27 June, 2022


Lanka A Global Swing State

The Sunday Times Editorial

Sinha Ratnatunga - Editor Sunday Times

In the coming week, two of the world’s largest nation-powers, China and the United States of America (US), pick their leaders; China for the next decade, and the US for the next four years.China’s ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee will confirm within the new ‘forbidden city’ in Beijing, and behind closed doors, its next President and Prime Minister. Away from the prying eyes of the multitude, the 1.35 billion citizens it claims to represent, this select band will announce after the National Party Congress the names of the coterie who will run China’s mighty military machine and its juggernaut economy.

The Chinese people will have to grin and bear this choreographed change of guard. In decisively sharp contrast, the American people will cast their vote for a President (and a Government) of their choice after months of strenuous campaigns, live TV debates and town hall meetings based largely on issues that face the country. It is a gruelling but transparent exercise shaming China’s secretive ‘consensus by conclave’ election.

Whatever the modus operandi in picking their leaders, the significance of these elections is not lost on the rest of the world, including Sri Lanka. It is all the more important that these changes are taking place at a time when there is a marked shift in emphasis by Sri Lanka from the West to East; while the US is lecturing Sri Lanka on human rights and pumping in little money, China asks no questions and is expected to proffer US$ 10 billion (Rupees 1.3 trillion) up to 2015 as investments, loans and aid to Sri Lanka.

First to the US. Incumbent President Barack Obama is clearly the darling of the world. He has, notwithstanding his authorisation of drone attacks over Pakistan, managed to lessen the view of much of the world of the US as a satanic state. A socially conscious leader, President Obama introduced universal medical care in America which five previous Presidents could not achieve. He brought back the US troops from Iraq and is bringing them back from Afghanistan and as far as the American people were concerned, had al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden killed. However, domestic issues, and a sense of dashed hopes overriding the high expectations from a super-star have raised questions about his performance with some 40 million American still unemployed.

The respected New Yorker magazine endorsing President Obama had this to say; “Romney (President Obama’s challenger Mitt Romney) has embraced the values and priorities of a Republican Party that has grown increasingly reactionary and rigid in the social vision. It is a party dominated by those who despise government and see no value in public efforts aimed at ameliorating the immense and rapidly increasing inequalities in American society”.

What’s in all this for Sri Lanka? It was under President Obama’s watch that the US spearheaded a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last March. But this stance on human rights issues clearly has a bipartisan approach in the US. Obama’s Sri Lanka policy is pushed by the likes of Samantha Power and Susan Rice – and Hillary Clinton. Her new Ambassador in Colombo is also tough on HR issues – with an Asian smile. The Tamil Diaspora is active in the US while our mission is no match for it.

China’s growing influence over Sri Lanka will cast a long shadow but will not be sufficient to “soften” US policy on HR issues whoever assumes office. Analysts believe Obama 2 will take an even tougher approach, while Romney 1 will continue policy – with an even lesser tolerance on Iran sanctions that is already crippling Sri Lankan oil supplies. Romney 1 will also take a more critical view of China worldwide.

In a sense, Sri Lanka’s rapid drift to the Chinese orbit would make the Chinese elections more meaningful even if they, like the Chinese people, know next to nothing of what’s happening. Chinese interests in Sri Lanka have taken a quantum leap in recent years. A Financial Times correspondent visiting the south last week wrote that Sri Lanka had three official languages, but he noticed a fourth – Chinese — in signboards pointing the way to loads of workers from that country immersed in development projects in the area.

He wrote, “Sri Lanka has emerged as not just a global test case of how to spur growth after a conflict, but also a closely watched swing state where the US and India are vying with China for influence”. Like all foreign nations, China’s interest in Sri Lanka is not entirely altruistic, rather very much part of the former’s geo-strategic interests. The Rajapaksa Government seems to be happily in a revolving door policy with Beijing; just ask for help, and get it, repeatedly – from war weaponry to construction projects. It is of the firm belief that a militarily and economically surging China will be its ultimate ‘safety net’ in a turbulent modern world.

