Opening Address by Hon. Ravi Karunanayake, Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute Seminar on “Emerging Issues in the Indian Ocean”: 28 June 2017


Opening Address by Hon. Ravi Karunanayake, MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Chairman of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) at the commencement of proceedings of the Seminar on Emerging Issues in the Indian Ocean and Foreign Policy Forum

Wednesday, 28 June 2017 

Hon. Governors and Ministers, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: It gives me great pleasure, as the new Chairman of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, to address this eminent gathering of policymakers, diplomats, scholars, corporate leaders, lawyers, civil society, and students, at this landmark event on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.

It has been a little over a month since I became Foreign Minister. I am conscious that I have assumed an office and responsibilities previously held by some of our most illustrious leaders, not least by the late Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar after whom this Institute is fittingly named, but also by Mr. A.C.S. Hameed, Mrs. Bandaranaike, and several others, each of whom left invaluable legacies for our international relations.

While it is early days of my tenure, I can say that one of my priorities is to build a foreign policy – and a foreign service – that predicts and innovates, rather than one that reacts and stagnates. So I look forward to hearing the forecasts and analysis of the experts invited to speak today, as part of developing a foreign policy that foresees and grasps the opportunities of a changing world.  For my part, I will begin the discussion by, first, briefly observing three major shifts that are apparent in the current international order.

Some of these shifts present opportunities, while some present risks – but mostly, I believe, they will present what we as Sri Lankans will choose to make of them. In the second part of my address, I will therefore outline some thoughts on how Sri Lanka’s foreign policy can adapt to these global shifts. Finally, I will speak on how the Foreign Ministry itself must change, to effectively implement policies for Sri Lanka’s long-term economic and strategic interests.

1.A Changing World: Three major shifts

To begin the discussion of major global shifts, I want to highlight three such shifts, although many more will be discussed today. These three are:

  1. First, the sustained shift in economic power from the West to East;
  1. Second, the recent social and political resistance, in some parts of the world, to previously established values of the global order. These values include globalisation, free trade, a rule of law, and democratic principles; and
  1. Third, the transformation of national and international society due to rapid digitalisation.

(i) Economic Power from West to East

The first shift, in economic power from the West to East, has been gathering pace for some decades, and has accelerated since the early 2000s. In particular, 2001 may be seen as a watershed moment in this shift because of China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in that year, which resulted in estimated gains of nearly USD 10 billion a year for the Chinese economy

Sixteen years later, China is the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). Even in terms of nominal GDP, it is estimated to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy by 2029. Meanwhile, India is predicted to overtake the US as the world’s second-largest economy in PPP terms by 2050

The growing economic power of these Asian powers has also translated into more confident foreign policy initiatives. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the most ambitious connectivity plans ever envisioned, which could result in USD 1 trillion of investment in over 60 countries. India is also strengthening its regional engagement, with one example being Prime Minister Modi’s commitment of USD 2 billion towards strengthening India-ASEAN connectivity. 

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