Connectivity for Centuries: Foreign Policy of the Island Nation
Dr. Chanaka Talpahewa (left) and George Cooke
The Sri Lankan Understanding is the latest media platform aimed at exploring the path taken by Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, which has experienced a vivid past and possesses the potential for a vibrant future.
Launched on March 17, 2021, this platform seeks to identify that which has been, by capturing moments and memories, while identifying peaks and pitfalls of the country, and the overarching impact it is collectively having on the future. Bringing together academics, historians, diplomats, writers and key personalities, The Sri Lankan Understanding is aimed at filling a lacuna in society wherein comprehending that which has been, grasping realities, and understanding the opportunities ahead is sorely lacking.
The first episode on ‘Connectivity for Centuries: Foreign Policy of the Island Nation’ featured Dr Chanaka Talpahewa, a diplomat by profession, who has been Sri Lanka’s acting High Commissioner in London and Male, served at the UN in New York and was instrumental in establishing the Sri Lankan Embassy in Turkey. A national oarsman, who has represented Sri Lanka internationally, his doctoral degree is from the University of Cambridge, and he is currently serving as the Head of UN-Habitat in Sri Lanka and The Maldives.
Dr Talpahewa traced ancient times focusing on ancient rulers, their international interaction and the geopolitical realities. He discussed ancient connectivity with India based on ‘geographical nearness’, with the Mayuran Empire in particular, as well as Imperial Rome, the Hellenistic Kingdom, the Horn of Africa, the Sasanian Kingdom of Persia, the Byzantine Empire, the Empire of Srivijaya, Cambodia, Myanmar and China.
Identifying specific encounters in which Sri Lankan delegations engaged overseas, Dr Talpahewa highlighted the purpose of these missions, the personalities involved and the specific developments connected to these visits, which led to greater awareness of the island nation and even aided the promotion of exports.
The geographic positioning of Sri Lanka, enhanced interaction especially as part of the Silk Route which led to increased trade, through ports, making Sri Lanka the commercial hub of the region.
"Launched on March 17, 2021, this platform seeks to identify that which has been, by capturing moments and memories, while identifying peaks and pitfalls of the country, and the overarching impact it is collectively having on the future. Bringing together academics, historians, diplomats, writers and key personalities, The Sri Lankan Understanding is aimed at filling a lacuna in society wherein comprehending that which has been, grasping realities, and understanding the opportunities ahead is sorely lacking"
Reflecting on the colonial period Dr Talpahewa referenced the accidental arrival of the Portuguese, the subsequent entry of the Dutch and British, as well as the French occupation of Fort Frederick, and the Danish connection. He duly noted the beneficial aspects of the colonizers, wherein the latter stages of Colonialism, the country which possessed an agrarian-based economy was converted to a plantation-based mercantile economy.
He also stressed the ruthlessness with which the island and its inhabitants were dealt with, especially in the thwarting of the Uva Wellasa uprising and other incidents from 1505 to 1948.
Highlighting Sri Lanka’s position in 1948 as the third richest country in Asia, Dr Talpahewa raised concern about the progress made, and the action taken from independence onwards in enhancing the country’s position in the world. He dealt with bilateral and multilateral issues, during the Cold War period as well as the Non-Aligned Movement and the policies formulated thereafter.
Questioning the contribution that Sri Lanka makes in international fora, given the plethora of organisations in which the island participates, Dr Talpahewa emphasized the need for strategizing and the need for a strategy for the next twenty to fifty years. Rationalizing the need for an effective Foreign Service, and diplomats who serve as the first line of defence in the outside world, Dr Talpahewa discussed the role as diplomats, both career and political appointees.
The Sri Lankan Understanding which is geared towards generating interest and intrigue in the multifaceted aspects of the country airs every other Wednesday, with repeats on Thursday and Sunday on HiTV and is available on Youtube. The programme is for those keen on gaining a clearer perception of the historic features, and prospective facets of the pearl of the Indian Ocean, as it would cover a gamut of issues and areas.