21 July, 2024


Once Bitten; Not Twice Shy

Sunday Times Editorial –

Sinha Ratnatunga - Editor Sunday Times

And so, once again the President has had to cancel a scheduled speech in Britain. It is the second time in just seven months that it has happened to him. No official explanation has been forthcoming and the President’s media outfit has been forced to do some repair work to his image by deflecting the flak. The External Affairs Ministry, not surprisingly, went to the extent of calling the President’s visit to Britain a success. It is said the duty of a diplomat is to lie on behalf of his country abroad, but what the ministry said really went beyond the call of duty.

Like on the previous occasion at Oxford, the organisers of the London speech this week buckled under pressure from a vociferous minority. It begs two questions. Was this a set- up to embarrass the Sri Lankan President? What were those responsible for his itinerary doing?

Our Political Editor gives the details of what happened. It is not a pretty picture. The President goes on an invitation of the Commonwealth Secretary General for a formal lunch with the Queen and to attend a thanksgiving service in connection with her Diamond Jubilee. While in the city, he is billed to speak at a function organised by the Commonwealth Business Council with no guarantees that the speech will not be cancelled. He then gets to meet the Queen at the lunch, albeit with a ‘velvet glove’, but he does not get a separate appointment with the British Prime Minister, only a photo-opportunity on the sidelines.
If this is termed a successful visit by the standards of Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry woe betide it.

The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth and the President is the host for the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held next year. If the ministry does not see the subtle message in the cold-shouldering it has to be blind. Or maybe it does, but has to keep up a front. Or even more, it needs to defend itself from the sheer ineptness now manifest in taking care of the country’s President when abroad, especially in the West with whom our relations are anything but rosy.

The logical issue that arises is about the consequences of hosting CHOGM next year. Will it be used to inflict even more of the same on the President and through him, the country? Already, the Government is announcing a competition for a CHOGM logo. Political cartoonists will have a field day if they applied. There seems to be a great desire to be seen with the Joneses, while at the same time using vituperative language to savage them in public. Some of these attacks may be justifiable, but there is a clear mismatch between aim and target.

Had the President not been the host of CHOGM 2013 he probably ought not to have gone to Britain, not until bilateral relations between the two countries improved. At best, relations are only ‘civil’ now. The only British Minister who visited Sri Lanka was then Defence Secretary Liam Fox to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture but that too after a fierce argument with his cabinet colleagues. No formal appointments are given to the President when he visits Britain. The External Affairs Minister is first asked to meet the British Deputy Minister in the Foreign Office, which he meekly does, and then is given an opportunity to pay a call on the minister. This is the kind of treatment meted out from that end.

We have filled these pages, month after month, with the miserable failures in recent times on the foreign policy front. Examples are many; from losing the GSP+ preferential duty concessions for Sri Lankan exports to the European Union to losing the US GSP; from the adoption of a series of anti-Sri Lanka amendments in the US Congress to the mishandling of the UN report on Human Rights to the fiasco at Oxford to the UN Human Rights vote against Sri Lanka in Geneva. This week the ministry was unable to stop the Sri Lanka diaspora from waving flags protesting the visit of the Sri Lankan President to Britain and succeeding in having his speech cancelled. Clearly, the tacit blessings of the British Government were there for these in what is called ‘reciprocity’ in bilateral relations.

Isn’t the country paying a heavy price for these diplomatic setbacks that are hemorrhaging on the nation’s wellbeing? There has been a brazen disregard and sidelining of efficient, trained career diplomats while putting serial bunglers and inexperienced novices with no known ability in the field in sensitive postings.

The Minister of External Affairs himself once submitted a special cabinet paper recommending the back door entry to the permanent diplomatic service of 24 persons, only to be stopped due to dissent by some brave souls who spoke up at this bastardisation of the foreign service.

Much of these setbacks stems from this factor. Unless the Government rights these wrongs, which it seems in no hurry to do, the situation is unlikely to get better, only worse. It is possibly too late in the day to pass the CHOGM summit to another country. The Government is also keen to host the event come hell or high-water or even a partial boycott. The cost-benefit to the people of this country is one thing. Take the IIFA Bollywood extravaganza that was held not long ago. Hotel bills to the tune of millions remain unpaid by the Government to date. No accounts have been given by the Tourist authorities. A snub of CHOGM by the ‘white Commonwealth’ is another.

