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Are We Making Rational Decisions in the Rice Sector

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M. P. Dhanapala

former Director, Rice Research and Development

The agrochemicals, inclusive of chemical fertilizers, are to be replaced by non toxic organic manure and other environmental friendly products based on the expert advice that the modern agricultural products are toxic due to indiscriminate use of agrochemicals. An example frequently cited was the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu) of unknown origin in the North Central Province. Also, some critics insist that those who promote agrochemicals are rewarded by multinational companies involved in the agrochemical industry.

As a result, agrochemicals in agriculture was a topic debated in the media by policy makers. their advisors, specialist doctors, university professors, professionals of organic agriculture, scientists, politicians, leaders of farmer organizations etc. The above allegations were refuted as inaccurate, inconclusive and unscientific (Pethiyagoda, R., U-tube seminar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGe6ld2q1vs). According to some scientists, the causal agent of CKDu was concluded as high concentration of Fluoride ion (Fl-) in drinking water. As a rice scientist, I have some issues bothering me in this whole dispute; especially in the area of chemical fertilizer, the most indispensable, one and only input, that increases productivity of crops.

Rice farming is the least remunerative of all occupations in Sri Lanka; the farmers in the past were involved in rice farming because of the social dignity, the pride of not consuming imported rice (Beven, 1914, Tropical Agriculturist, 1914 Dec.). Also, farming is considered an independent profession; it is a fact that one has to pay respect when dealing with the farming community.

Organic manure issue

Some critics insist that we have lost the organic manure technology practised 3000 years ago; probably a documentation failure. It would be great if we could recover the old technology from somewhere. However, in the recent past, as documented in the scientific journal “Tropical Agriculturist”, incorporation of bulk organic matter was recommended as early as in 1914 for rice fields to circumvent disintegration and deterioration of soil structure due to puddling during land preparation (Harrison, 1914). The nutritional status of the organic material concerned was not quantified or discussed. This recommendation was made during the British era, around the inception of the Department of Agriculture, and it is valid even today.

In the 1940s, farmers did cultivate traditional varieties with green manure, farmyard manure, compost, soybean cake, fishmeal etc. as organic manure but no specific recommendations were recorded. The targeted rice yield then was 15 bushels per acre (0.75 t/ha.) but realized only a national average of less than 13 bushels/acre (< 0.65 t/ha). The government then had to import two thirds of the rice requirement of the country to feed the population (Tropical Agriculturist, 1945 July – Sept.). The rice ration book continued till the modern varieties were developed and established. The present day advisors and policy makers may be unaware of or have ignored that the rice ration book each citizen had with 52 weekly stamps, to obtain the imported (Milchard/white raw) rice ration from the nearby cooperative shop.

Incorporation of paddy straw into fields was emphasized just before the turn of the century to sustain soil fertility and organic content of the soil, especially when the cropping intensity increased with the release of high potential short duration rice varieties. This recommendation was complemented with site specific soil test-based fertilizer recommendations, using the regional recommendations as guidelines, to prevent indiscriminate use of fertilizer. Also, the researchers were vigilant to keep the high organic soils with poor and impeded drainage (wet zone) devoid of organic manure while taking precautions to prevent straw/crop residue becoming a primary inoculum of diseases.

We have no doubt that organic manure improves physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil. Organic manure has colloids, composed of protein rich material with negatively charged amino acids, and help to buid up the soil structure and cation exchange capacity (CEC) thus improving the nutrient retention power of the soil. Organic manures are not known as rich sources of plant nutrients. The nutrient contents and efficiency of different sources of organic manure are shown in Table 1.

The nutrient content of organic manure from the above sources in Sri Lanka cannot be significantly different from values in Table 1, unless there had been some other additives are incorporated in the process of manufacture.

Now, let us consider the nutrient recommendation for the most popular group of rice varieties (3.5 month) grown under irrigation in the dry-zone.

