Sri Lanka Needs Policy Correction

Development of friendly relations with western countries can only ensure sustained economic progress for Sri Lanka and enable Sri Lanka to retrieve itself from its present economic mess.

by N.S.Venkataraman 

There appears to be a unanimous view in Sri Lanka and other countries that the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as President of Sri Lanka is the best decision that has happened in the present turbulent time in Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremesinghe has served as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka six times and he has not completed a full term even once and is not generally recognised as an exceptional administrator. However, he has been recognised as a reliable and decent and least controversial person by the popular view and that is perhaps why governance of Sri Lanka has been handed over to him. Except for a few professional demonstrators in Sri Lanka, the country is, by and large, willing to support him if he would take appropriate policy decisions and implement them in a pragmatic way. This is a good situation as far as it goes.

Obviously, the priority for Ranil Wickremesinghe is to retrieve the Sri Lankan economy from the present mess, which implies that he should ensure that the morale of the countrymen is kept high by announcing time-bound, proactive and well-reasoned economic and industrial development plans and creating confidence about his leadership capabilities in the present challenging time.

 In such a situation, even the pledged admirers of Ranil Wickremesinghe felt uncomfortable, when Ranil Wickremesinghe said in Parliament that “Sri Lanka is bankrupt”, which created huge fear amongst people. While the fact is that Sri Lanka faces extremely difficult financial conditions, it has a lot of residual and basic strengths which need to be highlighted and told to the people, instead of saying that the country is bankrupt. Some people wonder whether this statement of the President could reflect on his own confidence level. 

Today, what Sri Lanka needs urgently is financial support by way of loans and grants from international funding agencies as well as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and European countries. Apart from financial support at this critical juncture, Sri Lanka also needs technical support, trade support and overseas investment. 

With such compulsive needs where western countries dominated funding agencies and western countries alone can come to Sri Lanka’s aid in a quick time and in a meaningful way,  it is surprising that President Wickremesinghe made a statement that Sri Lanka is firmly committed to One China policy. This statement of the Sri Lankan President is considered unwarranted and avoidable by many observers, as this would clearly create suspicion about the foreign policy leanings of the Sri Lankan government, particularly amongst western countries.  

At the present juncture, Sri Lanka has nothing to gain by declaring its support to China by committing to the One China policy. At best, President should have kept quiet on the matter.

During the family rule of Rajapaksa, there is a widespread view that the Rajapaksa government have fallen into a debt trap laid by China for whatever reasons and in the process, being forced to hand over the Hambantota port to China. This is a tragic mistake amounting to opening an intruder into the country. China will never give up its control over Hambantota port anytime in future and will have a permanent presence in Sri Lanka. The recent move of China to send spy ships to Hambantota port is an indication of the state of things to come. Though the Sri Lankan government has feebly told China to defer the ship visit, it did not have the courage to ask China to cancel the visit once and for all. This approach of the Sri Lanka government indicates that there is still a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty in its foreign policy approach.

Sri Lanka is a democratic country and it has to necessarily align itself with western countries for a stable future.  It has to model its foreign policy in the way that countries like South Korea Philippines, Singapore, Australia and Japan have done by maintaining close alliances with western countries and all these countries have gained and prospered by such a policy approach.  Sri Lanka can formulate its foreign policy in this direction without overtly declaring so. 

Development of friendly relations with western countries can only ensure sustained economic progress for Sri Lanka and enable Sri Lanka to retrieve itself from its present economic mess.

The relations with the countries like China, and Russia can all be in near silent mode and without being antagonistic towards them

At the present juncture, Sri Lanka cannot have the luxury of commenting on every international issue which really does not concern Sri Lanka. Self-interest is the only policy that Sri Lanka needs today.