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Foreign Policy in Sri Lanka

"President Rajapaksa’s initiation to ensure to abide by global treaties and agreements on climate change is encouraging when the world is facing grave danger of slow destruction of the planet due to unplanned industrialization and developments."
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by Sarath Wijesinghe
( The views expressed are the author's own)

(August 06, UAE, Sri Lanka Guardian) Foreign Policy of a country is a set of rules that seems to outline the behaviour of a particular country and how it interacts with other countries and international organizations. This mainly depends on internal, external political and the “global, economic and political considerations”.

Foreign Policy should be compatible with all forms of internal, political and economic considerations therefore special emphasis is given in the area of foreign policy in any form of Government. Sri Lanka needs this badly due to anti Sri Lanka propaganda within and outside. Good image is based on the conduct of the Head of the State and Government in power. Sometimes outside powers rock the boat due to international politics and petty considerations. Generally with the Head of the State and the politics that formulates and implements foreign policy depending on the political and economic climate of the day. Generally the foreign policy of a State is not static and confined to narrow goals. There were discussions recently about the foreign policy of Sri Lanka today in the present political and economic climate. It is clearly stated in “Mahinda Chintana” which is implemented by the Head of the State based on the policy and his personality amongst the family of nations. Mahinda Chintana briefly gives an outline of the policy as follows:

“I will continue Sri Lanka’s non-aligned foreign policy. During the last four years we witnessed the benefits of maintaining friendly relations with India, Japan, China, Pakistan and other Asian countries. I am committed to continue these friendly relations in the political, economic, defence, trade and cultural arena.

I will ensure that Sri Lanka abides by the global treaties and agreements on environmental and climate change and will strengthen Sri Lanka’s ties with the UN Agencies.

I will maintain the dignity of my country in foreign relations and will initiate a new programme to forge relations with countries.”

Countries and regional institutions are as selfish as individuals and the policy depends on the interest of the peoples of the respective nation or the organization. Sometimes legislation too formulates and directly and indirectly implements foreign policy. Indian foreign policy is somewhat static and firm irrespective of change of power as the administrative machinery traditionally protects the policies and interests in the interest of the nation. India is

extremely successful in managing her foreign policy. In India governments may change but not necessarily the foreign policy. In Sri Lanka it is not so. It varies from government to government. Always the United National Party tends to be pro West and the SLFP is a non aligned and friendly with all.

In the United States it is the President who formulates and implements foreign policy. As a world power and self appointed world policeman. USA’s foreign policy is subjected to greater scrutiny by the entire world and plays a main role in world economies and politics.

The attitude of the USA towards Afghanistan which is the newest member of the SAARC group and Iraq which is still in turmoil are matters which concerns our member states and the region directly and indirectly. In the United Kingdom it is the Prime Minister who formulates and implements the foreign policy as in France, and many EU and other countries. In the former USSR too it was the President who was responsible directly for the foreign policy. National security, world security, economic prosperity, ideological goals and more importantly peace and wars depend on the foreign policy considerations of States and international organizations.

The pronouncement of His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa in public forums and Mahinda Chintana is complete and exhaustive. It has proved that Sri Lankan President is an emerging world leader and Sri Lanka continues to be a major player in the international arena being a very senior respectable member of the United Nations. Sri Lankan President has not strictly deviated from the policy adopted by Madam Bandaranaike, who managed it well in the 1970s. Today it is the new world with no cold war and the creation of the global village as a result of the unprecedented and amazing E-com developments that have transformed the entire social, political and economic fabric of the world. Mahinda is friendly, warm and realistic . He has become a main player in the politics of the Chess Game within a short spell of time. Foreign Policy of the country depends on the conduct and behaviour of the leader, his reputation and charisma. Mrs. Bandaranaike made us a respectable and active member of the world family and her relations with India was excellent.

She settled Kachchativu and Indo-SL dispute amicably using her personal connections with India. So are the conduct and relations of Mahinda with India and the Indian leaders despite venomous anti Sri Lankan propaganda by our own misguided opposition and some non governmental organizations.

President Rajapaksa who is lovable and popular among the family of states, has adopted his own way and style using his charisma and personal charm which is a great gift to the nation. He has realized that we need honest and genuine friends in need.