The present recommendation per hectare is 105 kg Nitrogen (N), 25 kg Phosphorus (P2O5) and and 35 kg of Potash (K2O) (Page 15, Fertilizer Recommendation for Rice, Department of Agriculture, 2013). As an example, we will examine the requirement of the most controversial nutrient component, nitrogen (N), in this recommendation. To meet this N requirement, the farmer should have around 13 tons of moisture free compost (0.8% N) for one hectare of land, assuming that the harvested straw of the previous season is not incorporated in to the soil.

If the compost available has 20 percent moisture, this figure would be little more than16 tons. The farmer then will have to pay for and carry in the field a little more than three tons of water on his back for every hectare of rice land cultivated. Additionally, there are peak requirements of N at different growth stages of the crop to promote yield components of the plant. The compost, once applied, will release N consistently, irrespective of the peak requirements of the crop growth stages and may continue this process even beyond the life-span of the crop as long as the mineralization process continues.

This example may be too much of an exaggeration, but the advisors/policy makers should know how inappropriate it is, to substitute a technology, more relevant for home gardening, for extensive paddy cultivation; this probably will be the reason behind the denial of compost culture by commercially oriented rice cultivators. Besides, it is unethical to force on the farmers, a new technology unfamiliar to them altogether. The organic farming specialists can demonstrate in large scale field trials their intended package of practices, specifically in different agro-ecological regions, to ascertain its appropriateness; feasibility, economic viability, sustainability and other advantages, to convince and gain farmer acceptance.

The total package of the proposed organic rice farming may include other options; green manure crops, wormi-compost, bio films, effective microbes, bio-gas residual products, N fixing microbes, organic extracts of unknown origin and ingredient etc., but none of these technologies were field tested and demonstrated with modern rice varieties.

One good example of Inappropriate Technologies is “The System of Rice Intensification (SRI)” introduced in Sri Lanka around the turn of the Century. It was some form of environment friendly, water saving organic farming project with labor intensive field operations, specially the transplanting procedure aimed at the exploitation of potential plant growth and the tillering (production of side shoots) capacity in rice to maximize yield. After a few years lapse, no farmers involved in the project could be traced to review its progress. If a technology is appropriate, you may notice lateral spread of the technology from farmer to farmer without any extension effort.

Inorganic Nitrogen as a Plant Nutrient

In the beginnig of the 20th Century, application of Nitrogen (N) to improve rice yields was attempted using theAmerican experience of Sodium Nitrate (NaNO3) in upland crops (Soybean). Nagaoka (1905) and, Daikuhara and Imaseki (1907) reported the superiority of Ammonium Sulphate ((NH4)2SO4) to NaNO3 as the source of N for rice. Subsequently, the basic investigations on application of N for rice were made in Japan, India, Hawai etc. confirming the superiority of the Ammonium form of N (NH4+) in rice, the process of nitrification and ammonification under different soil moisture regimes and the Nitrite (NO2-) toxicity when the concentration exceeds five to six parts per million (5-6 ppm) upon submergence of aerobic/nitrate rich soil etc.. One should realize that N in submerged soil, irrespective of its source (organic or inorganic), exists in the form of Ammonium ion (NH4+), a fact established universally.

Joachim (1927) stressed the importance of liberal manuring to improve yields at the onset of genetic improvement of crops, particularly when pure-line selection was initiated with traditional rice varieties. However, excessive manuring succumbs the rice crop to diseases (Blast and Brown spot); the crop tends to grow excessively vegetative and lodges prematurely affecting yield. Though some improvement of N response was developed by introducing disease tolerant ‘H’ varieties from the late 1950s, the basic defects of the traditional plant type, leafiness and lodging, prevailed. The introduction of new plant type (modern varieties) improved significantly the harvest index of the plant and the grain yield response to added N. A new source of N, Urea (46 % N), was introduced in the early 1970s to contain soil acidity developed by the regular use of Ammonium Sulphate (21% N) and Urea is being utilized extensively thereafter as the major source of N.

It is clear that the 16 t/ha compost requirement (105 kg N) of the example discussed in the previous section can be fulfilled with 230 kilograms of Urea. Furthermore, the crop requirement at different growth stages can be met by split application of Urea, as the N content of Urea will be available to the plant shortly after its field application.

