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South and Central Asia: Remarks for the Sri Lanka National Day Reception

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Chargé Dissanayake. It is an honor to be here with you, your distinguished colleagues, and friends of Sri Lanka as we gather to commemorate your National Day.

As someone who has visited Sri Lanka, including for the Indian Ocean Conference last October, I have seen for myself why Sri Lanka has been called the jewel of the Indian Ocean – blessed with natural beauty and a strategic location at the crossroads of global trade routes.

As fellow democracies with diverse populations and an abiding respect for the rule of law, America and Sri Lanka have enjoyed close relations. Our valuable partnership is growing closer than ever. And Chargé Dissanayake, we value the close working relationship we have with you and your Embassy and the role it plays in further strengthening bilateral ties.

Our countries share interests and beliefs. Our democracies protect the fundamental rights of our citizens and ensure that all are equal before the law. We appreciate diversity as a source of strength; it is an asset to be embraced. These shared values are not merely theoretical, but are reflected in the close people-to-people ties between our countries.

The Sri Lankan community in America has roughly doubled every ten years since 1980.

And, Americans have taken to your country. Americans work in many NGOs and development organizations which have flourished in Sri Lanka since the 1970s. Less known is the age of our ties. Americans began in 1812 helping to found the first ecumenical organizations in Sri Lanka. The first YMCA in Sri Lanka was founded in 1882. More recently, through the Fulbright program, the American government has supported exchanges among over one thousand Sri Lankan and American scholars since 1952.

Our people appreciate the value of a free and open Indo-Pacific region in which transparent rules and norms safeguard sovereignty and promote prosperity. As I said in Colombo, we look forward to working together to build a future that protects our vision for the region.

We hope to deepen our collaboration and partnership with Sri Lanka. Secretary Pompeo announced in August that we are directing additional security assistance to Sri Lanka, in addition to a Coast Guard Secretary Class cutter that will arrive this spring.

In both of our countries, we recognize that the private sector is essential to raising living standards and increasing mutually beneficial trade. That is why we support Sri Lanka’s efforts to improve the ease of doing business in your country – efforts that will attract American investors, grow our economies, and create jobs in both countries.

But that is just the beginning. There is great scope in our relationship to build on cooperation on fostering entrepreneurship, encouraging investment, and strengthening rule of law.

The promise of a bright and prosperous future in Sri Lanka has become clearer, thanks in part to your leaders’ commitment in 2015 to forge a path toward justice and reconciliation. Your government’s progress on political rights and civil liberties made it eligible for a Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, which when it is achieved, will spur economic growth.

And, Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions remain robust, as we saw last year when they weathered a challenge to the constitutional process.

The democratic principles and vibrant private sector that Sri Lanka embraces – and that America holds dear – provide a strong foundation on which to further build our relationship. On behalf of the United States, please accept my warm wishes and congratulations on your National Day. Thank you.