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Sri Lanka - Foreign Relations

Sri Lanka's first prime minister, Don Stephen Senanayake, had committed the country to a "middle path" of nonalignment to avoid entanglement in superpower rivalries. But non-alignment has had its modulations in the decades since independence. UNP governments were generally friendlier to the West than those formed by the left-leaning SLFP.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike deeply distrusted Washington's intentions and cultivated close and friendly relations with China in the early 1960s, a time when that country was vocally committed to the worldwide export of "wars of national liberation." Jayewardene gave Sri Lanka's foreign policy a decidedly Western orientation after he came to power in July 1977. This change was motivated largely by the desire to secure aid and investment in order to promote his government's economic liberalization program. At the same time, Sri Lanka shared with Western nations apprehensions concerning India's apparent determination to make the Indian Ocean region an Indian sphere of influence and its preservation of close ties with Moscow. Although the 1972 constitution declared the nation a republic and ended its dominion status within the Commonwealth of Nations, Sri Lanka, like India, remained a Commonwealth member in the later 1980s. The country also belonged, like other South Asian states, to the seven-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a group formed in the early 1980s to deliberate on regional problems. SAARC provided a context in which South Asian states other than India could discuss the Sri Lankan ethnic issue. But few observers regarded SAARC's role in any resolution of the crisis as anything more than peripheral. Sri Lanka traditionally follows a nonaligned foreign policy but has been seeking closer relations with the United States since December 2001. It participates in multilateral diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations, where it seeks to promote sovereignty, independence, and development in the developing world. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It also is a member of the Commonwealth, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the Colombo Plan. Sri Lanka continues its active participation in the NAM, while also stressing the importance it places on regionalism by playing a strong role in SAARC.

Sri Lanka's geopolitical position has evolved considerably. As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government's handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the US Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2012 19:19:10 ZULU