‘Sri Lanka needs to refocus her foreign policy’
Posted on April 11th, 2014

Janaka Perera

 “The biggest threat to the Asian region is how the US is wooing the Indian government and its corporate sector, and promoting the idea ” in a very subtle way –  that Indian and Chinese civilizations are different. Indians seem to be falling into this trap at the moment.”

 Kalinga Seneviratne, Adjunct Lecturer at Nanyang Technical University, Singapore, made the above observation at a lecture given at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies Forum, Colombo, recently.  The title of his presentation was ” From Far West to Near East: Need to Refocus Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy.  He said he chose the title with a purpose because in an age where people talk about the Asian Century, South Asians need to realize that they live in the same region and rest of Asia is not in the ‘Far East’, whereas Europe and America ” looking at the map from where Asians live ” are in the Far West.

 “The idea that South Asia is different to East Asia has been very often ingrained into our mindset by Westerners, because we depend on their media to learn about other Asian countries. In addition, we continue to uncritically use their theories in our communication and sociological studies.”

 Emphasizing this point further Seneviratne quoted former Singaporean diplomat and currently the head of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, Kishore Mahbubani (The New Asian Hemisphere ” the Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East):

 “Few in the West have grasped the full implications of the most salient features of our historical epoch. First, we have reached the end of the Western domination of world history. Second, we will see an enormous renaissance of Asian societies….”

 Seneviratne posed the question whether Sri Lanka has realized or understood the implications of the changes in the region that Mahbubani refers to?  Judging from the way Sri Lanka has conducted its foreign policy in the past two decades, it was obvious she had not fully grasped it, Seneviratne regretted.  Otherwise, according to him the money Sri Lanka spent on CHOGM could have been much better spent if the Government invested those financial resources in expanding diplomatic and cultural links in the Asian region.

 He notes that even though historically Sri Lanka has had very close cultural and economic ties to the region, such as in the spread of Buddhism and Buddhist education in Southeast Asia ” even in her architecture – today Sri Lankans are not part of any of the regional organisations that have developed in the past two decades such as APEC, East Asia Summit and Asia-Europe Meetings. Seneviratne recently launched Lotus Communication Network, which he is developing to link Buddhist countries in South and Southeast Asia via media and communication projects.

 “Today both India and China are involved in a soft power battle around the world and both are using Buddhism to appeal to international audiences as cultural and intellectual bastions of the world.  India claims it is the home of Buddhism because the Buddha was born and preached his Dhamma there, while, China claims that it has one of the world’s largest Buddhist populations”.

 While both China and India are happy to use their Buddhist credentials in an international ‘soft power’ battle, Sri Lankans who can rightly claim ownership of this ‘soft power’ are afraid to do it since they are “listening too much to those trendy multiculturalists from the West.”

 Seneviratne added that it is at the East Asia Summit and at ASEAN meetings that the architecture of the new global order centered on Asia is being developed and Sri Lanka would have no say in it, if the current thinking in her foreign policy institutions continued.

 However he said that despite the arguments of Asian scholars like Mahbubani on the evolving Asian domination of global affairs, for that to happen, Asia needs to have a strong united voice such as that of the European Union.

 “When the European Union meets we don’t see nations from Asia or North America or even Russia joining their summits.  But, when the East Asia Summit meets, many nations in Asia such as South Asia are not included but outsiders like the United States and Russia are included. In fact it is a joke to call it East Asia Summit.”

 Seneviratne recalled that in the 1980s, the then Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad ” a strong critic of Western double standards ” was the first to call for an East Asian Caucus. Today the Chinese have taken the baton from the Malaysians. President Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ is the latest device designed to divide Asia, Seneviratne said.

 “Until the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to an East Asian meeting in Vietnam and raised the South China Sea issue three years ago, it was a non-issue in the region but now it is threatening to dominate regional discourse and promoting divisions in the region. The biggest threat to the Asian region is how the US is wooing the Indian government and its corporate sector, and promoting the idea ” in a very subtle way –  that Indian and Chinese civilizations are different. Indians seem to be falling into this trap at the moment. ”

Seneviratne stressed that for Sri Lanka to change its focus away from the Far West to the Near East first and foremost her elites needed to de-colonize their mindset. In this connection he drew attention to a keynote speech given at a communications conference AMIC organized in Beijing in 2005 by the then head of Public Information at the UN, Dr Shashi Tharoor who described the major western global news media as ‘weapons of mass distraction’. He had said:

 “The question isn’t whether the media teaches, it’s what it teaches. It can reinforce existing stereo-types, or build new positive ones. It can denigrate and dismiss cultures that are different, or, it can show how wonderful this complicated world of ours is. The custodians of our airwaves can choose to be purveyors of weapons of mass distraction, or, they can choose to be builders of a better world.”

