A new era for a renewed Sri Lanka
As I walked through Trincomalee’s Koneswaran and Colombo’s
Gangaramaya temples last month, learning of their ancient and important
histories, I was struck by the strength and resilience of the Sri Lankan
Over many centuries and across many generations, Sri Lankans have
turned to their faiths and cultures to endure and overcome many
challenges. They have also shown a commitment to the future and the hope
of new beginnings.
Historic elections were held just one year ago. Today, Sri Lankans
are seeing the progress that has been born from this new beginning; a
renewed commitment to the rule of law, the equal administration of
justice and economic opportunity for all.
During my three decades as an American diplomat, from South Africa to
Latin America, I have learned that those nations which embrace
pluralism, tolerance and inclusion will inevitably bear the fruits of
peace, prosperity, and progress.
We are seeing this pattern play out in Sri Lanka, as the free and
democratic nations of the world have warmly welcomed Sri Lanka’s return
to its rightful place on the global stage.
The United States knows well the promise and potential of Sri Lanka,
and we are strengthening our relationship and investing in the future.
When Secretary John Kerry visited last year, he announced the launch of
a new US-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue. This undertaking will advance
our ties across nearly every field of endeavour, and we are looking
forward to welcoming Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and his
delegation to Washington next month for the inaugural session.
Secretary Kerry also outlined an assistance package that seeks to
stimulate Sri Lanka’s economic growth, strengthen its democratic and
financial institutions, and help it promote the reforms and
reconciliation for which the Sri Lankan people voted.
And one of the premier independent U. assistance agencies, the
Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), just last month announced that
Sri Lanka had been selected to develop a threshold program.
Threshold programs are an important first step in forming a
relationship with the MCC, which helps reduce poverty by dismantling
barriers to economic growth.
This could boost the confidence of private-sector international
investors and bring significant funding for infrastructure and
Serious political, economic, and security reforms still lie ahead and
are never easy, but as Sri Lanka walks this path – including through
full and timely implementation of the historic Human Rights Council
Resolution that our nations co-sponsored last year –itwill continue to
have our full supportin addressing these challenges.
We offer our support not only because we share the same democratic
values, but also the same strategic interests.
We share an interest insafeguarding global maritime commerce in the
vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean – one of the world’s most important
trading crossroads. We share an interest in stopping pirates, drug
smugglers and human traffickers from profiting off of human misery. We
share an interest in saving lives when our friends and neighbours are
struck by typhoons, earthquakes or epidemics.
And we share an interest in demonstrating to the world the political,
social, and economic benefits of peaceful reconciliation, promoting the
rule of law, and protecting human rights.
In the coming decades, the continued growth of the world’s economies,
large and small, will increasingly depend on the stability and
prosperity of the Indian Ocean region.
The inevitable logic of geography and the onward march of
globalization mean that Sri Lanka is destined to reclaim its heritage as
a vital commercial hub, and one that thrives not just from trade, but
also from tourism and technology.
I was lucky enough during my visit last month to see a small part of
Sri Lanka’s lush forests, sparkling beaches and ancient history. So I
wasn’t surprised that a recent survey of travel industry leaders put Sri
Lanka at the top of their destinations list for 2016. Tourism in 2015
was already over 20 percent higher than in 2014, so the outlook for this
year is bright.
That means more jobs, more growth, and more investment, benefitting
everyone across the island. It also means more infrastructure and
improved connectivity with other countries, which has bonus effects for
different parts of the economy.
Take technology, for example. Innovative US companies like Microsoft
and Oracleare helping to bridge the digital divide and bring new and
transformative productsto Sri Lanka, creating exciting opportunities in
education, commerce and communication.
And it’s not just US companies that are increasing their investments
in Sri Lanka’s future. Total foreign direct investment totaled US$1.6
billion in 2015, higher than the year before, and a potential prelude to
an even more successful 2016.
There is a direct line that connects all of this increased
international engagement and investment with the progress that Sri Lanka
made in 2015.
One need look no further than the MCC’s words, which attributed its
decision to work with Sri Lanka to the country’s “remarkable effort over
the past year to reinvigorate its democratic institutions, improve
governance, and restore protection of human rights.”
The world has responded to the Sri Lankan people’s expressed desire
for a new beginning.
Because We know that what happens in Sri Lanka is of global
consequence and we know that success in Sri Lanka will make it a
reference point for the rest of the world.
In the coming year, we will continue to support Sri Lanka as it makes
meaningful progress on reconciliation, transitional justice, the
protection of human rights, good governance reforms and inclusive
We will do all this not only because it is the right thing to do, but
because a stronger, more unified and more prosperous Sri Lanka can play
a leading role in the story of the 21st Century, to the benefit of the
So as we look ahead to a new year, I’m confident that the faith in
new hope, new promise, and new beginnings will bring even more blessings
to the people of Sri Lanka, the United States, and the world.
About the author:
Thomas A. Shannon Jr. is the Counselor of the US State Department
since December 2013.
A Career Ambassador, he is only the seventh Foreign Service Officer
to hold the position of Counselor since World War II and the first in 32
years. Prior to his tenure in Brazil, Ambassador Shannon served as
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2005 to
2009. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior
Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council
from 2003-2005. From 2002 to 2003, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of
Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State, where he was
Director of Andean Affairs from 2001 to 2002.
Ambassador Shannon also served as Director of Inter-American Affairs
at the National Security Council from 1999 to 2000, as Political
Counselor at the US Embassy in Venezuela, from 1996 to 1999 and as
Regional Labor Attache at the US Consulate General in South Africa, from
1992 to 1996.