The following are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Ambassador Manisha Gunasekera of Sri Lanka in Seoul conducted by The Korea Post on the occasion of the National Day of Sri Lanka on Feb. 4, 2016.--Ed.
Question: What are the immediate major plans of the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Seoul this year?
Answer: This year Sri Lanka is celebrating its 68th anniversary of independence. Sri Lanka's Independence Day is celebrated on 4th February since marking its independence from British rule in 1948. Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to gain independence in the 20th century post-colonial world. Independence is celebrated all over the country through flag-hoisting ceremonies, dances, parades and performances. The Sri Lanka Embassy in Seoul is celebrating the National on 3rd February (with a diplomatic reception) at the Millennium Hilton Hotel, and on 7th February at Inje University, Gimhae.
Additionally, a Sri Lanka Food Festival will be held at the Millennium Seoul Hilton (Cafe 395, from 18:00 -21:30 hrs.) from Thursday 28 January to Sunday 7 February 2016 to mark the occasion.
Q: What are the important developments scheduled between Korean and Sri Lanka. Any delegations coming to Korea this year-
A: Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea enjoy longstanding friendly relations and historical bonds based on Buddhist cultural links spanning centuries. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and Korea in 1977, there has been the steady expansion of bilateral relations in the political, economic and cultural spheres. In terms of high-level visits, a presidential visit from Sri Lanka to Korea took place in April 2012, while the Prime Minister of Korea visited Sri Lanka in August 2013. These friendly ties are currently poised to be further elevated in the run up to the two countries celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relations in 2017.
At present, following the inauguration of the new national unity Government in Sri Lanka led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2015, there is greater focus on widening and deepening the existing friendly relations with Korea, with particular emphasis on the political and economic spheres. The two countries are discussing the possibility of the exchange of high-level visits in 2016 and 2017, including at foreign ministerial level. The next round of political consultations between Sri Lanka and Korea are also scheduled to be held in Colombo this year.
In accordance with the new Government’s economic policy framework which is focused on promoting investment and exports, integration in global value chains, and creating a knowledge economy, Korea is emerging as a country of prime focus with which to further expand economic ties. Sri Lanka has identified Korea among a small basket of countries for prime focus in terms of economic cooperation.
Korean ODA to Sri Lanka is an important aspect of the bilateral relationship. Its importance is demonstrated by the fact that Sri Lanka stands as the second highest recipient of Korean ODA in terms of cumulative disbursements (USD 430.4Million), and is placed at number five in terms of commitments (US$ 652.5 mn), out of 52 developing countries. In Sri Lanka, Korea stands at the fourth place among donors. Korean ODA has contributed towards Sri Lanka’s development process through the Economic Development Co-operation Fund (EDCF), and grant assistance via the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). KOICA has generated long-lasting goodwill between the two countries, in the priority sectors of development. KOICA volunteers continue to be effective cultural ambassadors of Korea. This bilateral partnership is further strengthened with the recent visit of the President of the EXIM Bank of Korea Dr. Lee Duk-Hoon to Sri Lanka this January.
Cooperation between the Chambers of the two countries has provided an effective framework to further enhance trade and investment ties. MOUs exist between Sri Lanka’s Chamber of Commerce and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and the Busan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment (BOI) has an MOU with the Small and Medium Business Corporation (SBC) of Korea. Plans are underway for an exchange of visits by investment / trade delegations of both countries this year.
For 2016, we are expecting the following important business events:
a) Sri Lanka participation at selected trade fairs such as Seoul Food 2016, International Horticulture Goyang Korea 2016, International Fermented Food Fair and Gem and Jewellery Fair 2016.
b) Expecting an investment and trade delegation from Sri Lanka in parallel to 2016 Rotary International Rotary Convention in Seoul 28th May to 01st June 2016.
c) A Tourism promotional delegation to Korea to participate at the 31st KOTFA (Korea World Travel Fair) will be held from June 9 to 12 in Seoul, Korea. Promotions will include B2B sessions in Seoul and Busan.
Apart from the above Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) in association with the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Export Development Board and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB) will be organizing the Sri Lanka Investment and Business Conclave 2016 from 8th to 10th March 2016 at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Mission will organize a business delegation from Korea to participate in this.
Q: Please introduce the Head of Government of Sri Lanka.
A: His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
President Maithripala Sirisena is the 6th Executive President of Sri Lanka, and assumed his term of office on January 9, 2015, after winning the Presidential Election held the previous day. He was born on 3rd September 1951 to a middle-class farming family. He joined mainstream politics in 1989 and has held several ministerial portfolios since 1994. He is the President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and he was the longest serving General Secretary.
