Sri Lanka: Do we have a Foreign Policy?

A Comment on Regional Foreign Ministry Office In Jaffna


by Sarath Wijesinghe

Regional Office

( January 28, 2017 , Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Establishing a Regional Office in Jaffna is a step in the right direction, though it is not understood the motive or need to such an step when there is no certainty on the foreign policy of the country with proud history in maintaining correct foreign policy by most successive governments. North has become controversial with hundreds of resolutions adopted by the Provincial Council with no permission and concurrence with the Central Government, outside the preview of the powers of Provincial Councils and a centre of controversy most of the time. North needs economic benefits to enjoy the benefits of the peace dawned and it is not clear how this will provide economic benefits to the people sandwiched by the Indian and Sri Lankan Army during the road to quest for peace and peaceful living. Foreign Policy is a matter left to the Centre and provinces can do little on the formulation and maintenance of the policy of the country.

Do we have a Foreign Policy today?

What is our Foreign Policy? Do we have a Foreign Policy? Are we any longer Non Aligned? Or is the NAM out-dated?, are frequently asked but un- answered questions which has direct impact on the economy, prosperity and the future of Sri Lanka which has been transformed to be a most stable and peaceful country in the world after eradication of terror and introduction of mega developments, major improvements of infra-structure and atmospheres on investment and tourism with the influx of investors and tourist as the main by-product of the peace dawned after three decades of war. Hon D.S Senanayaka conducted policy according to the needs and moods of the world by entering into a Defence Agreement with Great Britain. Neutralism is not cowardice according to Hon SWRDs non alignment is not just being a passive actor in the world family. He said “we do not want to look either to the capitalism of the West or communism in the East- till we find the precise form of society that we think is the most suited to the country.” He said it is something very positive and not negative as the saying long ago in Galialee that the Sabbath was for man and not man for the Sabbath. He believed in positive and effective non alignment movement aiming at development and prosperity. It is doubtful whether we have a clear cut foreign policy today and it is time to spell it out loud and clear to the world with serious considerations and through study. It is a necessity to be clear on the foreign and other policies which are interconnected to our safety, security, developments and prosperity. H E Mahinda Rajapaksa has not been favoured by the West and USA then, but conducted the war foreign policy successfully until the end of the brutal war he ended successfully. Today there are three voices speaking to the world on the same subject, though in fact state must speak to the world with one word on the agreed and accepted policy.

Foreign Policy

Sri Lanka is located strategically in the Indian Ocean on the famous Silk Route traditionally and historically used by Arabs and Chinese for trade with South Asia. The Indian Ocean is now a primary focus of international politics and strategy. Its geo – political prominence makes it a pivotal factor in the global balance of power. In deed it infrequently called the

“Ocean of the Future”. The focus on Sri Lanka has hardened after Rajapaks winning the war and strengthening the position as an “Iron Fist” ruler in the traditional democratic environment. Fast and mega developments on infrastructure, Harbours, Aeroplanes, with the assistance of China which is a economic giant dealing with the other economic and political giants has irked and misunderstood India themselves dealing economically and political with China as allies. Rajapaksa’s extreme popularity, fearlessness, and leader ship as an emerging leader in the capacity of the leader of Commonwealth, SAARC amd many international organisations and a group of emerging nations irked the west responsible for the destabilization of the Middle East and may other Asian African and Latin American countries on attempts of successful Regime Change.

Extension of Domestic Policy

Foreign Policy of a country is an extension of domestic policy and the policy of the government in power. In many countries the governments change but not the foreign policy. Notably in UK, USA India USSR EU and China where the foreign policy is linked to economy, the changes are slight on change of governments which unfortunately is not the case in Sri Lanka. Foreign policy is w a government/country acts and reacts on and with the world family and the international organization on policy and economy of the member state and the world family. Foreign Policy is formulated and decided by the head of the state as his prerogative which he will delegate to the Minister of foreign affairs at his will and wish. Today in Sri Lanka the policy appear to have shifted towards west with closes contacts with USA and limited deals and dealings with the USSSR, China which includes the nonaligned and left block which has a soft corner for nonaligned Sri Lanka. In the current political pickle it is doubtful who decides and manages the foreign policy as the President, Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs make different and conflicting statement on policies practice and theory on foreign policy which is expected to be clear clean managed and directed by the head f the state. Any statement made by the head of the State or the foreign minister is a part of international law and could be used as authentic in the world forum. Therefor the statements of the foreign minister should be responsible diplomat and non-political devoid of vengeance viperous and crude which reflects on the country as his statements are taken serious by the world. Are we living up to the world slandered is a moot issue to be decided by the people at an appropriate forum. How are we going to react to the new policy of the New USA President appear to have a soft corner for Asians by introducing a enw scheme for Asians while a rough attitude is taken in ISIS terror.

Correct Foreign Policy

Correct foreign Policy for a nation is a pre-requisite for development and prosperity. It has a direct effect and impact on commercial and trade relations among members of the world family and the world. In a fast developing world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to live in isolation. The advent of modern technology has promoted increased globalisation and an interconnected world community with the internet playing a large role in redefining political dynamics both domestic and international. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is based on the principle “friendly towards all and enmity towards none based on the principles of non-aligned foreign policy, without taking sides of any major power block”. Do we maintain this foreign policy depends on the behaviour of the Leader of the country, Foreign Minister/Ministry and the Ambassadors representing the country world-wide. Foreign Policy is guided by the Minister of Foreign Affairs with the Ministry officials and the guided andvised by the head of the state. Today member countries of the world family are directing their Ambassadors to give priority to commerce and trade along with the traditional duties they are entrusted with.

