Distinguished diplomat Dr.Palitha Kohona tipped to be Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to China
Posted on September 5th, 2020

By P.K.Balachandran Courtesy NewsIn.Asia

Dr.Kohona comes to the job armed with a distinguished record in academics, international law and practical diplomacy. He has advanced degrees from three countries and experience as a civil servant with the Australian and Sri Lankan governments and the UN.

Colombo, September 5 (newsin.asia): Dr. Palitha T. B. Kohona, a former Sri Lankan Foreign secretary and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York, is tipped to be the country’s Ambassador to China, reliable sources said.

Asked about it, Dr.Kohona would neither confirm nor deny the posting.

Once he is formally nominated to the post by the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, it has to be cleared by the High Posts Committee of parliament. In this case, clearance is expected to be a mere formality.

In the current and developing regional and international geo-political context, the posting in Beijing will be a very critical one for Sri Lanka. The strategically located Indian Ocean island nation has become an arena of Big Power rivalry with China, the US, Japan and India in the fray.

While China has already established a large footprint in Sri Lanka with its massive infrastructure projects, Beijing’s rivals are trying to stem its further inroads saying that the Chinese projects have landed Sri Lanka in a debt trap. The US is coming up with its own version of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Diplomacy. It is putting pressure on Sri Lanka to sign the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact for a grant of US$ 480 million for infrastructural development. But Colombo is wary about the compact’s impact on the country’s sovereignty.

Recently, the US State Department clamped visa restrictions on select officials of the China Communications and Construction Company (CCCC), the parent organization of the China Harbour and Engineering Company (CHEC) which is building the mammoth US$ 1.4 billion Colombo Port City. The State Department had gone a step further and appealed to all governments dealing with the CCCC to be wary of its role in China’s questionable activities in the South China Sea.

Dr.Kohona will also have to be mindful of the on-going military standoff between immediate neighbour and South Asian power India, and leading investor China. China and India are economic and strategic rivals in Sri Lanka and a clash between them even in remote Ladakh will have its impact on Sri Lanka. India is wanting to match China’s presence in the Colombo port (which is in the form of the Colombo International Container Terminal) by swinging a deal to manage the East Container Terminal in collaboration with Japan.

Rivalries of this sort are likely to increase rather than decrease in the months and years to come. Therefore, Sri Lanka and its envoys in Beijing, New Delhi and Washington will have a delicate task on hand requiring a lot of tight rope walking.

Distinguished Academic And Diplomatic Background

Dr.Kohona comes to the job armed with a distinguished record in academics, international law and practical diplomacy. He has advanced degrees from three countries and experience as a civil servant with the Australian and Sri Lankan governments and the UN.

Coming from Matale in Central Sri Lanka, Dr. Kohona received his primary and secondary education at St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, near Colombo. He obtained a LLB (Hons) in Sri Lanka, LLM from the Australian National University on International Trade Law and a Doctorate from Cambridge, UK, for his thesis entitled: ‘The Regulation of International Trade through Law,’ subsequently published by Kluwer, Netherlands. He is also an Attorney-at-Law at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

Dr.Kohona was Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka from 2006 to 2009. He then went to the UN to be the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York till 2015. In 2013, he was elected Chair of the UN General Assembly’s Sixth Committee (Legal). He was Co-Chair of the UN Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, and Chair of the UN Committee on Israeli Practices in the Occupied Arab Territories.

Earlier, between 1995 and 2006, Dr. Kohona was Chief of the United Nations Treaty Section in New York. At the UN he was responsible for introducing major managerial innovations and was awarded the UN 21 PIN for superior performance and efficiency. He managed the computerisation of the UN treaty database which contains over one million pages of information and which now receives over 1.5 million hits per month from around the world.

Dr. Kohona initiated the UN treaty training project as part of an outreach programme for familiarizing countries with the UN treaty collection. He also initiated the UN Treaty Event, now held during the General Assembly, which has become a regular feature in the UN calendar. Given his proactive approach to UN reform, he was assigned to the results-based budgeting spearhead group and to a range of other groups working on Secretariat reform.

Service In The Australian Government

Prior to joining the UN, Dr. Kohona was with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. His last position there was as head of the Trade and Investment Section of the Department. Previously he had been assigned to Australia’s Uruguay Round negotiating team with specific responsibility for the institutional mechanism and the dispute settlement unit. In 1989 he was posted to the Australian Permanent Mission in Geneva with specific responsibility for environmental issues.

In Geneva he chaired the negotiating group that developed the compliance mechanism under the Montreal Protocol to the Convention on the Ozone Layer and was a member of the Working Group on the liability mechanism under the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes. In 1988 Dr. Kohona led the Australian delegation to the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board.

Return To Sri Lanka

He returned to Sri Lanka at the invitation of President Mahinda Rajapaksea. During the Sri Lankan Peace Process facilitated by Norway and backed by the UN, US. EU and Japan, he was Secretary-General of the Government Peace Secretariat (2006). As Secretary General Dr. Kohona participated in two rounds of peace negotiations with the LTTE in Geneva and led the delegation to a session in Oslo.

Dr. Kohona was a member of the Sri Lankan delegation to the UN General Assembly in 2006 and 2008. He had led official level delegations to a range of countries to discuss bilateral and multilateral matters. More recently, he had been working with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s outreach organization Viyathmaga (Professionals for a Better Future).

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