24 September, 2018

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Sri Lanka’s Foreign Relations: Three Policies We Can Adopt

By Mangala Samaraweera

Mangala Samaraweera -Minister of External Affairs

Mangala Samaraweera -Minister of External Affairs

The Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute is the training ground for our future ambassadors to the world. Started twenty one years ago, its courses have rightly emphasized the importance of professional competence in our diplomatic corps – focussing on training in negotiations, public speaking, economic diplomacy and policy analysis. These are key tools that every diplomat aspires to perfect. It is with this in mind that I’d like to briefly outline some ideas on the theme “Sri Lanka at the cross-roads of the Asian Century” that could serve as an opportunity for you to exercise your newly acquired skills.

But before we can begin to consider policy, we must first survey our context. One of the sweeping changes of this epoch is the rise of Asia. On almost every measure the world’s centre of gravity is shifting towards the East, so there can be no doubt that this is the Asian Century: by 2030 Asia is projected to become world’s largest economic region and in 2013, for the first time in modern history, Asian defence spending exceeded Europe’s.

Any period of change generates new opportunities and new risks. And a historic shift of this magnitude is no exception. But it is timely to remember that changes around us, and even changes within, do not profoundly alter our fundamental foreign policy objectives. Ensuring the security of all Sri Lankans and advancing their development will always be at the core of a government’s duties in the foreign policy realm.

Over the last few years, Sri Lanka’s foreign relations were not aligned to our country’s needs – the interests of the few were served, while the needs of the many were ignored. As we reset our foreign policy, we should gear our strategy and policies towards harnessing the opportunities the Asian Century has to offer, while navigating and minimizing the risks that will inevitably accompany her rise. In this speech I will offer a few ideas to start a broader discussion on how this can be done, starting with the risks and then suggesting three policies we can adopt to begin tapping this Century’s potential.

Asia’s rise has heralded the end of the post-Cold War unipolar world order. The United States will remain the preponderant power for the foreseeable future but the balance of power is shifting in Asia’s favour. China and India are emerging as global power centres and Japan remains an important power. Together they are home to just over a third of the world’s population, generate an estimated 26 percent of global output and are among the top ten defence spenders. Historically, the the rise of new powers has almost always led to a period of flux and instability – the old order gives way, but the new order is yet to harden. In these fluid decades Sri Lanka will have no choice but to make strategic choices in her global positioning.

Both ancient history and contemporary experience suggest that Sri Lanka’s success will depend on maintaining friendly and intimate ties with India. India is our closest neighbour, one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies, the world’s most populous democracy, our largest source of tourists and a country with whom we share ancient and contemporary civilizational ties. Thus the imperatives of security and economic development both make the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s thesis that Indo-Lanka relations must be that of “irreversible excellence” almost self-evident.

Similarly, China is rapidly becoming the world’s economic powerhouse. Experiencing rapid growth over the past few decades on some measures she is now the world’s largest economy – a position China has held for much of the last 2000 years.  China’s export-driven rise means that it has large surpluses of capital which enables it to invest abroad and play an increasingly important role in determining the architecture of global capital allocation. China is also now the world’s largest source of tourists. So Sri Lanka’s relationship with China needs to build on existing relations to zero-in on securing Chinese FDI, enabling access to Chinese markets and promoting Sri Lanka’s tourism.

The rise of a multipolar world system also makes preserving and developing the system of international rules and norms essential. This is especially true for a small island state. As a small state, international norms and the multilateral system of institutions help protect our sovereignty, security and give us a voice in global affairs. Similarly, as an island highly dependent on external trade, remittances and energy: ensuring open sea lanes, free financial flows and stable energy supplies is critical. While India is becoming a nett security provider in the region, it is the United States that is the primary architect, underwriter and sustainer of this rules based global order.

Having outlined the main risks and broad response strategies to them, we can now move on to the question of how we can leverage and harness the great potential of the Asian Century. While we must first put our own house in order, and there is a great deal of work that needs to be done on that score, it is also important to devote some time for blue-sky reflection. There are three main ideas I’d like to focus on today. The first involves the reconceptualisation of Sri Lanka as an Indian Ocean country, the second is exploring the use of paradiplomacy and the third is leveraging the tremendous resource of the Sri Lankan diaspora.

Throughout its ancient history, Sri Lanka had close links with the entire Indian Ocean rim spanning from Africa, the Arab Gulf, Persia, South Asia, South East Asia and Australia. Sri Lanka, geographically located the centre of the Indian Ocean and sitting astride major East-West and South-South trade routes, was at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean world. However, by and by, we came to be classified as a South Asian country and our own imaginations and those of others turned towards the Indian hinterland. Reclaiming our Indian Ocean identity helps us and others unlock the tremendous opportunities for attracting FDI, accessing markets and developing our tourism industry. For as a middle income country Sri Lanka can no longer depend on aid  to create jobs, generate growth and improve our living standards. As a result, for the modern Sri Lankan diplomat, salesmanship will be as important as statesmanship. Securing foreign investment, encouraging exports, promoting tourism and acquiring foreign expertise will be at the very centre of the foreign ministry’s role. (Of course that does not mean turning embassies into private tea trading centres as some Ambassadors did under the previous administration).

