Posted on November 8th, 2020

Ambassador Sarath Wijesinghe, President’s Counsel, President of the Ambassadors Forum, Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to UAE and Israel.

War of words are not uncommon in international circles. But the war of words between China and USA relating to Sri Lanka occurring in Sri Lanka has to be taken seriously based on the context, contents and tone of the exchange of words. The fact that it has happened in our soil worries us as peaceful peace loving people. Exchange of words among the members of the diplomatic community should be based on diplomacy conventions, practices, and norms of international law and practices based on conventions and precedents.

The recent visit of the US Secretary Of State Michael Pompeo to Sri Lanka during a tour in Asia, looking for opportunities to play a role with friendship and hopes as stated in the speech has unfortunately led to controversies and discussions in many circles in the international arena. This has sent shock waves to the international community engaged in diplomacy and international affairs due to protests in Sri Lanka over various allegations. Secretary Pompeo smilingly answered the questions posed by the interviewer giving underlying messages to all the parties concerned and the sanctions imposed on 24 Chinese companies including builders of Colombo Port City. This indicates that the war of words have connotations. The Construction Company and the Chinese Embassy tweeting immediately in response to those comments made and thus aggravating the issue further. War of words or deeds on our soil will not be in our interest nor in favour and it is our duty to pacify the tension between parties using our good office based on our experience as done my Madam Bandaranaike during the Indo – China conflict in 1960s.

USA and China are world leaders in trade, fiercely competing with each other for world supremacy on trade and commerce. Both demands friendship and ownership with credentials claiming China as predators whereas USA as a true friend. Obviously trade and political power runs parallel using political power to promote trade and commerce adopting illegal and unethical practices. China has given funds to Sri Lanka lavishly and with less conditions with no expectations whereas USA expects transparency, proper fiscal management, in a democratic environment with human rights protected and adherence to international standards. China has funded Hambantota Harbour, Mattala Airport and Port City and is reminiscent of the Rubber Rice pact in 1952. USA is the single largest buyer of 45% of our apparels.

World trade is complicated and covers a large spectrum with the involvement and interference of WTO in which the Chinese obtained membership in 2001. World powers with political and economic interests are interested in extending the power in the Indian Ocean, once a quiet sea with great potential and treasures in the sea bed which has today transformed in to an active important and vibrant ocean utilized by a large number of ships. Sri Lanka is positioned in the most strategic position with historic traditional bonds running back to thousands of years with Arab, Chinese and other sea merchants often dealing with Sri Lanka on the traditional ‘Seda Mawatha’ (Silk Route) which currently embeds the Belt and Road initiative. Sri Lanka maintained links with the West due to the trade links with naval powers, resulting intervention in politics of this independent island with a long history of culture and friendship with the rest of the world. Sri Lanka’s bonds with the West, USA, UN and subsidiary bodies and international organizations are close in keeping with the model of diplomacy she has adhered to.

Since the end of the cold war between then world powers USA and USSR, USA and China has emerged as world trade leaders fiercely competing with each other for trade, commerce and political power. USA and China being the two large trade giants respectively look for a pivot role in Asia and USA is seeking entry via Indian Ocean for free access to Asia for trade and political power. International politics is a ‘Chess Game’ which is ever changing, reminding that there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics, local or international. Today USA, India, Australia and Japan have formed the ‘QUAD’ as a group to compete with the common enemy – China, allowing the new found friendship for USA to develop political ambitions and the others for trade and commerce. The visit of the US State Secretary to Asia is for a multi-purpose exploration of political, business and goodwill missions with many plans and hopes with all nations visited. Visits to other countries were without much controversy except Sri Lanka due to mass opposition to MCC, SOFA, ACSA agreements and plans for and kind of defence agreements.

The strength of a Nation is the firm and correct foreign policy. It is doubtful whether Sri Lanka is equipped and armed with this weapon as before when Sri Lanka and India led the Non-Alignment Movement in the most exemplary way in 1970s with firm political leadership. Indian foreign policy and principles are static based on India first foreign policy aiming at promoting India. Do we have a foreign policy on a Sri Lanka first basis when successive governments to date have taken different positions? The Text book version of the Sri Lankan foreign policy has been friendly with all and angry with none based on principles non-alignment and neutrality with a practical approach. Were we non-aligned/neutral and did we conduct ourselves so – especially during ‘Yahapalanaya’ regime when the Executive, Legislature and the Minister of Foreign Affairs took independent, arbitrary actions in dealing with international affairs?

On the other hand non-alignment does not mean being quiet and impartial alone. State must play a positive role in dealing with the interest of the country you represent. Switzerland is impartial in international affairs but does not belong to the Non-Alignment Movement and adhere to its principles. Sri Lanka must have a firm, powerful, correct and coherent Sri Lanka friendly foreign policy which will give strength, direction and acceptance, acting fast and smart with a proper policy framework. A nation must be fortunate have an effective Foreign Minister efficient Secretary, a vibrant Ministry and an extremely able battery of Ambassadors working round the clock, giving priority to trade and image building. We fondly remember Madam Bandaraneika as the best foreign minister ever with great respect and wish the present group will learn from our past glory hoping mother Sri Lanka will be active in foreign policy making and implementation which leads to the success of all other areas in governance.

Lord Buddha said ‘He who lives by Dharma is protected by Dharma’ meaning that the Dharma preached by the Buddha is supreme and should be practiced for success and protection and that the individual or the nation will be protected by Dhamma (Teachings of Buddha) they practice. In the same way if and when a nation has a firm and correct foreign policy in practice it will be the protection and the success of the Nation.

(The author takes responsibility for the contents of the article and could be contacted on sarath7@hotmail.co.uk)

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