Lanka not for confrontation with Western powers over political changes: Foreign Minister Amunugama

Lanka not for confrontation with Western powers over political changes: Foreign Minister Amunugama

Colombo, November 10 ( The newly established Sri Lankan government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will not lock horns with the Western powers who have been critical of its drastic political actions in the past week or so, Foreign Minister Dr.Sarath Amunugama has said.

Speaking to in the context of the government’s actions such as the controversial dismissal of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the prorogation of parliament, and its subsequent dissolution, Dr.Amunugama said that criticisms from the Western world have to be taken in the stride and its concerns addressed within the framework of Lanka’s law and constitution and not by assuming a confrontational posture.

The new Foreign Minister said that apart from defending the constitutionality of its recent political actions, Sri Lanka should ground them in its long history as a democratic country having introduced universal franchise as early as 1931.

“In our dialogue with Western democracies we should lay stress  on the fact that both the West and Sri Lanka share the old Jeffersonian democratic values,” he suggested.

Sri Lanka should understand the Western world’s political compulsions. For example in the UK, where Sri Lankan Tamils are an important part of the electorate in about 45 constituencies, MPs have to voice their concerns if they are to  get their votes. In a country like the UK, where parliamentary constituencies are small, a candidate can lose an election by a few hundred votes,” the Foreign Minister, who holds a doctorate in Social Anthropology, pointed out.

Dr.Amunugama noted that Sri Lanka’s equation with the US is better now with Donald Trump at the helm, as compared to the situation under President Barack Obama who tended to stress domestic human rights issues in his relations with Sri Lanka and other developing countries.

On the contrary, Trump is a nationalist with “USA First” approach.This  suits developing countries like Sri Lanka which are concerned about external forces violating their sovereignty. Trump had gone to the extent of withdrawing the US from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“Sri Lanka should be friendly to the US and the EU,” Dr.Amunugama said, talking about a veiled threat of sanctions made by the EU Ambassador Tun-Lai Margue in an interaction with President Sirisena.

The US and EU are major markets for Sri Lankan goods.

Dr. Amunugama categorically denied that there has been any threat of economic sanction from the US or EU. “There has been no threat whatsoever,” he said.

And even if there is a decision to impose sanctions, “they cannot be imposed at will,” he added. The procedure for imposing sanctions is complicated.

Contradicting new reports that the US and EU could put their aid programs on hold due to the political crisis in Sri Lanka, Dr.Amunugama said that nothing of this kind had been mentioned in talks with these entities.

The US has not withdrawn the US$ 500 million pledged to Sri Lanka under the Millennium Challenge Fund for economic and social development projects, he said.

“Nothing has changed on the ground but the US State Department is watching developments in Sri Lanka,” the Minister said.

Even the EU Ambassador had not delivered a demarche in protest against recent political actions in the island. Duty concessions to Sri Lanka under the EU’s GSP-Plus scheme are not easy to lift as there are 27 counts on which evaluation has to be made.

Western diplomats only expressed concern and wanted the government to arrest deterioration of the situation in the interest of democracy, stability, economic development and ethnic reconciliation.

Lanka’s stand has been that it is working entirely within the framework of the country’s law and constitution.

On the possible impact of sanctions on Sri Lanka, Dr.Amunugama said that Sri Lankan entrepreneurs had managed to survive the withdrawal of GSP Plus concessions from 2010 to 2017 by sending their goods to the EU through other countries.

In fact, garment exports to the EU increased in the absence of GSP Plus concessions though the rate of growth of exports had come down while those of other competing countries had increased during that period.

Even the EU ban on Sri Lankan fish (due to the use of illegal and unauthorized methods of fishing) was beaten by routing fish exports through third countries.

Further on sanctions, the Lankan Foreign Minister, who had been a Finance Minister in an earlier regime, said that the US itself does not go for full sanctions.

He cited the Trump Administration’s granting of six months waiver to eight countries including India and China in the matter sanctions on Iranian oil sales.

President Sirisena meets foreign envoys on october 29, 2018.

Latest Reactions of Western Nations

President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament on Friday has drawn criticism from Western powers, including the United States and Britain.

Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday night, only five days before it was due to reconvene and also called a general election for January. 5.

The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in a tweet that the United States was “deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis.” It said democracy needed to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.

Mark Field, the British minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, tweeted his concern about the dissolution of parliament days before it was due to be reconvened.

‘As a friend of Sri Lanka, the UK calls on all parties to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes,’ Field said.

Canada’s Foreign Policy twitter feed said that it was ‘deeply concerned’ about the decision and referred to the risks to reconciliation work after the nation’s civil war.

‘This further political uncertainty is corrosive to Sri Lanka’s democratic future and its commitments on reconciliation and accountability,’ it said.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed both concern and disappointment in a statement, saying the move ‘undermines Sri Lanka’s long democratic tradition and poses a risk to its stability and prosperity’.

(The featured image at the top shows is that of Dr.Sarath Amunugama)