Ali Sabry

Our Foreign Policy: Friendship to all; Enmity to None

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What is Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and how Sri Lanka is pursuing its relationships with other countries during this most difficult period?  Nilantha Ilangamuwa sat down with Ali Sabry PC, the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, to discuss various areas of the subject.In this lengthy interview, he offered his thoughts on opportunities and challenges ahead of Sri Lanka’s moves to overcome prevailing challenges and become more global.

Excerpts from the interview;

Question: How do you define diplomacy and the role of a diplomat in Sri Lankan context?

Answer: Diplomacy is the most important area that defines our relationship with the outer world. It is kind of looking at the Sri Lankan perspective as well as regional and international viewpoints on how we become responsible international citizens, how we reach out to the outer world, how we protect our sovereignty while protecting and promoting Sri Lankan reputation and leveraging that notion to the nation’s benefits, regional benefits, and ultimately the advancements of global peace and prosperity. 

Q: We often called our foreign policy based on non-alignment but at the same time, it says our foreign policy is neutral. How can one become non-aligned at the same time being neutral? 

A: Actually, we have been nonaligned, for a long period of time, but the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), since the end of the cold war, where leading Asian politicians like Mrs Bandaranaike reaffirmed that we do not belong to this block and that block, is no longer active. Most of the members of the NAM have progressively become neutral. The principle that we are a neutral nation to the outer world is that we do not identify ourselves as part of any bloc against the greater good of humanity or global cooperation. That’s why we have become neutral. Sometimes people blindly become neutral, but we don’t do that. 

In the meantime, despite being neutral in a practical world, we have our own interests, at the multilateral and regional levels on our trade, international-external security and so on. Therefore, from time to time we need to abide by some decisions in the light of our own national interests. 

ON THE MINISTRY: I don’t always agree with this unfair criticism against our diplomats. We just have 170 diplomats in over 60 missions to represent Sri Lanka in the whole world. We don’t have resources compared with others.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry

Everybody is doing the same thing. For us, our foreign policy is impetus by President Wickremesinghe, and as the Foreign Minister, myself the commitment is, to be Sri Lanka first. If you say anything else, it’s not true. While being Sri Lanka first, how do we become a responsible international citizen and a regional player, instead of steering up tension, and how do we become a peacemaker? As a responsible and dignified member of the international community, our foreign policy is friendship to all, enmity to none.

Q: How can you help us to describe in one line if someone asked you what’s our foreign policy?

A: Our foreign policy is neutral. While remaining neutral, we act in strategic Sri Lankan interests.

Q: In your recent speech, you say, that “the United Nations is a table where every State can sit down, a forum where everyone can be heard and where everyone is equally important.” Is it a reality?

A: No, it is not a reality. What I tried to raise is that what we expect from multilateral platforms like the UN or other treaty bodies, is equal opportunity for all. But, in today’s geopolitical division, and global north and south division, it is no longer happening. That’s unfortunate. But, yet, we still don’t have another alternative than pursuing the same multilateral forums and advocating for great reforms within. It is like Sri Lankan judicial system. People sometimes criticize.Just because of the criticisms, what will happen if you decided to take it away? There will be absolute anarchy then. Likewise, what is important is how to improve such a responsible global body while being a part of it. That’s what we are promoting. 

Q: Do you think that Global South is looking for an alternative?

A: There is a little bit of talk here and there. But I don’t think a similar kind of movement like NAM from neutral bodies is any longer viable. Because big players are now aligned through different sectors and shapes, i.e. G7, BRICS, European Union, etc. These initiatives show that everybody is looking at their national interests. In a globalized world, national interests mean you continue to collaborate with the international community. That’s where the opportunities lie, but at the same time, that’s where the threats come from. Therefore, engagement is the most important principle in diplomacy. The first step is to continue engagement, as you can’t put Iron Gate and tell that we are not going to talk with you anymore, though sometimes we felt disgraced. But we must continue to engage on all available platforms. Give our perspectives and get the best out of them. 

