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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2251

Sri Lanka’s Failed Overseas Public Diplomacy Manifested Through her Foreign Minister

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune – An Analysis

Washington, D.C. 09 February ( “Up to now, the near 1 million Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora that live particularly in the West have heard only one point of view – that of the LTTE. In fear of being harassed by LTTE agents in their host countries the level of interaction between our expatriate Tamil population and missions abroad has sadly declined, and as a result our ability to get across our message to them has been obstructed”, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama made this discovery known to his parliament during the State of Emergency extension debate 06 February.

It was on September 28 last year that Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa told a well attended gathering of his country’s expatriates in Los Angeles that Sri Lanka has lost the public diplomacy campaign in the West to the propaganda disseminated by the Tamil Tigers.

In an exclusive interview given to Asian Tribune in Los Angeles the Sri Lankan president admitted that Sri Lanka has so far failed to change the mind-set of the West, especially the United States, toward the critical national issues when this writer suggested that West does not buy the Sri Lankan story the way in which it is told.

And, this is February 2008. Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, who is Rajapaksa’s cabinet agent who needs to tell the story in a cogent manner that will pave the way to erase the mind-set of the West is nowhere close to understanding that exact mind-set, how that mind-set is translated into policies and actions by the international community and its leader the United States, how those actions and policies have so far inconvenienced the governance of his own president who is almost single handedly endeavor to strike a balance between national security and civil liberties while making policy pronouncements to break the mind –set of the West.

Mr. Bogollagama, despite being his country’s foreign minister, is totally foreign to what’s happening in Western nations. Leave aside the one million ethnic Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates having no connections, dialogue or rapport with Sri Lankan diplomatic missions in their adopted nations; even the Sinhalese do not maintain much contact with their diplomatic missions in Western nations.

What the foreign minister told his parliament was not a discovery but the manifestation of his utter ignorance of the behavior of the Sri Lankan expatriates domiciled in Western nations and the total failure of Sri Lankan diplomatic missions to reach out to the expatriates, both Tamils and Sinhalese, using marketing devises to negate LTTE overseas propaganda, how the LTTE has made policy makers of the West to believe that the ongoing Sri Lanka government counter-terrorism campaign is nothing but an onslaught against the minority Tamils who have been deprived of their rightful place in society and that there exists a civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils.

Sri Lanka’s diplomatic missions in Western nations have failed in many ways contrast to the understanding Mr. Bogollagama has about overseas public diplomacy, the strategies used not only to covey the message cogently to the expatriates but also to policy makers who have overall influence in the Sri Lanka issue.

Here in the United States, the Sri Lanka Consulate General Office in Los Angeles in recent times has converted itself on its own to be the ‘epicenter’ of Sri Lanka’s public diplomacy campaign in the United States reaching out to expatriates to negate Tamil Tiger misinformation and misinterpretations while working with U.S. law enforcement agencies to track unlawful activities of agents of the LTTE most significantly reaching out to policy advisors of major contenders for Democratic and Republican nominations to alert them of the fund flow to their campaigns by front organizations of the U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers).

In December 2007, the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defense and the Canada Free Press claimed that one of Senator Hillary Clinton's fundraisers in New Jersey, a U.S. resident who was associated with a December 12 fundraising event at the State Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was also a fundraiser for the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, which the U.S. government has suspected is a front organization for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which is on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Has Foreign Minister Bogollagama worked with the Sri Lankan mission in Washington, D.C. to identify foreign policy advisors of U.S. presidential hopefuls to reach out to them at this early stage without waiting until 20 January 2008, the day the new U.S. president is inaugurated?

Has he reached the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to convince them that the funds it received from a group of Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates in fact came from the same persons who associated with a so called US-based humanitarian organization that raised funds for LTTE military campaign in Sri Lanka?

Mr. Bogollagama’s failure paved the way for the Los Angeles Sri Lanka Consulate General office to become the epicenter of Sri Lanka’s public diplomacy in the United States.

Several DVDs, highlighting the misinformation and misinterpretations of the Sri Lanka situation by Tamil Tigers and LTTE terrorism, now in circulation among the Sri Lankan expatriates in the United States, was not due to the initiative of Mr. Bogollagama who has revived the International Tamil Newsletter ‘Nambikkai’ after five years to inform the correct situation of Sri Lanka to Tamil expatriates domiciled in the West because they need to be told in their mother tongue to have a better understanding. The deceased foreign minister Kadirgamar, a Tamil, discontinuing ‘Nambikkai’, knew that the Tamil expatriates in the West understood more English than Tamil.

The 101 of Public Diplomacy is that the communication has to be in a language that you most understand, in this case English more than Tamil by the Tamil Diaspora in the West, the media strategy one uses and the cogent manner in which the message is communicated to negate disturbing and damaging propaganda, and most importantly to disseminate such messages to hit the heart and soul of policymakers who need to be won over to ones side so that President Rajapaksa should not repeat what he said in Los Angeles that the ‘Tamil Tigers have won the public diplomacy campaign’.

Sri Lanka’s independence day celebration sponsored by the Consulate General Office in Los Angeles on February 03 was designed as a marketing product to appeal to the hearts and soul of the thousand or more participants at the event in Los Angeles, and millions who read and saw it in the print and electronic media afterwards here and abroad fulfilled Sri Lanka’s quest for overseas public diplomacy at a time Bogollagama foreign ministry is still roaming in the dark inaugurating the Tamil language ‘Nambikkai’ to explain to the Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates domiciled in the West the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution and devolution of power to the periphery before telling them not to believe the Tamil Tigers that there is a ‘full-scale ethnic war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils’ in Sri Lanka.

