Anchoring Sri Lanka in the world | Daily News


Anchoring Sri Lanka in the world

Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, situated midway between East and West has a strategic significance which far outweighs its small size. Since ancient times it has been a trade hub and was a leading maritime and trading nation. The possibility of it developing into a modern trade and commerce hub is immense.

In the present geo-political contest for supremacy, Great powers that aspire to retain or win hegemony or dominance in the world have chosen the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as the principal theatre of their competition. The United States military, for example renamed their Asia – Pacific Command (USAPC) as the Indo-Pacific Command (USIPC) last May.

Sri Lanka sandwiched between India, an aspirant world power and China, the emerging world Supremo is placed in an unenviable position. It could also become a pawn in the US - China rivalry.

Both India and China are wooing Sri Lanka, trying to attract it to the sphere of their dominance. Sri Lanka has to engage in balancing acts to avoid being dragged to this or that side.

International stage

Elaborating the foreign policy and anchoring Sri Lanka in a favourable berth is, hence, not easy. Foreign policy is nothing but an extension of the domestic policy, it is said. But what is our domestic policy? There is none. It is an eclectic mixture of varied policies. In economics it clings basically on to the neo-liberal view. However, it is coloured with anti-colonial rhetoric and obscurantic and pre-capitalist notions. Lack of a clear national policy has resulted in confusion in our foreign policy.

Politics being a concentrated form of economics is naturally dependent on economics. Hence, Sri Lanka in general follows the general Westward orientation in its international stage. The distancing away from non-alignment is a result of this orientation. For example, forgotten is the proposal of Sri Lanka to make the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace. Instead moves are afoot to steer close to the nascent US-Israel-India-Japan-Australia alliance directed at containing China in the Indian Ocean Region. Recent open attempts by the United States and Japan to aggressively mediate in local political developments is a clear result of our attempts at flirting with this alliance.

Sri Lanka is strategically situated between India and China in the context of their rivalry for domination in the IOR. Economic imperatives have drawn it closer to China over the past few years though India retains a formidable presence in the island, especially in the North East and in the up country. Attempts are made by certain parties to set our two giant neighbours against one another in the hope of benefitting as a third party. This, however, is an illusion. It might replicate in our land the scenario of divided Cyprus sandwiched between Turkey and Greece.

Attempts to belittle the significance of trade and commercial relations with other countries is a danger for foreign policy is heavily dependent on them. Though 70 years have passed since independence our principal trade and commercial relations are still predominantly with the West. We depend very heavily on the United States and European Union markets for many of our exports including garments. The pseudo-nationalist home policies would therefore clash with our economic interests. Therefore, how far such a policy could be beneficial to the country is a moot point. It could be a penny- wise pound- foolish policy.

The best course possible is to call for and form a tripartite Economic Cooperation Council encompassing Sri Lanka, China and India. It would not only help us to maintain our independence in the unenvious position of a small power sandwiched between two neighbours but also strengthen peace in the IOR.

It should be remembered that the independence of our foreign policy would rest on the unity and cohesion of our internal society. Racist or religious tensions or the aggravation of economic disparities could very well create conditions for external interference or dominance in our domestic affairs. The utilization of religious and ethnic divisions to subjugate Middle East nations in a new edition of modern colonialism is an ominous sign.

Foreign investments

Caution must also be exercised in deciding upon terms and conditions in obtaining foreign investments and seeking foreign loans for the danger of neo-liberal takeover of our assets is an inherent danger. Also we must avoid agreements that make Sri Lanka a dumping ground for industrial and hazarduous waste of developed countries or a destination for their obsolete technology. Selecting mutually beneficial partnerships is a challenge in which we cannot dither. Learning from the experience of other developing countries and promoting South-South cooperation, especially with the BRICS nations should be a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

Today the world has changed much. Transfer of finance capital and technology across borders has been supplemented by cross-border transfers of labour. Obliteration of national boundaries and participation of labour in a global scale is the hallmark of modern day production. In this context Sri Lanka has to update and improve its immigration and emigration procedures and laws. Already the need for immigrant labour is felt as much as the necessity of close economic and political cooperation with our own Diaspora. This is especially in view of the greater influence of soft diplomacy over traditional hard diplomacy in today’s world.

Sri Lanka, though a small island nation in the IOR it has had a strong and respected foreign policy. Sri Lankan diplomats have made significant contributions to the development of modern international relations and International Humanitarian Law. For example, Sri Lanka contributed much as the Chairman of the Law of the Sea Conference, the UN Convention against terrorism, Justice Weeramanthri honourably held the presidency of the International Court of Justice etc. Sri Lanka has pioneered the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement and the SAARC. It could successfully negotiate cessation of hostilities during the Indo-Chinese War.

However, such contributions have become rare now. Instead we have ambassadors practicing megaphone diplomacy and UN Staff berating friendly nations with pseudo-nationalist humbug.

In conclusion, it is necessary to emphasize that our foreign policy would not be independent as long as our Foreign Office relies basically on the global media as its prime source of information. The latter is heavily biased in favour of international finance capital and always looks at developing nations with a skewed eye. Our reliable contacts would be our diplomats on the ground. Also access should be made to the public to seek alternative sources of information, especially those emanating from developing nations. 

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