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Dinesh Gunawardena takes over as Sri Lanka’s new Minister of Foreign Relations

By Srimal Fernando

9 December 2019

The newly-elected Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Foreign Relations after his Presidential election in 2019.  In addition to Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena was also appointed as the Minister of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations. The new foreign minister Gunawardena hails from a well-known political family in Sri Lanka. His father, Philip Gunawardena, is a famous national hero known as 'the Father of Socialism'. Gunawardena is a graduate from the University of Oregon in the US and entered politics in 1974. In 1983, as the general-secretary of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’s (MEP) he entered Parliament in a by-election held in Maharagma.  He is well-known as a long-standing parliamentarian and has served as a minister several times since the mid 90s.

The new Minister of Foreign Relations Gunawardena is supposed to implement a friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy.   In a recent newspaper interview he stated, “Sri Lanka will have a strict neutral foreign policy where it will strive to have only friends and not foes among the global community” (Sunday Observer, 2019). In this context there is a history to this non-aligned policy.  At the outset, Sri Lanka was a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).  As part of this approach, the new Sri Lankan government had outlined in the manifesto how the presidency would implement the Foreign Policy over the next five years. The manifesto mentions a key phrase “Friendly and Non-aligned Foreign Policy. We will not fall on our knees before any country in maintaining foreign and trade relations. We will always be mindful of our national sovereignty and maintain friendly relations with other countries from a standpoint of equality. Our government will restore Sri Lanka’s national pride and dignity”. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa manifesto, 2019)

Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena assumed duties at the Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 November 2019. While meeting staff members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Minister mentioned that the “Foreign Service is highly regarded and the entire country is looking towards the Foreign Ministry to find solutions for external pressures and challenges.” Sri Lanka being an Indian Ocean island nation strategically located at the international maritime crossroads has significant diplomatic influence with the international community. Therefore Sri Lanka needs a far-sighted foreign policy vision along with well-aligned and sound domestic policies. It is therefore vital that the new Foreign minister sets out the country’s position towards Asian, African  nations and the West to ensure that Sri Lanka is able to achieve its foreign policy goals  over the next five years.

Srimal Fernando is a Doctoral Fellow at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), India and Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa. He won the 2018/2019 Best Journalist of the year award in South Africa.




February/March 2020








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