October 02, 2022
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    Foreign policy perspectives for Sri Lanka in 2020

    January 16, 2020



    Foreign Policy in very simple terms is how a state in the world family conducts itself with other states and international organisations which is a set of rules that seems to outline the behaviour of a particular country and how it interacts with other countries and international organisations. This depends on the culture, economy, domestic policies and present and future strategies of the country. It is the frontier of the state on international and other affairs in governance. It reflects the image, vision, economy, security and positions taken of the state in the world family and acts as the forward runner and a cornerstone of the state on the conduct of international affairs foreign/economic policy which is an extension to the domestic policy. Generally, the Head of State formulates and implements foreign policy depending on the political and economic climate of the day by himself or through a trusted Minister.
    Indian foreign policy is somewhat static and policies and interests shift based on the needs and interests of the nation and the national and security interest of the country. In India governments may change but the policies and foreign policy structure will be static. In the USA the President formulates the policy subjected to greater scrutiny by the world being a world economic power. In the United Kingdom it is the Prime Minister who formulates and implements policies and in the USSR, it was the President who was responsible for foreign policy and national security. In China it depends on the economy and policies of governance and the leader on national interest, in EU there is common foreign policy based on the policies of the member states. In the rest of the world nations give top priority to foreign policy and implementation on promotion of economy and development which is the current trend based on economic diplomacy giving priority to economy in today’s context.
    Foreign policy in Sri Lanka
    The main theme of foreign policy in Sri Lanka is on the motto - friendly with all and angry with none, based on non-alignment policy. Sri Lanka was once a leader of the Non-Alignment Movement during the peak of Sri Lankan relations with non-alignment nations and the rest of the world. It gradually transformed from the era of independence to date based on the change of governments and political leaderships. D. S. Senanayake quite correctly continued to follow the West with no drastic changes whereas S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike made effective transformations on the foreign policy jointly with India and the NAM movement for which Sirimavo Bandaranaike gave life to.
    With the emergence of the Non Alignment Summit in Sri Lanka resulting a number of achievements such as winning over India on the conflict on “Kaththitiva”, Indian statelessness, sea boarders/ sea bed issues, friendly intervention to settle Indo-China war while maintaining cordial relations with the rest of the world. Then President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the winner of an unwinnable war over the most ruthless terrorist outfit, while managing the foreign policy towards victory, ending the 30 year war disproving the worldwide myth that terrorism cannot be eradicated militarily. These achievements are as a result of dedicated and fearless leadership of Gotabaya Rajapaksa - the current President of Sri Lanka with the correct political leadership of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

