25 July, 2024


The Influence Of Sirima Bandaranaike & Ranil Wickremesinghe On The Foreign Policy Of Sri Lanka 

By Harsha Gunasena

Harsha Gunasena

Ranil Wickremesinghe, prior to becoming the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in the last year, said at an interview that most of the Asian Countries have not taken a side in respect of the Ukraine war. He said that he did not approve the Russian invasion, but it could have been avoided if the President of Ukraine discussed the issues with the Russian President. It is the duty of the President to safeguard his country. His view was that Russia was in fear that the American missiles would be installed in Ukraine and that fear could have been understood. President Biden was taking on Russia and China together and trying to establish Western authority. Also, the West prior to the war had not consulted Asia and Wickremesinghe was of the view that it should have been done. His views were given due consideration throughout the world.  

Recently addressing the Nikkei Forum in Japan, he said that the Asian countries should refrain taking sides in the global Big Power rivalry. “Claiming nearly 30% of the Earth’s land mass Asia is home to 4.75 billion people, which is about 60% of the world population. The region is now the world’s largest economy. The US-China revelry has given rise to a number of responses by the West especially to economic coercion and weaponizing of economic vulnerabilities.” He said that economic decoupling and similar measures were contrary to the WTO rules. “The rules of the game cannot be changed arbitrarily. The losers will be the middle-income Asian countries.”   

“The intensification of that rivalry in recent times has brought about the QUAD( between USA, India, Australia and Japan) and the Indo-Pacific one hand and the Belt and Road initiative on the other. One thing is certain, Asian countries do not wish to be forced to manage competing pressure from these two sides.” He said that the pressure on Asian countries to choose between the US and China was being resisted by many. “Many of us cannot make that choice because we have already made our choice and that choice is Asia.”

These comments which were very straight forward and not biased towards any party were closer to the foreign policy direction of Sirima Bandaranaike, and it was not close in any way to the direction of JR Jayewardene which was not successful.

However, Jayewardene’s speech in the capacity of a member of DS Senanayake government made at San Francisco soon after the World War II defending Japan against the Soviet intentions was appreciated by many.

We all know that then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru questioned John Kotelawala privately about the speech he made at the Bandung conference which was not in line with non-aligned leaders. Dudley Senanayake who became the next Prime Minister initiated Rubber-Rice pact with China. Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike shifted the alliance of then Ceylon from the West to the middle by starting diplomatic relations with the Eastern Block and China.

Neville Jayaweera who has passed away recently in a book which was written based on his service experience, mentioned that NQ Dias who was the Permanent Secretory of the Ministry of Defense and Foreign Affairs 1960-1965 wanted to send Sirima Bandaranaike, then Prime Minister, to China on an official tour in order to strengthen the ties with the view to reduce the Indian influence. 

With a very good relationship with India along with the family ties of the two first families of the two countries Sirima Bandaranaike decided to allow the Pakistani  planes to fly over Sri Lanka when then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto requested so, since Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi prohibited Pakistani planes to fly over India to then East Pakistan at the Indo-Pakistan war where Bangladesh was created. This was an example of her extraordinary diplomacy.

The foreign policy of JR Jayewardene who came to power next was that to be with the friends. That was an easy and submissive policy to implement compared to that of his predecessor. ACS Hameed then Foreign Minister questioned him thrice whether to vote in favor of Argentina against Britain at the UN resolution in respect of Falklands war. In all three occasions Jayewardene said that to vote in favor of Britain. At that time Britain was funding the Victoria Dam under the accelerated Mahaweli Scheme.

These friends did not come to his rescue at the time of ethnic war. Jayewardene opened the economy prior to India and he criticized Indira Gandhi who was at the opposition then. He disregarded the request of Morarji Desai then Indian Prime Minister who expressed displeasure to the appointment of Hameed. His foreign policy was aligned to his friends in the West. When Indira Gandhi came to power ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka was in very bad shape. Especially after ethnic riots in 1983 India started funding Sri Lankan armed groups with the view of destabilizing Jayewardene government.

The view of Ralph Buultjens, a foreign policy expert was that the pivot of ethnic issue of Sri Lanka was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. At that time lot of things were changed based on the influence of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

The Indian Army was invited to Sri Lanka during the time of Jayewardene and the Indian Army was asked to leave diplomatically and undiplomatically during the time of R Premadasa. Once Premadasa refused to participate in the SAARC summit of Heads of States since Indian Army was in Sri Lanka. 