The Commonwealth and its relevance is a matter that ought to have been addressed when we jumped and offered to host the event. Britain itself has drifted away from the grouping of the former British Empire and the Queen remains almost the last thread keeping the old outfit stitched together.

The 54-member club is almost one-fourth the UN membership and could have been a powerful force in world affairs had countries like Britain opted not to veer towards the United States and Europe instead in search of greener pastures throwing aside sentimentality on the way. Today, Britain selectively picks and chooses countries in the same club to browbeat and preach to, forgetting its former colonies are independent states now.

Sunday Times Editorial

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Ego is at the bottom of sorrow people self-impose on themselves.
    Mahinda Rajapakse should have known he does not have it that which impresses a proper Oxford U audience even with a prepared speech. Even the better educated and socially better-groomed CBK fell to the same weakness but succeeded in making a speech to a few Lankans brought there by the London SLFP outfit – more for tea/short-eats. This was different to the ability and recognition of men like SWRD and Lakshman Kadirgamar – accomplished, polished impromptu speakers matching any audience anywhere. The very mention of their name at Oxford attracted the crowds spontaneously. Even Kudu Mervin can summon 50 vagabond Sinhalese in London for a hired-hall at Oxford U if done duly.

    Similarly, MR falls short of the calibre of one to deliver an economic lecture to an audience of in-depth economists – despite the personal friendship of the highly suspect Kamlesh Sharma. Surely, you know he cannot handle a question/answer session after his speech – leve alone in matter of economic depth.


  • 0

    Hosting the Commonwealth Heads meet is going to be Rajapakse’s WATERLOO in 1213! The Sinhala masses who have been kept ignorant of the true state of the economy and the contempt with which Rajapakse is treated abroad will indeed finally wake up and take note that a pariah rules Lanka! We Chinese are now hosting Ranil and playing the same double game as the rest and Lanka will be in debt to China for billions while the Lanka economy crashes! Cool runnings…

    • 0

      Keep dreaming on! Didn’t you see Rajapakse was invited to the reception with the Queen and then in Rome, he met with the Pope? Remember, in the recent times, you first dreamt of MR meeting his Waterloo when the terrorists blocked the Mavil Aru anicut, cutting-off the water supply to surrounding fields. Then you had the same dream again and again including when Miliband flew to Sri Lanka in late April 2009, when Karunanidhi launched his fast and even when Fonseka decided to contest the election. Of them all, this dream on potential Commonwealth meeting debacle is the most hilarious. Anyway, the idiom meeting Waterloo is more appropriate to be given an authentic Sri Lankan touch by calling it, Meeting Nathikadal now.

  • 0

    Britain, Europe and the United States, historically powerful in imperial or economic status, have been declining over several decades now. Their philosophies on achieving and maintaining those powers have been largely devoid of compassion or sincerity. These facts have been historically documented extensively.

    The attempt at maintaining a “Commonwealth” is simply an attempt at projecting a power that is merely symbolic today. Sri Lanka does not need to continue to pay obeisance at the altar of Western Capitalism. Strategically it must align itself with a new class of economic powers whose policies and philosophies are more compassionate, sincere and which recognise the commonality of blood in all human beings.

    However, Sri Lanka cannot hope to be successful in the new economic and geo-political arrangement that is centred in Asia unless it relinquishes its colonial practices and adherence to the ruthless philosophies that drove the former British East India Company and the global military encirclement the US had implemented.

    Sri Lanka must reflect the new sincerity and acknowledgement of global commonality that China (for example) espouses, in putting its own house in order. That will earn the respect of not just the new major players in the world’s economic scene, but the declining powers as well.

    Sri Lanka must not allow itself to be seen as a simpleton and fool, but demonstrate its successes in social welfare, upliftment of public health and education sectors and general wellbeing and affordability of its people, rather than merely display symbolic physical artefacts that lose meaning or relevance in the absence of the above.

