Hon Ali Sabry, Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Hon Tharaka Balasuriya, State Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Ambassador Pamela Deen, Director General and the staff of the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute,
Foreign Secretary Aruni Wijewardena and other officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The broad philosophy underlying the establishment of BIDTI by the Government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1995 was to provide a professional institution to hone the skills of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service. This was actually a vision of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike who very successfully guided the foreign policy of Sri Lanka and became a prominent global leader of the entire nonaligned world.
The BIDTI was entrusted with the task of training the foreign service cadets as well as the youths aspiring to be diplomats on the foreign policy imperatives in the evolving global context that imposes serious international responsibilities on states, particularly developing states in a changing world.
It was set up under the stewardship of Dr Vernon B Mendis, one of the most eminent diplomats of Sri Lanka, who was also the Secretary General of the Nonaligned Summit in 1976. BIDTI was set up to undertake comprehensive research on international affairs and strategic studies and supported formulation of a viable foreign policy.
As the President declared, our foreign policy priorities must be based on national interest, of which major components are, a strong economy and a robust defence system to protect the nation from all forms of threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Sri Lanka, with solid experience of 90 years of adult franchise is the oldest parliamentary democracy in Asia. The country is located at an important geographical place in the Indian Ocean and since ancient times the trade from east to west and west to east used our harbours as an important hub. That is our biggest strength and our foreign relations must be revolved around this strategic asset.
This is Asia’s century and in this we have most vibrant economic partnerships such as ASEAN. In these circumstances, researchers passing out from institutes such as BIDTI specialized on international affairs and strategic studies, and also Foreign Service officials must undertake immediate research on the imperative need for regional economic partnership through institutions such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, IORA.
Furthermore, India is central to our region and it is unfortunate we don’t have a research institution on studies of Indian affairs. BIDTI must look into this.
Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is based on neutrality in international affairs and we extend a hand of friendship to every country. But this neutrality should not be taken as a weakness. It is merely a detached neutrality in regional or international power games. Though neutral, we will not allow anybody to use our soil against a third country. In such attempts, we zealously safeguard our sovereignty.
While the independent Ceylon continued the colonial foreign policy, it took a dramatic turn with the electoral revolution of 1956. That was the birth of the nonaligned foreign policy with close friendly relations with, not only the West but also of socialist powers, Soviet Union and China and nonaligned giants India, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Egypt and Ghana.
We must also keep in mind, the challenges that have arisen nationally and internationally against the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of this country. We are determined to make Sri Lanka a prosperous country, maintaining friendly relations with the nations of the world.
In recent times the decisions taken by us at international forums were criticized by some interested parties. But the fact is that we take independent foreign policy decisions and we always stand up for our friends who backed us every time when there were attempts to subjugate our sovereignty.
It is essential to equip the professional foreign policy resources through the development of skills to promote and safeguard national interests in the face of global challenges. This calls for a combination of skills and insights among those in key positions and decision making roles and they have to constantly keep abreast with regional and international events, developments and crises. In this connection the foreign policy studies also must undergo transformations to meet these challenges and make a valuable contribution by identifying the needs and adopting themselves accordingly. What is essential today is to equip our representatives abroad with new ideas to suit the present needs and I am certain research institutes realize this and fulfill this need.