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A couple of years back one of the more thoughtful of our career Foreign Ministry officials tried to put together a book on Sri Lanka’s international relations. This was an excellent idea in a context in which we do not reflect or conceptualize when dealing with other countries.
However it turned out that hardly any Foreign Ministry officials were willing or able to write for such a volume. Still, with much input from academics, the manuscript was finalized. But then the Minister decided that it needed to be rechecked, and handed it over to his underlings at the Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, where it has lain forgotten since.
Recently I retrieved from my archives the two pieces I was asked to write, and am republishing them here –
Sri Lankan relations with the different regions of Asia present a fascinating prism through which to examine our changing position in the world. The subject also suggests areas in which we might develop our position further, in terms of defining more clearly our objectives, and endeavouring to fulfil them more coherently.
Though the field requires constant attention and care, there is not really much need of further definition with regard to three areas. South Asia, the SAARC Region, and in particular India must remain our main focal point. The attention government pays to ensure that we are on a similar wavelength to India is a feature we should never have allowed to lapse, while continuing of course to ensure positive relations with Pakistan and the other countries in the region.
With regard to East Asia, similar principles apply. Our friendship with China has been a cornerstone of our approach to other countries, and this obtained even in the era soon after we obtained independence, when the Soviet bloc considered us a satellite of the West. From the time of the Rubber-Rice Pact, negotiated by R G Senanayake, we made clear our determination not to let the formulaic approach of other countries adversely affect our relations with the most populous country in the world. During the last years of the Cold War, friendship with China accorded with the predilections of the West, but now that the latter is wary of increasing Chinese capabilities, we should not let ourselves be stampeded into a less affectionate relation.
I could scarcely believe it when I was told that Hillary Clinton’s reaction to the death of Colonel Gaddafi was, ‘ We came, we saw, he died.’ The statement seemed so vulgar, and at the same time so asinine in its meaningless parodying of Julius Caesar, that I could not imagine that it had actually been made by the Foreign Minister of the most powerful country in the world.
I checked then, and was told by someone I can rely on that she had indeed said. ‘We came, we saw, he died….heh, heh.’ He had seen this on CNN.
I was immensely saddened by this. Some months earlier I had written about what I thought was a civilized element in the lady, the awe that seemed apparent in her eyes while she was watching the killing of Osama bin Laden. That had seemed to contrast with the steely determination of the others in the room, and I had fancied that the maker of policy was at least aware of the wider moral dimensions of that particular execution.
But now it seemed morality was trumped totally by what seemed to be unashamed gloating. Of course there was a difference, in that the Americans were clearly responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden. The lady knew this was a defining moment for American decision makers, for clearly they were behind what could be seen as cold blooded murder. But I assume the powers that be felt this was a risk that could be run, that the argument could be made that Osama was a threat to national security even if disarmed and in custody, and therefore it could be argued that the decision had been made as a form of self defence.
A recent article in the British media asserted ‘their crimes against humanity live forever – but death always catches up with dictators, one way or another’. That startlingly meaningless statement was given teeth with the claim that ‘the way dictators meet their end often lingers as the defining image of their cruel lives’, a notion illustrated with pictures of the gruesome deaths of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Mussolini and Nicolae Ceauşescu. There was also a picture of the Japanese war leader Tojo after he tried to commit suicide, along with pictures of the dead Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao Ze Dong.
What these dictators had in common was that the West disliked them, at any rate at the time they died. Missing are characters such as Mobutu and Bokassa and Idi Amin, and Pinochet and Stroessner and Duvalier, and Marcos and
Suharto and Chiang Kai Shek, who came to power through violence, or stayed on and on with no concern for democracy.
Western hypocrisy however is something we have to live with, and we need to realize that hypocrisy is not particularly a Western trait. It is only that, when hypocrisy is combined with great power, it seems particularly nasty to those who cannot express their own self-interest quite so forcefully. The West should realize this, before it provokes a backlash.
It should also realize that there are limits to its power, though this may not seem obvious in the present context. The mess they caused when they invaded Iraq is a case in point. After the enormous support they had for the invasion of Afghanistan, support fuelled not only by the attacks of September 11th 2001 but also the excesses of the Taleban regime, they threw away that goodwill by attacking Saddam Hussein on trumped up causes.
Saddam Hussein was not someone who deserves our sympathy, but that had been the case even when he was the darling of the West, supported because of the animosity of the West, or rather the United States, to Iran. The volte face that took place subsequently was much more surprising than in the case of the Taleban, which had also been adored when they opposed the Soviet Union, but in this case the attack on the Twin Towers provided good reason. With regard to Saddam, the fact that the excuses were trumped up was obvious, and contributed much to the feeling in the Islamic world that the West, or rather the Anglo-Saxons, were opposed to Muslims in general.
Efforts to overcome this have been successful recently, with the Arab states throwing their weight too against Gaddafi this year. It was obvious too that ruthless self-interest was not the only reason, for the West had been prepared to support also the protests against the long-standing leaders of Tunisia and Egypt who had by and large served Western interests well. Extending the impact of the Arab Spring to Libya too then, even though it was more obviously a wonderful prize for the West, in economic as well as political terms, was not obviously based on pure self-interest, but suggested concern too about what the people of the area concerned wanted. Read the rest of this entry »
The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka extends its warmest congratulations to the British Liberal Democrats on their entry into government at Westminster. The Liberal Party of Britain was historically the party of gradual but continuous reform in Britain, expanding freedoms and promoting social justice, but without disruptive excesses. We believe it is ideally placed to take up again this historic role in the United Kingdom, in partnership with a Conservative Party that has a refreshingly modern outlook.
The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka extends its warmest congratulations to Benigno Simeon Aquino III and the Liberal Party of the Philippines on their tremendous victory in the Philippine Presidential election. The Liberal Party of the Philippines has always been in the forefront of the struggle for freedom and social justice, and this enormous vote of confidence makes clear the appreciation of the Philippine people for its consistent stand.