Sri Lankan’s economy is not standalone, but is interlinked with foreign policy, says SJB parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne.
"Whilst our internal decision making is decisive, international decision making and events play a key role in our economy, lifestyle and security, more so, because we are a small island nation," he says.
Wickramaratne is of the view that the government must follow a multi-aligned foreign policy, whilst refraining from leaning towards any policy that poses a threat to the security of our nearest neighbour, India.
Addressing the press conference held on Sunday at the office of the Leader of the Opposition, he further said that our foreign policy must follow law and international standards, such as that of the Charter of the United Nations.
Highlighting a few key components, he stressed on rejecting force on others, peaceful resolution and settlement of conflict, acknowledging and supporting sovereignty of nation states and the adherence of human rights – all of which he emphasised, should be key pillars of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.
“Today, national security is not solely a military endeavor, but has great political and economic relevance. We must pursue peaceful coexistence with our neighbours and reject military alliances, taking the lead in promoting regional integration. We must evolve from non-aligned to a timely multi-aligned foreign policy. In the current context, our agenda must be driven by economic survival and progression, however, the MP alleged that the Sri Lankan government has been inconsistent in its foreign policy causing tension with friendly countries since of late, a path leading to economic suicide,” Wickramaratne said.
"We must not forget that more than 10% of Sri Lanka’s population is based overseas for economic reasons. Policy that we adopt has a direct impact on this segment of our people. Albeit being a small nation, we must endeavor to be one of the key hubs and a strong player in the region."
We must work toward regional security, peace and stability. Just last week, Sri Lanka assumed Chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Our territorial waters are 8 times our land extent. It befalls on us to maintain peace in the Indian Ocean’s waters. We must also strengthen our relationships with countries encompassing the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) which is an economic initiative. Sri Lanka must diversify its export markets working bilaterally and with multilateral economic initiatives. It is unfortunate that SAARC is nonfunctional to a greater degree.
We must take lead to revive the orgnisation - SAARC nations are home to more than 30% of the world’s population and accounts for US$ 4.1 Trillion of the world’s economy. We must also be more active with BIMSTEC, The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.
Eran spoke of the relevance of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy in the current context. In relation to the escalated conflicts in the middle east and then in terms of the more recent regional unease.
He is of the view that Sri Lanka holds responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in our territorial waters and that of the Indian Ocean ensuring that no neighbouring sovereign state is tensed in terms of its security. He referred to the recent conversations that India and Sri Lanka had on the naval port of call of a Chinese vessel in Colombo.
Wickramaratne made reference to our longstanding relationship with China, especially China’s support at the time when the country was war-torn fighting terrorism.
He also spoke positively of China’s invite extended to President Wickremesinghe to partake in the dialogue on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s foremost international endeavor.
He further elaborated on the economic consequences. Of the state of bankruptcy of Sri Lanka, our scrambling efforts to restructure our debt and China’s key role in our economy in tatters. Sri Lanka assumes responsibility of the debt that it’s taken, unwisely utilised on infrastructure with no ROI and the role of the Rajapakse’s in the downfall of our country. We must vocalise, especially the intellectuals and professionals of the country must hold the Rajapakse regime accountable for the disastrous consequences of poor economic decision making and their governance.
Referring to the current international conflict, Eran emphasised that Sri Lanka vehemently reject terrorism, having experienced terrorism firsthand. Sri Lanka also concedes a state’s right and responsibility to counter terrorism.
However, the state must act within the ambit of the law. The attempt to move 1.2million people (twice the population of the city of Colombo) within 24hrs from Gaza is a humanization tragedy and violation of human rights. Eran hopes that those who still believe in peaceful co-existence will triumph against fundamentalists on both sides and resolution through mediation and discussion will bring about peace. Sri Lanka supports the peaceful co-existence of Israel and Palestine as recongnised by the United Nations.
Wickramaratne further elaborated on the effects of the said conflict on Sri Lanka and its economy. The highest proportion of Sri Lankan’s living and working overseas are based in the middle east. Their security, possible displacement and subsequent economic consequences to the people and eventually to the country in terms of foreign exchange inward remittances is significant.
Our exports to the middle east are directly impacted by the instability in the region. Freight and insurance costs hike during tension, driving the price up where our products are no longer competitive in the marketplace. With the possibility of the conflict expanding in the region, our cost of fuel will hike, with direct impact on our transport, industry (thereby pricing in the export markets) and overall cost of living in the country will rise. We lose access to markets, in the case of tea, one of our primary exports, 70% of the tea industry is comprised of small holders.
He concluded with the idea that we are one nation with one Foreign Policy and that we must work towards peace and stability in the region of which Sri Lanka must assume a lead role.