While we look towards the sea, the Indian hinterland and further away China also beckon. As study after study have noted, Sri Lanka’s failure to integrate into Indian supply chains and into the Indian economy in general has significantly hampered our economic development. In order to reverse this trend, we will have to begin seriously engaging with provinces and states that are playing an increasingly important economic decision-making role in India and China. The acceleration of paradiplomatic efforts by other countries has reflected these changes. For example, in the last two years alone Singaporean ministers have visited Indian states over a dozen times.

The third idea is not new. Per capita Sri Lanka probably has one of the largest diasporas in the world and it is also one of the most illustrious diaspora communities.  In fact, the late Lee Kuan Yew once said,

“In terms of numbers, the Ceylonese, like the Eurasians, are among the smallest of our various communities. Yet in terms of achievements and contributions to the growth and development of the modern Singapore and Malaysia they have done more than warranted by their numbers.”

But to our loss they have not featured prominently in our foreign policy making, and as a country we have done little to harness their capital, relationships and knowledge for our development. This is not true of many other countries. India has an entire ministry dedicated to Overseas Indian Affairs, while eight other countries also have diaspora affairs ministerial portfolios. Sri Lanka would do well to have a systematic approach and mechanism for harnessing the diaspora, which would also enable them to participate directly in the Asian Century.

Allow me to sum up by reiterating that our foreign policy must be aligned to the interests and welfare of all Sri Lankans. This of course means cautiously navigating the emerging multipolar regional order, while taking the initiative to harness the tremendous opportunities of the Asian Century. I trust that you will see your training here at the Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training Institute as an induction into a community of thinkers and practitioners, and as a foundation for lifelong involvement in Sri Lanka’s foreign affairs. With your support one day Sri Lanka can again be at the centre of the Indian Ocean world and at the crossroads of Asia.

Thank you.

*Foreign Minister Samaraweera’s speech at the Convocation Ceremony of the Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training instiute today

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Latest comments

  • 5
    8

    As study after study have noted, Sri Lanka’s failure to integrate into Indian supply chains and into the Indian economy in general has significantly hampered our economic development.

    India imposed economic restrictions on Nepal in 1989. That was because Katmandu refused to agree to a single treaty covering both trade and transit.

    They strangulated Nepal economically and they also engineered the Mao Insurgency. This is identical to how they used Tamils to do the same in Ceylon.

    The key to dealing with India is not creating a dependency where they are able to strangulate the country. They have used Tamils. It can be economic dependency next time. CEPA for example should never be signed.

  • 6
    0

    How many of our diplomats are career diplomats and how many political appointees?

  • 1
    2

    An excellent presentation. The three pillars are:
    India
    China
    The Diaspora.

    With due respect a fourth pillar is also important.
    The West
    (Our historical, cultural, language and educational links with the English speaking countries has put down deep roots).

  • 4
    3

    “The Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute is the training ground for our future ambassadors to the world.”

    Mangala, ‘Charity begins at home’.

    Before you start your trining for diplomats, you better remove all the racist diplomats from their post, or you send them to work with Rajapaksas.

    Half of your diplomats around the world are pure racist.

  • 2
    1

    “Sri Lanka at the cross-roads of the Asian Century”
    We are ONLY into the 15th year of ‘The New American Century’, and the results are all too evident all over the ME and parts of Europe. Yet the Foreign Minister mischievously refers to a concocted ‘Asian Century’, when both he and the Finance Minister have planted the Sri Lankan flag in the Western camp. In fact Karunanayake has claimed that Sri Lanka needs to move away from Chinese influence in order to reduce corruption in the country when the exact opposite is the case, obvious to anyone who has followed recent politics. The corrupt in China may even be called upon to pay the ultimate price whereas those in the West get ‘kicked upstairs’, i.e. to the House of Lords in the UK to sit alongside others including alleged sexual perverts.
    Lee Kwan Yew’s observation was certainly true, but in a different era. I doubt that the same applies today. I also doubt whether Sri Lanka wishes to be an Indian appendage.
    “ the interests of the few were served, while the needs of the many were ignored. “
    That statement would fit in with the aims of the present regime than with the doings of the old.

  • 0
    0

    “Over the last few years, Sri Lanka’s foreign relations were not aligned to our country’s needs – the interests of the few were served, while the needs of the many were ignored. As we reset our foreign policy, we should gear our strategy and policies towards harnessing the opportunities the Asian Century has to offer, while navigating and minimizing the risks that will inevitably accompany her rise. In this speech I will offer a few ideas to start a broader discussion on how this can be done, starting with the risks and then suggesting three policies we can adopt to begin tapping this Century’s potential.”

