Sri Lanka Lobby & Foreign Policy By Asanga Abeygoonasekara
Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement with the first women Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike depicting her courageous leadership to the entire world not being a spectator but playing an active role in global arena. Her foreign policy outcomes can be explained only when interests, values and power are combined, a rich understanding of her beliefs. It was a period when small nations had to commit allegiance between US or Soviet power blocs.
We now live in a Multiplex world. After the fall of Berlin Wall a unipolar world order was created by US and then gradually moved to a multipolar world with emerging China and many other nations acquiring nuclear capacity. According to Prof. Amitav Acharya at Yale University, the causation of a multiplex world includes many powerful individual groups apart from governments. On Dec 7th this year marks the 75th anniversary of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour which killed 2400 Americans, the day US declared war against imperial Japan and fascist movement. After this the second biggest attack was 9/11 which got US to fight the present day Al-Qaeda and IS.US foreign policy could take dramatic adjustments with President elect Donald Trump. He has already proven from a recent phone call to Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen which has not been standard practice since 1979. China was threatened by this and expressed their displeasure over the incident. Trump’s advisor clearly explained he was well briefed and was aware of what he was doing.
In a threatened neo-liberal world order, Sri Lanka should craft our foreign policy to suite the present day environment to benefit the nation. President Sirisena’s Government has clearly balanced the West and the East. The Asia centric foreign policy spelled out by the President is clearly looking first towards Asia since we are a nation in Asia and balancing the rest. It is an equidistant foreign policy with global powers including the neighboring India, China and US .While we gain support from foreign nations at Governmental level we should work towards gaining support from 3 million Sri Lankan diaspora which includes Sinhalese, Tamils and all other ethnic groups overseas.
“The Lobbyʺ is a term for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to achieve a positive outcome for their nation of birth. The use of this term is not meant to suggest that ʺthe Lobbyʺ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Such as certain sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora who are yet engaged in lobbying for a separate homeland “Eelam”. Diaspora could bend the residing nation’s policy and view, so that it advances Sri Lanka’s interests. From voting for candidates, writings, financial contribution and supporting individuals who could contribute to achieve the goals are among its key functionalities.
This is pivotal for three reasons. First, the Sri Lankan diaspora may be re-aligned with the county which will help to project both the State and groups image. What we require is a re-alignment strategy opening strong communication channels for whoever is disconnected from Sri Lanka due to various reasons. Second, the diaspora could act as a powerful lobby for the challenges Sri Lankan diaspora is a huge asset untapped to lobby for the nation. Third, Diaspora could be a huge support to achieve economic prosperity if we open the doors to expats with professional expertise to join the ailing government enterprises and assist other sectors of the economy and bring investment.
The Israeli diaspora who is a much powerful larger group which receives the largest donations and assistance from US and influence US foreign policy is a good example but with a different magnitude in terms of population percentage. This was clearly explained by Chicago School Scholar John Mearsheimer and Stephen M.Walt of Harvard JFK School in their brilliant thesis “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, a paper worth revisiting. “Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one‐fifth of America’s foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.” this was possible because of the strong Israel lobby in US. The overseas Indian diaspora is a further example of a group who contributed immensely to support Indian economy especially Indian ICT sector. The second largest student population in US is from India with 165918 and China the largest 328547 students.
The Sri Lankan diaspora should be looked at in a positive sense and not as a destructive force. The communal riots in different times of our history created a brain drain and even today its evident many youngsters leaving due to political uncertainty and economic condition. This is a huge wealth of resource lost for the nation. The diaspora could be used to lobby for the nation rather than spending millions for lobby firms. My recent conversation with a Canadian Sri Lankan who was living in Canada for 32 years and a young Sri Lankan from US who has returned to do something but still could not find any opportunity made me realize the wealth of talented Sri Lankans we could use for nation building.With global power recalibrating, it is important that Sri Lanka takes strategic steps in readjusting its foreign policy in a multiplex world and including the important Sri Lankan diaspora.
Rather than allocating resources in wasteful projects of beautification of the City by building the tallest Christmas tree in the world and re-painting the yellow pedestrian crossing lines to white, it is also important to focus on critical issues the common people and the nation is facing.