The hangover from Sri Lanka's recent Geneva debacle continued to give the Government headaches for yet another week. A two-day parliamentary debate demanded by the Opposition saw accusations being made against the Government's mishandling of the country's foreign policy. The Government defended itself with statements ranging from the feeble to the outrageous.
Clearly, the Government is embarrassed over its own incompetence. So much so that the Minister of External Affairs is now suggesting that Sri Lanka re-evaluate its overseas representation and reassess the capitals in which we should have our missions. All well and good; but a glimpse of the way he was thinking betrayed his mindset.
He was obviously smarting over the defeat in Geneva. Stories were initially leaked that the Government would close down certain missions in Europe, but the Minister downplayed this during his speech to Parliament this week. Take however, what he said about the new missions the Government wanted to open. He said that a new mission should be opened in Azerbaijan because when he went there he found there was a great interest in Sri Lankan blue sapphires there.
One would imagine that there is an interest in Sri Lankan blue sapphires in every country in the world. Is this the criteria to open a mission overseas? Has the Government lost the plot, or is it only the Minister?
The hysterical attacks on the US and the West continued unabated from the Government ranks during the debate. The thousands of British tourists in the island right now must surely be perplexed. Fifty per cent of Sri Lanka's trade is with these countries, and the bulk of tourists visiting this country still come from these parts of the world.
Unfortunately, there was no mention by the Government of the exciting new world grouping called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), a term coined by Goldman Sachs, the well-known global banking and investment group to identify the emerging economies in the world as the drivers of international growth.
They are the competitors to the G8 (US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia), challenging the current world order and its domination of the United Nations and its financial agencies.
Last week, BRICS leaders met in New Delhi and called for reforms in the management of the global economy.
One of the significant ideas mooted was the establishment of a BRICS Bank. Riding on the wave of economic prosperity in these member-states, the purpose was to counter the US-European domination of the traditional lending agencies, the World Bank and the IMF.
At the moment they are saying that the US and European monopoly on the appointment of the heads of the World Bank and the IMF must end, and are exerting some pressure in the appointment of the next President of the World Bank. Already, the US has seemingly taken this message from BRICS on board and nominated a Korean-American for the post.
BRICS aims to compete with the World Bank and the IMF to provide for development finance in the economically developing countries. The idea of a Euro-style single currency pegged largely to the Chinese yuan was floated, though it met with some resistance. In a world where the US dollar is just about keeping its nose above the water, the euro is struggling, the British Pound is unsteady and the Japanese yen weak, the Chinese yuan may well shore up in the near future as an alternate international currency to the US dollar. The Sri Lankan economy remains linked to the US dollar despite all the anti-American screaming, and has only small reserves in yuan.
Despite many earlier attempts to challenge the powerful US-European combine since the virtual collapse of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), BRICS seeks to create a common platform that will serve individual economies - and by extension, geopolitical interests. They represent half of the world's population and have huge markets, but there's bickering among them. Both Russia and India are concerned about China's growing military tendencies, while Brazil and India want a seat in the UN Security Council which China opposes.
How far BRICS will succeed is yet to be seen. Instead of making puerile statements in Parliament and outside, the Government would serve the country better by studying these new coalitions developing around the world; coalitions that are like-minded, and see how Sri Lanka must position itself for the good of its people.
While the country would be politically more in tune with BRICS rather the US-Europe Alliance, not just as ideological partners but also as economic powerhouses, the Government must know that all BRICS members trade and do business with the US and Europe. India for example, not only engages in a rollicking business partnership with the US, but is even negotiating nuclear and defence deals with Washington. BRICS countries have not, by virtue of pursuing their own global agenda, severed links with a still very powerful economic bloc in the US and Europe.
The mistake Sri Lanka is making right now is to position itself as an anti-US/Europe country simply because of the Geneva hangover and be lumped needlessly with countries like Venezuela and Iran.
BRICS has not taken confrontational positions like Sri Lanka is doing. These fast emerging economic giants are far more pragmatic and cool-headed. They maintain multi-layered ties with the US and Europe while pursuing their own agenda.
Sri Lanka must abandon its chest-thumping rhetorical war cries against the US and Europe, even though this may be for domestic political purposes, and learn a lesson from BRICS of how to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. That is the fine art of diplomacy that has taken leave of the Sri Lankan Government.