28 September, 2023


Making Difficult But Necessary Choices

By Harsha Gunasena

Harsha Gunasena

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on Tuesday October 27 after visiting India. Thereafter he will visit Maldives and Indonesia. 

He visits Sri Lanka after the recent visit of high-powered Chinese delegation, led by senior Chinese leader and top foreign policy official Yang Jiechi, who is a member of the Communist Party of China’s Politburo and the director of the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Commission.

As a pre-curser of the visit, Dean Thompson, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the State Department said that “We urge Sri Lanka to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long-term prosperity” to which Chinese officials responded that it was cold war mentality and bullying the weak nations.

His visit comes a week before the US presidential election where President Donald Trump repeatedly emphasizing that he is being tough on China. Therefore, this visit can be a part of the election campaign as well.

During the early part of the Trump presidency the trade war with China was started violating the norms of World Trade Organization and now it has gone to the level of cold war. After resurrection in 2017 the alliance called Quad comprising of India, Japan, Australia and the US, emphasized the liberal rule based international order which was undermined by China and now it is openly anti-China.

The foreign policy of US is an extension of its defence policy. The US at present seems to be perceived that the existence of China is a threat to the US. Therefore, with the increasing relationships with China, Sri Lanka is likely to get trapped between the US and China unless Sri Lanka acts cautiously.

China entered into Sri Lankan foreign policy back in the 1960s. Neville Jayaweera, top civil servant in his autobiographical reflection on the ethnic conflict, Jaffna, Exorcising the past and holding the vision, comments as follows about the then powerful Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs N.Q. Dias.

“Dias also unfolded to me a brand-new foreign policy he was working on. He was of the view that basically Sri Lanka had no coherent foreign policy and was consequently too dependent on the West and trusted the bona fides of India which he said was a huge mistake. He emphasized the need for Sri Lanka to veer away from India and forge new alliances. He said that to this end he was planning to open up closer relations with China as a countervailing force against India and to set his project in motion, was plaining to send Mrs. Bandaranaike on an official visit to Beijing.”

“As for my role as GA of Jaffna, Dias said that while facilitating the construction of the propose military camps girdling the Northern Province, I should be “unrelenting” towards Tamil demands, and wherever possible “force confrontations” with them and established the government’s “undisputed ascendancy” (Pages 74-75)

The plan of Dias was to encircle Northern Province with a chain of military camps to contain a future Tamil revolt and the new GA Jaffna had to facilitate the construction.

Dias was trying to harass Tamils and made plans to contain a future revolt in the capacity of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and at the same time was trying to move away from the West and from India and trying to build up close relationship with China in the capacity of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs. This was the root cause of our subsequent dilemma in foreign policy.

When President Jayewardene moved towards the West ignoring India in 1980s when India was aligned with Soviet Union during the cold war, he was advised by the US to settle matters with India since US did not want to interfere with the affairs of a country which was in the backyard of India. Eventually India trained Tamil militants who revolted against the state, making the plans of Dias a flop. When the war dragged on, the West did not support Sri Lanka since there was a strong ethnic issue against Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka had to rely on Pakistan for the supply of arms. Eventually when the LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi and became a power with naval and air force, the West supported to defeat the LTTE, but the arms came mainly from China. India also did not interfere as it did in Rajiv-JR era.

After the end of the war Sri Lankan government did not fulfil the promises made to India during the war related to a political settlement to the ethnic issue, which were helpful to neutralize India during the war. When the Indian pressure was building up Sri Lanka turned to China. 

In 1980s Ralph Buultjens said that the pivotal point of Indo-Lanka relationship was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. This was changed with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi but the Center of India cannot ignore the sentiments of the Tamil Nadu towards the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

The situation Sri Lanka faces today is an complicated extension of the duel policy of N.Q.Dias. It is complicated because of the cold war of US and China. President Jayewardene also faced the same situation but during that time the Chinese factor, the other component of Dias’s formula, was not there.

It was evident that the US supported authoritative regimes around the world when those regimes supported to counter the overall defence concerns of the US. In those instances, the US was not concerned whether those regimes supported the liberal and democratic values, which were propagated by the US around the world. For the US, defence comes first and then the liberal and democratic values. Therefore, as a tradeoff at the negotiations it may be possible that the US may forgo the pressure to Sri Lanka to its commitment to the reconciliation process in exchange of the loyalty to the US against China. If so, Sri Lanka would not be able to come up as a Nation for generations to come. However, this is unlikely due to the concerns of India towards Sri Lankan Tamils. Sri Lanka would be stronger in the negotiations if we have resolved the ethnic conflict which means taking away the second component of Dias’s formula.

The other aspect is cash. Minister Cabraal said that at this juncture of the history China is the most cash rich country. During the war China supplied arms on loan. Thereafter China funded several projects where there were no economic returns in the short run. China is alleged of debt diplomacy around the world. Sri Lanka is a country which had inappropriate financial management for a long period. Sri Lanka turns to China at this point due to the same reasons a rural farmer turns to a local money lender instead of a bank. Therefore, choices for Sri Lanka is difficult so as the decisions to be made.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    On the way to Lanka Pompeo had signed several pacts with India so that China has to rethink its current aggressive strategies. From now US will be in alliance in protecting Indian borders. Therefor choices for Lanka is extra difficult ,so as the decisions to be made.