Q: Earlier Sri Lanka’s voice was heard and the opinions of policymakers and diplomats were matters in international forums. But now there is a sort of opinion saying that our voice is declining. Do you agree? 

A: Comparatively, I would say, yes. But it has not been diminished, for example right now the First Committee of the UN which is involved in non-proliferation and disarmament is Chaired by a Sri Lankan. So we are influential and we are doing a lot of work there. And we are a much-respected member of the international community. In the region, we were the first country to open up but now that has changed and many countries have opened up. Almost everybody is into open trade and integrated with western markets. However, it is not that we have lost clout, but many countries emerged to contribute equally and sometimes even more. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

Q: But, many people argue that unlike earlier, it is hard to see the substantive contributions from most of those who are working in Sri Lankan missions abroad. There are serious allegations over political appointees where many without a basic understanding of international affairs were installed in our missions. Isn’t it impacting the country’s reputation? 

A: I think we need to get foreign experts in particular areas to head our mission. Well, there could be good inputs from outside, for example, some of our best diplomats were not from Foreign Service. If you take late Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar who is the best Sri Lankan diplomat ever, he was not from Foreign Service. Likewise, we have to carefully pick and choose people to lead the mission not on political affinities or political leverage or our relationship with them but on merits. While we keep the Foreign Service as the backbone, Foreign Service alone cannot do this as we don’t have the required number of officers. Therefore, we need those with integrity to get into serving us, as happened in the past. Well, I agree with you, we need to professionalize this, and we need to get politics out of it in a practical sense. 

Having said that, I don’t always agree with this unfair criticism against our diplomats. We just have 170 diplomats in over 60 missions to represent Sri Lanka in the whole world. We don’t have resources compared with others. Like anything else we need to invest in diplomacy, we need to invest in their training. We have not recruited a batch of Foreign Service officers since 2018. If you look at the last fifteen years we have had just three batches of Foreign Service officers. So you can’t do that and expect the best. We need to continue to recruit them, at least, once in two years. But, ideally, I would suggest, every year. That’s why we need to look at alternative ways of getting our Sri Lankans who are well-settled in other countries, to get their service on voluntarily basis. 

Q: Undoubtedly, you are doing a remarkable service, since you were appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. But wonder if you can tell us more about how you evaluate the service of our missions abroad. 

A: Basically, I addressed all of them via virtual platforms once in two months. Then I asked each desk responsible for each mission in the ministry to get detailed reports on the activities of every mission every two weeks. For the first time, I have introduced a bi-weekly meeting with the management of the Foreign Ministry, which means all additional secretaries to the ministry who are in charge of every mission and subject i.e. legal, trade, culture, etc. to sit with me and my state minister, to look at the progress. 

The duty of a diplomat is not just to go out and give a flash statement to the audience and come back, but a lot of hard work underneath has to happen. Unless everybody works in the same direction, same passion, and with the same vision achieving objectives is difficult. We have slowly put those principles into practice. 

Yes, we need a few resources too, for example, in the whole public diplomacy division in the ministry we just have one Foreign Service officer. We don’t have people to deploy there. The whole legal division has just four lawyers whereas about 200 treaties are pending. These are huge challenges. We need to carefully look at this and upgrade it. 

You would have seen when I was in Justice Ministry; a lot of reforms taking place. Likewise, some people might think ForeignMinister or a diplomat somewhere can go and do wonders and come. No, it is not like that. It is a reflection of the local policies. Local policies are important. Everything that is happening here goes public the moment it happened as we are not a closed country. Therefore, first, we need to achieve progress domestically in the required areas such as accountability, constitutionalism, power devolution, advancements in human rights protection, childcare, education, etc. before we blame a few of our diplomats abroad. Then we can go and represent somewhere else. Our domestic achievements are reflected in our diplomacy. Even to do that we need to have an organized structure. If that structure is not strong enough, it is very difficult for us to deliver.

Q: You meant to say the prevailing structure is weak?

A: Yes, extremely weak.

Q: What are the reasons behind this weakness?