Urea, (CO(NH2)2), is an organic compound denied in organic farming with molecular structure composed of Carbon, Oxygen and two Amine groups with no toxic elements. The amine groups are apparently converted to ammonium ion (NH4+) by soil microbes under anaerobic conditions and get adsorbed to the cation exchange complex. Any source of N, whether organic or inorganic, undergoes the same process of ammonification in submerged soils to form ammonium ion. If the soil is rich in CEC, the ammonium ion is kept tightly bound to the Soil Cation Exchange Complex and leaching and contamination of ground water will be contained or minimized.

As it is, the most appropriate solution to the current crisis is the recommendation of organic-inorganic combination of fertilizers as recommended by the Department of Agriculture. This will enhance the efficiency of both factors, organic and inorganic, synergistically and prolong the availability of N for crop growth without contamination of groumd water. Also, the quantity of N can be reduced substantially without affecting the performance of the crop as the N component is thereby efficiently utilized.

Also, some scientists are investigating atmospheric N fixing microbes, specifically in the root zone soil (rhizosphere) and within the plant (endophytic). If this is a realistic goal and if the naturally occuring microbes can fix N beyond their biological limits, we are fortunate as the atmosphere around us is full of Nitrogen (80 %). To observe N fixing soil microbial activity, there were some rice plots maintained for more than 30 years at the RRDI, Batalagoda, without added fertilizer.

Intuitively, by judging from the rice yields, I infer that the microbes associated in the soil of these plots are not capable of fixing more than 40 kg N per hectare, probably the biological limit of microbes and that too will be diminished when the crop requirement is met with added Nitrogen. Similarly, the inoculated rice plants with endophytic bacteria to fulfil the N requirement of rice would be a long shot. There were other concepts considered promising in atmospheric N fixation in rice but were abandoned prematurely as the technologies were found to be inappropriate, e.g. Azolla-Anabinae complex and root nodulation in Sesbania spp. etc.

Any rubbish product should not be converted to compost/organic manure as some sources are contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic products. The animal waste may carry residues of antibiotics used as growth promoters. The danger of developing antibiotic tolerant/resistant human pathogenic bacteria by free exposure to antibiotic residues or by exchange of genetic material (conjugation) among bacterial mutants with human pathogens is not ruled-out.

The current status of rice production in the country was achieved through mutual development of related technologies for more than a century. It is not a matter to be ruled-out by the so-called expert advisors with one stroke of a pen; as a result of transition to nontoxic organic rice cultivation, the loss incurred in national rice production will be colossal. This is not the time to learn organic rice cultivation with text book experience of experts with no field experimental evidence. The incidence of COVID 19 and other natural calamities (floods, droughts etc.) would affect global rice production adversely and a surplus production in rice exporting countries cannot be predicted. In this scenario, national food security for Sri Lanka could be further threatened disastrously through this adventure in organic farming that has been launched almost overnight, without any foresight whatsoever.

In the past, we had an excellent Agricultural Extension and Education System composed of regular Technical Working Group Meetings, Research-Extension Dialogues, Inservice Training Programs, Field Visits etc., and a well qualified, dedicated set of extension staff promoted the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in rice production. This system should be revitalized to sustain food security of the country.

(The writer is a former Director Rice Research Development of the Batalagoda Rice Research Station with postgraduate (Msc and PhD qualifications from the U.S. and Japan) with over 50-years experience in rice breeding at home and abroad)



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The wonder of youth

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The wonder of youth was best on display in the evening of 11 Sept., when two hugely talented teenagers, both unseeded, gave an amazing display of tennis in vying for the US Open title. Of course, I wanted Emma Raducanu, who represented GB, to win but had lingering doubts as her opponent, Leylah Fernandez was more experienced and had defeated players ranked 3, 16, 5 and 2, to reach the final. This was only the second Grand Slam Emma has played in, having to withdraw during the fourth-round match in Wimbledon due to breathing difficulties which made some wonder whether she had the mental grit to stand the rigours of tough competitions. She proved them wrong in a spectacular manner, reaching the final in an unprecedented way. She had to win three rounds to get into the tournament as a qualifier, and won the next six rounds, reaching the finals without dropping a set in any of the matches. By then, she had missed the return flight to the UK which she had booked as she never expected to be in the competition so long!