 Citing an example Seneviratne said the BBC got its credibility not because it is balanced, but, by giving exposure to voices of dissent that are suppressed in their home countries ” especially in Asia and Africa. BBC got the credibility by default and as a result they have been able to manipulate the minds of people around the world, according to Seneviratne. Asian Buddhist countries, he said,  get to know of each other through the Western media and absorb their negative stereo-types of each other.

 “During my media consultancy for the ASEAN Secretariat in 2008 I went for a meeting with the head of Public Relations Department in Thailand, which is located in the Prime Minister’s office. After the formal meeting, she asked me what was going on in Sri Lanka. I asked her what she thinks about the conflict and her explanation was completely based on LTTE propaganda. I took about 20 minutes to explain to her the roots and the ongoing conflict. At the end of it, she said, that Thailand and Sri Lanka has had such close cultural interactions for hundreds of years, but, today we learn about each other from Western news sources.  We agreed that there should be some direct links between the media of the two countries.”

 Under the circumstances, he said, it would be good to get better exposure to international news channels from the East such as China’s CCTV and Singapore’s Channel News Asia, because too much dependence on channels like BBC and CNN give the idea that the East is all corrupt.

  In 2015, the ASEAN community will be officially launched providing freedom of movement for its citizens across the region, but, they will not have a common currency. Although it would be a difficult task for Sri Lanka to formally join ASEAN she could develop links with academic, media, religious and cultural institutions, Seneviratne added but regretted that very little seem to be done in this direction.

 If Sri Lanka plays its cards smartly in coming years, it is here that she could play an important role in promoting Asian unity. China’s recent request to join SAARC ” which was promptly opposed by India – creates this opening.

11 Responses to “‘Sri Lanka needs to refocus her foreign policy’”

  1. Nanda Says:

    Colombo embassies should not be allowed to talk openly criticizing the government.

  2. Nanda Says:

    The white fool Kerriya saying, “”As you continue your work to build a prosperous, democratic Sri Lanka, I offer my best wishes for a safe and happy holiday and a prosperous, peaceful year ahead” .

    The government MUST answer this FOOL immediately and say,
    “Bloody fool. Sri Lanka has been a fully democratic country for 50 years now , after murderous, genocidal British bastard left, unlike USA which is still a murderous regime run by a few Jewish bankers.”

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    Nanda,

    USA is NOT run by Jewish bankers. Now ARABS run everything from Apple to Zurich. Even the US president is a HUSSEIN a half Muslim! There are more ARABS in USA today than Jews. And they are RICHER. They run the show.

  4. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The mindset of American is that when one states “Asian” it only applies to East Asians. When ever I question this stand and ask how does the Indian subcontinent fit into their belief, the answer is an innocuous “well India is India and not really “Asian”.

    Till recently when Americans have to state their race “White” “Black” stand out. then it is followed by “Latino” which is not even a race but a term applied to anyone from central to South America. their race could be black or white but since they speak a Latin based language, Spanish or in the case of Brazil Portuguese they are considered “Latinos” in the race category. “Asian” meant East Asian. Only recently documents now have a section for South Asian, but not all documents.

    When I was in the Bay Area I joined an Asian group that had just formed. When I entered the room it was filled with East Asians and no other type of Asian (such as the middle east or those from the sub continent). After a couple of meetings I came to the next one and the group of East Asians told me that I do not belong as I am not an Asian. It mattered little when I pointed to them that I was in every aspect an Asian since Sri Lanka is at the heart of Asia. The deep rooted concept of the American frame of mind back in the 1980s and to a good extent even now is that the word “Asian” only applies to those who come from East Asia. this includes East Asian Americans as well.

    The provincialism of the American mindset stands in stark contrast to Europeans who I had the good fortune to meet both in my job in the department that teaches English as a second language to the privileged Europeans, South Americans, Asians and Africans to visiting that continent in the 80s twice. In both occasions the European community that I met were fully aware that those from the Indian subcontinent were Asians.

    But in the US “Asians” still mean East Asians. This provincial thinking goes all the way to our Politicians, the media and to decision makers of the US foreign policy. The level of ignorance sharply increases among the populace who categorize those from the Sub continent and those from the Middle East as not truly “Asians”.

  5. Sirih Says:

    I have advised the govt. to create a strategic media group for internal and external use and also create a truly patriot think tank about international affairs… Unfortunately we have very crafty individuals that are manipulating the govt. on behalf of western powers..
    We do have highly capable individuals that can do this but govt. as usual living in dark ages and we do get insulted almost daily from these arrogant colonial powers with out any rebuttals from the govt… I suppose there is no money in these affairs… How sad.