Close-warm friendships and relations with Iran, Japan, Pakistan, China, Russia, UK and EU are well done and well thought of. He addresses world gatherings at ease and without a script unlike Blair or Brown.

Every human being and nation consisting of humans is selfish and has their own agenda in the interests of their citizens. Therefore, it is natural that Indo-Sri Lankan relations have difficult periods. Every nation has internal issues and the priority should be given to their own citizens. But to the credit of both nations nowhere during the long history India ever invaded Sri Lanka completely though there were provincial rulers who partially invaded for short periods. We inherited religion, culture and many other values and sources of developments mainly from our big brother for which we are ever grateful. Even the 1987episode could have been avoided and we handled it properly baed on a firm and correct foreign policy sounded on trust, confidence and goodwill. The Indian central government depends for their existence on Tamil Nadu which is one of the largest provinces and generally the deciding factor of any government always hands on the balance of power of the provinces. Tamil Nadu has 32 seats out of 552 in the Lok Sabha and has a say on the Central Government and governance in general. Dravidian parties organized themselves since 1916 by forming a welfare association in Tamils which subsequently changed to a political union.

In 1944 Dravidian Kazhagam party was formed and today it has split into many sub groups and is in power in turns mainly as leading actors in the forefront. “Muran” and many powerful dynasties (C265-238BC)never thought of invading Sri Lanka though the provinces had their own struggles, differences and bloody wars. They left Sri Lanka alone for thousands of years. Buddhism and Hinduism have been the most valuable Indian contributions to Sri Lanka which has developed close bonds in all respects. Both Sri Lanka and India are tolerant and secular nations where the citizens enjoy ideals of modern democratic principles which are similar to traditional ideals practiced for thousands and thousands of years.

Even closest family members at times are faced with minute differences. Therefore it is natural that both countries have at times strained there close friendly bonds due to mismanagement of foreign policy; mostly by us. In India governments may change but not the foreign policy and the system of administration. But on the whole the relations between the two countries were extremely cordial.

King Asoka sent his son Mahinda and daughter Sangamitta as emissaries to propagate Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan King Devanampiyatissa though they had not met has been a close friend of King Asoka who conquered the whole of India. He did not want to conquer Sri Lanka due to the close friendship with King Tissa.

King Asoka was not a happy man due to the large number of massacres and devastations as a result of war. He led a disturbed life wanting mental rest and peace when he came across Nigroda Samanera (Novice Bhikkhu) walking along the road happily and peacefully accepting food offered by the public. He invited the Samanera to his palace and requested him to sit in a proper seat. The Samanera sat on the King’s Chair being the most suitable position to a person who has shed all worldly ties.

The King was extremely happy and embraced Buddhism and spent the rest of his life for the propagation of Buddhism and the peaceful way of life. Indo-Sri Lanka relations, since then have been excellent. Mr. and Mrs. Bandaranaike during their regimes developed strong political and personal bonds between the two countries, leaders and their families. Today Sri Lankan President has also developed strong personal and political bonds between the two countries and leaders.

President Rajapaksa has been extremely cautious and diplomatic in dealing with the power blocks interested primarily in their interest especially in the volatile and uncertain world politics and economy which crumbled with no notice facing them with the most disastrous recession ever. South Asia and Sri Lanka were less affected due to their simplicity and management of their own affairs based on Home Grown solutions. The response from the USA senate is wonderful-that they cannot afford to lose Sri Lanka – and it is time they realize we should not be drifted toward a political block out of sheer necessity. It is time the diplomatic community of the West and USA in Sri Lanka should play a safe game to maintain and enhance good relations with Sri Lanka without being interested in local politics however interesting it is.

Award Honorius Causa Doctorate from the People’s Friendship University of Russia on President Rajapaksa is the zenith of his achievement for the conduct of international affairs from the assumption of the office as the President of Sri Lanka four years ago. It is to his credit and respect to the nation that the sixth and the most rare honour of awarding the prestigious academic excellence on peace was awarded for the services rendered to mankind by eliminating the terror outfit to the disbelief and surprise of the Global Community. Wall Street Journal of USA reported in the speech of President “ I know as well as anyone that our future success relies on lasting peace. The revival of terrorism was an important milestone in that process, but the nation needs to be nound by a common purpose. My new government will address the genuine grievances of all communities and foster the enforcement of equal rights for all”. It was during the last few days of the end of the terror regime that maximum pressure was exerted to President Rajapaksa by the Western leaders, EU, USA, UN, and a number of powerful NGOs wanted to stop the war on terror and enter into the same old peace process that failed and “Hell” in Sri Lanka at the cost of hundreds of thousands of human lives and destruction of trillions of rupees of national wealth. India, China, USSR, Middle East, Africa and the Sri Lankan expatriate community stood firmly with President Rajapaksa and Sri Lanka isolating USA, UK and EU with NGos and Inter Governmental organizations depending on public and UN funds, which is proof of the successful conduct of international affairs based on “Mahinda Chintana” and his own style on the process of dealing with the international community, which is reiterated in “Mahinda Chintana”.