Chinese foreign policy is not subject to the vagaries of which individual is in office. The Chinese Communist Party is a collective body that decides policy by consensus. In that sense, there is little to worry of any swings and roundabouts in China’s Sri Lanka policy in the future. The worry would be, if at all, of Sri Lanka’s dependence on China in the coming years under whatever dispensation in Beijing and the compromises Colombo will have to make for this, all too cosy relationship.

Fresh onslaught on Lanka

Sri Lanka came under scrutiny once again before the international community at the UN in Geneva this week. As expected, the US took a broad swipe at Sri Lanka concentrating its fire on judicial independence, while China asked that Sri Lanka be given space to work out its own solutions.

In the backdrop of this (please see our news story) a former senior UNDP staffer, Charles Petrie, a controversial British national and former Resident Representative in Burma who was booted out by the country’s military junta only to return now with political reform in that country, is heading a panel that will submit a report on the performance, or the lack of it, of UN staff in Sri Lanka during the last stages of the war against the LTTE in 2009.

Once the report is out, it is going to once again bring into focus the Darusman report commissioned by the UN Secretary General – a report that was very critical of the Sri Lankan Government. Already, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans has commented on the report saying, “Petrie’s report is not a pretty picture about the UN in Sri Lanka”. How does he know the contents of a report yet to be released? Does the Government or our mission in New York have advance intelligence on this report, which Mr. Evans seems to have? A legitimate question would be the credibility of Mr. Petrie’s independence working with the Norwegian ‘conflict resolution industry’.

All this smacks of yet another attempt by the international community to gang up on Sri Lanka. Is the Government ready for this fresh onslaught?

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Latest comments

  • 0

    I think we are swinging by our necks and no one cares two hoots whom we swing for. Maybe if oil were found in Mannar things would change.

  • 0

    This analysis is quite imbalanced because of the failure to mention the Elephant in the room, the giant and nearest neighbour of Lanka, in whose geopolitical orbit Sri Lanka is firmly located beyond any contest even from China – i.e. India – that also sends the most number of tourists and fetilizes the ONLY development policy that the uneducated Basil Rajapakse has – tourism!
    At the end of the day given India’s proximity let us not forget that India could flatten or take out Rajapakse with ease, if and when it chooses and China is just too far away and the rest of the world would not do much since Sri Lanka is in India’s geopolitical sphere – In this instance geography is destiny. The fact is that the west and India has given Rajapassa too much rope and must now real him in – Start by BOYCOTTING Rajapakse and shifting the Commonwealth Heads meeting in 2013 out of Colombo. There is very good cause now that the first woman CJ is being impeached for doing her job properly!

  • 0

    It seems Sinha Ranatunga has not heard about the crisis in Sri Lanka betwen the Executive and judiciery. First have the courage to write on what is immediately important to your country than things far away.

  • 0

    Sri lanka was blind to the annexation of tibet by china in 1959 and the atrocities still ongoing since,by the chinese on tibetans especially the monks & nuns.
    Monks are self immolating for some time in protest.
    But china supports sri lanka at the UN,therefore our monks and JHU are silent about tibet.
    But sri lanka is indignant about attacks on buddhists in bangladesh – a selective grief.
    USA has no such religious bias, but faults our human rights record.
    The combination – good religious practices & bad human rights, cancel out each other in sri lanka – or do they?

  • 0

    The author talks so much about the UN but doesn’t mention the North of Sri Lanka which is the factor behind all the goings-on in the UN on Sri Lanka.

    Perception-cognition disconnect ?????

  • 0

    “The Chinese people will have to grin and bear this choreographed change of guard.” Mr. Ratnatunga wrote.