A: We have not holistically looked into the system for a long period of time. The ministry has several limbs, it is not only about the faces talking at the UN and elsewhere but a lot of hard work involved. How strong our UN division, research division, how strong our West desk and South Asian Desk are, as well as other related institutes are very important. It is reflected in our foreign policy. What an individual can do is decorate the cake but the cake has to be baked properly with good ingredients. 

Q: Do you have a strategy to revamp the system?

A: Yes, even in the midst of economic challenges, we are making it work. I can’t go to the phase which I would love to go, in terms of recruitment and so on. But definitely, we are working on it. 

Q: Let’s talk about regional affairs, what is your opinion about SAARC?

A: In fact, SAARC has not achieved expected objectives fully though it was formed a long time ago. If you compared it with the ASEAN, they have gained a lot. Unfortunately, members within the SAARC are not united in their vision and mission. Hence it has hindered SAARC from real progress. I think, either we need to revamp the SAARC and have a very frank and open discussion about its progress or we may have to look beyond the SAARC. 

Q: I assume the same thought you will have about the Colombo Plan as well?

A: Yes. It is time to look for other pragmatic organizations. Even BIMSTEC had not given the expected returns. Probably, IORA, Japan and China-based Think Tanks and related initiatives, will be good places for us to be concerned. President Wickremesinghe is also concerned about the progress of regional bodies like SAARC. I know we need to look at them carefully, but so far it’s been a great disappointment, to say the least. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

Q: As you say, ASEAN is one of the most efficacious regional bodies. Sri Lanka tried to get membership since the beginning but is yet to succeed. Why? 

A: I think probably the location per se if you see all members who are clubbed together in ASEAN. We are far away from them. However, we are an observer state, and we need to see how we can operate as ASEAN is a remarkable success in terms of tariff in trade, investments, and other bilateral and multilateral affairs. But, we have not achieved expectations, though we have opened our market at a very early stage. 

Unfortunately, we have gone back to protectionism. Protectionism is not the right way to do as the end of the day it will eliminate your productivity and ability for innovation, and you will never become an export-oriented country if you are going down with the protectionist past. That’s what exactly happened here. Sri Lanka has 31% of exports in the early 90s but now it has decreased to 15%, that’s because we don’t protect the local manufacturers to serve the Sri Lankan market and they are not competitive enough in the international market. Consequently, their products cannot sale outside. That is the simple formula. Luckily, tourism was gained, and the war ended though we did not realize the huge benefit of them. But then tourism came to end and we faced different social scenarios where our remittent drastically came down, then the reality called. That is what exactly we are facing today. The long-term strategy or long-term prosperity of Sri Lanka is dependent upon the economy which is based on sustainable exports. 

Q: Right now we are facing the worst economic crisis since our independence. Do you recognize this as a national calamity? 

A: Yes, of course. This is the biggest economic calamity this country has ever experienced. It is the result of a combination of reasons including bad debt inherited for a long period and bad luck due to the Easter Sunday Attack, Covid-19, and the War in Ukraine which caused international instability as well as bad monetary, bad agrarian and bad cultural policies which antagonized particularly the Muslim countries. So it is a combination of debt inheritance, bad luck, and bad policies that brought us here where we are today. We are in a very difficult time. Not only we, but we probably are the first but more than 50 countries are on the lope due to Covid-19 and subsequent international disorder in view of the Ukrainian crisis. 

Q: But, what prevented you from taking precautions, especially at a time when a person like you who has an in-depth understanding of contemporary issues, was playing an active role?

A: Unfortunately, what has happened is the economy was handled by a few people. It was never debated in detail at the cabinet. Most critical decisions were taken by a handful of officials. And they were not willing to listen. True, we were not economists per se but we had good readings and constructive discussions and went to the cabinet and suggested we must go to IMF, we must slowly depreciate the local currency to encourage the inflow of remittance which will avoid the “undial”, “hawala” or any other illegal practices. Not me but most of the cabinet colleagues were telling that the decision to go total organic fertilizer is not good, but then those voices were not heard and respected. Those are the problem we faced, and I fought very hard to reverse that forced cremation which has clearly antagonized the entire Muslim community here and abroad. These are all unnecessary things that have happened and we should learn from them. Sometimes you felt helpless, though you have views no one is listening to though you get time to put them, especially, when you are not in a decision-making position. 

