told them not to believe in baseless stories coming through the social media and urged them extend their support to build the country.
On Thursday, hours before his departure to Sri Lanka, the President was conferred with the Honorary Citizenship of Seoul Metropolitan Government.
It was conferred by Seoul Metropolitan Government Mayor Park Won-soon at a special ceremony at the Mayor’s Office.
The President, during a visit to the Mayor’s office viewed a video presentation on the City of Seoul and how it was administered through a digital system. He later visited the control room to see the impressive handling of the city through the digital electronic system.
He said he would advise Colombo city planners to study the system as they could learn from the successful experiences of the Seoul Metropolitan.
Ministers Sarath Amunugama, Tilak Marapana , Malik Samarawickrema, Thalatha Athukorale, Daya Gamage and Ranjith Siyambalapitiya accompanied the President while Sri Lanka Ambassador Maneesha Gunasekera played a key role in organising the visit and meetings.
President Sirisena’s three day state visit to the Republic of Korea has the relations between the two nations to the next higher level, observers say.
President Sirisena at the State Banquet with S. Korean President Moon Jae-In and wife