Sports are so commercialised that many Brits without Amazon Prime subscription were going to miss seeing the first British woman to play in a Grand Slam final after 44 years. Fortunately, in one of its rare good deeds, Channel 4 paid for screening rights and we could join over 9 million Brits on the edge of their seats for two hours. It was well worth it, as Emma won the final again in straight sets, creating yet another record by being the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam! In another rare gesture, Amazon had agreed to donate the fee for advancement of tennis for girls.

Emma Raducanu’s spectacular win was witnessed by Virginia Wade, the first winner of the US Women’s title in the open era in 1968, Arthur Ashe winning the Men’s. She was also the last British woman before Emma to win a Grand Slam; Wimbledon in 1977. Fortunately, Sir Andy Murray was able to break the even longer drought in Male Tennis by winning the US Open in 2012, 76 years after Fred Perry’s 1936 Wimbledon win.

It was very sad that Emma’s parents could not be there in person at the proudest moment of their lives due to quarantine regulations. Whilst shedding a tear of joy for Emma Raducanu’s ‘impossible’ victory, I was saddened to think of the wasted youth in Sri Lanka. How things changed for the worse in my lifetime continues to puzzle me.

We belong to a fortunate generation. We had excellent free education which we made full use of. We had good teachers, not ‘private tuition masters’! We could plan our future as we knew we could get a place for higher education as long as we got the required grades. Our progress in universities was not hampered by student’s unions controlled by unscrupulous politicians with warped thinking. I started my practice of medicine a few months after I turned 23 and was a fully qualified specialist by the time I turned 30. I was not one for sports but did writing and broadcasting. Therefore, I can look back at my youth with a sense of satisfaction.

Unfortunately, we lacked a political class with a vision. Perhaps, this happened because most of the politicians except those at the time of independence took to politics by exclusion than by choice. Lucky politicians got ministries, not because of competence or education, but on the basis of caste, creed, religion, etc. There were no shadow ministers in the Opposition and with the change of government another set of misfits became ministers. For some time, the status quo was maintained by senior administrators who were trained for the job after being selected following a highly competitive examination.

Anti-elite campaigners succeeded. Permanent Secretaries became secretaries and Ministers became permanent as long as they did not upset their bosses! No proper planning was done and the slippery slope started. Then came the terrorists; the JVP destroyed a generation of Sinhala youth and the LTTE destroyed a generation of Tamil youth. Now, there is a greater danger affecting some youth the world over––Islamic extremism.

When I started training postgraduate trainees from Sri Lanka in Grantham Hospital, the first thing I noted was their age and started diplomatically finding out why it had taken them so long to get into PG training. I was shocked at the unwarranted delays they faced which were not due to any fault of theirs. All of them were brilliant but the system had failed them. We need to reinstall discipline so that we have schools and universities functioning properly, ensuring valuable years in life are not wasted.

Perhaps, we need to get out of our insular attitudes. There may be some lessons to learn from studying the background of these two talented players. Leyla Fernandez, born in September 2002 in Quebec, Canada has an Ecuadorian father and a Filipino mother. Emma Raducanu was born in November 2002 in Toronto, Canada but moved to the UK when she was two years, with her Romanian father and Chinese mother. Three months before winning the US Open, she got an A star in Mathematics and A in Economics, in the A level examination whilst attending a state school.

These two teenagers, 23 years old Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese and 25-years-old Ashleigh Barty, whose father is of indigenous Australian descent and mother is of English descent, joined to form a ‘fab-four in women’s tennis, dawning a new era in tennis as the era dominated by the fab-four; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic of the men’s game is drawing to an end. Considering their dexterity, women’s tennis may become more popular than men’s. Who knows!

It is well known that mixing of genes has an enhancing effect. It is also well established that inbreeding leads to many genetic defects. Perhaps, this is another reason why we should get rid of artificial divisions like caste. Although one would have expected that we would have a more enlightened attitude, the matrimonial columns of any newspaper give enough evidence that archaic institutions are still strong.