However, during my time as the Minister of Justice, I was given free hand and I did a lot of work. That’s how I was able to increase the number of courts, appointments, recruitments, and clear backlogs. We have drafted around 10 new laws. We were taking a holistic approach to reengineering the existing system in the justice ministry. But in the economy, we were not the decision-makers. When not only mine but genuine experts’ opinions are being disregarded, then what can you do? They should have listened to them. 

Q: Right, do you think at the moment, that policymakers have diagnosed our real problem? 

A: Right now, one good thing is that we are now engaging with the world’s best institutes like IMF, World Bank, ADB, UNDP, etc., and taking steps to reshape our economy. When I was appointed as the Finance Minister, in a very short period of time, we took a firm decision including approaching the IMF and World Bank, Suspending the debt to ensure the right to livelihood of every citizen, hiring the world’s best to get support to normalize the situation. Luckily, President Wickremesinghe’s economic literacy is very high compared to any other leader. He knows that. And now he is leading the subject. I think we have diagnosed the problem properly. But it requires long-term medication. Stability is entirely depending on how we are going to continue this medication or if we are abandoning it halfway through. If we can do that like how India did in 1991, we will have a future; otherwise, our future is bleak. 

Q: So what is your gut feeling saying?

A: It all depends on how our leaders are taking action. I have a lot of confidence in the President but others need to follow and support him. And the opposition too must realize and understand not to play politics with Sri Lanka’s economy. India did it from 1991 to 2023. India opened its economy in 1991. Dr Manmohan Sing being the Finance Minister introduced the reforms. Every political party irrespective of huge differences in their political viewpoints supported and continued those policies. They are reaping the benefits today. They will become the third economy by 2029. That is because of the consistency of the policies based on national interests.

There has to be an unwritten yet conscientious agreement among all politicians and the parties here, we will all do our politics, and we will have our policy differences and all but there are two areas we should not get involved. First education, we must continue to invest in education, and give English and IT-based education. The second economy, economic policy must be pursued consistently by inviting and permitting foreign investments. Relying only on foreign remittance and tourism is dangerous as they are extremely vulnerable. Look at China’s case, and India’s case, even in Bangladesh when the whole world was closed their economies were growing. They are suppliers, but we are not. Their economy is based on a broadly strategically designed export orientation. Therefore, they are not vulnerable as us. We can open the country but no one is coming in because social scenarios, such as terror attacks and the pandemic, took us down. That is why we can’t solely rely on dynamic areas like tourism or foreign remittent. This is the time we must do the required changes in our economy. 

Q: Let me, once again, pay attention to your recent speech at the UN where you quoted President Wickremesinghe about social reforms, “I will implement social and political reforms requested by the nation”. Same time, a few media in the city have reported that Sri Lanka is going to establish a South African model truth and reconciliation commission. May I have your take, please?

A: That is one of the most important areas. Since the end of the war, we must accept that real reconciliation between the North and the South has not been undertaken. True, the war ended, and we have gained “peace” but real reconciliation has not taken place. We need to put effort into it. Because we have not done so, we are giving undue advantage to the enemy who’s against Sri Lanka all over the world saying that you have spoken about it but you have not done anything substantive. That’s very unfair because Sri Lankan forces, as a whole, did a tremendous job to restore peace and social order in this country. The benefits of that are for all Sri Lankans, particularly for Tamil people who were suffering the most because that was the theatre of the war.  