President’s conduct as a leader of a country with an unstable and volatile political and war situation during the war on terror has been exemplary cautious, well planned and well thought of. It is difficult to satisfy the political agenda of the complicated world political groupings, UN and Non-governmental organizations and the Sri Lankan policy while maintaining the vision, identity and the interest of the Nation with a minority government representing different political and ethnic groups with difficult different and unattainable demands. Every mission to meet world leaders was with a purpose and vision. Leading a trade mission to China the leading political and economic power in the near future, meeting the President of Iran when we had fuel shortages, meeting President Gadaffi when he was about to be appointed to Chair the Human Rights Committee when UN and INGOs were trailing us to deal internationally, hosting of SAARC which was enhanced and strengthened close ties with India and the SAARC countries jut before the last lap of the end of terror where we were blessed with the group of SAARC and other regional organizations attended the summit as observers. Address the UN and taking part in international forums such as the address to the Oxford students union in the United Kingdom strengthened presidents international stature as an emerging world leader leading a fair cross section of the human community in the globe.

International relations of a Nation depend on the vision, conduct, personality and the conduct of diplomacy of the of the Chief Executive in the world family representing the Nation region and the world in international forums and dealing with world leaders and international organizations. Successful world leaders had their own style of conducting international affairs in the international arena. Nehru, Chou En Lai, Indira Ghandi, Tony Blair, Putin, Bush, Obama and other leading and charismatic world leaders on assuming power changed the foreign policy of the country according to the current needs of the day.

In India the foreign policy is streamlined as it is very slowly and rarely the policy deviates from the mainstream due to their discipline and rigidity in foreign affairs administration and governance. In Sri Lanka foreign policy deviations are marked and effective. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike brought about a complete change in foreign policy after Sir John Kotalawela’s policy which was modified to non alignment by Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike until J.R. Jayewardene again changed the policy to a mixture of pro West and non-alignments. Rajapaksa government is victorious with a unique foreign policy unique to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s “International Personality” which is basically non-alignment with modifications based on the realities on international economic and world order in the fast changing new world of Information
Technology which has changed our globe to a borderless modern and wonderful world.

Uniqueness of President Rajapaksa is the non-negotiability in main issues such as unitary nature of the State, sovereignty equality among Nations, sovereignty of the Nation and the people , love and respect to Motherland, equality and impartiality towards all the citizens sans differences, and service to the brethren based on equality and with respect to all modes and norms of individual and collective Human Rights.

Despite the excellent relations with the world family the worrying factor is the misunderstanding of some western countries and INGOs due to vigorous campaign by powerful pro LTTE elements which are fast disintegrating. President Rajapaksa has friendship of the intention of mending fences with the West with his charm and diplomatic which has been proved successful. He has secured the trend skill or the Eastern block including the Central Asia, Middle East with Iran and other Oil Rich , Africa, small orbital nations around USA, and of course the two emerging world powers China and USSR which sere instrumental in bailing us out when we were in danger of being interrogated by the UN on false and malicious LTTE related propaganda. Nation is confident and prays his next mission towards the West will be another success story as has been proved before.

President Rajapaksa’s initiation to ensure to abide by global treaties and agreements on climate change is encouraging when the world is facing grave danger of slow destruction of the planet due to unplanned industrialization and developments.

It is also time for us to review the position with the Charter of the United Nations established in place of the League of Nations anticipating a more effective world organization. It is time for us to be active as Asians promoting the emerging power India as a member of the Security Council and to be more close to SAARC aiming to be “Wonder of Asia”.

(The writer, is the Sri Lankan Ambassador in the United Arab Emirates)

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