    The President’s first official visit to India on an invitation of the neighbour with other scheduled visits to China and the visits of Sergey Lavrov - the Foreign Minister of Russian Federation, Wang Yi - Foreign Minister of China, Alice Wells of USA Foreign Ministry shows how important we are placed in the Indian Ocean which are positive achievements at this decisive hour that indicates that we are well respected and recognized in the ocean hub on geo-political considerations.
    It appears that matters discussed with India during the President’s recent visit have been cordial though crucial - especially on the 13th Amendment - a byproduct of 1987 of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord which the President diplomatically managed proving statesmanship, fearlessness and long term national and security interests. The 13th Amendment was discussed with no finality. The indications are that “Gota and MR” combination will have a common foreign policy theme, unlike MS and RW that went through complex uncertain and unworkable nature of 19th Amendment which the “Rajapaksa Brothers” appear to be able to work on until 19A is amended, replaced or a new Constitution is introduced.
    Ongoing issues such as the Geneva Debacle on co-sponsorship of the resolution as a result of arbitrary decision by Mangala Samaraweera, then Foreign Minister without informing the Cabinet or then President Maithripala Sirisena who has been the Head of State on the most decisive and important UN resolution. Success of the future foreign policy regime depends on the outcome of the forthcoming general elections and whether a 2/3rd majority is possible for the new government for the amendment to the Constitution to be free from the clutches of the complexities of the unworkable poorly drafted 19th Amendment by poor and incompetent drafters is a moot issue.
    Foreign policy today
    It appears that the foreign policy of Sri Lanka is back on track with the proper leadership and a strong vision despite the weaknesses created by the hurriedly passed 19th Amendment to prevent the “Rajapaksa’s” coming back to power - a fruitless effort and also by giving life/power to the commissions created. Today, the President and the Prime Minister is working together with one word and common vision, and the world family will be properly communicated on international issues while in the past different messages conveyed to the world due to the disunity of the leaders giving different signals and messages on international deliberations and communications with the world including states and international organisations.
    The short period in power highlights with litmus tests on few controversial incidents and issues such as the Swiss episode, MCC and other agreements, Chinese investments, effective presence of USA, massacre and carnage on April 21 with the loss of 250 lives and maiming and wounding of scores of people. Controversial statements by the British Prime Minister on Sri Lankan ethnic issue that has internationalized due to the power and involvement of the Sri Lankan Diaspora and the presence of world powers such as China, USA and India are worrying.
    Foreign policy cannot be discussed in isolation as it is a living and practical ongoing process interconnected to the economy, development, security, and the future of the nation bonded with the international organisations and family of states. But it appears that the new government has handled it successfully and professionally despite unnecessary interventions and contravention to the Geneva Convention of Diplomatic relations and other accepted conventions and practices. It appears to be an arduous task for the new leader and governance to create a balance of power with world powers in the vicinity when India is next to us as a neighbour, with many hopes and aspirations on economic and international cooperation in the country place strategically on the main silk route when the power and importance of the Indian Ocean is ever growing.
    Way forward
    In 2020 Sri Lanka cannot afford to make further mistakes and wrong judgements. We are experienced to possess a proud history and experience on foreign policy dating back to the 3rd Century BC when King Devenampiyatissa who had close friendship with unseen friend Emperor Asoka who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka (in 245 BC) through his son Arhath Mahinda that laid the foundation to our stable culture which is in existence to date based on Buddhist teachings/principles.
    We made mistakes entering into agreements with the Portuguese, Dutch, British and many other states and international organisations. The British cunningly conquered us in 1815 and let us down by contravening the 1815 Convention with no shame or hesitation. We are already in trouble on the co-sponsored Geneva Resolution, which the current government has protested against today, agreements on Hambantota and Port City projects completely mishandled by initially antagonizing Chinese counterparts in the absence of proper negotiations not giving national interest priority with abrupt cancellation and later reactivation of the agreements with new terms. The current President and the Prime Minister will have an uphill task in renegotiating and bring the systems to the main tract on equal long term arrangements giving national interest and security priority.

    Most international agreements we entered into are not prepared based on national interest and long term Sri Lanka friendly strategy. It is the duty of the drafters to look after and look into on the national interest security and short and long term benefits such as the Rice Rubber Pact entered into with China, which is beneficial to Sri Lanka and one of the advanced and agreements in favour of Sri Lanka too unlike, many agreements entered into in secret without informing the citizen and the Parliament and we demand that any and every future international agreements should be discussed in open and obtain approval from the people/Parliament.
    Let us learn from Israel, Hong Kong and Singapore though small in size advanced and competence on international affairs which is lacking in us because we have not explored our educated and experienced Sri Lankans worldwide prepared to assist their motherland. The Foreign Ministry to be made proactive as a Hub of Education on diplomacy and international affairs and make use of experienced educated and dedicated officials full of love and affection for the country.
    Diplomacy and International Relations are to be given due place in the process on making foreign office a professional canter of excellence taking India/USA/UK as an example to be professionals despite changes of any government. Correct person to be given the opportunity to represent the nation, without political or any other favouritism with exposure and education to/on international community and highest standards of diplomacy be given priority. Centre for the Training of Ambassadors in the form of an International Law /Relations Hub should be set up following other nations and efficient /quality and educated Ambassadors should be appointed to represent the nation from and out of intellectuals and the Ministry who will defend and promote Mother Lanka giving priority to Economic Diplomacy which is the need of the hour.


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