By W. Vishnu Gupta –
Undoubtedly at the outset it must be said from the experience and lessons learned before and after the departure of imperialists from Sri Lanka, China has shown the characteristics of a genuine friend willing to extend much needed financial support to develop Sri Lankan economy and bring prosperity to her people. China is the largest contributor of FDI in Sri Lanka. However, it appears that the politicians have not been forthright when dealing with China and it is questionable whether Sri Lankan operatives are capable of handling the massive inflow of FDI from China. When establishing international relationships, it appears that political leaders; both current and former regimes have been guided equally by personnel greed of corrupt politicians and senior officials. The people should not forget and forgive “Mr. Ten percent” of the former regime roaming the country with a grin from ear to ear easily.
Ongoing power struggle shows that they are more interested in their own survival and preserving vested interests and political base. Hence, they always shoot from the hip; by conveniently introducing the interests of former imperialists, India, Japan, Singapore or other western country into the picture. Objectives of ECTA with India and FTA with Singapore are questionable especially when these agreements do not support any substantial or meaningful job creation in the country. It is also an excuse to prolong the status quo that has been successfully carried out for the last 70 years by successive failed governments and allow politicians to become billionaires through get rich quick schemes.
According to a statement released by the Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka recently “that certain external forces are provoking unfounded speculation on joint mega-projects between Sri Lanka and China in order to disrupt the cooperation and create problems between the two countries in order to further their own interests”. Daily Mirror May 9th 2018.
Interestingly, the Ambassador has expressed these views to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Being a businessman and astute politician Mr. Jayasuriya may have fully understood the underlying message and gravity of the point made by the Ambassador.
Furthermore according to the Ambassador “Work on the Colombo Port City Project, the Hambantota Port as well as the economic corridors connecting Colombo to Hambantota and Kandy are progressing rapidly with our joint efforts,”
As expected, they are projects that would enable our island nation to play a key role to ensure that Maritime Silk Road become a very successful mega project of this century affecting global trade and well being of millions of peoples. Irony is that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s political party UNP was the main perpetrator responsible for seeding poisonous and wrong messages about Chinese projects in Sri Lanka in order to win the elections in January and August 2015. Unfortunately, the Chinese leaders have to deal with these Machiavellian politicians in Sri Lanka.
The motive behind China’s decision to conduct friendly and pragmatic cooperation with Sri Lanka is embedded in the overall strategy linked to the Maritime Silk Road. The problems lie within handful of Machiavellian political leaders in Sri Lanka.
Why China is the best Development Partner for Sri Lanka?
Chinas’ foreign policy has been established on the cardinal principle of non interference in the internal affairs of other countries. This policy of “Non interference” is the cornerstone of China’s vibrant economy and it supported immensely to achieve its goal in the global market. In 2007, Chinese foreign ministry clearly stated and emphasized what really drives China’s foreign relationships and diplomatic philosophy with the following eight-point statement.
- China will not seek hegemony. China is still a developing country and has no resources to seek hegemony. Even if China becomes a developed country, it will not seek hegemony.
- China will not play power politics and will not interfere with other countries’ internal affairs. China will not impose its own ideology on other countries.
- China maintains all countries, big or small, should be treated equally and respects each other. All affairs should be consulted and resolved by all countries on the basis of equal participation. No country should bully others on the basis of strength.
- China will make judgment on each case in international affairs, each matter on the merit of the matter itself and it will not have double standards. China will not have two policies: one for itself and one for others. China believes that it cannot do unto others what they do not wish others do unto them.
- China advocates that all countries handle their relations on the basis of the United Nations Charter and norms governing international relations. China advocates stepping up international cooperation and is against unilateral politics. China should not undermine the dignity and the authority of the U.N. China should not impose and set its own wishes above the U.N. Charter, international law and norms.
- China advocates peaceful negotiation and consultation so as to resolve its international disputes. China does not resort to force, or threat of force, in resolving international disputes. China maintains a reasonable national military buildup to defend its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is not made to expand, nor does it seek invasion or aggression.
