Kicks, punches and knocks
Posted on January 1st, 2018

The yahapalana government would have us believe that the recent US decision to let its GSP for 128 countries including Sri Lanka, lapse, hasn’t hurt it, at all. A minister has even claimed that the US action can be considered a blessing in disguise; he argues that Sri Lanka, which is entitled to the European Union (EU) GSP Plus, unlike many other countries hit by the loss of US preferential duty scheme, is at an advantage in international trade! He sounds just like a person who, having lost one leg, derives some perverse pleasure from being less physically handicapped than a fellow human with no legs!

The government insists that the lapse of US GSP concession is not consequent to the recent UNGA vote against President Donald Trump’s decision to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Sri Lanka voted against the US. It argues that even some of the countries which voted with the US have lost the GSP as the Congress did not extend that scheme before the end of last month. It is hoped that the Congress will extend the GSP retroactively as it is said to have done on some previous occasions, but there is no guarantee that it will do so this time around. However, the fact remains that the yahapalana government has riled Uncle Sam beyond measure in New York and President Trump’s warning that the UNGA vote could impact “billions of dollars” in US aid cannot be taken lightly.

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy or what passes for it, in our book, defies known nomenclature. Time was when it had some frills of non-alignment. Following the 1977 regime change it became blatantly pro-western/American much to the consternation of the other global power bloc; a hostile India, which was pro-Soviet to the core at that time promoted separatism here and rammed the so-called Indo-Lanka Peace Accord down President J. R. Jayewardene’s throat. The Rajapaksa government, in its wisdom, took the country’s foreign policy to the other extreme, antagonising the US, other western powers and even India. As a result, it became a marked target in Geneva, where it was accused of war crimes. It also lost the EU GSP Plus. President Mahinda Rajapaksa didn’t know what hit him in 2015, when he failed to secure a third term. What one gathers from his utterance is that he only knows he got a RAW deal from India.

The present government came to power, promising to make a radical course correction in the country’s foreign affairs and be the darling of the world. Instead of handling foreign relations tactfully as a small nation always should, it plunged feet first into antagonising Sri Lanka’s traditional allies. It cooed and gurgled like a baby before western powers but barked menacingly at other nations. It suffered a Shaolin-style flying kick slap-bang in the face from China for trying to scuttle the Chinese-funded projects here. Having been tamed to the extent of leasing out a strategically important harbour and thousands of acres of land besides allowing the Port City Project to come up unhindered, the yahapalana regime is now extolling the benefits of China’s Belt and Road initiative!

The present government suffered a painful punch at the hands of the Russians in the form of a ban on Sri Lanka’s tea. It first blamed a beetle which had been reportedly found in a tea consignment. Then it claimed the Russian action could be due to its asbestos ban, which it lifted posthaste. Russia, having reciprocated now claims the asbestos ban had nothing to do with its restrictions on Sri Lankan tea supplies! Has the yahapalana government barked up the wrong tree? Its political enemies insist that Russia has also sought to tame Colombo. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration was still reeling from the Russian punch which came in the form of a ban on tea when it suffered what is widely thought to be a knock from the US (the suspension of GSP).

The previous government blundered by putting all its eggs in the Chinese basket as it were. Having tried to take on China with disastrous consequences, the present dispensation is now trying to curry favour with both China and the West at the same time but without much success. Having sought to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds very amateurishly for three years it is now so confused that it doesn’t know whether it is running or hunting. Worse, some of the mastiffs have turned on it!

Most of Sri Lanka’s international problems boil down to one thing, which is failure on the part of successive governments to perform the diplomatic high-wire act adroitly. So long as politicians in power don’t care to get their foreign policy right they will continue to suffer knocks, punches and kicks. And, the country will be the loser.

One Response to “Kicks, punches and knocks”

  1. Christie Says:

    USA policies and practices have not changed towards our country in particular towards the Sinhalese.

    Indian vermin in USA and India looks after USA policies towards us.

    I thought Trump will change USA policies towards us.

    But unfortunately Indian vermin are a powerful lot in the USA whether it is Democrats or Republicans are in power,

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