New foreign policy paradigm | Sunday Observer

New foreign policy paradigm

4 October, 2020

Hambantota Port and other Chinese development projects were strictly commercial transactions, said the President articulating elements of his neutral foreign policy at a credential granting ceremony for new diplomats posted to Colombo.

His new Ambassador to China Palitha Kohona would be an ideal brand ambassador for this archetype of policy that would see Sri Lanka making peace, and making friends, but not making the mistake of being identified with rival powers in proxy battles.

The Indian Ocean as a free zone is also a limb of the new foreign policy outlook, as the President stated. In this context, the strategic placement of Hambantota harbour is important.

It has been leased out to Chinese management but only for commercial activity. That needs emphasis, as Sri Lanka came in for a great deal of flak as the intentions regarding Hambantota were previously grossly misinterpreted by mischievous elements.

But the record, set itself straight. There weren’t much efforts made during the UNP regime to bring that perspective to light, but when the then government leased the harbour, it became self-evident that the Chinese had no more than strict commercial interests.

All countries have pecuniary interests, and this includes the big powers that are our friends. But those commercial involvements and the interplay between them and the national interests of this island nation, are subject to intense scrutiny because of the strategic placement of this island.

In this context, top Indian foreign policy analysts too had given this country high marks for the fact that ‘India was given several guarantees about their security by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, and those were adhered to until that government was voted out of power.’ These remarks are made in a book written by former Indian National Security Advisor Shiva Shanker Menon.

The rest is recent history. There is now a fine balance between competing interests in the country, and this has stopped various mischievous elements from attempting the political gimmick of identifying us with this power, or that.

The Indian Ocean policy has made it clear that as a country Sri Lanka will maintain not just a neutral policy but a self-respecting one. It’s why the newly accredited German Ambassador told the President at the credential granting ceremony that ‘we are not here to lecture you.’

One of the first few acts of the new government was to formally disengage from the inimical resolution passed against us — by us — at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The former Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was responsible for this ill thought out move was to a very great extent a foreign policy nihilist. He apparently did not inform his former Prime Minister of the move to jointly pass a resolution inimical to our interests in Geneva.

Today, we have an international profile that’s based on the country’s true potential and not on pledges and undertakings that would jeopardise our own interests far into the future.

This has in large part been earned by the way the Covid contagion was controlled in this country. As this is being written, the President of the United States and his wife have tested positive for the virus. While wishing them a speedy recovery, this fact it appears underlines the importance of the track and trace methods used here in our neck of the woods, with the military and the health sector working in tandem.

The army has earned a new feather in its cap, because there has been hard headed service oriented efficiency coupled with a humane touch in the way the military has been deployed.

Those who emplane for their flights to Colombo from other countries have testified to this fact. From the moment passengers get clearance to board special flights bringing them to Sri Lanka, the military detail posted in those stations ensure that the passengers follow all the rigorous health protocols.

In this regard, they operate with a firm hand, but a large heart. There are always the stray passenger or two that do not fall in line with the protocols, but the facts are explained to them by the military personnel in a firm but convincing manner.

Once the passengers disembark in Colombo, the quarantine process is carried out with precision efficiency. Those who are whisked away to hotels, are cared for, but no chances are taken. When they return to their homes the PHI visits their houses and for two weeks at the least, and ensure that there are no symptomatic persons among any of the returnees.

The Chinese among others have said that this type of military deployment should be admired, and noted that it was a policy that the country has deployed as well. The countries of the European continent for instance are now taking a hard look at the way Sri Lanka controlled the virus, and have applauded the initiatives taken.

In that sense, Sri Lanka’s precision methodology regarding Covid containment has had a paradigm shifting nature about it. Nations that were earlier reluctant to deploy their own militaries are now looking at ways of engaging their service personnel in the cause.

They seemed to have come around to the realisation that the military when deployed in tasks that have a bearing on civilian life does not ‘militarise’ but inculcates a culture of greater civilian appreciation for the regimens and protocols involved in keeping the contagion at bay.

Sri Lanka’s status of serious international trend-setter and thought leader in terms of getting the job done, are sealed and delivered. We are a country admired for its merits, and not one that’s seen to be abject, in being incessantly being told what to do by foreign friends and outsiders.