Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Crisis

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is in a crisis and a financial crisis is looming ahead.

The origin of both crises can be traced to the failure of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime to come to grips on how the demands made by the Tamil minority could be resolved.

However the Rajapaksa regime appears to be living in cuckooland making claims of stupendous ‘foreign policy victories’ which are plain and simple foreign policy disasters while patting themselves vigorously on their backs for the wonderful job they are doing. At last week’s press conference in which the three main dramatis personae were the Secretary to the President  Lalith Weeratunga, our High Commissioner in London Chris Nonis and the ‘Monitor’ to the Ministry of External Affairs Sajin Vas Gunwardena such preposterous claims were made on the debacle of the President’s visit to London.

The Rajapaksa regime having successfully eliminated the terrorist threat of the LTTE, has mired itself in its prevarication to resolve the demands made by the Tamils.

There have been demands and threats made by powerful Western nations on Sri Lanka for a variety of reasons – geopolitical and other factors – to cow down the Rajapaksa regime into submission. The Rajapaksa regime has resisted the moves on the grounds that it is an internal problem which the West is attempting to interfere with disregarding Lanka’s sovereignty. The West has changed the rules of the ball game on national sovereignty and Sri Lanka having signed covenants of the United Nations on human rights is bound by such international commitments.

While arguments on national sovereignty and interference by the West are continuing and will continue till the cows come home, the basic challenge before the Rajapakse regime is to decide on the demands made by Tamil parties for their constituents who are citizens of Sri Lanka.

This is the crux of the Sri Lankan foreign policy crisis. Quite apart from demands to investigate alleged war crimes et al the entire hostile atmosphere could be defused if a serious attempt is made to come to grips on how the demands of the Tamil minority could be met.

But for three years after the ‘historic’ victory no such attempt is made and only prevarication of the issues are evident. For whatever reasons which our Sinhala nationalists may reject, it is this issue that is causing not only the foreign policy crisis but might even precipitate a financial crisis.

The expatriate Tamils living in Western capitals, whether they have wormed themselves into the confidence of Western leaders or not, are reading from the same page on Sri Lanka as Western leaders. This is undoubtedly ominous for the future of this country.

The signs of a financial crisis are evident. Two of Sri Lanka’s most prolific markets, the United States and the European Union, are not only facing a financial crisis but the governments of these  countries are hostile towards the Rajapaksa regime whose ministers and the controlled and supposedly independent media are hurling abuse at them. The only silver lining in this respect is the decision of the United States last week to exempt Sri Lanka from their sanctions on purchase of oil from Iran.

Apparently External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris has been successful in negotiations on wide ranging issues on Sri Lanka with the tough talking Iron Lady of America, Hillary Clinton and other leading officials. It is believed that Minister Peiris has impressed the American officials on the response to some of the demands made at the last sessions of the UNHRC such as on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. This gain should be built on by giving serious attention to demands being made by Western nations and not adopting a hostile attitude towards them. Anti Western postures go down well with nationalist sections of the electorate but whether it is beneficial to Sri Lanka in its vital field of foreign relations is indeed doubtful. Sri Lankan diplomacy in the post conflict period with the LTTE has been one of hostility towards the West. Very recently a cabinet minister made the preposterous claim that the United States wanted to take over Sri Lanka!

The disasters suffered by this country at the hands of Tamil expatriates could be attributed to this hostile diplomacy. Save for the issue of hosting the Commonwealth Games, the other three debacles – the cancellation of the President’s address to the Oxford Union, the adoption of the American Resolution at the UNHCR sessions calling for investigation of violation of human rights in Sri Lanka and cancellation of the president’s keynote address  to the Commonwealth Business Council – were instigated by raucous gangs of Tamil expatriates living in the  West. This is a kick on the posteriors of whoever is responsible for conduct of foreign affairs of this country.

The Rajapaksa regime’s success in foreign affairs has been with China and Russia. Japan, although a Western ally, has been attempting to accommodate Sri Lanka. China has helped Sri Lanka tremendously in the fields of defence and economic development. But could Sri Lanka do without its main trading partners: the United States and the European Union?

Most important is Indo-Lanka relations. It does appear that relations between New Delhi and Colombo are cooling off and thus is probably due to the failure of the Rajapaksa regime to get the 13th Amendment moving despite the pledges made to New Delhi. As important as relations with New Delhi are, so are the relations with Chennai.

There is seething anti Sri Lankan feeling in Tamil Nadu, so much so that the presence of Sri Lankan ministers in Tamil Nadu are being violently objected to by extremist parties. The two main leaders M. Karunanidhi and Jeyalalitha Jeyaram are in competition with each other to show themselves as better Sri Lankan baiters. With future Indian governments likely to be coalitions with state parties playing key roles, Tamil Nadu could have an overbearing influence on Lanka. It does appear that Tamil Nadu is not in focus with our foreign policy framers.

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy appears to be in tatters and the main reason is the failure of the Rajapaksa regime to recognise that a Tamil problem does exist.

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