Colombo, September 1, 2023: United States Senator Chris Van Hollen, a distinguished member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, visited Sri Lanka this week. Senator Van Hollen, who was elected to represent the state of Maryland in the U.S. Senate, undertook this visit to explore and strengthen ties between the United States and Sri Lanka. The core objectives of the Senator’s visit include the promotion of enhanced security cooperation, deepening economic ties, collaborative initiatives to address climate change, and the advancement of democracy and human rights.
Senator Van Hollen’s link with Sri Lanka extends to his childhood, as he resided in the country while his father, Christopher Van Hollen Sr., served as the U.S. Ambassador from 1972 to 1976. This unique connection has further fueled the Senator’s commitment to strengthening the bonds between the people of the United States and Sri Lanka, evident in his lifelong efforts to promote mutual cooperation, economic opportunities, and shared democratic values between the two nations.
Reflecting on his visit, Senator Van Hollen stated, “As we mark the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Sri Lanka relations in 2023, we celebrate this decades-long friendship and recommit to strengthening our partnership for the decades to come. This trip was an important step toward furthering these ties and promoting our shared cooperation on economic opportunity, maritime security, and climate change issues. During the visit, we also stressed the need to move forward on human rights and reconciliation to ensure that all the people of Sri Lanka can participate fully and fairly in the democratic process. As we look to the future, the United States will continue to grow this partnership with Sri Lanka and collaborate on shared goals.”
During his comprehensive three-day visit to Colombo and Kandy, Senator Van Hollen was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Julie Chung. Together, they engaged in candid dialogues with Sri Lankan leaders, including President Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Sabry, and Members of Parliament, addressing a broad spectrum of bilateral issues of mutual interest. At a meeting with the U.S.-Sri Lanka Parliamentary Friendship Association, the Senator underscored the independent legislative branch as the fundamental pillar of our mutual democratic values.
In Colombo, Senator Van Hollen met with civil society representatives to learn about their efforts to promote human rights. He also joined families of the disappeared just prior to the August 30 International Day of the Disappeared, hearing about the heartbreak they have endured and reiterating they deserve transparency, justice, and accountability.
During an interaction at the Embassy’s American Center, Senator Van Hollen connected with the Colombo-based members of the Youth Forum, emphasizing the pivotal role that youth play in shaping the nation’s future. The recent expansion of the Embassy’s Youth Forum Summit into a regional event for youth from across South and Central Asia (SCA) underscores U.S. commitment to creating opportunities for emerging young Sri Lankan leaders and fostering regional cooperation.
Senator Van Hollen also boarded the SLNS (Sri Lankan Navy Ship) Gajabahu, one of three former U.S. Coast Guard cutters the United States donated to strengthen Sri Lanka’s ability to protect its maritime sovereignty and security. Onboard the vessel the Senator called on Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera and engaged with other members of the Sri Lanka Navy.
During a discussion hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka (AmCham Sri Lanka), the Senator underscored the vital economic relationship between the two nations, highlighted by the fact that the United States serves as Sri Lanka’s largest single export market, with $3.32 billion in exports recorded in 2022. This economic partnership plays a substantial role in bolstering Sri Lanka’s export-oriented industries, supporting American businesses, ensuring a dependable market for Sri Lankan goods, and fostering economic prosperity and stability within the country.
Senator Van Hollen’s visit offered the opportunity for oversight of programs in which he played a pivotal role as a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations and Foreign Relations Committees, including substantial support provided to the Sri Lankan people by the United States government between June 2022 and June 2023, totaling over $270 million in new assistance. This support ranged from providing fertilizer to paddy farmers to offering financial assistance to small businesses, nursing mothers, and the school feeding program. In Kandy, the Senator released fingerlings into the Victoria Reservoir to dedicate the USAID-supported inland fishing project and engaged with beneficiaries of a new climate-resilient agriculture project, tangible impact of his efforts in advancing people and partnerships. The Senator and Ambassador hiked a portion of the Pekoe Trail Walk, supported in part by USAID’s YouLead activity, connected with Hill Country Tamils and emphasized the U.S. commitment to sustainable tourism and cultural preservation in Sri Lanka.