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The stony silence that greeted President George Bush when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly a few days ago was evidence enough of what the world thought of his administration's abrasive and aggressive foreign policy.

If there was some desultory applause at the end it was more out of courtesy - a quality that he and his key officials seriously lack - than appreciation of its content. Here was President Bush returning to the very body that he dismissed out of hand as irrelevant and tried to threaten into submission before his illegal and unjustified invasion of Iraq.
If at the time he tried to browbeat the world body to follow his path to perdition, the other day he was there cap in hand literally begging for human and financial resources to help Washington out of the morass into which it stepped with the Stars and Stripes playing boastfully in the background.

With the situation in Iraq deteriorating daily and more Americans losing their lives unnecessarily, any sensible and responsible leader would have shown some contrition on returning to the very organisation that he decried and rejected earlier this year.
But Bush and his neo-conservative cohorts are too arrogant to do so and hence the reception he received from the vast majority at the UN.

The illegitimacy of the Iraq invasion was not the only reason for the deafening silence that greeted Bush. The disgusting performance of the US - and the European Union - at the recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit in Cancun that ended in tragic failure, proved clearly that for all the rhetoric of the rich nations about helping the developing world their real intentions lay elsewhere.

Despite its numerous shortcomings and the genuine need to overhaul its structure and rules, the WTO is proving unmanageable for the US and Europe which hope to accrue for themselves all the benefits of a liberalised economic system.

In more recent months the solidarity shown by the developing world in the form of the G21 led by Brazil, China and India has proved to be a more formidable opposition than Washington and Brussels had imagined it to be before the Cancun meeting.
Realising that after some 20 years or so the developing world has found a rallying point and are holding out together, Washington in particular, tried desperately to drive a wedge to disunite them by bribing, bullying and blackmailing some nations.

However, only a few nations succumbed to this old colonial policy of divide and rule now being dusted and revived with the new gloss of globalisation and investment flows.
Unable to break the solidarity among the majority of the developing countries, Washington and the EU scuttled the Cancun talks in an effort to destroy the WTO, just as Bush tried earlier to make the UN redundant.

By scuttling the talks and thereby hoping to drag on the Doha Round negotiations beyond the 31 December 2004 deadline, the US and EU are trying a new ruse. Instead of pursuing global trade deals they are trying to strike bilateral agreements with individual countries or regions.

The tactic is quite obvious. The rich power blocs know only too well that they can extract far more lucrative deals by pursuing bilateral agreements than were they to deal through the WTO where rules apply and pressure from the poorer nations could lead to revisions in the trade organisation.

Sri Lanka could not be bullied or blackmailed. We had been bought over earlier. We had become a vassal of Washington long before Cancun. We found a great ally in a dubiously-elected president called George W. Bush who is now being found out by his own public. Each poll shows that American opinion is turning more and more against this man and his machine that represents American oil interests not the people.

Our foreign and economic policy has been inexorably tied to the West, particularly to the United States. When our diplomatic and economic policies are influenced and even formulated by persons who seem to owe greater allegiance to the US than to Sri Lanka it is scant wonder that we end up as the doormat on which every low ranking western diplomat and passing politician could wipe their feet on.

Although this undignified lurch to the West became our accepted policy nearly three years ago, it was only a year ago that it was articulated in unmistakable terms by Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda during a seminar on security in Honolulu. There he urged the United States to accept the leadership of the world, to play the hegemon and save the globe from the undesirable.

While the world is not Moragoda's to give away, he and his colleagues in government and the business community have created the impression that Sri Lanka has been given away to Washington as though it was a family heirloom.

So when sections of the Colombo media hail Minister Ravi Karunanayake for siding at Cancun with the US against the developing world to which Sri Lanka belongs, he was only following a policy line that has already been adopted not trying to improve on 30 pieces of silver.

If a section of the media wishes to inflate Minister Karunanayake's ego by claiming that he "espoused" in Cancun "new thinking, both diplomatic and economic", so be it, whatever the reason. But to mislead the public into believing that Ravi Karunanayake had, with Socratic wisdom, espoused some new theory, then it does journalism and the public a grave injustice.

The newly established Sri Lanka Press Institute is set to start a College of Journalism to train those who wish to join the profession as well as some in the profession. While this is a laudable idea, the great challenge is how to educate those already practising the profession at the highest levels on global and even domestic issues so that considered views based on fact could be presented to the public and policy makers. For instance, it was claimed that Sri Lanka and China stood out as nations "that sided with the US-European position".

What utter rubbish. Admittedly Sri Lanka decided to hold the hand of Goliath while the Davids of the developing world refused to be overawed by the giant. Those who know enough of American foreign policy, how it discards its friends, the effects of globalisation and free capital flows on developing nations will hardly consider Sri Lanka's stand an achievement to be acclaimed with fanfare.

But to cast China in the same mould shows ignorance or an unfortunate attempt to distort the truth. China was one of three signatories - along with Brazil and India - that issued a joint proposal before the conference calling for far more radical reforms than the US and EU were ready to grant.

The joint proposal urged far more stringent cuts in domestic support programmes, such as the enormous subsidies to farmers, than offered by the US and EU. Besides distorting the position of other countries, the comments on globalisation and Sri Lanka's agriculture show that greater understanding of such issues would help immensely some of those who believe that they are moulding public opinion. Certainly it will help those who confuse exercises in public relations with informative and thoughtful journalism

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