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New-Old Foreign Policy?



by Dr Sarala Fernando

Foreign policy is usually defined in terms of the international promotion and protection of the country’s national interests which includes the projection of the country image abroad to attract aid, trade and investment cooperation. Today, with rising nationalism and in the backdrop of de-globalization, more than ever before, foreign policy-making is looking inward as seen most visibly in President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign pledge. However, as practitioners can testify, “reliability” and “continuity” are also hallmarks of a robust foreign policy. This is why the style of “disruption”, familiar in business strategy and characteristic of Mr Trump, does not sit well with traditional diplomacy and has caused consternation and criticism of the US, not least from long time partners like Canada and the EU.

Yet to be fair to Mr Trump, he is carrying out his election pledges, building the controversial wall on the border with Mexico, re-negotiating or taking the US out of multilateral agreements which were considered unfavourable to US interests whether on trade or climate change, stopping funding of UN organizations (like WHO) whose operational behavior was considered inimical to US interests, finding a “permanent” solution to the Middle East question including by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, working towards bringing American soldiers back home from old theatres of war like the Korean peninsular and Afghanistan etc. Despite the criticism from home and abroad, President Trump has persisted in his roller coaster course, probably propelled by the need to cultivate his main constituent voting blocs before the November Presidential election, ignoring the calls for global accommodation.

In this background, it is perhaps not surprising that on the heels of resounding election results, reversals on foreign policy appear to be also taking place in Sri Lanka. However the problem is that before the elections, there had been a general consensus among all the political parties as to the value of Sri Lanka’s traditional non-aligned foreign policy. President Gotabaya’s visionary speech at Ruwanvelisaya had moreover outlined a policy of “neutrality” to avoid being sucked into power rivalry, friendship- with- all in the expectation of reciprocal respect for our sovereignty (mutuality principle) and open to the need for international cooperation including with the UN on the SDGs . This speech should be made available on the Foreign Ministry website as it sets out important foreign policy objectives.

In that context, eyebrows were raised in Sri Lanka when newly appointed Foreign Secretary Admiral Professor Jayanath Colombage in the course of his first press interviews referred to Sri Lanka’s new strategic security policy as having an “India first” approach while adding that Colombo would remain open to dealing with other key players for “economic development”. Speculation is rife whether this means a departure from non-alignment which traditionally includes such provisions as non- participation in foreign military pacts, non- stationing of military bases and foreign troops on its soil etc. With Maldives recently entering into a security pact with the US, the question many are asking is whether the ‘new policy’ pronouncement by Foreign Secretary Colombage is a precursor to Sri Lanka signing the pending security and development agreements with the US (ACSA, SOFA and MCC) which had become so controversial in the eyes of the public. This speculation is also linked to the recent signing by the Maldives of a security pact with the US. It is said that India had been supportive of this new development despite some press commentary in India about the “crowding” of security interests in the Indian Ocean. India has lately become a major source of funds for the Maldives, thereby countering the early Chinese influence.

To give the affable Foreign Secretary his due, perhaps the phrase “putting India first” was just awkward, suggesting a courteous “kowtow” to a big neighbour, intended to reassure India that its security concerns would be addressed on a priority basis. However, with regard to the well known Indian complaint of Chinese submarines arriving in Sri Lanka unannounced, could these concerns have been better addressed by enacting a transparent and clear policy on port calls as suggested by former Foreign Secretary Palihakkara?

The central problem here is that for many years Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations with India have been characterized as driven more by competition than by cooperation on a gamut of issues such that people are just plain distrustful of our giant neighbour. Soon after independence there were the issues of illicit immigration and contraband smuggling from India, the settling of the maritime border, the disputed sovereignty over Kachchativu and citizenship for the indentured labour from India. In the last three matters, bilateral diplomatic negotiations, complex and lengthy were eventually brought to conclusion, with India being persuaded to move on some of the more difficult points of contention such as its initial refusal to take back any of its citizens. I will not touch on the troubled relationship during the conflict years which my colleague John Gooneratne has amply documented in his book as the “Decade of Confrontation”. While the bilateral relationship can be managed, for better or worse, there remains the need to accept that, looking back on the diplomatic history, more often than not, respective national interests have diverged, so that careful identification of our national interests and building domestic public support for foreign policy changes, becomes key.