Priority need to be to reach out to policymakers in Western Capitals and understand the way in which those foreign ministries, especially the US State Department, react, comprehend and reach policy decisions and with whom they maintain contacts to facilitate the stabilization of the ‘mind-set’ that has been detrimental to Sri Lanka for several decades when it comes to Sinhalese-Tamil issue and LTTE terrorism.

Foreign Minister further said in parliament during the Emergency Debate on 06 February: “If there was any doubt, particularly among some sections of the international community, of the true nature of the LTTE, then the past month has sufficiently portrayed them for what they are – as terrorists”.

The West has no illusion that Tamil Tigers are terrorists, and they have said so all these years. Since late the West, especially the US State Department, does not insist as before that the Tamil Tigers are a significant component of any dialogue to bring a solution to Sri Lanka crisis. Last September the State Department, in a significant departure from its previous position, appealed to the Government of Sri Lanka to “commence a dialogue to strengthen the moderate voices of the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims”.

The State Department does not even consider the LTTE the ‘sole representative of the Tamil people’. But the State Department does believe that LTTE is part of the overall problem in Sri Lanka when it comes to ethnic relations associated with other national issues.

Asian Tribune in a analysis last week said that the US State Department, prominent Members of the US Congress and those who are engaged in investigative/research in the South Asia Office of the Congressional Research Service do strongly believe that the Sri Lanka is currently engulfed in a ‘civil war between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils’. This is exactly what the overseas public diplomacy machine of the LTTE has fed for a very long time for these important players to form the ‘mind-set’ that is being used to advocate policies to Sri Lankan authorities from time to time. Mr. Bogollagama’s Foreign Ministry need to understand this basic truth and work with Sri Lanka diplomatic missions in principal capitals of the West to change this ‘mind-set’ which is favorable to the Tamil Tigers and a great set back to Sri Lanka to safeguard her territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Mr. Bogollagama further states in his parliamentary address: “It is important that the international community views the totality of the developments in Sri Lanka without blinkers, and adjusts to the new ground reality - that the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka and has never genuinely engaged in peace negotiations”.

Those who have had and even now have close rapport with the official of the United States Department of State, understand the way in which they perform their duties whether in Washington or in Colombo and have a knowledge of the basic functions of the State Department and its overseas diplomatic posts are aware that the United States, despite its total understanding that the LTTE is a ruthless terrorist organization, does not want the latter totally annihilated until Sri Lanka produces some results of redressing the grievances of all underprivileged and economically disadvantageous communities who belonged to all ethnic groups with a reasonable devolution of administrative, political and economic devolution that will bring the masses of the people a better voice and clout to manage their own affairs. To that effect, the West does not believe that the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamil people, and unless Mr. Bogollagama is a in a deep slumber the West abandoned that concept long ago. What need to be told to the West is that the problem Sri Lanka faces is not confined to a single ethnic group (Tamil) but to all underprivileged and economically disadvantageous communities which include all ethnic communities.

And, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister doesn’t seem to have understood the West’s battle with ‘al Qaeda’ toward a total annihilation and liquidation, and the West’s opinion of LTTE when he made this pronouncement in the same address to his parliament: “The international community must clearly see that while the Rajapaksa Government has in no way closed the door on the LTTE joining Sri Lanka’s rich multi-party democracy, the LTTE giving up its ways of terrorism - the same way the international community demands from all other terrorist groups from the IRA through Al Qaeda - must be a necessary pre-requisite”.

In a nutshell, Sri Lanka’s failed overseas public diplomacy has several components:

(1) It has not understood the mind-set of the principal players of the International Community, especially the United States, vis-à-vis Sri Lanka issue. Or it has not made any attempt to investigate and research to come to an understanding.

(2) It does not know the basic functions of the US State Department and its overseas diplomatic missions and the operating style of the Foreign Service Officers. It is amazing the way US Foreign Service Officers function in a host country with their investigative, research and analysis operation in full swing.

(3) It does not have a cogent marketing plan to break that mind-set that is often favors the Tamil Tigers and bring obstacles to the governance of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Consulate General Office in Los Angeles has been using marketing strategy to discharge certain aspects of public diplomacy.

(4) It does not fully use the diplomatic missions in principal capitals in Western nations to launch an effective overseas public diplomacy strategy to influence the policymakers who have become irritants for Sri Lanka.

(5) It has not developed a ‘Potential Leaders List’ that identify those who are future policymakers, especially in the areas of foreign policy, trade, investment and foreign assistance, to, over a period of time, cultivate contacts and commence dialogues to create a favorable atmosphere toward Sri Lanka when they are in positions of influence.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry has clearly manifested its inability to understand the above five vital areas failing in its overseas public diplomacy unnecessarily succumbing to Western pressure.

Rohitha Bogollagama’s address to his parliament during the Emergency Debate on February 06 very clearly showed this blatant ignorance which has cost Sri Lanka her public image among Western powers whose foot prints are all over political, economic, trade and defense decisions in the Globe whether Sri Lanka likes or not.

- Asian Tribune -

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