Maithripala Sirisena is a rare breed of a gentleman politician in today’s political landscape, a politician with an impeccable track record, untainted by either violence or corruption. Maithripala is a political leader with a genuine national appeal. The son of a farmer, he had practiced a brand of centrist, moderate and clean politics, which characterizes the best in Sri Lanka’s political culture.
The new Government of Sri Lanka is focusing on achieving and delivering rule of law, good governance and transparency to the nation.
Q: What are the major tourist destinations of Sri Lanka?
A: Sri Lanka, crowned as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is home to some of the finest spectacles of natural beauty known to man. An island considered to be en route to paradise, surrounded by both the Indian Ocean and the mystique of an enduring and diverse history - makes this place one of fascination for both the eye and the soul.
Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences all in their own times have converged in the present day to leave a markedly distinct cultural flavour and experience; only to be found in countries with such colourful and impassioned pasts. The history played out, of which there is much to see in the vast array of architecture, museums and galleries, has all been forged however against a common background- that being one of sheer natural beauty. A landscape unerring, unfaltering and uncompromising in its ability to inspire awe.
The undulating terrain provides spectacular views of the iridescent ocean and the teeming land, affording unique vantage points such as Kandy and Nuwara Eliya in the hill country. Mountains shrouded in mist, cascading waterfalls as luminous as glass and tea gardens to invigorate the senses can all be found within moments. From the planes in Nuwara Eiliya to the mountains of Knuckles, the sense of excitement to be felt at the wonder of such a world is unwavering.
A tropical climate all year round ensures that a colourfully dense population of flora and fauna inhabit this jewel of a land. Testament to this is the fact that Sri Lanka has the highest biodiversity per 10,000 square km in the whole of Asia, with many species endemic to the land. In no way an exhaustive list,-the country for example has four species of wild cat, with the leopard the largest of them, five species of deer, over 400 species of bird, 60 species of fish, five species of sea turtle, twenty five species of whales and dolphins, and elephants and monkeys to boot. The Yala National Park is most famous for spotting leopards with the highest population of the cat in Asia. There is an abundance of other national parks, such as Wasgamuwa, Kumana, Wilpattu, Uda Walawe and newly opened Chundilulm bird sanctuary, all providing rare glimpses into the lives and habits of nature’s most beautiful creatures. In addition to the breath-taking external environment, Sri Lanka also offers a sanctuary for the soul outside of what its natural world can do for you. Ayurveda is popularly practiced, a traditional form of medicine originating in India, literally meaning the complete knowledge for long life.
The capital city Colombo is in itself a wonder. The city is majestically situated on the coast of the Indian Ocean, and while it has the bustling vibe of a vibrant, emerging metropolis, the ambience is one of relative calm and composure when compared to other capital cities of the region. Scattered with Buddhist temples, churches, Hindu temples and mosques, it sets an example for religious and cultural diversity.
Moreover religious and cultural festivities have adorned the beauty of Sri Lankan life for centuries. Religious celebrations such as Kandy Esala Perahera, Vesak Festival and Sinhala, together with festivals of art, music and culture including the South East Asias biggest literary event Galle Literary Festival ensure that the spirit of festivity is alive all year round.
Sports and adventure is another exhilarating dimension to the country. Surfing, rafting, air-ballooning golf, cricket and other soft sports and adventures like mountain climbing, trekking, cycling, canopying are some of the popular activities available to those that relish a chance to tackle the great outdoors.
About the Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Seoul:
Name: Manisha GUNASEKERA
Occupation: Member, Sri Lankan Foreign Service (1996 to date)
Director General/East Asia & Pacific, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka (from September 2014 to date).
Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva (2011-2014).
Director General/Donor Coordination and Project Management
Ministry of Economic Development of Sri Lanka (2010-2011): Director/Political Affairs (Europe), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka (2009-2010)
Director/Economic Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka (2008-2009).
Counsellor/Political, Embassy of Sri Lanka in Tokyo, Japan (2004-2007)
Deputy Director/Political Affairs (Europe & CIS), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka (2002-2004).
Second Secretary, Embassy of Sri Lanka in Paris, France (1998-2001)
Asst. Director/Publicity, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka (1996-1998)
Production Editor, International Irrigation Management Institute (IMMII), Battaramulle, Sri Lanka (1993-1996)
MA in International Political Economy & Development, Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, the Netherlands (2008)
MA in Women’s Studies, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka (2004)
Post-graduate Diploma in European Studies, Institute d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences-Po)
Asia-Europe Programme 2000, Paris, France (2000)
BA (Hons.) English, University of Delhi, India (1992)
G.C.E. Advanced Level & G.C.E. Ordinary Level, Musaeus College, Colombo, Sri Lanka (1975-1987)
Sinhala (mother tongue) and English, French (working knowledge).