Diplomacy is the art or skill of managing international relations -typically the art of dealing with foreign governments in a sensitive and tactful way. It is the established method of influencing the decisions and behaviour of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures without recourse to violence. Historically, diplomacy means the conduct of official relations between sovereign states.
Since independence Sri Lanka has evolved its own style of diplomacy. One of the best examples of our country’s diplomatic panache was the Rubber-Rice Pact with China at a time when the western world was boycotting China and trying to stifle its growth.
Likewise Sri Lanka’s efforts on behalf of Japan in the aftermath of World War II, earned our country the undying friendship and gratitude of the entire Japanese people.
In a similar manner, through diplomatic skill of the then leaders of this country we were able to resolve the issue of ‘stateless’ persons, namely the plantation workers of Indian origin who were brought to this country by the British during the colonial era. Quite in contrast to Idi Amin’s solution regarding the situation of Indian workers in Uganda.
The result of these diplomatic efforts is that even today these countries continue to maintain good relations with us and have helped in no small way help tide our country over economic and social problems over the years.
According to ‘International Alert’ about half of India’s overall investment in South Asian countries is concentrated in Sri Lanka. The Department of External Resources 2015 Performance Report points out that India has contributed more than US$1.1 billion in aid to Sri Lanka since 2008.
China has been another “crucial” donor to Sri Lanka. Following the Rubber-Rice Pact, the Chinese government through its national banks have committed nearly $5 billion to Sri Lanka since the 1970s according to Deidre McPhillips, Data Editor at U.S. News & World Report. Similarly, Japan has extended annual loan packages to Sri Lanka since 1965. In 2011, Japan replaced China as the top aid contributor. Relations between Sri Lanka and Japan appeared to have strengthened even more after the change of government in our country in 2015.
Antagonism between India and China has been a long-running sore in relations between the two countries, ever since Britain arbitrarily drew borders demarcating boundaries between the two Asian giants. Japan and China have from ancient times looked on each other with disapproval, scorn and contempt. Imperial Japan’s actions during its occupation of China, its refusal to accept responsibility for crimes committed by its troops during occupation has not helped lessen antagonism between the two countries.
Today these three countries -India the South Asian regional power, China now challenging US supremacy, and Japan the third largest economic power- are major contributors to Sri Lanka’s economic development as well as competitors for influence in the Indian Ocean. India and Japan are close allies of the US the strongest military and economic power worldwide. It is in conflict with China. Sri Lanka sits in the middle of the most important trade route between the Middle East, India, China and Japan, the three of whom are dependent on oil from the Middle East.
Today, China and India, long-time competitors for influence in the Indian Ocean, have brought their geo-political competition to the ports of Sri Lanka. The action of our government in unilaterally abrogating an internationally agreed tripartite agreement (between India, Japan and Sri Lanka) at this juncture is tantamount to a slap in the face of two friendly countries.
In July 1987, Sri Lanka and India signed the Indo-SriLanka Accord, which included the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The attempts by various governments to bypass the agreement unilaterally resulted in India not using its good offices to block the US-sponsored Resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, which will be taken up later this month. According to leaked documents, the Commissioner has called for sanctions against various Sri Lankan individuals.
Could the unilateral tearing up of the tripartite between Sri Lanka, India and Japan bring more gloom to our shores? After all, we are helpless in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Our locally produced ‘pani’ touted as a miracle cure does not work... and India is the largest manufacturer of the Covid vaccine.
Will she give our needs priority now?
Let us remember, that among countries, there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests and smaller nations must learn to navigate their way through minefields of conflicting interests.