  6. Nanda Says:

    Sirih, Lorenzo,

    Whether run by Jews or Arabs, there is no democracy in Kerriya’s own oppressive murderous government and yet we allow these buggers to insult us daily basis.
    What I am saying is this Keriya should be given a direct answer here and now.
    Similar to this , other kerriyas such as US gombassador, Eundian gombassidor give our president orders daily basis.
    This MUST come to s stop immediately, by Law.
    In Singapore, Malaysia no ambassador of high commissioner, as long as they are in that country DO NOT CRITISIZE the government.

  7. Geeth Says:

    “For Sri Lanka to change its focus away from the Far West to the Near East first and foremost her elites needed to de-colonize their mindset.” Exactly, first priority must be to decolonize! second is to decolonize and the third is to decolonize!!! Decolonize the ruling class and the entire nation.

  8. AnuD Says:

    This is for Bernard Wijesinghe and what he wrote for;

    Just check who runs American.. companies, Most CEOs are Indians. That is not the end of the story. Hindians are helping USA big time. Those business minded Hindian CEOs are the reason why USA is friendly to Hindia.

    That is why USA is treating Hindia differently. The other reason is they want to use Hindia as a CAT PAW against CHINA.

  9. Nanda Says:

    Top UK diplomat in Sri Lanka intervenes in drug peddling case
    The Hindu – Meera Srinivasan

    The Deputy High Commissioner at the British mission in Colombo had said a suspect was an informant to one of Britain’s officers in India.

    The interest shown by a British diplomat in Colombo, in what seems to be a high-profile case of drug trafficking involving suspects from at least three countries, has raised eyebrows here.
    On April 3, the Deputy High Commissioner at the British mission in Colombo sought an appointment with the Inspector-General of Police N.K. Illangakoon to discuss a recent heroin seizure. The diplomat had said a suspect arrested in connection with the case was an informant to one of Britain’s officers in India.

    When The Hindu asked the British High Commission for a response, officials there declined to comment.

    Confirming that the British mission sought a meeting with him, Mr. Illangakoon said: “Since the investigation is not complete, I told them I would prefer to meet them once it is over.”

    It all began on March 6 when Sri Lankan Customs officials confiscated 35 kg of heroin at the Colombo harbour. Soon after, they handed over the case to the narcotics wing for further investigation, Mr. Illangakoon said on Wednesday.

    Less than two weeks into the probe, police arrested three persons in connection with the case — a Pakistani national visiting Sri Lanka, a Canadian citizen of Sri Lankan origin, and a Sri Lankan national.

    On March 18, police arrested the Pakistani national, then in Kandy, on charges of drug peddling. The drug consignment seized, Mr. Illangakoon said, was in the suspect’s name.

    The following day, the police arrested the Canadian citizen on charges of aiding the Pakistani national escape to Kandy. The two were frequent visitors to Sri Lanka, according to the senior police official. “We are looking for some more suspects, we have almost cracked the case,” Mr. Illangakoon said.

    While links between the British mission here, one of the suspects – the one said to be the informant to an officer in India – and the prime suspect remain unclear, the Inspector General maintained they had “sufficient evidence” to question the suspect in connection with this case.

    NOW WE CAN SEE THE BALLS. DO NOT GIVE APPOINMENT TO THIS BUGGER.

  10. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    AnuD: To quote you “Just check who runs American.. companies, Most CEOs are Indians.” Absolutely not. Most US companies are run by White men and a growing number of White women. The Indians who do make it as CEO’s get the news headlines in magazines such as the Times of India, but they are a miniscule number compared to rest.

    That is how news can be misinformative. It blows up the issue of an Indian being hired as a CEO. the same media also does this with other minorities. The reason is because that elite group is dominated by the traditional American male. If you think I am wrong just Google some famous companies and find out who the CEO is.

  11. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    AnuD:
    Classic case is the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He is the only Governor in all the 50 states of the US. That does not mean Indians are grabbing the position of Governors across the nation.

    Bobby Jindal won in the deep South, which is often characterized as provincial, bigoted, racist. Yet after he converted to Christianity (while his parents are still Hindus) he won the post as the Governor the second time around. the first time around the opposition painted him as an “Muslim Arab”. In contrast take California which elected Arnold Schwarzenegger the German immigrants (Bobby Jindal was born in the US) and whose father was a Nazi card carrying citizen.

    Yes Indians are making head ways but they are a drop in the bucket of the elite in this nation who are predominantly white. I am stating it as a matter of fact and not as an accusation against the White people. They have been here since the nation was formed. there is plenty of old and new money that keeps them among the elite of the nation. BTW Bobby Jindal took the state of Louisiana from being the most corrupt state in the Union to the most accountable state.

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