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Tomorrow’s International Order will be decided in Sri Lanka’s immediate neighborhood: German Ambassador



Affirms Brexit won’t change an iota of EU’s firm commitment to Sri Lanka

‘It may not be easy to attract German investors. However, it’s certainly worth the effort because once committed to a country, they stay. Besides, German investors not only bring capital, they also share know-how which adds sustainability to the partner country’s development’


At a time both India and Japan – members of the informal Quad grouping – which includes the U.S. and Australia is seen as a counter to Beijing’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region, the German Government decided on new ‘Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific’, in September 2020, The Island recently interviewed senior diplomat Holger Seubert, the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Sri Lanka; he threw more light on why Germany made this key decision as well as the long-standing relations between Sri Lanka and Germany. Excerpts of the interview:


How do you view the trade between Sri Lanka and Germany?

The balance of trade between our two countries has always favored Sri Lanka – in other words – there’s a significant export surplus for Sri Lanka. In recent months, Germany’s exports to Sri Lanka plummeted by an excruciating 50% year-on-year. Given the fact that overall German exports to the Asia Pacific region declined by only 11% in the same period of time, this is alarmingly above-average. It is obvious that Sri Lanka’s import restrictions played an important role here. On the other hand, Sri Lankan exports to Germany fell by only 10% which can be explained by the pandemic. The bilateral trade balance has thus further deteriorated from Germany’s point of view. Germany currently imports goods and services of more than double the value from Sri Lanka than it exports to it. Bilateral trade between our two countries is becoming more and more of a one-sided affair which of course is of concern to the disadvantaged German side.


How do you asses German assistance to Sri Lanka all these years?

Technical and financial cooperation between Germany and Sri Lanka has a long history, going back to the year of 1956. Currently there are bilateral programs in the fields of vocational training, promotion of small and medium enterprises (SME), biodiversity, renewable energies and national reconciliation.

Support in the vocational training sector has for long been the flagship of our bilateral cooperation. The Ceylon-German Technical Training Institute in Moratuwa, which was established in 1959, is a well-known example for successful cooperation in this area. Based on the experiences of vocational education in Germany, we support vocational schools in implementing demand-driven training programs in close cooperation with the private sector. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the project is working with private sector partners to develop an innovative e-learning platform that will improve accessibility to ICT-related training courses. By 2024, a total of 45 million Euros will have been invested by the German Government in this sector, including major projects like the Sri Lankan German Training Institute in Kilinochchi and the planned establishment of the Sri Lankan German Training Institute in Matara.

Regarding the development of the SME sector, we put strong emphasis on improving business development services for SMEs through digitalization. In the period 2020-2022, a total of 3.5 million Euros will be allocated to this program, plus an additional 1.7 million Euros for immediate COVID-19 response. Our joint efforts include facilitation of export processes and micro insurances for SMEs as well as the establishment of crisis resistant business plans leading to better market access for SMEs in the agricultural and tourism sectors.

We also cooperate with our Sri Lankan partners in promoting renewable energies and in increasing energy efficiency. The “Green Energy Champion” campaign has just concluded its third competition round. It is showcasing innovative ideas (government, private sector and civil society) and enabling the winners to realize their vision. Up to now, a total of 600,000 Euros has been invested and we are looking forward to continuing the initiative in close cooperation with the Sri Lankan government.


How have relations between the European Union (EU) and Sri Lanka evolved economically?

With 27 Member States and 450 million customers with high income, the EU is the largest market in the world. Over the last 25 years, the EU has become Sri Lanka’s second largest export market (behind the US). Trade with the EU significantly benefits Sri Lanka that has a trade surplus with the EU of over 1 billion Euros. Sri Lanka’s top export goods to the EU are, in this order, garments, rubber, vegetables, machinery, tea and fish.

Since the opening of the EU Delegation in the country in 1995, the EU taxpayers have provided roughly one billion Euros in development assistance, the environment, human rights and academic exchanges being main contents. Furthermore, the EU is assisting low-income communities in Sri Lanka, for instance by making sure that farmers get adequate prices for their products in the EU.

Through its preferential tariff system GSP+ (Generalized System of Preferences), the EU has granted duty free access to about 7,000 Sri Lankan products. In my view, GSP+ has worked very well for Sri Lanka although its full potential has not been used yet. Exports to the EU have increased by more than 25% under GSP+. Fish exports have even doubled; other notable growth sectors include clothing, tea, tyres, gems and motor vehicle parts. It is a fact that Sri Lanka, being a “lower middle-income country”, benefits significantly from the EU’s GSP+ scheme.


