16 June, 2024


Hopeful Prospects Of New Relationship With US

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Sri Lanka coincided with the conclusion of the government’s 100 Day programme which had just ended on a high note. The virtually unanimous passage the 19th Amendment to the constitution was a triumph to the government. The vote in favour was 212 to 1. The reform of the executive presidency, which formed the core of the 19th Amendment, was a promise that had eluded successive governments for over two decades. During the latter half of the 100 day period it seemed that the government was not going to be successful in implementing the most important of its election time pledges. There was increased public skepticism about its willingness and ability to tackle issues of past corruption and abuse of power. The opposition led by supporters of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa appeared to be gathering in strength.

However, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were able to lead their respective political parties to an unprecedented bipartisan consensus that saw all other political parties fall in line. The emergence of a reformed presidency shorn of its extreme powers was an outcome of their leadership. In a statement to the media, the visiting US Secretary of State acknowledged the government’s commitment to reform. He said, “One thing about this Sri Lankan government seems clear. The President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister are not afraid of tackling tough issues. They are willing to make difficult decisions and they are committed to keeping their promises. We have seen that in the 100 day plan.”

Under different circumstances the timing of Secretary Kerry’s visit might have been controversial. He arrived the day before Vesak, the most sacred Buddhist religious festival. He departed on Vesak day. However, the dramatic changes that have been taking place in Sri Lanka over the past four months since the government changed made t his visit a part of the Vesak spirit of rejoicing, sharing and contemplation. The tenor of Secretary Kerry’s remarks during his stay was overwhelmingly positive and supportive towards Sri Lanka with the promise of concrete support to come. He also took the opportunity to visit an important Buddhist temple to perform an act of reverence which also acknowledged the Buddhist heritage of the country.

Improved Relations 

In the aftermath of the election President Maithripala Sirisena and the formation of the new government driven by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe there has been a spate of visits to Sri Lanka by high level representatives of foreign governments and the UN. Secretary Kerry’s visit was especially significant, not only because the United States is the most powerful country in the world, but also it was the country behind the UN human rights resolutions on Sri Lanka from 2009 onwards. These resolutions which called for an investigation into the last phase of Sri Lanka’s internal war were resisted tooth and nail by the government of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

KerryThe former president turned the UN call into a personal battle in which he pledged his willingness to go to the “electric chair” for the sake of the country and its armed forces. The Rajapaksa government also roused Sinhalese ethnic nationalism to the maximum to resist foreign intervention and to consolidate political power within the country. Sri Lanka’s attitude towards the international community, in particular the Western countries, turned adversarial. The government’s defiance of the international community took on the character of defying international institutions, including the UN human rights system, and calling it into question. This was a challenge that the international system led by the United States could not afford to tolerate as it could lead to an undermining of the system that had been established to ensure post-second world war order.

During the period of the Rajapaksa government, Sri Lanka also had the tacit sympathy of many third world countries which felt that they too were at the receiving end of double standards in their own wars against insurgencies and terrorism. This became evident at the annual vote taken at the UN Human Rights Council on the issue of compelling the Sri Lankan government to accept an independent investigation into allegations of war crimes and serious human rights violations. The United States and its Western allies had to exert considerable pressure on other member countries of the UN to get them to vote against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy makers became overconfident that they could avoid being taken to task under the existing international human rights framework with the backing of China and Russia.

Course Change 

Under the government of former President Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka also became over-dependent on this emerging Chinese superpower for both economic assistance and political protection in international forums. The large loans at relatively high rates of interest that Sri Lanka took from China for low yield and massive infrastructure investments led to the prospect of Chinese expansion into the economy in the case of inability to repay the loans on time. The Colombo Port City project which gives China outright ownership of land next to Colombo harbor is being challenged at the present time, on the several grounds of economic viability, environmental degradation and geopolitical considerations. Over fifty years ago Sri Lanka was subjected to US disfavour for its close ties to China when it entered into the rubber-rice pact with a country that was referred to as an enemy nation.

In the course of the main speech he delivered while in Sri Lanka, Senator Kerry made an offer of US assistance to Sri Lanka in four key areas. These are reconciliation and post-war healing, justice and accountability, human rights and strengthening of democratic institutions. He said that the United States having experienced a terrible civil war in which a movement of separation had to be defeated on the military battlefield had much to contribute from its own experience, both positive and negative. He added that “Until just recently our diplomats routinely clashed with yours on these issues at the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN in New York. Now, with the new government, with the turning of this critical page, we have the opportunity to work together.”

Accompanying this was an offer of a “partnership dialogue” and expanded bilateral assistance with regard to trade and investment that could help to consolidate the country’s post-war gains. The large scale and generous US assistance that helped to transform South East Asia could now come to Sri Lanka, albeit a half century later. Highlighting the new and improved relationship Secretary Kerry referred to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera by his first name as “Mangala” and also as “friend.” This is an opportunity to be supported by the most powerful and wealthy country in the world that Sri Lanka cannot afford to miss. However, Sri Lanka’s long colonial experience beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century has made a deep imprint on the psyche of its people. It is important that the government shows the people that in relation to the international community the country’s sovereignty will continue to lie within and not outside its territorial borders.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    USA is on its way out as the most powerful nation in the world according to research by PEW. See: http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/07/14/chapter-3-balance-of-power-u-s-vs-china/

    It shows the immaturity of the current government to insult the future superpower whose President came personally to inauguarate the largest ever investment SL was likely to experience. That we are to be lackeys to a ‘has-been’ is going to be the downfall of our country as has been the experience of the many countries the U.S. has had interests in.

