Colombo Telegraph

Affairs Of An Island & The World

By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Asanga Abeygoonasekera

A Forgotten national hero: remembering Ven. S.Mahinda

On the 15th of May sixty five years ago was the death of one of the great national hero’s of Sri Lanka Ven. S.Mahinda also known as Tibet S.Mahinda. Born in Gangtok, Sikkim state of India located in the Himalayan Mountains, this foreigner by nationality to Lanka dedicated his life to awaken the nationalistic sentiments to liberate the country from the British. His poetry generated sparks through our independence movement. Remembering individuals in our society is important not only the politicians who was behind the national struggle. A memorial lecture to remind us of S.Mahinda’s work particularly in the sphere of literature to our younger generation should have been conducted.

Regional Disaster management Center

The worst natural disaster after many years affected the island of Sri Lanka., The floods and related landslides killed more than 91persons with still more than 100 missing and 400,000 affected. The floods have caused more than $1.5 billion worth of damage. Many Sri Lankans locally and internationally combined strengths to assist generously toward the cause of flood aid to come out of this situation just like in 2004 Tsunami.

Last November the first annual international disaster convention in Sri Lanka was held by MDF which this author attended and Chaired a session to share the successful Tsunami reconstruction work at fishery harbours corporation during his time. The first thing I noticed when entering the conference was many empty chairs, apparently many high level politicians and officials were invited but they couldn’t make it due to their busy schedules. The military was present with few interested participants. During my remarks commenting “It was Prime Minister who established the ministry of disaster management, he understood the importance of the subject back then. We need a national disaster management plan for all stakeholders to work together, public private partnership is essential and all of them need to sync or else they will work on their own silos. SAARC Regional disaster management center in Dhaka contribution is limited and I don’t think it’s operating. Sri Lanka is an ideal location a geo-strategic hub to setup a regional disaster management center.” With the increased regional natural disasters in the last several months in Nepal, Bangladesh, South India and now Sri Lanka the government should seriously consider setting up a state of the art fully equipped regional disaster management center that could predict accurately few days before the disaster.

Geopolitics of Indian Ocean

The US – Vietnam relationship presents a bitter backdrop to bilateral relations. The deadly Vietnam War claimed many lives ending in April 1975. Both countries have however embarked on a different phase. The visit of President Obama to Hanoi this week brought the US embargo on selling military equipment which lasted for few decades came to an end. The bilateral partnership was elevated during the high level meeting between Presidents.Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and America’s Barak Obama have initiated a deeper defense cooperation. Obama was on a visit to East Asia clearly to boost economic and security cooperation in the region before joining Tokyo G7.

President Sirisena will also attend the G7 meeting this week. It is a significant moment for a South Asian leader as the first Sri Lankan head of state to visit G7 with his nation sitting at the center of President Xi’s Maritime Silk Road. President Sirisena could initiate discussion to elevate his relationship with Japan and other nations. Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic position is a clear factor and an important variable when formulating the grammar of geopolitics in this region by Washington, Beijing or New Delhi in the next two decades. Japan will be an important partner for Sri Lanka in the future due to its close historical relationship during the time of distress both nations has helped each other. During the Asian Tsunami Japan donated close to a 1billion rupees of grant funds for reconstruction work including fully restoration of Galle and Tangle fishery harbors with new equipment.

The US embargo lift on Vietnam is seen as a strategic move from US to counter China’s influence in the region. The recent tension at south China Sea should be taken into this scenario along with the US grand strategy the “Pivot to Asia” to counter Chinese influence in Asia. In February US Pacific Command head Adm.Harry Harris speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee requested more port visits to Vietnam and wanted to increase from the present state. In 2015 it was only four port visits. Adm. Harris supported the weapons ban lift for getting more ships for port visits an important factor for the US as Vietnam shares a border with China in South China Sea the Gulf of Tonkin.

At the same time, another move by the US to send John Kerry US Secretary of State to visit Myanmar for discussions with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Myanmar’s transition to a civilian democratic Government. This transition was praised by US as the half a century military government was ended last November. Washington lifted financial and trade embargoes on Myanmar last week which shows another clear indication of US support.

A political scholar in Sri Lanka who was removed as Ambassador when performing really well by former President said back then Sri Lanka has to go through similar transition like Myanmar “With defeat in UN Human Rights Council, Myanmar rallied round its neighbours particularly ASEAN and worked towards improving its human rights record. Since then Myanmar has been achieving tremendous and incredible progress towards establishing democratic reforms.” This advice was not taken by the previous regime. But the same scholar is now with the former President trying to bring back a fresh set of better reforms for the country, the new slogan he has designed is “GR2020” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for the 2020 Presidency. Rather than this he should have been working closely to achieve the present reforms introduced by President Sirisena a leader who has already initiated a bipartisan model and who could bring this change as he understand the pulse of the common people.

Sri Lanka is going through a different transition to Myanmar which was under a military rule, with its new government introducing democratic reforms through good governance trying to correct governance structure with independent commissions and constitutional amendments to follow. This will give better transparency and revive our failed and loss making institutions in the country.

With the victory of South Indian Chief Minister Jayalalitha, Sri Lanka South India relationship is back again to square one but this time during her election she pledged to setup a separate state Eelam in Sri Lanka. President Sirisena would have to navigate with all these external political pressure. There are three key areas which needs immediate attention. The ailing economy which needs to be fixed, balance in foreign policy and national security with probable internal and external threats of reemergence of LTTE, to more than 50 Sri Lankans who has joined the Islamic State.

Next week at Shangri-la Dialogue organized by a leading think tank IISS in Singapore, the top defense experts will gather to discuss the regional security architecture which this author is privileged to participate. There are 48 warships under construction for the Indian Navy which include one aircraft carrier, one nuclear and six conventional submarines, and a variety of destroyers, frigates and corvettes. By 2027 they are plan to expand capacity to hold198 warships. While a silent yet aggressive naval build-up is taking place in Sri Lanka’s neighborhood, Sri Lanka should be ready to proactively face any future challenge as the Indian Ocean security environment is expected to remain complex in the next several years. For geopolitical forecasting, analysts should study events to develop trend lines which could affect us in next several years.

While facing many difficult challenges such as the present natural disaster and economic crisis we should keep a close eye of the surrounding geopolitics to see the opportunities to build a great nation. Much like poetic words from the past, we should aim to bring back patriotism to rise in times of flood and fear in a fast changing geo-strategic environment.

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