By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“New Silk Road or New Great Game? India Developing New Sri Lanka Port to Combat China” (Wayne Shepard, Forbes, April 21, 2017)
So this was what the January 8th 2015 regime change (or ‘revolution’ as some silly folk would have it) was all about: India, or more correctly, the US-India-Japan axis, securing through a puppet Prime Minister, the strategic prize of Trincomalee as part of its competition with China and Russia in the Asia–Pacific region and especially the Indian Ocean.
So this is also what the new Constitution is about. Securing the permanent possession of Trincomalee by empowering the Tamil-majority Northern and Eastern Provinces as a buffer, and rendering the area eminently detachable in a Cyprusization move and strengthening the puppet Prime Minister by transferring executive power to him.
No previous government, from DS Senanayaka through Premadasa to Rajapaksa would have thought of such treachery.
“Will they leave?” was the urgent question President Premadasa posed to me in the presence of Ranjan Wijeratne, having kept me behind as Varadarajahperumal and the others left the meeting at Sucharitha in early January 1989 when the new Chief Minister and Cabinet of the North-East Provincial Council met the newly elected President for the first time. Sajith Premadasa will recall the occasion. I knew President Premadasa was asking about the Indians and replied: “From what can I gather, they hope to keep back two brigades in Trincomalee”.
Trincomalee was always the greatest prize but only Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and this Government is ready to give it to our neighbor India. President Premadasa’s question remains relevant: “Will they leave?” With the solid commercial agreement that the PM is about to commit our country to, they probably will not, and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get them to leave.
I am appalled that the JVP and FSP which needlessly spilled Southern blood allegedly against Indian expansionism, including the FSP leader who sincerely and bravely fought against foreign troops in Trincomalee, are not spearheading a nationwide mobilization against this historic geopolitical and economic treachery.
The Realist school of thought is basically geopolitical. It holds that geography ultimately determines history. Where you are and what you are determines what happens to you. If you understand geopolitics you can protect yourself.
The ancient Indian sage and strategist Kautilya (aka Chanakya), one of the founding fathers of the school of Realism in politics and interstate relations, unambiguously stated that the main threat to any state inevitably arises from its neighbors, because it is with neighbors that there are contentious borders and constant temptations. He argued that states should therefore cultivate as a matter of strategic priority, excellent relations not so much with their neighbors but precisely with the neighbors of their neighbors, so as to counterbalance the inevitable attempts at hegemony, intervention, conquest and annexation on the part of one’s immediate neighbors.
The Sri Lankan government or one part of it, is just about to violate the advice of that great Indian sage, ironically enough with relation to India. ‘Sri Lanka PM to Visit India’ says the report, interestingly enough, by ‘A Special Correspondent’ in The Hindu, with a strap that reads “To Set Agenda for Modi’s Trip”. So what’s that agenda?
“…Officials said an MoU to develop Trincomalee port’s prospects through operating a major oil-storage facility, LNG plant and piped-gas projects and developing it as a key transit point with major expressways and industrial zones in the region is in the final stages of negotiations. The two sides will also hold discussions on the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), a version of the free trade agreement, and will be taken forward during Mr. Modi’s visit for International Vesak Day, the annual Buddhist festival on May 12, officials told The Hindu.” (April 20, 2017)
It seems like the PM is arranging a Vesak dansala for the visiting Indian PM, in which he will be served up Trincomalee.
Writing in Forbes magazine, Wayne Shepard confirms that India, “a country that sorely needs to revive its own aging infrastructure” is investing in Trincomalee so as to enhance its influence on the island as well as to counter China.
“International infrastructure investment and development is no longer merely about profitability: it’s become a way of obtaining influence in a country, a way of countering the position of competing geopolitical forces.” (“India Developing New Sri Lanka Port To Combat China” Forbes, April 21, 2017)
Why should Sri Lanka facilitate India enhancing its influence on our island, when that would automatically mean enhancing the influence of Tamil Nadu over us? Why should we enable India to countervail the factor of China which has been a reliable, powerful friend and ally of Sri Lanka for decades?
‘Are Sri Lanka’s ports the next Great Game for China, India and Japan?’ asks Jeremy Luedi, Senior editor and analyst of Global Risks Insight, in its edition of April 17, 2017. The GRI intro/summary cautions that “By developing its strategic location midway between the Middle East and the Straits of Malacca Sri Lanka faces both opportunities, and growing risks.”
