Remarks by Ambassador Julie J. Chung on the Occasion of the opening of the U.S. Embassy Colombo

October 28, 2022

Thank you, Deputy Chief of Mission Doug Sonnek.  President of Sri Lanka Honorable Ranil Wickremesinghe, Honorable Speaker, Honorable Ministers, Heads of Diplomatic Missions & UN agencies, Members of Parliament, esteemed guests, and U.S. Embassy colleagues.

Welcome and thank you for joining us today to celebrate the opening of the new U.S. Embassy Chancery in Sri Lanka.  Many of you know that I grew up in Southern California, not far from the ocean.  This beautiful view to the sea that we share this afternoon reminds me how connected we are.  This is our new home.  I love this building and am grateful every day that I walk into it – the windows, the light, the art, the ways it brings people together.  It took a lot of work – and to me, it represents a tremendous testament to our investment in the people and bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka.  Thank you to my colleagues across the Department of State and the wonderful craftsmen here who designed and built this space.  I respect and appreciate your incredible work.  And every day, my team and I will strive to do it justice through as we carry out the important work of diplomacy.

Did you know that the United States and Sri Lanka have more than 70 years of diplomatic relations?  In fact, tomorrow is the 74th anniversary of our formal bilateral diplomatic relationship.  Observers of history will remember that on October 29, 1948, Ambassador Sir Claude Corea opened the Embassy of Ceylon in Washington, D.C.  Less than a year later, in August 1949, Felix Cole presented his credentials as the first U.S. Ambassador here.   Over the ensuing seven and a half decades, our embassies in Washington and Colombo have witnessed enormous changes.  There have been 27 Ambassadors who have led this mission before me.  Over those years, the pace of our work has quickened, the breadth of our partnership has widened.  And while Ambassadors and their teams are only able to remain at their posts for short periods, the most important things have stayed the same – the foundation of our friendship and partnership, which has endured the test of time and continues to grow.

Reflecting on the history between our two democracies in this lovely, thoughtfully designed building, I encourage each of you here to commit to taking steps to build upon our shared success.  All of you present today are advocates for strengthening our bilateral relationship and can each make an individual difference.  Whether it’s the investment and trade climate in Sri Lanka and bilateral trade with the United States; the collective cooperation to shared challenges of the climate crisis, food security; or upholding our shared democratic ideals, including the rule of law, freedom of the press, secure and open sea trade routes, and the security and prosperity of all Sri Lankans.  Together, we can all make a difference.

My Embassy’s team of American diplomats and Sri Lankan subject matter experts is committed to advancing our shared goals of a prosperous, democratic, secure, and resilient Sri Lanka.  We work each day on a whole array of bilateral programs to achieve our shared goals.  Even while we were moving into this building and still unpacking our boxes, we hosted senior U.S. officials to continue the important work of bilateral engagement.  Fortunately, our visitors brought good news, which Sri Lanka could very much use as it faces its most challenging period in its economic history.  While here just last month, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced $40 million in new assistance to help farmers buy fertilizer and another $20 million in humanitarian assistance.  This comes on top of $120 million in financing for Sri Lankan small and medium-sized businesses, $27 million for the Sri Lankan dairy industry, and over $30 million in new humanitarian, technical, and food security assistance to benefit Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable communities.  Building on those announcements, Ambassador Cindy McCain, who represents the United States at the United Nations food organizations, visited to see first-hand the impact of our assistance, and hear directly from recipients and implementors of humanitarian programs.  Last week our Assistant Secretary of State Don Lu visited to re-affirm our support as an important Indo Pacific partner.  While the newly announced assistance is aimed at addressing the acute pains of the current crisis, the United States is committed to the long-term economic growth of Sri Lanka.  We support Sri Lanka’s efforts to equitably renegotiate its debt and the pathway forward to receive IMF assistance, and we remain Sri Lanka’s single largest export market, creating jobs and foreign exchange that will help Sri Lanka regain its own footing.

That’s not all the good news.  Despite the challenges of the economic crisis, we can celebrate our bilateral successes that continue, uninterrupted.  Next month, our U.S. – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission will celebrate its 70th anniversary of two-way exchanges that bridge our two cultures and strengthen the academic knowledge of Sri Lanka and the United States.  Today, there are over 8,000 Sri Lankans who are alumni of our educational and cultural exchange programs where young leaders and students travel to the United States to advance their studies and professional interests and return to Sri Lanka to put their dreams into action.  Every week more than 150 Sri Lankan secondary school students are studying English, completely free of cost, through our two-year scholarship program called English Access and their Sri Lankan English teachers are learning student-centered instructional styles.  Every day, at any one of our four American Spaces in Jaffna, Kandy, Matara and Colombo, university students and young adults are taking part in courses and activities that advance their English, entrepreneurial skills, cross-cultural communication skills and understanding of the democratic values that support an inclusive, diverse, society that values transparency and equality.

These are snapshots of how the United States has been here, for over 70 years, providing partnership, assistance, and trade opportunities that help grow the Sri Lankan economy, increase domestic capacity, and support the prosperity and wellbeing of the Sri Lankan people.  We are friends and partners, in words and deeds, and I look forward to our shared future and success in overcoming the present-day challenges.  I am an optimist and I believe the future holds positive opportunities.  So, as we stand together today, let’s celebrate not just the brick and mortar, lighting, and glass windows of this building, but the spirit of the people within it.  Let this new compound remind us of our commitment to our partnership with Sri Lanka and support during tough times. And then, let’s continue the work, together. Thank you.