It is high time we stopped protecting archaic systems and moved forward. This will give an opportunity for the talents of our youth to be displayed and it is our duty to harness the wonder of youth for the advancement of the country.

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A neutral foreign policy in current context

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By Neville Ladduwahetty

During a recent TV interview, the Host asked the Guest whether Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is in “shambles”. The reason for the question was perhaps because of the lack of consistency between the statement made by the President and the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry relating to Foreign Policy. For instance, the first clear and unambiguous statement made by the newly elected President during his acceptance speech delivered in Sinhala in the holy city of Anuradhapura in which the only comment in English was that his Foreign Policy would be Neutral. This was followed during his address to Parliament titled: The Policy statement made by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka at the inauguration of the Fourth Session of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka on January 3, 2020, in which he stated: “We follow a neutral foreign policy”.

However, the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry has on different occasions stated that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is “Neutral and Non-Aligned”. Perhaps, his view may have been influenced by the President’s Manifesto, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, that stated that out of 10 key policies the second was “Friendly, Non-Aligned, Foreign Policy”

The question that needs to be addressed is whether both Neutrality and Non-Alignment could realistically coexist as policies to guide Sri Lanka in the conduct of its relations with other Nation-States. Since neutrality is a defined policy that has a legal basis and has a history that precedes Non-Alignment, there is a need for the Neutral State to conduct its relations with other States according to recognised codified norms with reciprocity. On the other hand, Non-Alignment was essentially a commitment to a set of principles by a group of countries that had emerged from colonial rule and wanted to protect their newly won independence and sovereignty in the context of a bi-polar world. The policy of Non-Alignment therefore, should apply ONLY to the members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Thus, Non-Alignment, being only a set of principles adopted by a group of like-minded sovereign States to protect and preserve their common self-interests, its conduct in respect of States outside the Non-Aligned Movement becomes unstated and therefore undefined. Neutrality instead is a clear policy that defines how a neutral country such as Sri Lanka conducts its relations with other countries, and how other countries relate with Sri Lanka primarily in respect of the inviolability of its territory.

NON-ALIGNED and the NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT

A statement dated August 22, 2012 by the External Affairs Ministry of the Government of India on the historical evolution of the Non-Alignment Movement states:

“The principles that would govern relations among large and small nations, known as the “Ten Principles of Bandung”, were proclaimed at that Conference (1955). Such principles were adopted later as the main goals and objectives of the policy of non-alignment. The fulfillment of those principles became the essential criterion for Non-Aligned Movement membership; it is what was known as “quintessence of the Movement until early 1990s” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “History and Evolution of Non-Aligned Movement, August 22, 2012).

“Thus, the primary objectives of the non-aligned countries focused on the support of self-determination, national independence and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States; opposition to apartheid; non-adherence to multilateral military pacts and the independence of non-aligned countries from great power or block influences and rivalries; the struggle against imperialism in all its forms and manifestations; the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, foreign occupation and domination; disarmament; non-interference into the internal affairs of States and peaceful coexistence among all nations; rejection of the use or threat of use of force in international relations; the strengthening of the United Nations; the democratization of international relations; socioeconomic development and the restructuring of the international economic system; as well as international cooperation on an equal footing” (Ibid).

These commitments did not deter countries such as India from violating the very principles India committed to in Bandung. To start with, India undermined the security of Sri Lanka by nurturing and supporting the training of non-state actors in late 1970s. Having made Sri Lanka vulnerable, India proceeded to coerce Sri Lanka to accept the Indo-Lanka Accord under which India was committed to disarm the militants. Having failed much to its shame, India violated the principle of the right of self-determination when it compelled Sri Lanka to devolve power to a merged North-East Province. All these actions amounted to a complete disregard and the mockery of the lofty principles of NAM undertaken to protect India’s self-interest. What is clear from India’s actions with regard to Sri Lanka is that when push comes to shove, self-interest overrides multi-lateral commitments.

