Norwegian Diplomacy in South Asia
Strengthening Sri Lanka and Bangladesh ties
By Srimal Fernando, Global Editor, The Diplomatic Society and Sariful Islam
For Norway, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are geographically and strategically important countries of South Asia. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Norway are important in their respective regions. The flow of Norwegian Aid has increased sharply for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh during the past four decades. The future of Norway’s relations with these countries seems to be bright due to its strong political foundation.
Photo: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shakes hands with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg
Norwegian Diplomacy in Sri Lanka
Norway’s foreign relations have gradually expanded from earlier focus on peace building to economic status. Since 2015 there have been enhanced contacts between Norway and the Indian Ocean island nation. Norway does not want to lose sight of the economic and peace building interests. The two development activities helped Sri Lanka to edge closer to Norway. One pertained to Norway's peace efforts in Sri Lanka between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from 2000-2006 and the other was the significant progress made by the new government on human rights and its changing role in diplomacy towards western countries.
Norway has shown sensitivities towards the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. In Sri Lanka particularly the role of peace making which is an endeavour to bring about reconciliation among Sinhalese and Tamils was one of the main objectives of the Norwegians. It is important to enumerate some of these contacts between the two countries reflecting the new warmth in the relationship. During a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, in August 2016 the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg made it clear that her government would take steps to bring together potential Norwegian investors and Sri Lankan partners.
Photo: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg meets Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena
Norwegian Prime Minister Solberg added that as Sri Lanka has now reached the status of a Middle-Income Country, the focus would be to assist development and increase cooperation in trade, industry and business.
The Norwegian contribution to Sri Lanka can be quite significant. For example Norway has given 656 million kroners to Sri Lanka during the period 2009 to 2012 (The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Colombo, 2016). Besides humanitarian assistance, another important factor is trade between both nations. The two-way trade between Sri Lanka and Norway has been progressively increasing.
Given the island’s economic status, more than 100 joint ventures have been developed between Norwegian and Sri Lankan companies .The Norwegian - Sri Lanka bilateral trade increased to US$ 32 million in 2016, a 26 percent increase from 2008.
Addressing a forum on bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Norway held by the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), Norway’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Thorbjourn Gaustadsaether said, “The balance of trade is in Sri Lanka's favour. Sri Lanka exports US$ 20 million worth of goods to Norway and imports US$ 12 million from Norway.
(L-R) Mr. Anton Balasingham, Mr. VidarHelgesen, Mr.UrsZiswiler, Mr.NimalSiripala de Silva, Mr. Eric Solheim at the Geneva Peace Talks
Norwegian Diplomacy in Bangladesh
Diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Norway were established on 14 April 1972. According to Norway Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), Bangladesh received more than 12 billion kroners in Norwegian aid since 1974, which makes Bangladesh the fourth largest recipient of Norwegian aid. Norwegian business interests and facilitating partnerships between Nordic-Bangladeshi Business companies have expanded since 2010.
Photo: From the left: CEO of Telenor Jon Fredrik Baksaas, Norwegian Ambassador Ragne Birte Lund, Minister of Trade and Investment Trond Giske and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (Photograph: The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka)
In April 2013 Norwegian Trade and Industry Minister Trond Giske visited Bangladesh. The pursuit of close relations with Bangladesh was followed by Norwegian Minister of International Development Heikki Holmås in the same year with the signing of the International Labour Organization (ILO) agreement to support a project for improving the labor conditions of Bangladesh.
Moving Norwegian Diplomacy forward
In a positive bid there are at least two roles that Norway may legitimately play in the region. One is that certain values are considered to improve human conditions such as good governance and human rights. Another role is to create a permanent peace, durable unity and sustainable development in these countries.
Sariful Islam is Bangladeshi student pursuing a Master of Arts degree in International Relations at the South Asian University, New Delhi, India.