25 May, 2019

Blog

Male Fragility & The Sri Lankan Crisis: A Queer Feminist Reading – II

By Chamindra Weerawardhana –

Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana

In the first article of this series, this writer highlighted how the frontline male leadership has been complicit in allowing major national security lapses, letting an unprecedent tragedy happen under their watch. The first article also dwelled upon Gotabaya Rajapaksa, due to his position as a presidential hopeful, his 2010-2015 role as the holder of full oversight over national security, and his public proclamations in the aftermath of the devastating Easter Sunday tragedy. As people were mourning their loved ones, as little children who dressed up to go to mass on Easter Sunday lay dead and brutally dismembered in three churches, as the lives of many innocent citizens who had done nothing wrong were shattered, Gotabaya was quick to talk to Reuters and reiterate his preparedness to enter the forthcoming presidential race. Hence the importance of devoting attention to his claims and aspects of his work in the first article. What follows below is very much an essential ‘prelude’ to a queer feminist reading of the foreign policy and national security intersections of the current crisis. 

Understanding the problem

First and foremost, what happened in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019 cannot be understood as a domestic problem. When something of this nature happens in a strategically vital place in the global South, the initial, if not most popular tendency among many is to frame this as a ‘local’ problem. This is what Western media did from the 21st April 2019 onwards. This ‘local framing’ is also the preferred mantra of many in Colombo’s NGO lobby. The current situation is highly beneficial to them, as they now have the prospect of obtaining increased funding for their ‘projects’ and careerist agendas. The same goes for the so-called ‘Sri Lanka experts’ in the West – white people clueless about Sinhala and/or Tamil, who, having spent short periods ‘researching’ in Sri Lanka, getting their ‘field’ research translated with the help of someone, and subsequently getting published in English. They often assume that they are absolute experts on all things Sri Lankan. The worst reality is that the work produced by these individuals is widely considered in Western and supranational lobbies as credible knowledge. These ‘experts’ are highly reluctant to acknowledge the limits of their work, and the tremendous racial, socio-political and financial privileges they have. They perceive Sri Lankan scholars and academics only as their auxiliaries. Given these exploitative racial politics and power dynamics, a necessary national security mechanism is to enforce strict monitoring on the work of these self-serving ‘Sri Lanka experts’ in the West, as well as their local counterparts, mostly in the NGO sector and to a lesser yet non-negligible extent in the academy.  

In sum, if we are to make sense of what happened on Easter Sunday 2019 and what is currently going on in Sri Lanka, we need to look beyond the desperate efforts by many people to frame these attacks as a result of a ‘local’ problem – of ethnonationalism, ethno-religious nationalism/antagonism or ethno-religious outbidding. 

The key to the truth lies outside our shores. 

This is a matter of Sri Lanka becoming a highly strategic pawn in an international, if not global power struggle between the united states of america, a white-settler colony on the unceded sovereign Indigenous territories of Turtle Island, and the rise of China as a key player in world affairs. Some call this the rise of ‘Eastphalia’ with special reference to the rise of India and China as world powers.  

In what follows, I will focus on some aspects of the intersections of national security and foreign policy. 

Why President Rajapaksa Lost

A robust national security strategy cannot be put in place without an equally robust foreign policy focus. Lapses in foreign policy were a key reason behind the international challenges faced by the Rajapaksa administration. Or, to correct that sentence along a queer feminist-political perspective, the absence of a national security strategy that clearly identified foreign policy priorities and deployed the best resources and talent to manage foreign policy, happened to be a key reason behind the majority of the problems the Rajapaksa administration [especially in the second mandate] confronted on the world stage. During the war effort, strategically useful decisions, such as the rapprochement with China, reinforcement of relations with Iran, engaging in a balancing act with Congress-led Delhi, and arms-length collaborations with US defence structures in the war effort, were all in motion. 