Historical Aspects of our Foreign Policy

Sri Lanka’s foreign relations with other countries could be traced back to 3rd century BC when King Devenampiyatissa had close friendship with the unseen neighbour, Emperor Asoka who sent his son and daughter as emissaries to introduce Buddhism to Sri Lanka. 245 BC Emperor Asoka was instrumental in dispatching noble teachings of Buddhism to Sri Lanka an epoch making event through his son Arahathth Mahinda and followed by his daughter Sangamitta. Sri Lanka immensely benefited from the glorious Mayurian Civilization. A new culture in Sri Lanka was dawn based on principles of Buddhism with developments culturally economically due to the close connections with the neighbours. Friendship between the close friends then were equal, close and interconnected to friendship, culture, religion and developments of both countries culturally and economically irrespective of the size and population. There is ample historical evidence of Sri Lanka having diplomatic and personal relationships with China, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Maldives Islands, Thailand, Pakistan (known as Gandara in Pali) and many Western/Eastern and other countries in the world. This is a classic example of our long cherished and correct foreign policy maintained from time immoral.

Recent Past

In the present context it is useful to trace Sri Lankan foreign policy and relations back to pre-independence, as during the independence foreign policy was controlled and decided by the colonial British Powers. During the world war and the era of League of Nations British Empire was controlling the foreign policy of all the colonies. After the Independence in 1948 no changes were made on foreign policy as Sri Lanka then backed the west and the Colonel rulers and powers. On the 1st part of 20th century whole of South and South East Asia was controlled by Western powers. When Sri Lanka gained Independence it was defence less with no proper Army, Navy or an Air force to protect the country. It is correct on the part of Hon D.S.Senanayaka- named then Father of the Nation- who said “I cannot accept the responsibility of being Minister of defence unless I am provided with the full authority to take decision on defence. Accordingly he perused the defence agreement with UK which is the best option then which SWRD got rid of depending on safety and protection on the strength of the nonaligned foreign policy of the country. As a realist Politian he joined the Commonwealth and developed close links with the USA and continued friendship with UK the colonial father. His positions were clear in his statements on USA, UK, India and

Foreign Policy should be effective and productive

Foreign policy should be productive to the people and effective to the economy. Today member countries expect their Ambassadors representing the countries to give priority to economic developments along with the traditional ambassadorial duties. Accordingly we find foreign Ambassadors in Sri Lanka work day and night looking for business trade and contracts for their countries from Sri Lanka on various megaprojects launched by the Sri Lankan government. It is the duty of our Sri Lankan Ambassadors worldwide too to promote business trade and development projects for the development of our country. Whilst the foreign Ministry officials are given the due share it is the duty of those responsible to pick Sri Lankans in various walks of life on trade, tourism, education and other promotional/professional aspects for diplomatic appointments purely based on merits, though it should not be a disqualification for a person in politics, profession or in business to be a diplomat. There was continuous flow of Trade Missions and interactions to and from “United Arab Emeritus” and “Israel” to Sri Lanka and vice versa in the recent past organized by the

Sri Lanka Embassies, with respective governments and the business communities with effective and productive results.

Sri Lanka Friendly Freeing Policy

Our country needs a Sri Lanka Friendly foreign policy aiming at the development and the prosperity of the Nation not necessarily following or promoting any group or ideology West East or North. We must always think of developing Sri Lanka in the real Sri Lankan way based on the visions of our visionaries, and not following the other” Isms” or blocks. Classic example is the vision and visionaries of the great power Israel – a desert with no water 67 years ago a world power now as a result of the correct foreign policy and vision of the great visionaries transferred to be a world leader on agriculture and Hi Tec. They had a vision and visionaries with a plan who loved the Nation and the people. They had only human resources. Dubai has only 4% oil compared to oil rich Adudabhi. But the visions of visionaries of the land have exploited the geo-situation which has brought Dubai to a top slot in the world business and affairs. We need not be aligned to any power block or group to be successful and to be the wonder of Asia. Foreign policy is an effective and a productive weapon and a concept which is to be used with a long term vision with a visionary aiming at economic industrial agricultural educational cultural and all other area of/on the national development. It echoes the policy of the Nation to the world and the mouth piece responsible for the friendship with the rest of the world where all other nations give probity to. Bad and ineffective foreign policy can ruin a nation and vice versa. It is the navigator and the leader for development and prosperity in the country region and the world over. Successes of many nations are mainly on/due to management of foreign policy properly and apply/implement correctly in the cultural and economic development which is to be carefully formulated and tested. Foreign , Security, Defence, and Economic polies in Israel changes only when necessary in the interest of the Nation and peoples, despite ferocious infighting in this unite democratic but” Iron Fist” world power base. Our neighbour India is a classic example on the conduct of the foreign policy and the Ministry which has long traditions and principles we should try to implement. Our leaders must be careful in making statements and speeches on foreign policy and other public and international affairs which is taken serious by the world family and the international organisations including UN IMF and other groups. They should restrain and refrain from making personal attacks and making statements aiming at individuals locally and internationally. It is advisable for them to have good speech writers and give special attention on eloquence, contents, context and the tone in making pubic/international statements because such statements may become part of international law in practice. In the circumstances establishing the regional office have no effect or bearing on the foreign policy to be transformed to be an effective and productive foreign policy.


Writer is a former Sri Lankan envoy to UAE and Israel. He could be reached on sarathdw28@gmail.com. Views expressed in this article are author’s own.


 

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