    Terminology used to describe inter-state and multi-lateral relations of a state has led to some confusion for quite sometime. As the terminology used by the Minister using the terms, “foreign relations” and “foreign policy” alternatively points to the presence of the confusion even to this day among the op spokespersons on how Sri Lanka conducts her inter-state and multi-lateral affairs. I am reminded of what William Turpin wrote in the Foreign Policy Journal,No 8, {Fall 1972] under the title: “Foreign Relations, Yes; Foreign Policy, NO”.he was trying to point to the fundamental difference between ‘foreign policy’ and ‘foreign relations.’ the former he said, “connotes matters between states which affect, to a considerable degree, their power relationship; the latter, the “normal functioning of relations between them.” A few years earlier, in Canberra, I was privileged to listen to three reputed academics, Prof J.D.Miller, and Prof.Tom Miller of the ANU and Prof.Hedley Bull of the Centre of Strategic Studies in London,who explained terminology “international relations” and the”conduct of international affairs” ‘used confusingly. They pointed out that the former was considered to be more in he domain of students where one could draw conclusions from an examination of of a state’s relations with other in general or on multi-lateral issues over a a given period of time; while the latter (conduct of international affairs was a “functional relationship” and a field for practicing diplomats.

    Against his background, one may ask if he Minister had used the two sets of terminology which others thought had different connotations,in a state of confusion. The Minister obviously read a paper written by a scrip writer at the Foreign Ministry or one furnished by the Bandaranaike Institute of Diplomatic Training.Whatever the case may be it points to a case of shallow/loose application of terminology unless, the Minister was speaking in the researcher’s language when he poke of ‘foreign relations’or the distinctions I spoke of have undergone a paradigm shift in Sri Lanka in recent years.
    Bandu de Silva

  • 2
    1

    Lee Kwan Yew’s ghost must be befuddling Samaraweera’s blooming nut!

  • 0
    0

    In the current sociopolitical context of Sri Lanka, the word “DIASPORA” tends to connote that it is something exclusively Tamil. But I am happy to note here that our foreign minister has used the said term to connote that it indeed is an inclusive phenomenon, consisting of people from all three ethnic communities of the country: the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers.

  • 0
    1

    Hon Minister, make available the translations of this speech in Sinhala and Tamil for the majority to get updated please. Thanks

  • 2
    1

    The best foreign policy for Sri Lankan now is to let the Tamils in the NorthEast, the Tamil Diaspora and for the thousands of refugees scattered around the world to decide once and for all, to decide their future destiny through a UN conducted referendum. Sri Lanka need to move forward together with the Tamils and the International Community.

  • 2
    0

    Mr.Mangala Samaraweera :

    Sri Lanka’s Foreign Relations: Three Policies We Can Adopt;

    You have got your priorities wrong. The Title should be

    Sri Lanka”s Internal Relations: Three Policies We SHOULD Adopt.

    CARE
    COMMITMENT and
    COMPASSION.

    1) CARE: For all the citizens unlike MR who cared for only a few who served his interests.

    2)COMMITMENT : To Right the Wrong and bring those were responsible for the Genocide to books which means MR Gotha and his cronies. Make no mistake it will happen from outside if not internally. Just remember Milosevic.

    3) COMPASSION: For the Tamil Fathers Mothers and the Widows who are still lokking for their loved ones and the Homless.

    With your support one day Sri Lanka can again be at the centre of the Indian Ocean world and at the crossroads of Asia.

    *** That one day is a long way away.

  • 1
    0

    I would have to disagree with the foreign policy of mangala samaraweera. He gives far too much importance to countries such as India and China. At the end of the day he has to remember that despite the hype of these two countries. It would be another 100 years before these countries come to the same level as the west and at the present moment india and china follow the west. not the other way around the west does not follow china or india as the west is still powerful esp millitarily. So it makes more sense for sri lanka to have closer relationships with the west rather than countries like india. Because ultimately India follows the west. By following india we become a follower of the follower. Atleast if you are following someone follow the topdog e.g the west, not a country that is secondary to them such as India or china

    As a sri lankan i have to say that sri lankans give far too much respect to india, but indians do not reciprocate back. At the end of the day india is still a third world country with worse poverty than sri lanka. So as to why sri lankans look up to india baffles me. Sri lanka has far more to gain by looking up to countries such as the UK.

  • 1
    1

    The way going in the country under the UNP CBK and Managala ruling policies, after another 10 years time Sri lanka will be manage by Tamils and Muslims communities.

    Sinhalese race will be in the Minority.

    They will have only that Lion Flag remain!

    National song be Tamil version remain in caste tapes.

    That is what leaders of leading political parties did to our county last 67 years.

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