However, the post-war scenario required a higher plane of expertise and innovation. A war that the West assumed to be unwinnable was won, something that the West considered [and still considers] to be an undue if not un-endorsed aggression by a South Asian government. Hence the continued USA-led emphasis on pushing Sri Lanka against the wall, not to mention their strong resolve to orchestrate the regime change operation of 2015. 

Sino-Lanka Dynamics: a [very] brief recap

What happened in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday has a great deal to do with Sri Lanka’s position and role in China’s “One Belt-One Road” strategy. To us in Sri Lanka, this kind of global cooperation is nothing new. Sri Lanka has long-standing diplomatic, trade and cultural ties with China, and ties of kinship run very deep. Suffice to look, for instance, at the legacy of Chinese engagements in the Kingdom of Kotte. The fact that China was a key partner to us on the world stage centuries prior to that is proven by documented evidence that dates back at least to around AD 410, when Faxian [法顯] visited Lanka. 

Today’s Lanka has to be, is, and must be a player in the ‘One Belt One Road’ strategy and there must be no question of that. These are ties that run deep. That exploitative practices come into play in big power-small power relations is a given. However, what is commendable about Chinese policy is that China does not have the reputation of committing brutal mass murder and national tragedies to orchestrate regime changes in order to sustain their corporate, strategic and diplomatic interests. The exception could perhaps be what came to be known as the Ming-Kotte War, in which the Chinese forces were steered by Admiral Zheng He [鄭和]. However, the scars of that confrontation were soon healed, with HM Parakramabahu the  VIth, – a close ally of the Ming dynasty – strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with China. His close ties with China were such that one of his sons who went to China on a diplomatic mission married a Chinese princess and settled down there. Direct descendants of the Kotte royal lineage still live in China. 

Debunking a myth

Many people tend to buy into the fiction that under the joint government,  foreign policy witnessed an improvement. This argument is mostly justified on the grounds that Sri Lanka earned ‘the respect of the world’ under the Joint Government. This statement is often followed by the point that under the Samaraweera/ Karunanayake/ Marapana/ Wickremesinghe purview, Colombo ‘mended’ her relations with the ‘West’ [not to mention a President rejoicing that the Queen of England shook hands with him with her අතේ මේස් ගලවලා!].  

All of the above positions are deeply flawed. Under the joint government, Sri Lankan foreign policy became a sheepish agenda with zero regard for Sri Lankan interests and the national sovereignty of the state. Here again, the failure was that of men in power, on the frontline as well as behind the scenes. Every high-level delegation to the UN HRC was highly representative of the of phallocentric politics of fragile, insecure and geriatric masculinities this writer mentioned in the first article of this series. In full and unconditional deference to the big powers that put them in office, the joint government and its delegations to Geneva carried themselves in the most despicable manner, agreeing to resolutions and covert strategies to push the Sri Lankan state against the wall. Colombo should NEVER have agreed to Resolution 31/1, and its highly coercive nature and excessive focus on sensitive matters pertaining to national security. 

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The phallocentric frontline: Root cause of the current mess [©Daily FT]

We can therefore conclude that foreign policy under the joint government has been, unfortunately, a lot worse than under the Rajapaksa administration. When the Hambantota port was leased to China on a 99-year lease, the self-serving and incompetent bigots in power in Colombo did not work well enough to contain, if not constructively address, the concerns of Delhi and Washington DC. What happened on Easter Sunday 2019 was the ultimate result of such policy nightmares. 

The Keyword: USA 

Today, USS John C. Stennis is docked off Sri Lankan waters, in close proximity to one of our most strategic sea ports, the port of Trincomalee. Many observers, including MPs, have highlighted that supplies to USS John C. Stennis go via Katunayake, with zero checks of the merchandise being flown in on a U.S. Navy C-40A Clipper logistics aircraft and then re-loaded on to a C-2A Greyhound  aircraft to be flown on board USS John C. Stennis. 

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