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Friday, 6 April 2012






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Enlightened approach to foreign policy

There were some interesting exchanges between the government and the Opposition in Parliament over the past couple of days in relation to Sri Lanka's foreign policy and matters stemming from it, which would have helped to clarify some of the bases of this country's external policy. Essentially, the state's position was that Sri Lanka could not be dictated to by any big powers on these issues.

While the exchanges in Parliament were important, a pronouncement by Minister Basil Rajapaksa to the media recently to the effect that Sri Lanka would continue to pursue a policy of 'friendship towards all, and enmity towards none', is equally significant. Whereas, the average observer would expect this country to be 'daggers drawn' with the West and those countries which voted against it on the US-sponsored resolution against this country at the UNHRC in March, no such destructive course would be taken by this country, the public was told by Minister Rajapaksa. Sri Lanka would continue to engage the totality of the world on the most amicable terms, we are told.

This is a most enlightened approach to the conduct of our foreign policy which merits closer examination. Given that the essential base of this country's foreign policy is Non-alignment, this is the most advisable course to follow in matters on the external relations front. Interestingly, proof of this came at the recent 'Sri Lanka Expo 2012' trade fair in Colombo. On this occasion, business groups from all over the world converged on Sri Lanka, including those from the US, UK and even sections of the Tamil Diaspora. The Sri Lankan authorities received them with the utmost cordiality and interacted with them meaningfully with a view to promoting business links and cooperation.

Therefore, these are just a couple of occasions where the fundamental bases of Sri Lanka's foreign policy have been thrown into glowing relief. Rather than opt foolishly for strained relations with the international community, this country would continue with its policy of Non-alignment and the benefits which would accrue to Sri Lanka from this far-thinking policy would be numerous.

In fact, Sri Lanka lost the vote in Geneva only by a whisker and this event too proves the benefits of being Non-aligned in the foreign relations sphere. In other words, the policy of Non-alignment helped Sri Lanka in earning and keeping allies, far and wide.

It is little realized that foreign and domestic policies are symbiotically linked and that the two spheres are mutually-reinforcing. The complementarity of the two policy fields could be ascertained when it is realized that national reconciliation is a top priority for the government. It is forging ahead with the task of bringing unity and togetherness among all our communities and this policy should have a similar policy trajectory in our handling of foreign relations. The policy of forging all our communities and social groups into a single polity or nation ought to be reflected in our foreign policy formulation and implementation and this is what is taking place.

All these and more 'positives' would not have been possible if Sri Lanka had diluted or abandoned its cornerstone of Non-alignment. It is Sri Lanka's enduring adherence to Non-alignment over the years which is enabling it to manage knotty questions on the foreign relations front.

It would have been quite counter-productive if Sri Lanka had opted for an isolationist policy, following the recent developments in Geneva. On the contrary, it will continue with the policy of building bridges to the world and of strengthening them. It would not follow from this premise that Sri Lanka would in any way cease from asserting its sovereign rights as an independent country.

The corollary of the policy of Non-alignment is the principle of the sovereign equality of states. This will continue to be a prime consideration with the state. Sovereign equality is the basis of self-respect and this would not be forgotten by Sri Lanka.

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