President Macron’s recent visit to Sri Lanka intends to provide a larger diplomatic canvas for both countries to strengthen their geopolitical ties and work towards Sri Lanka’s economic recovery
As the competition in the region increases due to challenges from a rising China and increasing US-China rivalry, France is concerned about the spill-over effects.First, is the realisation of the importance of Colombo in the Indo-Pacific region. As the competition in the region increases due to challenges from a rising China and increasing US-China rivalry, France is concerned about the spill-over effects. This also stems from the fact that it lays a major claim in the region’s exclusive economic zones vide French Polynesia, Futuna, and New Caledonia in the Pacific and Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, during his visit to the country, President Macron pointed towards the importance of Sri Lanka as an Indian Ocean country with which it shared a common goal of preserving the free and open Indo-Pacific. Also, Paris considers Colombo its neighbour, primarily due to its geographical proximity to Réunion Island. Therefore, any disruption in the regional order will have lasting implications for French interests. Second, is the increased outreach to Sri Lanka by major countries. India, the United States (US), China, and Japan are engaging with Colombo at various levels. While India shares traditional relations with Sri Lanka, it has made consistent efforts to make this partnership transformational in recent times. Similarly, Japan has also stepped up its developmental partnership and investments with Colombo, while the US has increased its diplomatic outreach to the country. These outreaches are also influenced by China’s increased activity in the region. Beijing considers Colombo an important and strategically-located country on its East-West trade route in the Indian Ocean and a crucial partner in its Belt and Road Initiative. China has also extended assistance to Colombo in terms of multi-billion dollar loans. For France, this outreach towards Sri Lanka thus appears to be part of President Macron’s plan to carve out an independent role for itself in the vital Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing considers Colombo an important and strategically-located country on its East-West trade route in the Indian Ocean and a crucial partner in its Belt and Road Initiative.As a result, France offered nearly US$1.5 million to Sri Lanka during the economic crisis. At a time when major powers hesitated to invest in the country and paused their projects, France offered grants to promote renewable energy. It also provided humanitarian and medical assistance to the country. In addition, the European Union (EU) offered aid worth US$6 million and promised to promote green energy in the country. Further multilateral assistance also came in from France through negotiations on debt restructuring with the Paris Club members and the G7 countries. These negotiations with the Club resulted in debt restructuring assurances that enabled Sri Lanka to access the first tranche of its International Monetary Fund (IMF) package. Being the fourth-largest bilateral creditor to Sri Lanka, France has also joined India and Japan to launch and chair a common platform/creditor committee to discuss Sri Lanka’s debt-restructuring programme with nearly 17 other countries. The initiative helps Sri Lanka with a common debt restructuring plan and comparability of treatment (equal treatment) towards all their official bilateral creditors. This initiative will assist Sri Lanka in restructuring its debts, promoting economic recovery, and continuing to access the subsequent tranches of the IMF package.
The initiative helps Sri Lanka with a common debt restructuring plan and comparability of treatment (equal treatment) towards all their official bilateral creditors.Given this interest in Sri Lanka, it was no surprise that President Macron invited President Ranil Wickremesinghe to France to address a panel discussion on the New Global Financing Pact. During the visit, the Sri Lankan president met several members of the Paris Club and also discussed the nature of bilateral relations with his French counterpart. This brewing interest underscores Macron’s recent visit to Sri Lanka.
One of the potential reasons for China’s response is its scepticism and unpleasant relations with India, Japan, and the West.Third, Sri Lanka looks at France as a potential development partner. From 2005, France’s development agency (AFD) has offered Sri Lanka assistance of nearly 360 million euros. The AFD has continued to invest in promoting the country’s green energy, health, education, water treatment, fishing harbours and villages, urban development, agriculture, etc. For Colombo—a slowly recovering economy that is realising the impacts of unsustainable borrowing—France’s assistance and partnership will be crucial. It might help the country with socio-economic development and also promote a self-reliant economy. Incidentally, Macron’s recent visit has assured the establishment of an AFD office in Sri Lanka and rekindled the need for cooperation with France in the water and energy sectors. With the hopes of promoting renewable energy, Wickremesinghe has also shown interest to participate in France’s Paris Agenda for People and Planet. Similarly, Sri Lanka also sees France as a potential partner in the maritime security domain. At a time when Sri Lanka is promoting defence reforms and focusing on maritime security and threats, France—a resident power in the Indian Ocean—could be a viable partner. This would help bolster maritime and common security for both countries. Even with Macron’s recent visit, France agreed to establish a school for maritime safety and security in Sri Lanka and promote efforts to combat human trafficking. Macron also expressed interest in collaborating with Sri Lanka in its chairmanship of IORA, and Sri Lanka is considering being an observer state in the Indian Ocean Commission.
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Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy is an Associate Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. He focuses on broader strategic and security related-developments throughout the South Asian region ...Read More +
Ankita Dutta was a Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. Her research interests include European affairs and politics European Union and affairs Indian foreign policy ...Read More +