8.1 International Relations and Foreign Policy
Foreign policy of Sri Lanka will always be an extension of the domestic policy of the country. The internal policy positions operating within a rule-based structure placing human rights on top of the agenda attracts utmost respect for the island of Sri Lanka from the international community including not only major but also middle powered global players.
In the rest of the policy document we have articulated policy positions necessary to create a rule-based structure recognising our multi ethnic, multi-faith societal nature with a strong emphasis on law and order.
This makes it not only easier for Sri Lanka as a nation to roam through international circles holding its head high but also maintain our traditional foreign policy of non-alignment. Sri Lanka has a proud history of pioneering the non-aligned movement along with India, former Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Egypt, Ghana amongst others. It is not in Sri Lanka’s interest to become a pawn in big power manoeuvrings in our region, surrendering our sovereignty for short term political gains.
As a third world country we rightfully deserve foreign aid from international agencies mainly funded individually and collectively by the wealthy members of the global community. As a country, in terms of our domestic policy, if we are doing the right thing, even the foreign aid will not necessarily sway our support of one or the other camp but will give us the strength to take measured decisions.
As a globally respected independent nation state we will work towards building global community’s trust that will help us in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations.
Due to our geographical location it certainly makes sense to treat India as our Big Brother and Pakistan and Bangladesh as smaller brothers in the neighbourhood. However, with its own infrastructure overhaul requirements, India or other members in the south Asia cannot entirely fulfil the needs of Sri Lanka. Invariably Sri Lanka will have to look toward investments from big powers across the globe.
The most important countries that Sri Lanka can turn to are the US, Japan, China and Australia. All these countries are highly interested in deepening their footprints in the Indian Ocean Region. Therefore, it is important to maintain a sensible non-aligned foreign policy to benefit from that interest.
Safety in the Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is one of the world’s busiest and crucial trade corridors; Sri Lanka is therefore geographically vulnerable to any adverse Indian Ocean movements such as wars, drug smuggling, human trafficking etc.
In 1971 Sri Lanka proposed to the UN General Assembly to make the Indian Ocean a ‘zone of peace’. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) had introduced a stable system of maritime law for our region in the early 1980s.
The global political order had undergone radical transformation since then. A new agreement is urgently needed, based on the consensus between neighbouring Indian Ocean countries. We will pursue a new agreement with consideration to, but not just limited to seabed mining, hydrographical surveying, fisheries, the environmental considerations, bio-prospecting and maritime research.
The Indian Ocean code of conduct can be similar to the memorandum of understanding between the United States and China regarding the rules of engagement for safety in the air and maritime encounters. This code must be in conformity with the principles of the freedom of navigation including an effective – and realistic – dispute resolution process on navigation.
We fully endorse the former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s proposal made as far back as in 1960 at the UN Summit to turn the Indian Ocean into a zone of peace. The collaboration of all countries on the security of the Indian Ocean is paramount. We will continue to call on each and every country in the Indian Ocean region to be committed to ensuring the international peace, reconciliation and brotherhood.