In a similar vein Sri Lanka too, driven by self-interest, voted in support of UK’s intervention in the Falklands because of the debt owed by Sri Lanka to the UK for the outright grant given to construct the Victoria Hydro Power Scheme, although conscious of the fact that by doing so Sri Lanka was discrediting itself for not supporting the resolution initiated by NAM to oppose UK’s actions. These instances demonstrate that Non-Alignment as a Foreign Policy is subservient to self-interest thereby underscoring the fact that it cannot be a clear policy to guide how a State conducts itself in relation to other States.

Commenting on the issues of limitations imposed by being a Member of NAM Shelton E. Kodikara states: “For Sri Lanka as indeed for many of the smaller states among the non-aligned community, membership of the Non-Aligned Movement and commitment to its consensual decisions implied a widening of the institutional area of foreign policy decision-making, and collective decision-making also implied a limitation of the area of choice among foreign policy options…” (Foreign Policy of Sri Lanka, 1982, p. 151).

Therefore, arrangements with common interests such as those by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or any other group of countries with common interests, are mechanisms whose support and solidarity could be sought when needed to advance causes, as for instance when Sri Lanka advanced the concept of making the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace, and later in 2009 did so in Geneva. Notwithstanding such advantages, the hard reality is that Non-Alignment does not represent a clear statement as to how a State conducts its relations with Nation-States outside the Non-Aligned Movement. Therefore, it follows that Non-Alignment cannot be considered a statement of Foreign Policy by a State.

THE CURRENT CONTEXT

The statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of India cited above that the “quintessence” of the principles of the Non-Alignment lasted until early 1990s, was because the bi-polar world that was the cause for the formation of NAM had ceased to exist with the territorial break-up of one of the power blocks – the USSR. Consequently, the USSR lost its influence as a global power. In this vacuum what exists currently is one recognized global power with other powers aspiring to be part of a multi polar world. In the absence of recognized power blocks the need to align or not to align does not arise because Nation-States are free to evolve their own arrangements as to how they conduct their relations with each other. Consequently, the concept of Non-Alignment individually or collectively is a matter of choice depending on the particularity of circumstance, but not as a general Foreign Policy to address current challenges.

With China attempting to regain its lost territory and glory as a civilizational State following its century of shame, the geopolitical matrix has changed dramatically. The economic gains of China the likes of which are unprecedented alarmed the Western world to the point that the US deemed it necessary to adopt a policy of Pivot to Asia thereby making the Indian and Pacific Oceans the focus for great power engagement. This shift of focus has caused new strategic security alliances such as the Quad to emerge to contain the growing influence of China among the States in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With the Maldives joining India as the latest members of Quad, Sri Lanka has become isolated; a development that has brought Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean into sharp focus as being of pivotal strategic interest to great and emerging powers.

It is in this newly formed geopolitical context that Sri Lanka has to formulate its Foreign Policy that necessarily must be fresh if Sri Lanka is to equip itself to meet the new challenges created by a coalition of States to contain the rise of China. One option is to join the Quad. This could mean Sri Lanka distancing itself from engaging with China. The other option is to engage with China to the exclusion of the Quad. Either of these options would cause Sri Lanka to lose its independence and the freedom to protect its core values and interests. Therefore, the choice is not to settle for either option.

These unprecedented circumstances and challenges cannot be countered by harking back to the glory days of Non-Alignment, because major influences of the movement (NAM) such as India, have recently abandoned the original principles it subscribed to when it became a part of Quad. Therefore, although NAM still represents a body of likeminded interests with the ability to influence causes limited only to resolutions that further the interests of its members, it is not in a position to ensure the inviolability of the territory and the freedom of a State to make its

A neutral

own hard choices. It is only if a Nation-State proclaims that its relations with other Nation-States is Neutral that provisions codified under the Hague Conventions of 1907 that would entitle Sri Lanka to use the inviolability of its territory to underpin its relations with other Nation-States. Therefore, the Foreign Policy statement as made by the President to Parliament should guide Sri Lanka in its relations with States because it is relevant and appropriate in the geopolitical context that currently exists.