Centre-State politics have complicated India’s relations with its neighbours as pointed out by many academics and some commentators have argued that, of late, bilateral relations have deteriorated over new legislation brought in by the Modi government altering the status of Jammu and Kashmir, thereby affecting Pakistan, imposing restrictions affecting the residence status of those from neighboring states such as Bangladesh and developments on defining of the border affecting Nepal. But the Modi government has the strength of its parliamentary majority in Delhi which enables it to divorce foreign policy-making from centre-state politics. Perhaps this is why India has recently been able to offer Sri Lanka not only military training but also arms and equipment, judging by press reports on the prospects for increased bilateral security cooperation.

This leaves observers wondering whether Foreign Secretary Colombage’s “kowtow” had domestic political undertones and was intended to soften India’s stance with regard to the current campaign in Sri Lanka to amend the 13th Amendment? However India has always reiterated in its official statements the call for a full implementation of 13A which arose out of the 1987 Indo- Sri Lanka Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka.


On this matter, it should be remembered that India drives a hard bargain in respect of bilateral relations with its neighbours and it is difficult to see how they will retreat from the 1987 Agreement which has been interpreted as imposing a “lock” on Sri Lanka’s security policy and the use of its ports through the “secret” Annexures. One does not talk much today of these Annexures because they reflect India’s anxiety at the time over the US presence and its military bases in the Indian Ocean, which position has been totally reversed in the current era with India and the US becoming strategic security partners.

There has also been recent references in Sri Lanka to the 1971 Indian Ocean as Zone of Peace proposal made by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to the UN. However, this proposal has a historic context being linked to the expulsion of the indigenous inhabitants of Diego Garcia to make way for an American naval base. The IOPZ initiative eventually lost steam in the UN coming up against the doctrines of freedom of navigation on the high seas for all ships guaranteed by the 1958 Law of the Sea Convention. In Sri Lanka too there was opposition by those who argued that IOPZ was designed to keep extra- regional naval powers out of the Indian Ocean, and would have the effect of leaving room for regional powers to hold sway, at least two of them holding nuclear weapons. A different situation existed in South East Asia where ZOPFAN or Nuclear Free Zone of Peace worked as a confidence building measure for mutual security among members of ASEAN precisely because none of the ASEAN countries held nuclear weapons.

There is also difficulty in accepting Foreign Secretary Colombage’s view that there could be a separation between security and economic interests in developing bilateral relations with nations. India finally moved towards liberalizing its economy in the early 1990’s and since then it has been possible to build synergies with Sri Lanka, as seen in the ISLFTA and increased investment etc. However, looking back at the time of the armed conflict, which country helped us with our security needs, from planes to arms, ammunition and equipment ? Which “old friend” stood with us at the UN ready to help us even in the Security Council if need should arise when human rights attacks inspired by elements of the Tamil diaspora, were launched by the West over the conduct of the war? Can we forget the lessons of history while moving forward the “new” on the “old” security policy?

With much talk today of the impending new Cold War and the looming conflict between the US and China, priority should instead be given to carefully balance both bilateral relationships and avoid any impression of “taking sides”. In this background, there has been some speculation about the new diplomatic appointments to India and China. On the one hand, a former Minister, close to President Gotabaya, with strong personal connections to the US, given Cabinet rank ( a first in Sri Lanka) and posted to New Delhi as opposed to a charming light-weight to Beijing, whose appointment as Foreign Secretary broke the string of professional appointments from within the Foreign Service. While Delhi may be pleased to see the new appointment as a downgrading of the Sri Lanka- China relationship, what would be the reaction in Beijing?

( –  re ref to Palitha Kohona as reputed to have been a representative for a Chinese  company – I just thought it sounds “catty” . Although I saw this info in various press articles previously before the appointment was announced, in the present context it seems to have been wiped out of the cv etc on the net so best leave it out.

(Sarala Fernando PhD, retired from the Foreign Ministry as Additional Secretary and her last Ambassadorial appointment was as Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. She writes now on foreign affairs, diplomacy and protection of heritage).

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Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces



Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.


In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.


President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review



The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.



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Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY



The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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