Letter: Forget the diplomacy, let's just trade

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The Independent Online
Sir: Jonathan Eyal ('In defence of the diplomatic realm', 29 July) is right to draw attention to the financial woes of the Foreign Office, but seems reluctant to criticise the organisation outside of its operations in the world hotspots. Surely most of its work is in countries where very little happens to merit world attention but where trade opportunities for Britain exist and are not exploited.

In Sri Lanka, there is an Anglophile population (who regularly write to the newspapers complaining about the Americanisation of Sri Lankan English) and a booming economy. This means Britain and Sri Lanka should have strong trade ties and that Britain should be benefiting; not by ruling the country but by having a High Commission that aims to show goodwill and business acumen. It is sad to report that one of the few developing nations with British rather than American aspirations is embracing Japan and the US and earning them an enormous (considering Sri Lanka's size) amount of money.

The American ambassador to Sri Lanka appears to have learnt Sinhalese in five minutes flat and she makes sure everyone knows it. The Japanese built a television station and ensured that the spin-off is that every Sri Lankan aims to improve his or her lifestyle with Japanese know-how.

The Japanese government donated hundreds of conspicuous old Mitsubishi jeeps with the result that the ultimate status symbol on the island now is a new model of this jeep and they are selling like hotcakes. The only British vehicles you are likely to see are Morris Minors and very old, unsafe, red double deckers. In fact, things have got so bad that when the Tommy Smith Jazz Quartet toured Sri Lanka recently (sponsored by the British Council), the two High Commission vehicles they used, resplendent with Union Jack and 'DPL' stickers, were a Japanese minibus and a Volvo estate.

As the British diplomats need a hardship allowance to live on this tropical island, I suggest that the poor souls are spared having to 'go native' and brought home. British businessmen and woman in Sri Lanka should form a board (with some payment from London) to assess business opportunities for Britain, and World Service journalists should file reports on the country's political situation monthly. The huge High Commission building should be sold (it is one of the ugliest in Colombo - a victory of sorts) and all savings funnelled into the World Service and the British Council as they are highly regarded by the whole world - excepting HM Treasury of course.

Yours etc,

JAMES GILSENAN

Dover, Kent

29 July

(Photograph omitted)

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