CONCLUSION

The Foreign Policy of a State is greatly influenced by its History and Geography. Historically Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy has been one of Non-Alignment. Furthermore, Sri Lanka participated in the Conference in Bandung in 1955; a date recognized as the beginning of the Non-Aligned Movement. Thus, although the geographic location of a State is well defined, the significance of its location could dramatically be transformed by geopolitical developments. The staggering economic revival of China from early seventies under the leadership of President Deng Xiaoping whose philosophy was to hide capacity, bide time and never claim leadership, was perhaps the reason for China’s tremendous transformations both economic and social, to proceed relatively unnoticed.

It was only with the announcement of President Xi Jinping’s policy of the Belt and Road Initiative announced in 2013, that the world came to realize that the power and influence of China was unstoppable. This policy resulted in China establishing its footprint in strategically located countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans by funding and constructing infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka happened to be one such country. The need for the U.S along with India, Australia and Japan to form a security alliance to contain the growing power and influence of China in the Indian and Pacific Oceans was inevitable.

India’s alliance with the US has shifted the balance in Asia causing China to be the stand alone great power in Asia. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned this new dynamic compels Sri Lanka to make one of four choices. One is to align and develop relations with the US and its allies. Second is to align and develop relations with China. The third is be Non-Aligned with either. The fourth and preferred option is to be Neutral not only with the Quad and China, but also with all other States, and develop friendly relations individually with all States.

The policy of Non-Alignment by a State is an external declaration of intent that a nation would not align itself with either a collective or individual center of power such as the Quad or China, in the conduct of its relations. Neutrality by a State, instead, means not only a statement that it would be Neutral when conducting relations with collective or individual centers of power and other States, but also how such a State expects all States to respect its Neutrality; a policy that would be in keeping with Sri Lanka’s unique strategic location in South Asia. Thus, while the former works outwards the latter works both ways. More importantly, how Neutrality works is governed by internationally codified laws that are in place to guide reciprocal relations.

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Comments on bits of past news; never forget 9/11 and welcome multiculturism

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The Sunday Island of September 12, thank goodness its print copy, showered grist on my waiting-to-word-process wrist. Hence first a couple of comments on titbits gathered from that paper; notwithstanding of great import.

Nuggets of news

‘President to attend 76th session of UN General Assembly’. Good that it is announced, as we dislike being made aware first along the vine of gossip, of visits of VVIPs overseas, which when not made publicly known, smack of underhand secrecy: Whatever for? The page one news item quoted above goes further: “The President has decided to undertake the visit with a least number of delegates in line with his principle…First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa will join the visit at her own expense.” Bravo! Great! Good example to set but hardly followed!

We heard the PM too went a-sojourning, breaking journey here and there. And then we saw pictures of him delivering a keynote address and later at lunch flanked by wife Shiranthi, GL opposite, a few others and second son. His destination? His task? His keynote address could easily have been zoomed as the meeting itself, an interreligious one, was virtual. Contingent? Said to be around 17. Methinks a visit to His Holiness, the Pope was envisaged but there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. No kissing the holy hand for Roman Catholic Mrs MR.

We well remember tales relayed of the huge contingent that accompanied Prez Mahinda Rajapaksa in chartered flights to the Big Apple and cars hired to take most in the group to their various pleasures or business spots. This car-hire alone enriched a Sri Lankan over there. The scattering sojourners would meet at cocktail parties and when the Prez of SL addressed the UN General Assembly. And we poor grounded persons paid for these junkets via taxes extracted.

How we wish the now Prez who sticks to his principles and lives, travels and advocates a simple life of non-extravagance, would extend that sensibility to his Cabinet, for instance. First, slash and send home most of them. Keep around 15, more than enough for a small country like ours, instead of creating separate ministries by divisions such as Batik and clay works, which offered state ministership to another loyalist, when they could come under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. That is a way of saving money for Sri Lanka.

Another way to reduce forex spending

Sanjeewa Jayaweera who knows what he is talking about, his father Stanley Jayaweera having been an outstanding Sri Lankan ambassador, offers very sound advice when he states, “Sri Lanka should close down most of our overseas missions as a step towards reducing public expenditure.” Cass wonders why this has not been thought of and advocated by opposition groups. The vociferous SJB should drop their stupid lament about banning the import of underwear and talk of a sensible step as advocated by Sanjeewa J: Reduce the number of overseas embassies often created to accommodate supporters and relatives or for personal benefit. An embassy or High Commission was opened during the presidency of Mahinda R in the Seychelles. There is a Bank of Ceylon Branch in that island, Cass believes, with a handful of resident Sri Lankans. How many Sri Lankans are over there? Cass quotes dear departed Sunil of ‘Gypsies’ fame when she mourns: ‘I don’t know why’. But Sunil may have known, with many others, hence his laments in song.

