New dimensions of diplomacy | Daily News

New dimensions of diplomacy

We live in a globalised world and no country can live in isolation. Thus a strong and coherent foreign policy is a must for any country. Sri Lanka has generally followed a policy of Non-Alignment, that is, not leaning towards any particular superpower or bloc.

Like everything else, the world’s political climate is also changing. External relations are becoming complex by the day as some countries are trying to move away from the established international order. Foreign policy itself cannot remain stagnant – it has to respond to evolving challenges and move beyond the usual boundaries of diplomacy. Today, diplomacy is not simply about having political relations and an embassy in another country – it encompasses diverse subjects such as trade, tourism, foreign employment, exports and even cultural-religious links.

This was the rationale behind the new Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama’s firm assurance that he will get all Sri Lankan missions overseas to promote investments in tourism, foreign employment, tea and rubber exports and other FDIs. “Sri Lanka’s Ambassadors and High Commissioners will have additional responsibilities from now onwards without merely performing protocol obligations,” he told the Daily News on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry suffered under the previous Government as there were frequent changes of the Ministers and also diplomatic personnel. This paved the way for a chaotic foreign policy as each of the ministers tried to put their stamp on the country’s foreign policy. This was somewhat exasperating to our friends and allies in the International Community. This also meant that there was no attempt to develop a coherent foreign policy during the last three years.

Dr. Amunugama, a senior civil servant turned politician who is well versed in diplomacy having held relevant portfolios under many Governments, has realised the need to reorient the Foreign Ministry to reflect the needs of the times. As he says, our diplomatic personnel must be pro-active and seek avenues other than normal bilateral relations to get closer to their host country. Hence Minister Amunugama’s plan to reorient the Foreign Ministry to focus on revenue earning areas such as tourism and exports.

For example, we rely far too much on a few inbound tourism markets such as India and Western Europe without thinking of expanding into Eastern Europe, Americas and Africa. Our diplomats in those regions must play a major role in spreading the word on Lanka’s tourist attractions, which recently received a boost from Lonely Planet as its top destination for 2019.

The Minister has also rightly pointed out to certain foreign governments that there was no need to issue adverse travel advisories warning against travel to and in Sri Lanka as normality prevails around the island despite the recent political developments. However, it was disheartening to hear certain politicians attached to the previous Government using the word “bloodbath” rather casually when referring to the political change, which could drive fear into the minds of foreign tourists.

It was a callous remark that may score points politically among party supporters, but could have very negative consequences for the country. Some cancellations have already been reported from several inbound markets. Therefore politicians on all sides must always have the country’s interests at heart when they comment on the present situation as everything is now picked up and amplified by traditional and social media.

The new Foreign Minister has also firmly assured that there was no change in the context of foreign aid and foreign loans along with bilateral and multilateral business which were Government to Government transactions and not ones which were given to individuals or separate political parties. This will of course be bad news for certain UNP politicians who were hoping that other countries will cut off or reduce aid to Sri Lanka in the wake of recent political developments. However, aid and loan programmes do not work in that manner.

This is also an indirect assurance that a number of development projects which were dependent on foreign assistance, including the seven-line Light Rail Transit (LRT) project would go ahead as planned, despite contrary opinions expressed by several former ministers including Patali Champika Ranawaka, who was in charge of the Megapolis Ministry. The fact that the new Government has also appointed a Megapolis Minister also indicates that these projects will go ahead without any interruption. This was the correct call to make as domestic political issues must not be allowed to impede development. In any case, most of these projects have been in the planning stage for 10-15 years, through several changes of Government and there is a broad bipartisan consensus that they should go ahead.

Our Foreign Service needs a complete overhaul in terms of professionalism and Dr. Amunugama fits the bill perfectly. A professional to his fingertips, he will no doubt make sure that we send top notch, dynamic personnel to foreign capitals. There is nothing wrong in appointing eminent personalities from outside the Foreign Service as envoys, but they as well as the career diplomats should be up to the task of going beyond the usual confines to embrace the new dimensions of global diplomacy.


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