Colombo Telegraph

Is Sri Lanka Ready For Global Nationalism?

By Mano Ratwatte

Mano Ratwatte

On Jan 20th President Trump warned the world about global free-trade in his inaugural speech. He said “Buy American Hire American and America First” .

Trump fired quite a few shots across the bow at the nations he felt are not giving him a fair deal.  TPP is dead and NAFTA will be renegotiated while Sri Lanka is in a hurry to “ECTAfy”

President Trump’s era on the government web began almost immediately with the wiping out of Obama-era initiatives and a new brand of policy pronouncement. The Department of Labor’s report on lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgender people in the workplace and Whitehouse’s report on the threats of Climate Change, and Civil rights are no more on the World Wide Web.

In its place there were two brand new policy directions:

I. An America First Energy Plan:

“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”


II. An America First Foreign Policy

“Peace through strength will be at the center of that foreign policy. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.”

With the changing of direction in such a radical manner, free trade agreements such as NAFTA will be renegotiated. Trump opposed TPP and Sri Lanka should not be in haste to sign trade agreements with India.  Leading businesses like Maliban group have already expressed concerns about the tough barriers to fair trade with protectionist India.

Sri Lanka also needs to be prepared to deal with a Trump USA where Human Rights and LGBTQ rights, and climate change issues will not take priority.

Trump’s USA will focus back onto Europe and to strengthening the US military and fighting ISIS, and not on Climate change, or civil rights or LGBTQ rights for now.  The two excerpts from his speech signal what he means to do.

A. For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own.

B. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.

People were tired of the political correctness that took over Obama’s regime and wanted to go back to blunt ways to deal with situations. He mentioned Islamic radicalism in his inaugural speech, though it will really not be possible to eradicate it as he vowed to do without partners; and without dealing with underlying issues such as the Palestine issue.

Trump will focus on resetting relations with Russia which were badly damaged when Hillary Clinton deliberately undermined Ukraine in 2011 and encouraged violent protests. Hillary sent Asst.Secy of State Victoria Nuland to Kiev to hand over bread to violent protesters. What did you think Putin would do? Roll over? Keep in mind, however corrupt the Ukrainian President may have been, he was as democratically elected president. US gambled and lost. Russia flexed its newly rejuvenated military muscle (thanks to oil revenues) and took Crimea back (Crimea was given to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev) and decided to make life difficult for the anti-Russian new Kiev regime. (Ukraine was part of USSR in 1954)

It is becoming clear that Russia wanted Trump to win and may have helped him win too.  But the way relations were and the massive disasters in Iraq and Syria, a complete re-set was needed in order to fight the dangers of ISIS.  Will the series of intelligence into intercepted communications between Russia and key Trump advisors reveal deeper involvement?

Trump is also going to use his Billionaire real estate developer son-in-law Jared Kushner (speaking of Sri Lankan style nepotism), an Orthodox Jew to deal with the Israel-Palestine issue. Ivana Trump converted to Judaism after marrying him. They are believed to be Orthodox Jews now but he is a very talented man. He may actually be able to deliver the 2 state solution if he is sincere.

Is Sri Lanka prepared to send a smart educated Trade delegation to promote Sri Lanka to the Trump Administration? Trump will all be about trade deals and business and will have “What’s in it for the USA?” attitude.

Does Sri Lanka know how to quickly approach Nikki Haley/Namrita Randhawa the daughter of Indian Sikh Immigrants (she replaces Samantha Power) who will represent the US at the UN before Tiger Lobbyists do? She is a conservative Evangelical Christian now; she is not beholden to Tiger Lobbyists and GTF. Can Sri Lanka get its act together and approach her fast to present their case?

Does it know how to approach Wilbur Ross the Commerce Secretary who is very close to President Trump?  He is the key person for Sri Lanka to cultivate. Democracy, good governance etc., will not matter to the new US regime. If need be, they will look to improve their strategic security alliances in return for dropping HR and War crimes charges.

Do Sri Lanka’s policy makers know what they are up against when Trump talks about free trade hurting American workers? Hope Sri Lanka sends a smart, educated delegation to the USA to woo the new Regime.  Trump will be a bad enemy to have if Sri Lanka ruins its chances to generate goodwill. He will not have time for small nations like Sri Lanka when India is the 800 pound Gorilla with massive economic clout in the region.

What can Sri Lanka offer? An Airbase?  A naval base? This writer has mistakenly been against such close ties for a long time, but RealPolitik as late Chancellor Brandt said calls for such accommodation; or as the cliché goes, make lemonade when you are given lemons; get the best out of the hand you are dealt. Trump is all about the art of the Deal. Christian Religiosity will play a key part in Trump’s administration as well. With Duterte making noises about kicking the Yankee out, the pro US Ranil W regime has an opportunity to offer something tangible in trade.

Take a look at Europe as well.

Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-immigrant Freedom Party says “Yesterday, a new America. Today… a new Europe!”.

If Marine Le Pen wins the French Election and FREXIT happens, EU will be in deep trouble.  Sri Lankan UNP leaders misread the signals in Britain when they campaigned for the Stay movement. BREXIT happened for a reason; it was a backlash against Eastern European non-English speaking immigrants and Mid-Eastern refugees. The wave of Nationalism spreading through Europe should not be ignored.

How did this nationalism come about? The refugee crisis can be linked directly to Iraq and also Libya. The Western nations, especially the USA cannot just wash off their hands like Pontius Pilate after creating chaotic conditions.

Neo-colonialists and old colonialists themselves decided to destabilize Arab nations and wage wars based on lies such as the Iraqi invasion causing conditions that gave rise to Islamic radicalism and jihadism (created by US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan) that did not exist 30 to 40 years ago.

The Tolerance and acceptance capacities of western democracies have been severely tested; their legal systems are severely tested too; People are at a tipping point, and is it racist to want to protect their national identities when they feel their value systems are under assault?

Policy makers in Sri Lanka should wise up to the wave of ethno-economic nationalism and protectionism that is spreading.  Germany is also going through throes of angst, because of terrorism connected to radical Islamic Jihadists; they have accepted over a million refugees.  Only Turkey and possibly Lebanon have accepted more refugees than Germany. Turkey too is facing a wave of ISIS and Kurdish separatist violence.

If Angela Merkel loses, there will even be bigger waves on par with pre-World War II upheavals in Europe that led to the rise of fascism and Nazism. Hungary has already moved to the far right. Some refugees have done a great job in assimilation and working hard; same cannot be observed of the new wave of political refugees from the wars in the Middle-East.

The backlash took years to develop because of liberal open policies. When an economy is doing well, people tend to be more open to immigrants; but when the economy sours, people tend to look for scapegoats; immigrant welfare recipients and refugees are Cannon fodder.

The same phenomenon is occurring in Australia. In Melbourne, gangs(called APEX) from Somalia are wreaking havoc. This writer heard this from Sri Lanka emigrants when he visited. Violent crimes have skyrocketed because of APEX thugs, and people are sick of them. Is being Politically correct paying off?

Hope Sri Lankan policy makers develop strategies to project and predict events in Europe and USA(their main export markets) and adapt to changes if they wish to succeed. It also offers new unique trade opportunities with Britain sans the bureaucratic red tape of the common EU market.

Does the SL Foreign Ministry have good analysts who monitor and study trends around the world to project and predict? Is Sri Lanka prepared to face new realities, nationalism and economic protectionism? “America First” is not just a slogan anymore. EU might cease to exist within 10 years. What then? Fasten your seat-belts.

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