But pointing finger at the forces and naming them as perpetrators of human rights abuses is very unfair. They also need a platform to redeem themselves. And if somebody or a few of them had done something excessive they should also be looked into and prosecuted. We must prove that we are capable of doing that as a country. If we don’t do that, then we are keeping the case open for foreigners to come and meddle. The first step was already taken by the UN Human Rights Council by establishing an external evidence-gathering mechanism. If it goes to the next level, they will go and start to investigate Sri Lanka at various forums. In order to not only prevent that but also actually reach a true reconciliation through our undertaking is that we are coming out with the domestic mechanism.  

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

It will help us to protect our overall military establishment. If you are concerned about all these issues, we owe a duty to the country to establish our own truth and reconciliation mechanism like in South Africa. Once and for all people can come and talk about it and move away from the very dark past. So we learn from it, in order to not to commit it again to do the same mistakes that we have committed. 

ON WAR ON TERROR: Then I told them, more than 26000 Sri Lankan forces and around 1200 Indian forces were killed. That was a fight against terrorism. Of course, there were casualties, representing every ethnic group. We need to get this clear picture out.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry

Q: How can you establish public trust in order to move forward with this, as you know whenever we talk about this subject, certain segments of society will come up and tell that this is a great plot against the armed forces and a few others?  

A: That’s important. But we need to have a mechanism to talk to different people and get a wider consensus as much as possible. Actually, we need to establish this to prevent the armed forces from being prosecuted outside. That’s precisely the case. Well, if you don’t do it, that danger is looming and it will become even closer. Already our top commanders cannot travel, some others have been closely looked at and their family members have been flatted. It is unfair for what they have done for this country. Some of the divisions in the army, which are the best divisions we have, all together have been blacklisted from UN peacekeeping. In order to get rid of it also, it is important to implement this mechanism. 

Another point I must emphasize is that some people give the impression to the outside world that Sri Lankan forces have committed Genocide. However, I saw some of them mostly Tamils abroad come on my social media handle and say that they want to contribute to real reconciliation as they feel that they owe to this country. They say that they are here today because of free education, free health, and other social welfare facilities in Sri Lanka at the time. But, certain groups are propagating that Genocide has been committed in Sri Lanka. That’s a blatant lie. We need a platform to show that there was no Genocide here. True, it was a dark conflict. When someone came and say this, I asked them, do you know how many Sri Lankan forces were killed; they don’t have any clue about it. Then I told them, more than 26000 Sri Lankan forces and around 1200 Indian forces were killed. That was a fight against terrorism. Of course, there were casualties, representing every ethnic group. We need to get this clear picture out. How can we do that? Well, through this kind of mechanism. It is not easy; it will be opening up a can of worms. But, there is no other alternative. The idea is not retributive punishment of people. It is a kind of reconciliation, truth-seeking, reparation-based mechanism. Only extreme cases of clear violations of human rights abuses need to be prosecuted. This is not a Nuremberg that we are talking about; this is a kind of South African model, a truth-seeking mechanism. 

Q: At the same time, there were talks about the devolution of power. Our neighbouring country, India, is suggesting to us full implementation of 13th Amendment to the constitution. Do you think it will solve our problem?

A: I think the parliamentary subcommittee should carefully look at devolution. Having come a long way on the 13th Amendment, we can’t now reverse it either. But there are areas of concern such as to which extent police power and land power we can give. Subject to that, governing by the people of the area is not a bad idea. They have most interests in their lands, subject to safeguards of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.  

Q: But what about the idea such as re-merging North and East? 

A: No. The Supreme Court itself has ruled out and de-merged it. I don’t think we should revisit that. Basically, let the North run on its own and let the East run on its own with respect to demography till we build trust between each other where ethnicity or religious beliefs are no longer the subjects but a meritocracy. There will be a day but till then we will have to find the best way we could to live together and move forward.  

Still, there is a campaign for a separate state. As long as that threat remains, very difficult for us to disregard the tendency for secession as 99% of Sri Lankans are not even in their wildest dream thinking of a Separate State. 

ON UN RESOLUTION: As per the constitution, even if you want, foreign judges or hybrid judges are not allowed. That’s the separate arm of the constitution.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry

Q: Do you think co-sponsoring the UN Resolution on Sir Lanka was a fatal mistake by the previous administration? 

