Colombo: In a ‘historic’ visit, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Sri Lanka on Saturday, had discussions with his counterpart, Ranil Wickremesinghe and also pledged assistance and support in the debt restructuring process.

Notably, this was the first-ever visit by a French President to the island nation.

During the visit, Wickremesinghe and Macron held friendly and productive bilateral discussions which lasted for an hour and fifteen minutes, the Sri Lankan President's office said.

As the fourth-largest creditor to Sri Lanka, France pledged its assistance in the debt restructuring process, aiming for a positive outcome for the country, the statement read.

The main objective of the visit was to enhance and elevate the existing relations between Sri Lanka and France, especially considering the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic ties being celebrated this year.

The French President's Sri Lanka visit came as a short stopover on his return home from a five-day visit to the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

The French President expressed his strong support to complete the debt restructuring process from both the Paris Club Secretariat as well as the French Government to encourage all other partners to support and expedite the completion of Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring strategy, according to Sri Lanka-based Daily Mirror newspaper.

The Sri Lankan President last met Macron in Paris in June during the conference of heads of state for a new global financial agreement.

Macron arrived in Sri Lanka on the night of July 28 following his trip to the South Pacific region.

“It was a pleasure to welcome French President @EmmanuelMacron on his historic visit to #SriLanka. During the bilateral meeting that followed between our delegations, we discussed the wide range of areas of French-Sri Lankan cooperation and agreed to further strengthen our relationship,” Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Ali Sabry tweeted on Saturday.

Macron said Sri Lanka, and France share the same goal of an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

“Sri Lanka and France are two Indian Ocean nations that share the same goal: an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific. In Colombo we confirmed it: strengthened by 75 years of diplomatic relations, we can open a new era of our partnership,” Macron posted on Twitter after the meeting.

The discussions between the two leaders focused on strengthening cooperation in various sectors, including politics, economics, tourism, climate change, sustainable development, and maritime activities.

As part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations, several specific areas for further collaboration were identified.

These areas of cooperation included the establishment of a school for maritime safety and security, the opening of a permanent office for the French Agency for Development (AFD) in Sri Lanka, the initiation of high-level diplomatic dialogues, cooperation in the education sector, and the enhancement of efforts to combat human trafficking in the maritime safety and security sector.

Macron expressed keen interest in collaborating with Sri Lanka during its upcoming chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), of which France is a member. In turn, President Wickremesinghe showed interest in the Indian Ocean Commission, where France actively participates, a statement read.

Wickremesinghe expressed admiration for France’s significant role in global affairs, particularly in areas such as climate mitigation, global debt restructuring, and matters related to the Indo-Pacific region, the Sri Lankan President's office said.

Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe was recently on a two-day visit to India, another strategic partner for the island nation.

During his visit, the Sri Lankan President met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Droupadi Murmu, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and several other dignitaries.

PM Modi said he and Wickremesinghe discussed how to boost the economic partnership between the two nations.

Sri Lanka is neck-deep in debt to China, amounting to approximately USD 6.8 billion. China's Export-Import Bank (EXIM) funded for construction of the 'Hambantota International Port' and the 'Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport' in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka then fell into a financial crisis causing the government unable to cover the project's maintenance costs and interest despite the loan, and the country declared bankruptcy, defaulting on its sovereign debt.

Earlier this year in March, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said during Raisina Dialogue 'Ideas Pod' that India helped Sri Lanka more than any other country, especially when the island nation was struggling through an unprecedented crisis.

Sabry said, "Your real friends are tested when bad time comes. India has stood by us, a friend in need and a friend indeed that they say. So we are very grateful to India, for what it has done for us."

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister also stated that the Indian government took some very bold, decisive actions by providing the island nation with about 3.9 billion worth of bilateral credit and accreditation.

He further stated that it is the line which gave Sri Lanka the lifeline to fight the battle for another day, which probably saved the bankrupt country from oblivion.

Notably, China, Japan, and India are Sri Lanka's three largest bilateral lenders.