Posted on November 7th, 2016

Sarath Wijesinghe – Former Ambassador to UAE and Israel

 Convention on Diplomatic Relations

The convention of Diplomatic Relations was ratified on 4th April 1961 at the United Nations to streamline the powers and functions of the diplomatic missions and relations in the world family of states. Any member of the U N family, small or powerful are obliged to follow the convention based on customary international law in setting up-, functioning diplomatic missions and maintaining diplomatic relations among member states. Diplomatic Missions are set up, Ambassadors are appointed and the powers functions privileges and working procedures of the host and receiving countries are set out based on the UN convention and customary international law with great care and detail.

Sri Lanka maintained diplomatic relations with the rest of the world from 1948 successfully maintaining friendly relations as an active member of the United Nations. Sri Lanka maintained diplomatic, friendly, and trade relations with China through religious cultural and trade bonds developed over thousands of years with interactions on voyages of traders’ exchange of knowledge of cultural and religious dignitaries, writers, and researchers via the famous silk route. Sri Lanka is one of the first countries to recognize China when she needed international support to consolidate the position in the world family.  China is ever grateful to Sri Lanka for that political gesture as a friend in need in the world family. She is a friend in need assisted Sri Lanka on clamping down terrorism when the western world and India looked the other way.

Large Economic Power

According to Robert Peston- (IMF reports) USA has lost the title of the largest economy to China’s 17.6 trillion – the economy 50 years ago war economy trailing behind the other countries. China has  invested heavily in the world amounting  1.3 trillion and in the USA 125 billion between 2005 to 2016 indicating how powerful China is and the leading economic giant growing faster as the leading and controlling economic global power. China has invested in Africa, Middle East and even in Israel on innovations, technology, dairy and agriculture. The most significant Trade Pact Sri Lanka entered into with China  was the Rice/Rubber pact of 1952 initially  for five years and in operation for 30 long years despite opposition from Sri Lanka and outside showing the closeness of Sri Lanka keeping a  soft corner  for Sri Lanka. China continued to help Sri Lanka until and invested heavily on the infrastructure, harbour, airport and other developments in Sri Lanka including the Port City Project at the cost of 1.5 billion, the largest direct investment ever. She has already invested $409 million and intends to invest $ 5 billion in the next 3to 5 years. Therefore it is on our interest to maintain the traditional friendly bonds with China a close friend and the future economic power heavily invested in USA EU and the worldwide with miraculous economic growth.

Port City Project

After the change of the regime in Sri Lanka, the Port City Project initiated by the previous government was suspended/terminated with the loss of one million per day for one and half years with the full loss of 140 million, until the Sri Lankan Government renegotiated with new terms and conditions giving more and more concessions to China for the losses incurred. Controversial environment issue with the environmental concerns on Port City Project was resolved with no changes in the project except direct and indirect reparations for the loss of 140 million. Based on the new terms China will be given greater autonomy to the Port City as a separate independent  entity separated from the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka giving freedom for free port/tax city, separate laws as Dubai, Singapore and similar commercial hubs. 15000 acres of land and 80% of the stalk on Hambantota and 50 square kilometre land in the south will be given to China at initial stages until mega projects such as Mega police is started. Nowhere in the world Ports, are Harbours and Airports are sold as it is family silver and places of National Security. Sri Lanka may be desperate to offer incentives to attract Chinese banks and companies. It is the duty of Sri Lanka to strengthen the friendly diplomatic relations with China for further assistance when even the west including USA and UK are seeking financial assistance from China.

Difficulty to take beck something given internationally

It is not easy or possible to take back something given especially from a major economic world power growing to be the main economic world giant. Sri Lanka is neither forceful nor powerful or knowledgeable in the world commercial and international law arena and affairs including international arbitrations. When India forced Sri Lanka on the Indo Sri Lanka Accord violating customary international law not a single Nation came forward to the rescue of Sri Lanka due to the strength of powerful India- the regional power of South Asia. Therefore it is safer to be cautious and think hard and long politically and diplomatically before leap into hot water in the international arena in matters concerning the future of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans long term.

Mandate of the Ambassador and the Finance Minister

Under the 1961 Convention it is the mandate of the Ambassador of the sending country is to look after the political Trade and Economic interests with the host country with no confrontation and interference of the internal affairs however powerful the sending country is. The confrontation initiated both by Minister Hon. Ravi Karunanayaka’s comments on the dispute of the interest (2%) of the Chinese loans and investments, answers/statements at an interview and a press conference by the Chinese Ambassador His Excellency XI XiangIang are undiplomatic and not in conformity with good governance, foreign policy, and international relations Sri Lanka developed with great care and hard work with China and other friendly countries.

Disputed Statements

Finance Minister’s statement undermining the gesture of the Chinese Government and Banks giving loans at 2%, and that he is the Finance Minister of Sri Lanka and not China with comments on bribery and corruption has irked the Chines Ambassador -the sole representative with authority to speak on behalf of the sending country who has responded (Obviously with the approval/consent of the Chinese government the repeated public statements), with the comments expecting Sri Lanka to show gratitude. It is reported that the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister will be taking steps to seek clarification from the Ambassador on public comments made on the verbal confrontation. This confrontation will have drastic effects on future relations and Chine investments in Sri Lanka.

Way Forward

This is a dispute that should never have taken place as both parties have gone out of their previews of duties and responsibilities thrust on them by both friendly countries. Minister should have been careful not to make repeated remarks on a friendly economic giant – a world power and a member of the Security Council backed Sri Lanka during the difficult time politically and economically. When the West and USA with NGOs and INGOs looked the other way when Sri Lanka was in need of help, China came forward to assist Sri Lanka. It is unbecoming of a responsible Finance Minister to cast remarks as wires crossed”, by statements made on behalf of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. Ambassador should have been more careful and diplomatic to take up such matters with the Executive and the Foreign Ministry of the host country and get the Foreign Ministers involved direct on the controversy which is the correct procedure. Sri Lanka should be extremely careful in maintaining closer bonds and relations with the traditional close friend in need who has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and planning to invest more on unprecedented large scale  FDI and other projects countrywide with agreements binding under international law.  It is the duty of the Sri Lankan governance to bring about an amicable settlement to end the confrontation to avoid short and long term disasters on economy and international/diplomatic relations.

Writer can be contacted on [email protected]

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