  • 1

    The US excels in giving “Judas Kiss” to the countries whom they censure the most. Sri Lanka is the latest recipient of the Judas Kiss from the US. As expected, the pathetic Sri Lankan government and the president seem to be deceived by the “Kiss”, thereby placing the country into a critically vulnerable state.

    The US politicians think that they are different from other countries. There is lot of rivalry and competition in their politics. Yet they think that they are the only country who could preach peace and conciliation. Their congress is accused of taking bribes. They violate their own constitution repeatedly. While they claim to be the most intellectual country, their education system ranks the 18th place (first three are South Korea, Japan & Singapore). They have tried to topple nearly 50 foreign governments. Their usual tactic is to defame the leader of the foreign country first and then turn the world against that country. The US, being the most over-patriotic nation in the world, finds faults with true patriots of other countries.

  • 0

    Dear Jehan.
    Kerry , and USA want to assist us in four areas, namely
    1)reconciliation and and post- war healing (sic),
    2)justice and accountability,
    3) human rights and s
    4)trengthening of democratic institutions.
    Let us examine these areas Kerry thinks this country needs their assistance:
    Reconciliation between two estranged parties. In this case Kerry is referring to the ethnic conflict between tamils and sinhalese. Any third party who is sincere in its efforts to facilitate reconcillation of two factions should have a grasp of the historical and cultural context and entrenched the geo-political influences that lie behind any such protracted conflicts between any two communities.
    USA came to the scene belatedly 15 years ago. When the anglophile JR Jayawardena begged for assistance when the terrorists declared all out war agaist the democratically elected government, when the then Indian Prime minister Inidira Gandi was fostering and sustaining the separatists in her territory and USA gave the sri lankan goverment the cold shoulder.. . For all the freemarket, pro western policies adopted by JR this country was left high and dry.
    How is US which spurned us 30 yr ago help in reconciliation now?
    Can we trust the sincererity of your intentions?
    Also, given the recent record of USA acting as a peace maker in other countries we Sri Lnkans have grave doubts of Kerry’ offer of assistance; USA invaded Iraq to impose democracy by force and every one see the chaos there.
    First ever democratically government in Egypt was topled by minitary coup, yet USA has increased financial and military assistance to the despotic regime which has imprisoned the elected leader and thousands of his supported.
    First ever democratically elected leader in South America was, Allede, was killed and the power was handed back to the military with a coup hatched by CIA,
    Dictatorships in middle east- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain are the closest buddies of USA.
    Kerry is yet to learn his lesson.
    In the aftermath of 9/11 when 400 US citizens died there was not a single tear was shed by the rest of the world except Tony Blear off UK. The USA foreign diplomats were aghast why the rest of the world hated USA so much.
    Ihope Jehan Perera, Mangala Samaraweera and Chandrika kumaranatunga who wre the architects of Sudu Nlum movement, funded by CIA call it a day.

    • 0

      Dear Editor,

      Your writers (May be even commentators) should disclose how much they regularly receive from INGO;s to write such articles including from the USAID.

      You should investigate and inform readers that certain writers are receiving funds to write articles and speeches as well as participating in TALK SHOPS ie So Called Workshops in WedaPollas, to speak their donors views.

      As Secretary John Kerry confessed that the US and others who helped to Destroy and Kill the Tamil Resitannce leaders and fighters, never anticipated the killings of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, destroying every ounce of asset they owned including GOLD, VEHICLES, MACHINERY, LAND, BUILDINGS, BOATS, FACTORIES, AND AGRICULTURAL LAND/ANIMALS TOTALING OVER 300,000. It never even happened in Vietnam. NE was brutal, and naked violence including organized gang Rapes and torture on women, and children.
      It is 6 years after the war and the violence, repression, suppression and the oppression goes on without any decrease.

      THEY DONOT DENY THE use of CHEMICAL WEAPONS, PHOSPHOROUS AND CLUSTER BOMBS as I have the evidence that they received such evidence in March, April and May 2009. I also have written confirmation.

      Let us have transparency than hypocrisy and denials/cover ups. It is time that TNA MP’s and other representatives speak up, and also monitor how the Sinhala NGO’s are proffiting on Conflict Resolution, Reconciliation and Capacity Building in helping Tamils Tamils improve their Home Gardens. I thought and I know that Tamils for decades were very good in their home and back gardens. But now the Sinhala Buddhist NGO’s have become the experts of such activities and also Violence against women and children in their own homes and work places. All the INGO’s are dishing out millions of rupees monthly for such activities without proper checks and balances.

      Religous organizations too are working in different ways some of which are unethical and against laws of the country. Most of the victims are Singhala Buddhist and Tamil Hindus. By the way, I am a US citizen, and a Christian. But aware of all what is going on because of my hands on recent experience in the North and East while I live in Colombo.

      Donald Gnanakone
      Tamils For Justice

  • 0

    Well said Gigurawa!

    Sri Lanka had to pay an enormous price to secure peace. Where was the US for the last 30 years, while we were fighting against LTTE’s brutal terrorism? And now, what moral right do they think they have, to preach us about reconciliation?

    The US is infamous for its politically motivated shenanigans in the world. When they want to overthrow a government, they fund and use people and groups extensively to undermine national interests and create fictional and wild allegations against leaders and the government.

    People in Sri Lanka should keep their eyes open and try to understand the grave havoc this US mastery of stratagem can create in Sri Lanka.

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