  • 6

    What is the trade volume between India and China?
    Who constructed the major part of India’s 4G network?
    From which country India sources raw materials for her gigantic pharmaceutical industry?
    Did Huawei sell 5G networks to USA or did USA buy 5G networks from Huawei?
    Did China become rich by giving loans to poor countries or being a mid level technology supplier and a source of cheap labour to rich countries?
    Can you call rich countries transfering their manufacturing base to China as ‘technology trap’ and blame China for that?
    Can the borrower blame the lender unless the lender violated the initial conditions of borrowing?
    Can the children blame the mother for borrowing to feed them when they were starving or blame the farther for building a house when they were homeless and NOW blame the lender?


    • 3

      Very sorry to hear about the bandit mother creating troubles in brothel houses and the father hording his black money in foreign banks. Hopefully one day they will correct them and bring you food home.
      Best wishes

    • 1

      Thanks, soma.
      What you say provokes thought – always a good thing.

      • 0

        Thanks, S. M.


    • 1


      You explained very correctly.

  • 1

    The legend of Thirunavukkarasar says, Jains watched a small boy, extremely intelligent, wandering on the street, had only one sister to take care of him. She too was a child widow, just two-three years more of him. They kidnapped the boy, converted him, brainwashed, and taught him immorally their religion, too. When grown up Thirunavukkarasar woke up and wanted to return to his only relative, ascetic sister, they punished him in many ways hoping to cause him death.

    China hijacked Lankawe when it lost its last penny on the $400B dollar war. Lankawe believes that China is giving unconditional investments, but they are stringent loans.
    Let’s us exaggerate a little bit of the FDI:” FDI is not in loan form, but when it comes from foreign nations, it never goes back.” In the past, when opportunity arose, Lankawe had nationalized British companies with bravery. Now convincing foreign investors to come and invest in Lankawe is not possible, thanks for Sri Ma O’s goony socialism. So, now, the Shylock is lending and cutting a pound of flesh each time, not just from Lankawe, but even from the child of Lankawe which still in the womb. Lankawe the Modaya numbed with Morphine or Oxycodone, feels no pain to see the Chinese yuan .
    Even Allah cannot save Lankawe!

  • 3


    “Can the children blame the mother for borrowing to feed them when they were starving or blame the farther for building a house when they were homeless and NOW blame the lender?”

    No the children can’t blame the mother if anything they have to blame their unemployed unemployable lazy father. Isn’t it why the mother leaves the island go to middle east medieval kingdoms to eke out a living. The father of course receives remittances, dress well, dring, eat and live a life of a jollyman.

    Why should the children be left to starve and the mothers are being forced to travel abroad to earn a living if the rulers and state had focused on people’s welfare alone in the first place rather than chasing a Sinhala/Buddhist mirage?

    Now things are too bad to the extent every Tom, Dao Ming and Hariraj pop in to and grope the women folks on a regular basis yet you believe this island enjoys sovereignty (whatever that maybe). Mike Pompeo sarcastically mentioned it more than three times in the past two days.

    Where are those great patriots of this island?

  • 0

    Thank you Harsha. A very valid analysis.

    The reality is anyone with a common sense will make or forced to make such a decision to lean on China given what FP was doing in Jaffna.

    The trauma they caused with the Indian Citizenship (1948) act in Sinhala land and transferred the troubles to Jaffna (Hon SJV centre of operation a classmate of Hon SWRD and a Colombo boy) and laid the foundation for the Language issues(1956) and made a meal out of it too…then in 1960’s Asia was a hotbed go Cold War and the FP war loads were very active too in a Nation just born and had to manage post colonial mess new the colonial babies had a different idea not even applicable to the entire Tamil mass.

    That is also inline with Ceylon Congress/Tamil Congress & Tamil Federal Party & UNP/then SLFP from the UNP formations and politics too.

    1970 was different when the TC/FP shown their true colour.

    In fact it was a great choice China and see how that turned out to be……..Indians and Chinese are doing great business around the world and doing good to their Nations too.

    It is us who do not know what is living and what is good for us for a normal life.

  • 1

    Soma, can any blame China for not telling the real facts and killing almost half a million people 2) Can any blame China for patent piracy 3) Can any blame China for manipulating their currency and there by markets. 4)Can any blame China for severely restricting outsiders from entering or doing business(other than sharing) when they are allowed to do so in every nook of the world. 5) Can anyone blame China for exploiting others to illegally dump goods 6) Can anyone blame government sponsored Chinese companies for competing with others by creating a not so fair market. 7) Can any blame China for intimidating and bullying their small neighbors.8)Can any blame China for hacking and trying to manipulate democratic elections in other countries.

    • 0

      Insignificant compared to death and destruction caused by USA all around the world since the end of WWII.
      Money earned through ‘improper practices’ mentioned by you is nothing compared to the revenue of American arms industry.


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