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Norway ushers in new era of cooperation with India and Sri Lanka

By Srimal Fernando, Global Editor The Diplomatic Society and Vineet Malik

27 August 2018

In recent years, Norway’s recognition as a global peacemaker has earned profound respect from the international community. Given its greater geographical distance, the diplomatic ties between Norway with South Asian nations have progressed quite considerably. It is also worth pointing out that with trade and aid, Norway has slowly built its growing positive diplomatic   influence on India and with its southern neighbour Sri Lanka.  Norway’s yearly assistance to South Asian nations now exceeds about 1.3 billion Norwegian kroners (NOK) (Norad 2017).  

There is a further a complementary aspect of the pragmatic foreign policy strategy chosen by the Norwegians to facilitate the stabilization efforts in the region. As a part of exemplary Norwegian story in the region the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) aid budget for India rose to 150 million Norwegian kroners (NOK) in 2017. Out of the total development assistance, most of the allocation was for health services and trade and economic development than any other sector.  

Looking back on seven decades of Norway and Sri Lanka ties, the signing of a ceasefire agreement in February 2002 between the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Tamil tigers (LTTE) with Norwegian mediation efforts was an important milestone in the diplomatic history.  Just nine years after the signing of a historic peace deal Erik Solheim, the experienced former negotiator of the Sri Lankan peace process said, “We gained experience from the peace process in Sri Lanka that we can use in other places. In my view, Norway did a good job. We helped to bring about a ceasefire in 2002, which put an end to the fighting and saved lives.”  

Over the course of subsequent years Norway’s ties with India and Sri Lanka witnessed a sequence of far reaching diplomatic engagements with overwhelming support from other NORDIC nations.  Despite high level exchanges, the year 2018 could equally be considered as an immensely important year for Indo NORDIC ties with the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Norway that galvanized not only Indo Norwegian ties but also the old ties with NORDIC nations.

During the Nordic Council summit, the Scandinavian platform has been utilized to foster India’s cooperation across a  number of economic  and diplomatic  issues as well as to  promote general understanding  between  India and the NORDIC nations. The Nordic process had begun to unravel a new combination where India is successfully gaining the respect of Scandinavian nations. The bilateral trade figures have grown significantly crossing US $1100 million and looks to set to grow further (Ministry of Commerce, Government of India 2017). Even more interesting was the investment of USD 11.7 billion in India by the Norwegian State Pension Fund from 2016 to 2017 (Royal Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi 2018).

Since Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena took office the unity government has suggested adopting a series of foreign policies aimed at strengthening diplomatic ties with Nordic countries, especially with Norway.  For most of the 70 years of diplomatic history before 2006 Norway’s relations with Sri Lanka were comparatively cordial. Then a resumption of civil war in the Island nation in 2005 brought new strains to Sri Lanka - Norwegian relations. Hence critics   have argued the ties between the two nations before President Maithripala Sirisena’s government was one-sided and stayed frigid throughout that period. Hence Norway’s consistent backing for the new government was softly translated into reality.

The new trend of Norwegian relations was momentous and will go a long way. Meanwhile in a speech by Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg in Colombo was more favorable for Sri Lankans. She praised the tourism industry in Sri Lanka and said that she had a most enjoyable holiday in the island. She added that there is immense scope for high growth in the tourism sector image   especially among NORDIC nations. Sri Lanka’s relations with Norway have had more economic benefits than political content. On November 2015 the   Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther noted, “Several Norwegian oil and gas companies are willing to bid in Sri Lanka's next level of offshore fuel and natural gas explorations projects”. Today because of these ongoing efforts bilateral trade has risen steadily and the level of ties ascended to a new level of partnership.

Therefore for Norway the significance of India being the world’s sixth-biggest economy, southern neighbour Sri Lanka's geo-strategic position and the combined 3.887 million sq. km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, are important both economically as well as diplomatically.

Srimal Fernando Global editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa and  
a research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA) , India and  Vineet Malik is a  student   of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India




February/March 2020








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