- China is firmly opposed to terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. China is a responsible member of the international community, and as for international treaties, China abides by all them in a faithful way. China never plays by a double standard, selecting and discarding treaties it does not need.
- China respects the diversity of the civilization and the whole world. China advocates different cultures make exchanges, learn from each other, and complement one another with their own strengths. China is opposed to clashes and confrontations between civilizations, and China does not link any particular ethnic group or religion with terrorism.
From the above 8 point-official statement, it is very clear why China stood with Sri Lanka when our country and people had to endure the agony of prolonged vicious terrorist campaign launched by the Tamil Terrorist group LTTE. Though eight point-statements were released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in 2007, the essence and meaning of the words has always reflected the conscience of the Chinese people and spirit of the great Chinese civilization.
China’s unwavering support to resolve Sri Lanka’s internal issues (Economic or Security and attacks on Unitary Status) was not based on bogus claims made by left leaning Bandaranaikes, Rajapaksa, and Maithripala or by present UNP leadership. Local political personalities, political colors or the internal policies and propaganda are irrelevant to Chinese diplomatic and trading relationships. Any political leader emerging out of country’s own internal political system can expect to establish a meaningful and mutually beneficial dialogue with the Chinese Leadership as long as former believes and understand the essence of the Chinese Foreign Policy.
China (Superpower nation) with enormous economic clout has been an honest friend to Sri Lanka in the international and regional forums including UN, UN Security Council and UNHCR. However due to irrational thinking of political leadership of the country, our response has been somewhat erratic. For examples; Suspension of Port City Project by the present government in 2015 under various ruses and re-negotiation of Hambantota Port transaction. It appears that Sri Lankan operatives (politicians and government officials) have focused on their vested interests and personal gains whenever negotiating economic/development project with the Chinese counterparts. The present regime willfully interpreted Chinese offers to develop Sri Lanka as a colonization project in the 21st century during Presidential and general election campaigns in 2014/2015. On the basis of callous slanderous and irresponsible statements made by the key politicians during 2014/2015election campaigns, it is not unreasonable for any sensible person to question the motives of rapprochement adopted by the present co-habitation government.
Chinese aid to Sri Lanka?
The Official development assistance is defined by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as concessional funding given to developing countries and to multilateral institutions primarily for the purpose of promoting welfare and economic development in the recipient country.
China is not a member of OECD and does not follow its definition or practice on development aid. The bulk of Chinese financing in developing countries falls under the category of development finance, but not aid. This fact is privately acknowledged by Chinese government analysts, although Chinese literature constantly blurs the distinction between the two categories.
Despite many donor countries claim that their assistance to Developing countries is totally selfless and altruistic, the reality is far more complex. China is not an exception, however China’s policy toward Sri Lanka and other countries is pragmatic, and aid has been a useful policy instrument since the early days of People’s Republic of China.With a few exceptions, there is a strong tendency among observers to assert moral judgments in the assessment of Chinese aid and development finance to Sri Lanka: China’s activities in Sri Lanka are “evil” in the eyes of some western countries, their backers and India, because they fear or feel threatened by China’s quest for establishing the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, also known as the One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR); Many other nations believe Chinese activities are “virtuous” because they contribute to a foundation for long-term economic development, through infrastructure projects and revenue creation.
This polarization reveals the two sides of the same coin. On the positive side, China’s aid and development financing fills a void left by the West and promotes development of Sri Lanka. Furthermore China ensured that the island nation remains as a sovereign unitary state. At the hour of need, the western countries and the regional key player; India abandoned Sri Lanka to its own survival when military campaigns were launched by well financed, well trained and well equipped ruthless Tamil Terrorist organization LTTE. The war lasted nearly 30 years; Chinese and Pakistanis (another active participant of OBOR) stood with Sri Lankans to defeat LTTE; that is the naked truth. Therefore despite sporadic anti Chinese sentiments carried out by a minority, the majority of ordinary Sri Lankans treat Chinese as great friends.