    Yankee puppet as he is; thinks electing a President in US style is the only right way. Does he know that turnout at the presidential election in 2008 was just 63%. And in that mostly winner-take-all system, the president may have been elected even with less than 50% overall vote. Ratnatunga should read 2000 US presidential election crisis and understand the American style better, I mean imperialism, the bulwark of world capitalism throughout the 20th century. I am not slating the US method as awful only disapproving Ratnatunga vilifying the Chinese way as appalling.

    Recently CCTV said; any citizen can become a member of the (CPC) communist party of China. And, today, there are 86 million active members of CPC. Now that is one in every fifteenth person in China. And that CPC membership is four times the population of Sri Lanka. None of the local party heads of CPC were appointed by the President of China or by the politburo members of CPC but elected within the membership. CCTV also said; clever, smart and hard working members among the CPC membership propel themselves at regularly held local party meetings to higher and higher positions of the state administration through party apparatus. Now, that is not totalitarian; it is China democracy for over sixty years since Moa Tse Tung.

    Westerners and their club called the International Community are jealous of China. They are jealous not just for its economic development but for winning friends the world over. China does not barge in and force friendships like the Colonialists of the yesteryear. It does not force its religion or culture or religion on others. It does not interfere in internal matters of other countries. In short, China is no modern day colonialist.

    Long before the so called explorers of Europe or the Portuguese bandits washed in to our shores, we had good relations with China for over thousand years. So, all Sri Lankan Buddhists consider China as a friend. Christian evangelists that anchored here since Portuguese, however look upon China as their enemy.

    Ever since China started to build our harbour at Hambantota these detractors did everything they could to distort our relationship with China. Such acts have multiplied when Chinese started the coal power station at Norochchole and numerous other projects. To understand the mentality, the vengeance and the prejudices that Westerners and their henchmen carry, please visit http://www.lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/showcase-91/? and see Chinese in Africa in western eyes. That writer photographer saw all wrongs and damage Chinese did to Africa during the last few years, but he saw no wrong what Europeans had done for the last five hundred years.

    Since, president Mahinda started to develop this country with Chinese aid, suckers of the West have started their crusade. They started foretelling that China is building a naval base in Hambantota. Some other cock-teasers have gone so far as to present a China bogey to Indians.

    Likes of Ratnatunga of cause, Westerners are Samaritans and all others are loan sharks. They write as if Westerners dish out money for our projects as grants and expect nothing in return, but wily Chinese always lend us to make maximum. They hark; aid from Sweden, Germany and Britain attach no conditions. What a blatant lie.

    Had these guys forgotten that Westerners offered a loan of Rs 4.5 billion in 2002 to RanilW as a carrot to get ISGA of LTTE implemented? Have they forgotten that westerners put their loan in to a backburner because RanilW couldn’t put ISGA into operation? It couldn’t be implemented because the whole country were against ISGA. No conditions to loans from westerners; my foot.

    Ratnatunga seems very worried about road sign in Chinese and their ‘quantum leaps’ in Sri Lanka. Has he forgotten that Westerners brought in hoards of white men their families to do lucrative jobs that our engineers could have been employed to do easily. Ratnatunga should know that Westerners aim had been to repatriate part of the money that they gave us as loans for Mahaweli projects.

    Nobody gives anything for nothing these days. Only the naive would believe Western Countries give aid, grants, or loans without strings attached. As far as we know; Westerners attach enormous ropes while Chinese attach tiny string. What’s wrong if an investor take a share of profits from a project; particularly, if it makes profits? Hambantota harbor is a profitable venture.

    I suggest Ratnatunga dig in to the past and see what the Dutch company, Balast Needam BV did while they built Ruhunu University in the early 1980s. On flimsy excuses, they have dragged it on and on for years to inflate costs. And the cost had overrun to the tune of four times the original estimate in the end. They did all that cost escalation not for an expert job; but to build a few simple three story buildings and landscaping. Nawaloka mudalali would have done a better job much cheaper.

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