Indian favoritism to the LTTE started reducing after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar during the time of Chandrika Kumaratunga was capable enough to use this situation to turn the tide towards Sri Lanka government. At that time arms came from Pakistan at the difficult times. After the 9/11 attack in 2001 the international support to the LTTE was also shattered. With the peace agreement signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE, the tigers were exposed internationally. After Anton Balasingham agreed to a confederation at peace negotiations he was removed as the leader of the delegation and Tamil Selvam was appointed to his place.

When the war started thereafter international support was not extended to the LTTE as previously due to these incidents as well. However, the arms were coming from China mainly. Mahinda Rajapaksa then President tried to balance the influence of India but it was not a big task at that time since India also wanted to defeat the LTTE militarily.

However, Rajapaksa dishonored the promise made to India to provide a political solution to the ethnic problem after the war. This was done with the influence of the Sinhala racists, and it was a major setback to stabilize Sri Lanka. In order to escape from Indian influence Rajapaksa was moved towards China. 

Thereafter Sri Lanka foreign policy was a hide and seek game. Sri Lanka was trying to place India against China. At the Yahapalana period the foreign policy as well as the domestic policies were influenced by the clash between the President and the Prime Minister. 

Maithripala Sirisena as well as Gotabaya Rajapaksa made their first foreign trips to India. Ranil Wickremesinghe went to Japan to participate the funeral of Shinzo Abe, Sri Lankan friendly former Prime Minister and then to Britain to participate the funeral of the Queen. He went to Japan recently to participate the Nikkei Forum and to confer with a wide range of Japanese leaders. It appears to be that there is no desire for India to invite him or for him to visit India.

The visible foreign policy direction of Wickremesinghe does not advocate such submissive foreign trips. He wanted help and assistance  from Japan. At this point we have nothing to offer to Japan. In such a visit to be critical of the QUAD to which Japan contributes a lot, is extra-ordinary. The only other Sri Lankan leader who could have taken such a stance was Sirima Bandaranaike.

Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace was proposed by Sirima Bandaranaike. Ranil Wickremesinghe is against the rivalries in the Asian region. Indian Ocean peace zone proposal was against the power politics of America and Soviet Union which were in a cold war at that time. Wickremesinghe’s One Asia proposal was against the power politics of America and China and of the countries which support America within the Asian region. A leader who is biased towards one country or a group of countries cannot take such a bold and impartial stance.

He criticized  directly and indirectly the policies of President Joe Biden towards Russia and China and of President Donald Trump towards China. By these criticisms he was not biased towards Russia or China and the criticisms were based on world peace and development of world economy.

To maintain this impartiality is like walking a tight rope. In 1962 one day at midnight Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was informed by the Chinese Ambassador in Ceylon that Chinese Army was in Assam, India. Later with the intention of visiting India subsequently, a non-aligned delegation headed by Bandaranaike visited China to discuss with the Chinese leaders about the grave situation. At that time In India there was a widespread criticism against Bandaranaike that she had not sided with India. The situation was eased only when China accepted the proposals of the delegation.

Sri Lanka indeed needs this type of foreign policy. We have turned full circle and on the verge of coming to an era where we have excelled in foreign relations. Ranil Wickremesinghe has the potential of getting international recognition as Sirima Bandaranaike.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    The BEST of the BEST article on the matter, published in recent times!!!

  • 0

    Harsha G.,
    Re-direction of the SHIP OF STATE was necessary and imminent to save the nation!!! Good that is on stream ATLEAST NOW!!??
    THE WAY TO GO!! Let sanity prevail and NO TIME FOR ONE-UPMANSHIP!!??
    DEFINITELY NOT “Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds”, THE ANSWER!??? CAUSE OF CALAMITY!!??
    They, the uninitiated, cunningness, are trying to support or go with two opposing views, causes or factions at the same time

  • 2

    Sri Lanka do not have a state policy on internal relations and external relations since independence. Internally, the policy of the state is always against to Tamil speaking people. When Sri Lanka was under British rule they merged all communities together which includes all those who migrated from India in different times including Buddhists and Tamil speaking people of Hindus and Muslims and Tamil and Sinhalese Christian communities. Majority of Sinhala people were in the South ans majority of Tamil speaking people were in the North East. The labourers brought from India during the British period was in the Up Country which was developed by Indian Tamils during British. During the British all these communities contributed to this country and involved with the development and regarded as citizens of this country. Most of the Sinhalese leaders were converted to Christianity and had higher education in British during the British rule. The ruling Political leaders did not think that the Tamil speaking communities are going to be a threat for them and the state policy was to eliminate this threat by reducing the size of the `Tamil speaking population which was nearly one third of the population. With this policy they also had a policy of Sinhalization of North East to change the population distribution.

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