Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy has evolved over 6 decades since Sri Lanka’s independence in1948 and has been guided and nurtured on the spirits of non-alignment from the inception.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy entered a new phase with the election of late S.W.R.D Bandaranaike as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1955. In the height of cold war, Sri Lanka exercised a universal approach in her foreign relations with rest of the world through its independent and non-aligned foreign policy. As a step towards broadening horizons in foreign relations and in a spirit of friendship and neutrality, the government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike established several diplomatic missions including in many communist countries in open manifestation of Sri Lanka’s non-aligned foreign policy.
The next stage of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy came about with the appointment of late Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the First woman Prime Minister of the world. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike played a key-role in the development of Non-aligned Movement and during her tenure as Prime Minister Sri Lanka’s non-aligned foreign policy fully unfolded due to Sri Lanka’s increased involvement in the Movement.
The 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970s saw increased recognition of Sri Lanka in the international stage due to Sri Lanka’s active role in international affairs such as the initiative of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to convene six Heads of States meeting to help resolve the Sino Indian border conflict, the peaceful settlement of the Kachchateevu issue in favour of Sri Lanka and the Sirima-Shasthri Pact. The Sirima-Shasthri Agreement resulted in the amicable settlement of the long-standing issue of citizenship of plantation workers of Indian origin in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka attracted worldwide recognition when it shared the 6th Non-Aligned Summit in 1976 in Colombo.
As a result of the need that was felt by the international community to find solutions to a variety of global and regional issues in the like of terrorism, climate change etc through multilateral approaches and in response to the rapidly dissolving bi-polar world the 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of various regional organizations.
Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has consistently advocated the importance of multilateral approaches in finding solutions to global issues. In addition to Sri Lanka’s membership in the United Nations (1955) and the Commonwealth, Sri Lanka has paid significant attention to her relations with neighbours and the regional organizations. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and is the current chair of the Association. The 15th SAARC Summit was held in Colombo under the leadership of Sri Lanka to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence. Sri Lanka has also led SAARC during the perod 1991-1993 (President Ranasinghe Premadasa) and 1998-1999 (President Chandrika Bandranaike Kumaratunga). Sri Lanka is the current chair of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) and is a member of the IOR-RAC and BIMSTEC. In 2008, Sri Lanka became a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Dialogue and is an active participant of the Shangri–la Dialogue, a forum which discusses the current security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy during the 1990’s and the first decade of 2000 has been guided by many issues. Sri Lanka’s national interest has been the primary guiding principle of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy during the last two decades. In recent times Sri Lanka’s foreign Policy has been molded by many considerations i.e. Sri Lanka’s national security and challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, trade and economic considerations, etc.
His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as the President of Sri Lanka in 2005. The tenure of President Mahinda Rajpaksa has consolidated the already strong, independent and historically non-aligned foreign policy with an added dignity and vigour. H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa has set out the outlines of foreign policy in his election manifesto “Mahinda Chintana” which became the government policy framework on being elected as the President of Sri Lanka.
According to “Mahinda Chintana” H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa has specifically declared that “I will follow a non-aligned, free and progressive foreign policy. Priority will be given in the political, defence, economic, trade and cultural spheres to the cordial and friendly relationships that we already have with countries in the Asian region including India, Japan, China and Pakistan. It is my belief that the United Nations Organization and the International Financial Institutions should be more democratic in their approach. We will actively intervene in this regard. It is my intention to strongly implement international treaties, declarations on anti-corruption. This will enable us to act under the international law against those found guilty of corruption, when engaging in trade with foreign countries or foreign institutions.”
During the height of Sri Lanka’s engagement against the LTTE terrorists from 2005-2009 Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy had to rapidly change and evolve in order to face the multi-dimensional challenges of the LTTE propagandists, activists and sympathizers abroad. These challenges manifested in the forms of disinformation and distortion campaign about Sri Lanka including allegations of serious human rights violations by the Government and the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka as well as the targeting of Sri Lankan citizens and Sri Lanka property abroad including the premises of diplomatic missions.
The implementation of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in alignment with Sri Lanka’s national interests and priorities during the tenure of H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first term of presidency resulted in Sri Lanka successfully facing number of challenges in the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Human Rights Council during 2009.
There has been increased bilateral cooperation with India, Pakistan, China and Japan in line with the manifestation in Mahinda Chintana to give priority to Sri Lanka’s relationships these countries. Sri Lanka has also initiated new diplomatic relations with many countries in view of the changing world order and economic and political realities. New missions which have been established in recent times include a diplomatic mission in Libya, Consulate General in Shanghai and a representation in the territory of Palestine.
In his manifesto “Mahinda Chintana Vision for the Future” H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa has declared his policy framework for the second Presidential term. This manifesto which is an expansion of the “Mahinda Chintana” policy framework of H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first Presidential term declares his vision for Sri Lanka as the emerging wonder of Asia. H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa goes on to add that his objective for Sri Lanka in the next six years (during his second term in office) is to transform Sri Lanka into a strategically important economic centre of the world, through development of Sri Lanka as Naval, Aviation, Commercial, Energy and knowledge Hub serving a link between the East and the West. He has also resolved to increase the per capita income of Sri Lanka to US $ 4,000 thereby placing Sri Lanka among the mid-income nations.
Accordingly the Foreign Policy priorities of Sri Lanka will continue to change and be guided by the national and international priorities of Sri Lanka.