By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having commended the ruling UNP-SLFP coalition for acting swiftly and decisively to restore relationship with US-led Western powers immediately after the January 2015 presidential polls, former Foreign Secretary (FS) H. M. G. S. Palihakkara strongly cautioned the administration against undermining Sri Lanka’s relationship with other countries, particularly China.
The veteran career diplomat asserted that Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to antagonise any particular country or group of nations.
Palihakkara was on Sirasa ‘Pathikada’ anchored by journalist Bandula Jayasekera, who himself held vital diplomatic postings during the previous administration.
Former FS Palihakkara said that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had taken remedial measures to improve bilateral relations with the US. However, the government hadn’t acted wisely vis-a-vis China, Palihakkara said, while asserting the issue was handled ‘roughly’ at the expense of longstanding relationship between Sri Lanka and China.
Having relinquished the post of the FS, Palihakkara served the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) during President Rajapaksa’s administration before being appointed as Northern province Governor by President Maithripala Sirisena. Palihakkara recently gave up that post to pave the way for defeated candidate at the last general election, Reginald Cooray to assume the influential post.
Having blundered at the onset of the new administration, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had now sought to mend damaged relations with China, Palihakkara said. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe received invitations from China for official visits.
Palihakkara also commented on the Chinese wherewithal to invest as well as the new Chinese silk route.
The former FS acknowledged that the previous government had been perceived as a China ally.
Successive governments received a range of armaments from Russia and China during the war.
Responding to another query by Jayasekera, Palihakkara explained his role as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in New York at the height of the eelam war IV. Referring to the support extended by Russia and China, the former FS discussed Sri Lanka’s successful efforts to prevent the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) from intervening in Sri Lanka. The UNSC had the authority to issue a legally binding directive to halt the offensive on the Vanni east front.
Delivering the J.E. Jayasuriya memorial lecture after the conclusion of the war in May 2009, former FS Palihakkara said: “The challenge for Sri Lanka at that time was to prevent the UN Security Council from issuing such a decree and leave no room for an external enforcement operation to be initiated in Sri Lanka.”
The former FS said that the international environment during the then Premier Simavo Bandaranaike administration and the eelam conflict couldn’t be compared.
The soft spoken former Foreign Secretary asserted that Secretaries to the President as well as Ministers had a pivotal role to play and ensure transparency and accountability. The retired official refrained from mentioning any specific instances but underlined the possibility of Secretaries having an opportunity to discourage and thwart wrong decisions.