Karu, the statesman, speaks

‘Karu urges President to seize opportunity to rebuild the country together with the Opposition.’ A fairly long write up of what Karu Jayasuriya said, backed by The National Movement for Social Justice, chairman of which he is, succeeding Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, appeared in the said newspaper. If half the issues Karu sensibly raises are considered and implemented, more than half of Sri Lanka’s woes could be eliminated.

Paid for striking

The teachers’ strike which only helped immensely to spread COVID-19 while they, with nobodies joining in the spree, went protesting all over the island at a most ill-opportune moment on an issue two decades old. They were given full salaries during their long strike of work, work which was greatly reduced for some engaged in online teaching. Curse them Cass swears, all over again, and more their Stalinist leader.

Never forget

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on that day; wars were launched, and the carefree, fearless mood of the US changed with fear creeping in accompanied by a new mood: Islamophobia. This happened on September 11, 2001, on a sparkling morning when men of Al Qaeda hijacked four American commercial flights and two of them ploughed into the upper floors of the twin towers of the Trade Centre in Manhattan. One dove fairly innocuously into the Pentagon and the fourth, domestic flight 93, crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the hijackers tackled by crew and passengers.

Solemn, dignified ceremonies were held in all three sites of disaster for the anniversary, with Prez Biden and First Lady attending. In Manhattan, pairs of those who lost loved ones read out names and one in each pair expressed personal loss.

I watched the five-part Netflix documentary ‘Turning Point: 9/11 and the war on terror’ directed by Brian Knappenberger; stunned, saddened, and filled with admiration. TV critic Inkoo Kang rates this the best, “most honest and exhaustive retrospective”, of many produced for the 20th anniversary of the event.

Disasters, mostly of terrorism, must not be forgotten. Not only are they historical, but their impact can hardly ever be erased. It is the same with our Easter suicide bombing of churches. 9/11 in America has been avenged, wrongly or justifiably, mostly the latter, in the case of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the brilliant mind turned completely aberrated by a rabid corruption of Islam. Who could think up a plot to ram aeroplanes full of innocent passengers into iconic American buildings?

Bright sparks of joy and celebrations

Cursing, quibbling, prophesying Cassandra of the bitter tongue has been, of late, introducing snippets of glad tidings to her Friday conversation. Here’s one: A boost to multiculturalism which has added colour to the sports field and very much to the tennis court. Two teenaged dahlings played it out at the US Open Women’s Final. (Note: Cass did not use the usual term: ‘battled it out’. No, since the two obviously charming girls played fine tennis, smiling most of the time and exhibiting later they were friends). British Emma Raducanu, from Bromley, Kent, won the cup while Leylah Fernandez carried away the silver tray, both sweetly smiling all the way. They looked real girlish and unsophisticated for western late teenagers. Maybe it’s the mix of blood, and half of it eastern, that makes them so.

Emma Raducanu (born November 13, 2002) moved with parents Ian Raducanu of Bucharest, Romania, and Renee of Chinese descent from Canada to Britain when she was two years old. She skies and races and engages in other sports and seems intelligent too, earning two distinction passes in math and economics at her AL exam. She speaks Mandarin. World ranked at 338, she came up to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

Leylah Annie Fernandez, 19, too is of mixed parentage and lives in Quebec. Her father is Ecuadorian and a soccer player and her mother Filipino Canadian. She too is absolutely charming.

Brilliant spot

We are so proud of Dr. Malik Peiris who very recently won the 2021 Future Science Prize dubbed ‘China’s Nobel Prize’, with another Hong Kong-based scientist. The prize carries a cash award worth USD 1 million but more importantly, it was awarded for ground-breaking research on SARS-CoV-2.

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