A: I would not go back and find what was right or wrong. That was a different strategy, probably, at that time to overcome the challenges. But, we cannot do it because it goes against our constitution. As per the constitution, even if you want, foreign judges or hybrid judges are not allowed. That’s the separate arm of the constitution. They have been appointed by the judicial commission; even the President cannot do it. That’s precisely why having to cosponsor the resolution 2015; in 2019 our Foreign Minister who was a former Attorney General went to Geneva and explained this legal ramification. I think people understood that. Now, when I explained to the President, he also understood that. That is why after deliberating all options, we took this decision, the stance, which we have taken this time. We say that we will not allow you to meddle with our constitution. Internal matters are to Sri Lanka. But Sri Lanka will provide a total mechanism and we are serious about that.

Q: There were some thoughts spreading around that our relationship with India is weakening due to the Chinese presence here. Is that true?

A: Not really. We are continuing to strengthen our bilateral relationship at every level. Of course, challenges are there, like any other relationship, over each other’s perceptions on certain issues. As Sri Lankans we need all of them, we need regional powers. Indian security is important to us. We can’t have a stormy situation in our backyard. 

In the same meantime, China is also our long-term friend. They have maintained a steady relationship with Sri Lanka as well as with the international community. China is the biggest investor in the country. We can’t ignore it. We must find a way to work with all. 

Q: Many people are talking about Chinese Debt Trap diplomacy. Do you agree? 

A: No, I don’t agree with it. That’s a Sinophobic statement. China came here for investments, much-needed investments for Sri Lanka. For example, Hambantota Port was open to anyone, but the Chinese were shown the opportunity to put in their money and got it. Then Shangri-La that too was offered to everyone but the Chinese came and they invested in it. Colombo Port City is also the same. They are investors, and they take risks by investing in these massive investments. 

When it comes to debt, they have not come and offered us debt but we have gone and asked them. We borrowed them voluntarily. I meant nothing wrong in borrowing debt as long as it is properly utilized for the purpose. And you pay back accordingly. It’s not China’s problem but our problem. Having borrowed the money, whether we have used it smartly or invested smartly, in a manner which gives you return so then you can pay back. If you haven’t done that it is your problem. This is like going to the bank to get a loan to build a house and instead of building a house; you buy a car and blame the bank. 

We are not here to encourage Sinophobia, that’s why our foreign policy is neutral. We don’t want to take a side; our relationship is based on merits. We need India, the West and China and everyone else. All of them are equally important to us. China is the biggest investor, the West is the biggest market for us, and India is our neighbour who has stood for us during this extremely difficult time. And we managed to end the armed conflict due to India’s firm stance. Destabilizing these relationships is suicidal for Sri Lanka. The bottom line is everyone is important to us.  

This is a complicated situation. But we are doing our level best. Sincerely, engaging with them, and talking to them frankly without duping them or giving them false speeches is our way. The policy we are pursuing is honest with all our external relationships. 

Q: But, if you take the recent events, such as detaining of the Russian passenger flight and the controversy over docking Yuan Wang 5 Research vessel, telling us otherwise. Don’tthey? 

A: I think the Russian passenger flight (Aeroflot) situation is totally different where Sri Lankan government has not had any hand in that. That was an order given by the court. But later we looked into the matter, and Attorney General made the submission. Then the matter was sorted out. 

But, yes, Yuan Wang 5 is a different scenario. There were so many not only research but many military vessels docking at our ports that nobody has raised any concern. But this particular Vessel is different. Unfortunately, clearance had been given during the political turmoil, where most institutes were in dilemma. But, when someone comes and says that this is a threat, it is our duty to ask for evidence. If there is evidence, then we could have acted otherwise. In absence of evidence, it is not fair for us to recall permission which has already been given. Chinese are our friends and we requested them to pause it for some time until we relooked at it. Then we called our other friend to share the information. There was nothing that warranted for us to overturn the original decision of clearance. We decided to go ahead. 

