Lanka: focus of World powers | Daily News


Lanka: focus of World powers

Senior officials of the world’s three most powerful countries, the United States of America, People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation, visit Sri Lanka within hours of each other on Monday-Tuesday next week.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, one of the world’s veteran top diplomats, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the USA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells are all scheduled to make short official visits.

Their visits next week are the climax to a flurry of high-level geopolitical interactions between Sri Lanka and key powers not only within the neighbourhood region but also at the global level. Just yesterday, our own Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena returned from New Delhi after a 2-day visit for talks with India’s External Affairs Minister and other officials.

And earlier this week, Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam was in Colombo also on a quick visit. He called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discussed a range of issues, one of them being the question of the extradition of former Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran, wanted here in connection with the Bank bond scam prosecution.

The discussions mainly centred on improving bilateral relations in areas of trade and investment. They also touched on regional concerns, especially in terms of countering terrorism, cyber security, curbing extremism, threats from foreign influences and interferences and improving intelligence.

Singapore was one of the first countries to grant visa-free access to Sri Lankan nationals, which is one of the reasons for the excellent people-to-people contacts between the two countries.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first official foreign visit was to India, just a couple of weeks after he assumed office, where he was given a rousing welcome by Indian leaders. This signifies the importance attached to ties with our immediate neighbour. No less significant is the fact that, in Narendra Modi and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, we have two leaders who are firmly rooted in the cultural ethos of the majority populations in the two countries.

Russia has always been an important ally of Sri Lanka, even at times when some of the governments here were more inclined towards the United States. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s strict Non-Aligned Policy meant that it remained equidistant from both the Western and Soviet blocs during the long, tense, years of the Cold War.

Today, the bipolar Cold War has given way to a more complex, multi-polar and multi-dimensional world. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reiterated that Sri Lanka should, once more, tread that path of friendly equidistance without being overtly supportive of any given country or power bloc and avoiding getting entangled in geopolitical power plays.

Foreign Minister Lavrov has a special place in his heart for Sri Lanka, having served his first foreign posting as a young diplomat at the USSR Embassy here a few decades back. A fluent speaker of Sinhalese, he is the ideal envoy to empathise with the needs and aspirations of Sri Lankans who have chosen a new path with the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Russia is an important trading partner as well, being one of the biggest buyers of Ceylon Tea and other local commodities. There are also many generations of our intelligentsia who benefitted from scholarships in the higher educational institutions of the USSR. President Rajapaksa, who has stressed the importance of education, can be expected to further explore this area.

China has long been a very close friend ever since Colombo defied pressures from the old colonial powers and became one of the first countries to recognise Beijing over Taipei. The BMICH, an outright gift of China, is today a landmark reminder of that enduring friendship. For long, a steady provider of cheap but efficacious military hardware for our armed forces, China has gone on to become a leading investor and contractor in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka also values its relationship with Europe. At a recent meeting with European Union envoys, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has urged the countries in the bloc to look at Sri Lanka more positively. The President met with the Ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, and the EU.

Ever since the world’s richest country, the USA, began its aid programme after World War 2, America has been a steady partner in Sri Lanka’s development effort, always standing by to help whether in economic development, provision of vital market access for our incipient manufactures exports, disaster mitigation or in combating terrorism.

No doubt, President Rajapaksa will keenly scrutinise prospective new co-operation and aid tie-ups with Washington with a positive eye in order to obtain the maximum benefit while ensuring that the US’ support buttresses our hard-won national sovereignty.

The arrival of these global potentates in Colombo next week drives home the geo-strategic significance of our little island nation. Navigating the multiple dynamics of a globalised but yet competitive world community requires a top-notch Foreign Service. Work on crafting such a service should start right away.

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