How do you view German Investment, doing business, regulatory framework?

German investors have a strong reputation of being faithful, albeit demanding partners. Faithful because a German investor’s decision is always based on long-term considerations, i.e. on plans to uphold and extend investment for a long period of time; rarely will you see a German investor to withdraw, once engaged in the country he is most likely to stay there for decades. On the other side, German investors tend to be quite demanding, before going ahead with an investment they undertake a thorough check of the business environment in the future partner country. They are doing so to make sure that their investment will not just be temporary but sustainable. To recap, it may not be easy to attract German investors. However, it’s certainly worth the effort because once committed they stay. Further to this, German investors not only bring capital, they also share know-how which adds sustainability to the partner country’s development.

Sri Lanka has a number of strengths making the country an attractive destination for German investment. The Island’s geographical position is perfect for doing business in the Asia Pacific region. Sri Lanka has the chance to further develop its position as a regional trading hub and major trans-shipment centre. Furthermore, education in Sri Lanka is generally good, the quality of locally produced goods is high, environmental standards are in place and observed.

However, not everything is perfect, of course. A look into the World Bank’s latest Doing Business Report shows Sri Lanka ranking number 99 (out of 190) with a pronounced weakness in the field of “enforcing contracts”. When I talk to German entrepreneurs, they tell me that reliability has to be considered key to any investment. Hence, if the World Bank’s assessment is accurate, Sri Lanka might wish to work on this weakness as it might then be able to attract more foreign investment.

From a German investor’s perspective, there is room for improvement in other areas as well. Over-protecting local industries does not add to an investment destination’s attractiveness. Closing borders to imports cannot be considered conducive to this objective, either. What German investors expect is the establishment and protection of a level playing field for foreigners (i.e. no discrimination against local companies), a consistent tax policy and reliable application of international rules and regulations.

To give you an example for the latter: German investors are currently concerned about the application of rules known as UCP 600. This Uniform Customs & Practice for Documentary Credits (UCP 600) is a set of rules that apply to finance institutions which issue letters of credit, i.e. financial instruments helping companies to finance trade. These rules and regulations aim at standardizing international trade, thus reducing risks of trading goods and services. German investors would like to see UCP 600 strictly applied in Sri Lanka.


How does Germany view Sri Lanka’s relationship with China as an Indian Ocean nation?

As a diplomat, I cannot comment on other countries’ relations.

However, I am in a position to inform you about Germany’s relations to the Indo-Pacific Region. In this regard, there is news to tell: Just recently (September 2020), the German Government decided on new German “Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific“. The motivation for these guidelines lies in two indisputable facts: Asia’s growing importance – economically as well as politically – and an increasing strategic rivalry between the US and China. Germany is convinced that the shape of tomorrow’s international order will be decided in the Indo-Pacific, thus in Sri Lanka’s immediate neighborhood.

As an internationally active trading nation, Germany cannot content itself with remaining on the sidelines of these dynamic developments. Consequently, in its Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific, Germany defines its main interests in the region as follows:

* Open shipping routes: A disruption to the maritime routes would have serious consequences for the prosperity for all countries in the world.

* Open markets and free trade: Germany firmly believes that rules-based free trade enhances freedom and prosperity on all sides.

* Protecting our planet: In the interest of future generations, the aim must be to ensure that growth in the Indo-Pacific region is environmentally friendly. Germany is ready to engage with partners to manage natural resources, to preserve biodiversity and to use energy efficiently.

* No hegemony: Germany firmly believes that no country should – as in the time of the Cold War – be forced to choose between sides. Every country should be free to choose membership in economic and security structures.

In its policy guidelines, the German Government underlines its commitment to intensify dialogue with BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). By doing so, Germany will build on already existing projects such as the one on maritime governance with Sri Lanka. This project, implemented by the renowned German Max Planck Foundation, provides expert advice to Sri Lanka with regard to the implementation of UNCLOS (United Nationals Convention on the Law of the Sea) which Sri Lanka joined in 1994.


How will a potential Brexit deal affect Sri Lanka?

I am not in a position to comment on how relations between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka may be influenced by Brexit. However, there is one thing I am absolutely sure about: Brexit will not change an iota of EU’s firm commitment to Sri Lanka. The EU will definitely continue to be a close partner and a friend – as will Germany as one of the EU’s major players. This is what I will be primarily working on during my tenure as German Ambassador to Sri Lanka.

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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development



There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka



By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?



Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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