Sumanasiri Liyanage, in The Island, 19 sept 2011
Stalin’s materialist and modernist rationality that either transcended or disregarded completely ethnic and nationalist differences failed to see a reason why a small island next to big Indian land mass existed as a separate sovereign nation. For Stalin, it was illogical. Although we do not need to accept the modernist logic and rationality of Stalin, his question brings us to an undeniable reality, the geo-political proximity ofSri LankatoIndia. The presence of kin/irredentist community and cultural affinities has made the fact of proximity more complicated and pronounced. Hence, forSri Lanka,Indiais unique andIndiacannot be compared with any other country irrespective of their help and assistance offered toSri Lanka. One of the clear elements of the present government’s foreign policy is this acceptance ofIndia’s uniqueness (using President Rajapaksa’s metaphor, the relative and friends) when it comes to its relations with the rest of the world. Late J R Jayewardene made in his first years of rule a terrible blunder disregarding totally this geo-political reality.IndiaforSri Lankais ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ at the same time. Hence, the first principle of the Sri Lankan foreign policy is determined by the geo-political proximity to and cultural affinity withIndiaso that the designers of Sri Lankan foreign policy have to keep in mind thatSri Lanka’s relations with the rest of the world should not be in conflict in substantial sense with the Indian foreign policy.
The question of China-Sri Lanka relations has been raised for two reasons. First, there has always been tension between India and Chinaand in recent years it has increased as both countries are aspiring to super power status. In the case of China, no doubt, this objective is very much pronounced. So, there is reason to surmise that our close relations with China disturb and are not to the liking of India. This argument has some validity asIndiatends to think that China is gradually encirclingIndiawith the help ofIndia’s neighbouring countries. We witnessed that during the Cold War period particularly during Indira Gandhi period, India thought of the US in the same way. AlthoughIndiahas increased trade and economic relations with China in recent years, it is clear thatIndiabecomes suspicious when the neighbouring countries develop similar relations withChina. Because of the nature of capitalistic development in China, one may easily conclude that the logic of capital will eventually transformChinainto another imperialist country like the US, and other Western countries. Although this possibility cannot be denied conclusively, at the moment evidence shows thatChina’s relations with the developing world is somewhat different. This may be due to the fact that at this momentChinagives pride of place to political considerations so that the imperialist logic of capital is bracketed.Sri Lankahas to be careful and concerned with the complex dynamic that operates in the Indian Ocean region.
Secondly, China-Sri Lanka relations have been questioned by pro-US groups in Sri Lanka as Sino-Lanka close ties would go against the USi nterests in the region. The US knows that it is losing its position in the world in general and in the Indian Ocean region in particular. The US has been the principal de-stabilizer inWest Asia. Although there have been internal factors, the US has been the key factor in de-stabilizingPakistan. I project ifIndiacontinues with its recent pro-US policies,Indiawill be in serious trouble in the coming years as anti-US forces would act together although their interests are in conflict and contradictory. In my opinion, there has been a serious imbalance in Indian foreign policy in recent years. The pro-US groups in Sri Lanka raise anti-China propaganda as part of theUScampaign against China in the region. In my opinion, this is not a serious issue that has to be taken into account in making Sri Lankan foreign policy. It appears that the foreign policy makers in Sri Lanka consciously or unconsciously are trying to articulate Sri Lankan foreign policy taking all these new developments into consideration. This is a new world, or at least new world is emerging. So there should be new thinking as regards the Sri Lankan foreign relations.
The writer teaches Political Economy at the University of Peradeniya. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org