CHINESE FERTILIZER SHIP: Sometimes it is not as simple as you see it. There can be sabotage taking place at individual interests. It is a great loss to the country and a great loss to our future just like what has happened because of the forced cremation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry

Q: The third incident in a similar shape is the controversy over the Chinese fertilizer ship. 

A: It is nothing to do with diplomacy but a commercial transaction. But it is indeed complex. If you look at the company that bought the shipment, that is one of the biggest companies in the world that provide organic fertilizer. They will not tarnish their image for a small shipment like this. They have got clearance from Singapore and Switzerland, who have the best laboratories in the world, but not from Sri Lanka. I don’t know what exactly went behind this. 

Sometimes it is not as simple as you see it. There can be sabotage taking place at individual interests. It is a great loss to the country and a great loss to our future just like what has happened because of the forced cremation. So-called self-proclaimed geoscientists and a few others went against the whole world and the country was forced to follow which resulted in greater isolation of Sri Lanka. That was just because they maintained a kind of hate against a particular community in Sri Lanka. Their hate overtakes the rationale and national interests of the country. These are the incidents I’m really worried about and every Sri Lankan has a responsibility to see the holistic picture to be rational and strategic despite treating your ambitions. A decision has to be merit-based. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

Q: For the first time in history, the UK is having an Indian-origin man as their Prime Minister. The UK Parliament is scheduled to have a debate on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation on November 9, in three days. What is your message to the Prime Minister and the debate that they are going to have on Sri Lanka?

A: We need to continually engage with the United Kingdom, as well as with other countries. We need to understand that both UK and Canada have a strong Sri Lankan Diaspora which can change the outcome of the votes in several electorates. That put a lot of pressure on the people who are being elected from those seats. That’s the ground reality. They may use it, and we need to give our side of the story. But, to get over the allegations against us, we also have to perform domestically. What they have been telling us for a long period is accountability. If you provide a truth-seeking mechanism and accountability mechanism domestically, then we will have something to go and present by saying ‘don’t come and interfere in this because we are doing it.’ Beyond that, we can’t do anything. These threats are there, particularly in UK and Canada because of their voting power. 

Sri Lanka’s relationship with the UK is longstanding. We have a lot of similarities between us. Instead of a few isolated incidents-based complaints, we are requesting the new Prime Minister to look at the larger picture of Sri Lankan democracy. An elected President is forced to give up and go halfway through. Sri Lanka has thrived in democracy since 1931. Our elections are free and fair. None of the government leaders stays beyond their mandate. Let’s work together. My message is very clear, let us work as partners and do not be misled by a few people with ulterior motives and hidden agendas for their political gain. Support Sri Lanka to recover fast. 

Q: In conclusion, please offer us your thought on President’s idea to establish the “Diaspora Office.” How are you going to attract Sri Lankan expatriates for greater contributions to do better for the country through this initiative? 

A: The idea is to connect all Sri Lankans overseas and foreigners of Sri Lankan origins. We will have a separate office here and we will connect them all through our missions abroad where we will provide our services including proper guidance to channel their investments in Sri Lanka. We are in the final process of designing it. Hopefully, we will be able to launch this initiative on the upcoming Independence Day.

Exclusive: Let us Work as Partners – Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister to UK

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Commenting on the scheduled debate on the human rights situation and economy in Sri Lanka to be held tomorrow in the UK parliament, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka asked the UK to work as partners.

“My message ( to the UK) is very clear, let us work as partners and not be misled by a few who have ulterior motives and hidden agendas for their political gains. Let’s work together,” Minister Ali Sabry PC told the Sri Lanka Guardian in an exclusive interview at his residence in Colombo.

“Sri Lanka’s relationship with the UK is longstanding. We have a lot of similarities among us. We are requesting the new Prime Minister look at the larger picture of Sri Lankan democracy. Sri Lanka has thrived in democracy since 1931. Our elections are free and fair. None of the government leaders stays beyond their mandate,” he added. 

The full interview with the Minister is to be published soon.