Having been through a Thirty Years War and an episode of coercive intervention with 70,000 troops from our neighbor stationed on our soil—and episode initially propelled by political opinion in Tamil Nadu– do we really need those “growing risks”?
A young Sri Lankan policy analyst, Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Director General, Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the think tank of the Defense Ministry under President Sirisena, has in the mildest possible fashion, raised an important concern about the policy towards Trincomalee and Hambantota.
“…Sri Lanka should also think of national security clearance when deciding on large-scale strategic foreign projects…Furthermore, [the report] should also assess if these projects add strategic value to Sri Lanka’s economy. It is important to remember that given the volatile global order, what may be the best strategic option today may not be the same in a few years’ time. A simulator should be designed to deeply understand future events and scenarios.
Foresight analysis is a methodology that Sri Lanka could adopt to predict the best future scenarios. Has Sri Lanka assessed the strategic and economic significance of the Hambantota and Trincomalee port projects in 2030, 2050 and beyond? The Sri Lankan policymakers should take these questions into consideration while making strategic decisions. If they do not have the necessary data sets to decide, they should defer the decision. Due to Sri Lanka’s geographically strategic position, it cannot ignore regional and extra-regional entities’ interests in it. The Sri Lankan government should view its national interest as the first point of reference.”
The non-foreignization and non-privatization of strategic national assets such as ports and airports was emphasized as a fundamental feature of the highly successful East Asian economic model, by a Sri Lankan-born professor of economics at the University of Rotterdam, to my mind the sharpest Sri Lankan economic mind in global academia at the moment, Prof Howard Nicholas, at Sri Lanka Inc.’s “Economic Forum 2017” at the Galle Face Hotel on March 30th. Those strategic national assets remained state monopolies. He defined the East Asian economic miracle as one of “national capitalism”, and it must be admitted that there is absolutely nothing “national” about Ranil Wickremesinghe’s model of capitalism.
So why is Prime Minister Wickremesinghe about to give away Trincomalee to India? How does he expect to win any election when his opponents can portray him and his party the UNP as “the ones who gave Trinco to the Indians”, with all the consequences for the North and East and the destiny of the island? Is it that he expects that with such a stake in Trincomalee, India and its strategic ally the USA will feel it is in their joint interest to maintain Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in office by whatever means necessary, including coercive intervention?
It appears that Sri Lanka and its strategic assets are mere commodities to be sold or traded on the international markets, for the first time in at least a century, for a Sri Lankan leader—in this case the PM– as I ventured to suggest in my public presentation by invitation to the admirable ‘Public Commission on a National Policy on International Trade’.
Our island was invaded from the North (Tamil Nadu) and the West (Europe) due to its location. Instead of maximizing our autonomy and self-determination, the Prime Minister is using the same factor as bait. One may call his strategy “Colonization by Invitation”.
Of the two locations, Hambantota and Trincomalee, the former is the less dangerous because China is not our neighbor, we have no history of invasion and occupation with China, and China has no Tamil Nadu within it anyway. The opposite is the case with the Trincomalee giveaway, which is strategically tantamount to swallowing a cyanide capsule.
What is retarding resistance to Ranil’s ‘Great Game’ is the ‘Game of Thrones’ going on behind the scenes at the interface of the SLFP and Oppositional spaces. It is a game of positioning or pre-positioning for succession.
At one level the struggle is over which family owns the SLFP—the Bandaranaikes or the Rajapaksas—with ex-President CBK fancying herself the local Sonia Gandhi with President Sirisena the local Manmohan Singh.
At another level the struggle is within the Rajapaksas, with the most manipulative sibling, who is also the long-preferred option of the West, situating himself as a proxy or “shadow” presidential candidate until generational succession is possible, and pre-empting his non-partisan, technocratic, heroic, stronger sibling from being the candidate and national savior that much of Sri Lankan society is hoping and waiting for, to restore this country’s dignity and sovereignty.
To deploy two Leninist questions then, “What is to be done?” and “Where to Begin? The most painless way to liberate Sri Lanka would be to impose a crushing defeat on this government at the coming Referendum on the new Constitution—and indeed at any election whatsoever—and then uprooting the puppets by means of People’s Power. This centenary year of the October Revolution is as good a year as any and better than any other, to do this.