Aso vows support for Sri Lanka's efforts to improve coast guard

Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged Thursday that Tokyo will support Sri Lanka's efforts to improve its coast guard as the South Asian country sits in a geopolitically important area, Japanese officials said.

During a meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo, Aso, who doubles as finance minister, also called for promoting national reconciliation in the country, where a civil war had lasted for an extended period until 2009, the officials said.

Aso's remarks suggest Japan is eager to deepen bilateral relations at a time when China has been boosting investment in and assistance to Sri Lanka, which is located near a sea route between Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.

"I told (Rajapaksa) that Japan will stand ready to strengthen cooperation if national reconciliation advances, security becomes stable and economic growth continues in Sri Lanka," Aso told reporters after the meeting.

Aso's visit to Sri Lanka came before his participation in a four-day meeting of the Asian Development Bank from Thursday in India.

Rajapaksa, who also serves as Sri Lanka's finance minister, made an official visit to Japan in March and already agreed with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to "upgrade and expand" bilateral cooperation and discussion to "effectively address maritime issues common to both countries," according to a joint statement.

After the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka's economy has been growing rapidly and its per-capita gross domestic product is the highest among major South Asian nations.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, has come under criticism from the United States and Europe which have argued that human rights violations against ethnic minority Tamils linger there.