  • 0

    Rajapakses are thick skinned and glutton for punishment in the international fora. They are planning a visit to London again next month for the Olympics. This is according to Scotland yard sources, just to give them more headaches, as well as the Olympics organizers.

    Well Olympics do not bother about formalities and diplomacy for tin pot regimes. They will just do what is good for them.

    CHOGM is another matter. If it is held in Sri Lanka it would be another embarrassment to Sri Lanka and Britain. There would be many heads of state not turning up and even the Royal couple might send Prince Charles. Prince Phillip is already 90 and sick. Even the Shangrila Hotel in Hambantota might not be ready. Mattala airport would be ready without any airlines flying in other than Mihin Air and Sri Lankan Airlines to please the President and the Chairman his brother in law.


    • 0

      Freaking Donald,

      U too a War Criminal, Don’t U ???

      Did U Write to UNICEF or Not ??? Accusing UN, When UNICEF Wanted pussy-tigers to Completely Stop Recruiting Child Solders & Release the Ones Already pussy-tigers Recruited at that Point of Time???

      U Wanted UN to Reverse that Decision & U Accused UN being Biased in Ur Writing ??? Didn’t U ???


  • 0

    No formal appointments are given to the President when he visits Britain. The External Affairs Minister is first asked to meet the British Deputy Minister in the Foreign Office, which he meekly does, and then is given an opportunity to pay a call on the minister. This is the kind of treatment meted out from that end.

    CHOGM – 2013, this is what the British will have to experience in return.
    Talking of diplomatic set backs, had everyone known what are the wrongs from the rights, then nobody should be making any mistakes.

    Even the invisible Sun Goat made mistakes. He missed out on settlements when the peace talks were on. WHERE WAS GNANAKONE the wise one ????

  • 0

    You KKK. Yes I published my challenges to the UNICEF about 10 years ago and I was right legally. UNICEF had no arguments to counter, on the Geneva conventions and article 77 regarding the age, of 15 and a half. It was HRW Jo Becker who was embedded with Karuna who took those notorious photos in 2004. I have no intention of debating such issues with Sinhala morons.
    LTTE lost control of the conduct of Karuna and Pillaiyan from 2003, and now they are ministers and chief ministers in the GOSL.
    That is what KKK has no comprehension.
    UN or anyone else did not take any steps regarding legal prosecution of the LTTE for 30 years on the child recruitment issue because of article 77, which placed them in grey areas. What was needed by the IC to prevent the cause of such issues, and prevent State Terrorism.
    During and before the CFA I had given more than enough advise and both sides unfortunately went in different directions. Tamils led by the Balasingams, Rudrakumar and Karuna, and the Sinhalese led by GL, Moragoda and Hakeem as well as Bernard G. All are with the Rajapakses now, including Karuna, KP and Pilliayan.
    Ranil and VP were ill advised where there was plenty of opportunities to bring about a permanent solution. I cannot say more on this forum, nor do I believe in writing “Kiss and Tell Books” at this time.
    Both US and India also played Machiavellian roles.
    I have never been a fan of the UN or UNICEF, nor even this UNHRC resolution sponsored by the US to fully implement the Silva report. That Silva commission is totally flawed, and that is why there is a need for an independent and international investigations.
    Do not forget, the UN and IC is hounding only the GOSL about war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

    • 0

      What nonsense are you talking Donald?

      The UN and the IC is NOT hounding only SL on war crimes, there are several other countries on the list.

      And the UN -formally that is- only focussed on the LLRC report in the 2012 resolution that was adopted. There was no mention of ‘war crimes’.

      Typical LTTE propaganda twisting the truth. You are as bad as these Rajapaksa yes-men.

  • 0

    Once Again, Koheda Yanne Malle Pol You Freaking Donald,

    If U Thought Recruiting Kids to pussy-tigers is legal & Human, One Wonder Why U DID NOT Let Ur 2 Kids Fighting for pussy-tigers !!! In Fact

    It was More of a UNICEF has No Time to Waste with a [ Edited out]Like U Than UNICEF had No Arguments !!!

    How Funny Even to Suggest that U Advised Both Sides, Perhaps U Mean to Say U were Giving Advises to Ur Mouth & the Other Mouth ???

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