By, Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, November 13: The media hype on Presidential Elections and General Elections in powerful countries has made almost every citizen an amateur analyst of international affairs and this has resulted in people worrying to death over real or imaginary adverse affects of regime changes abroad.
The most interesting pastime of Sri Lankans is to follow the General Elections in India every five years and Presidential Elections in the United States every four years and come out with pragmatic or imaginary – sometimes most astonishing – predictions about the impact on Sri Lanka.
There is no denying that it is essential for a country to closely monitor the political developments in other powerful nations and to analyze possible impacts. However, it is most essential for a country to formulate its foreign policy in such a manner that would ensure changes in leadership of global or regional powers would not adversely affect the country. No country wishes to compromise its sovereignty and territorial integrity due to the intervention of big powers.
Not only Sri Lanka, but the entire world can be happy about the victory of Joe Biden at the US Presidential Election as there was an apprehension about the actions of President Donald Trump, who took many ad hoc decisions, adversely affecting harmony and cohesion in international relations. Furthermore, the presidency of Trump was considered a disruptive period in global politics and his unpredictable actions such as stopping contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) and sudden withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) were detrimental to healthcare and human rights of the people of many countries.
Not only South Asia, but also the South American countries could be happy about Biden’s choice of running mate – Kamala Harris, who will be the next Vice President. Kamala Harris was born to a Jamaican-American father and an Indian Tamil mother, both immigrants who met in the US. Her mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer researcher and a bio-medical scientist by profession. Kamala succeeded as an attorney and became the first female District Attorney of San Francisco, first female Attorney General of California and first Afro-Indian-American in the US Senate.
In her victory speech, she made special mention about black women who contributed to the struggle for suffrage, equality and civil rights. Her stance on the ‘green new deal’ and her vow to keep oil and gas companies accountable were plus points that drove the Biden–Harris team to victory.
What Sri Lanka seeks is, as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated in his congratulatory twitter message to Biden–Harris, cooperation with the United States. “Look forward to working closely with you to strengthen the bilateral relations between our two countries,” President Rajapaksa has said in his tweet. “The Government and the people of Sri Lanka join me in extending our warmest congratulations to President-elect @JoeBiden and Vice-President-elect @KamalaHarris on this victory. We look forward to working together towards an even more robust, mutually-rewarding partnership.”
The ardent desire of the neutral countries in the world is to see a global order where states are respected on the principle of respect for sovereignty and a world in which rule-based multilateral trading systems are respected and international laws and institutions are upheld. They also believe that the superpowers in the world should resolve their differences without any confrontation and muscle–flexing, or pressurizing other countries to choose sides.
Many analysts view US–Lanka relations only in the context of US–China relations and India–China relations. The main reason for that is that Trump felt containment of China should be the top priority. However, Biden’s approach to China is different from Trump’s. Biden has acknowledged that China is making massive investments in energy, infrastructure, and technology that threaten to leave the US behind. He would attempt to reverse this trend to be able to face China credibly and peacefully. Under such a policy, Sri Lanka could derive certain advantages by speedily implementing plans underlined during the recent visit of the outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena gave a list of areas in which US investments will be welcome. The listed included: trade, investment, and tourism; assistance for building capacity of Sri Lankan business; enhancing bilateral cooperation in fields such as ICT, cyber-security, science, technology, and innovation; power (LNG) sector; energy sector and railways sector (locomotives); greater access to the US market including through the expansion of the US–GSP List. These could be pursued vigorously under a Biden administration.
One of the apprehensions expressed by Sri Lankans is that the Tamil separatist Diaspora in the US would try to influence Kamala Harris to get US support to achieve their separatist goals. This fear is mainly due to the fact that Kamala Harris is partly Tamil. It is very clear that she was selected as running-mate by Biden because for two factors – (1) she is a woman, and she would be able to woo women votes and, (2) as a woman of Black American–Asian ethnicity, she would draw the support of those two communities.
President Biden is likely to give the task of repairing heavily damaged relations between the Whites and the Blacks in the US to Harris and that would be her major role as Vice President. Under the circumstances, she is not likely to play a major foreign policy role.
Clearly elaborating the policy of the Lankan government, Foreign Secretary, Admiral (Prof.) Jayanath Colombage said that Sri Lanka will not cede control of strategic assets to another country. “Sri Lanka is not a piece of real estate and so our national interests must be respected. We don’t want to be caught up in a major power game. We don’t want to choose between countries. We don’t want to be on the bandwagon with one against the other. We need to maintain our own strategic autonomy in the Indian Ocean,” he said, giving a clear outline of the foreign policy while speaking at the Pathfinder Foundation-convened Indian Ocean Security Conference on Tuesday (November 10).
Participating in the same webinar, American Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz said that the United States will not impose its will on Sri Lanka or any other country. “As a friend and partner, the US seeks to promote an inclusive approach to national sovereignty, independence and sustainable development,” she said and added, “This is a call to rally around principles rather than a request to make alliances.”
Going by the policy pronouncements made by US President-Elect Joe Biden during the polls campaign and Ambassador Teplitz this week, it seems that Sri Lanka can hope for better understanding from, and fruitful bilateral cooperation with, the Biden Administration when it takes office on January 20, 2021.