Many Chinese projects require large investment and long pay-back terms that traditional donors are reluctant to provide. On the other hand, however, these short-term benefits should not form a cover-up for the potential long-term negative consequences associated with neglecting issues of governance, fairness and sustainability. For example, when the “tied aid” is linked to the profitability of Chinese companies, it becomes questionable whether China would prioritize Sri Lanka’s interests or its own. This should be taken care of by a Sri Lankan professional team not driven by vested interests, corruption and personal gains and not by greedy politicians.
Sri Lankan Political leaders since 1977 have never been sincere and forthright in dealing with Chinese; they always looked first at their Colonial masters and other western governments for assistance to develop the country. Traditionally the western aids and financial assistance have come with conditions attached. Also the western governments always insist on strict accountability practices. Accountability is a well known poisonous pill to Sri Lankan politicians as it leaves no room for corruption and malpractices. Alternatively Sri Lankan government, especially the present cohabiting partners turned to the potential Western private sector for support to develop the economy. They too seem to have understood the insincere and canny nature of the present Sri Lankan government. This explains why Sri Lankan government has not been able to any substantial FDI from western democracies.
Dubious policies of every past and present Sri Lankan governments lead by Machiavellians have inflicted an enormous incalculable damage on economy and the people of the island for more than five decades. Developing the economy of Sri Lanka is not the priority of the politicians; they are driven only by short-term personal gains and political survival.
The aid-recipient countries must be cognizant of the perspective of trade promoters such as Chinese Ministry of Commerce. In their view, foreign aid serves China’s overall national priority, which by definition is economic growth. It is a wonderful interpretation compared to the view held by many rich countries; they think it is a charitable act to help the needy. Hence they tend to link foreign aid to internal affairs of the recipient country. For example, demanding Sri Lankan government to satisfy the demands of LTTE backers. Contrary to this foreign-aid policy of trespassing sovereignty of vulnerable nations, the Chinese have adopted a virtuous approach to foreign aid. Accordingly, all aspects of aid decisions should reflect broad economic considerations. Under this logic, the inclination is to allocate the aid budget to countries that offer China the greatest number of commercial opportunities and benefits. The Sri Lankan government must understand this underlying solid principle of China. There is no hidden agenda, no colonization, no need to worry about the deprecators of sovereignty.
Maritime Silk Road Linking European Ports and Chinese ports
Since China’s top economic interest is Africa’s natural resources, aid decisions are inevitably skewed toward resource-rich countries while others receive less favorable consideration. However, Sri Lanka is an exception due to its geostrategic importance. Colombo Port City, Hambantota Port and adjoining Industrial zone are the most coveted and invaluable assets in the Maritime Silk Road.
The intention of China’s aid to Sri Lanka is benign but not altruistic. China does not seek to use aid to influence the domestic politics of Sri Lanka or dictate policies. It is quite evident from the manner how it handles the relationship with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the present government of co-habitation. Instead, it truly hopes to help Sri Lanka achieve better development while avoiding meddling with the internal affairs of this island nation through conditional aid.
On the other hand, China is not helping Sri Lanka in exchange for nothing. When Chinese officials emphasize that China also provides aid to countries that are not rich in natural resources to defuse international criticisms, they often forget to mention that China may have its eyes on other things which these countries can deliver, such as Logistical hubs, Financial Hubs or strategically located industrial zones. Chinese projects in Hambatota create safe logistical base and mega processing center for the Africa’s natural resources brought through Maritime Silk Route. No country will be able to threaten the ships carrying Natural resources loaded at the main ports of eastern Africa such as Djibouti and Mombasa through Maritime Silk Road. Today approximately 250 ships per day, passing though Indian Ocean are guided by Dondra Light House. Most of them make use of the lighthouse signals for navigation. Furthermore proposed Chinese Industrial Zone in Hambantota and the Colombo Port City will facilitate access to the neighboring South Asian and South East Asian markets and business opportunities for Chinese companies and employment for Chinese labors. No wonder why Indians and Singaporeans are so edgy about Chinese helping Xi Jinpin’s “Splendid Pearl”.