By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
We welcome the visit of Michael Richard Pompeo, the US State Secretary turned Diplomat, politician and businessman to Sri Lanka. The visit of this highly placed official of the most powerful country in the world today is viewed with great expectations amidst much speculation by different quarters. WE welcome you because you are coming as our honored guest invited by our Minister of Foreign Affairs. The invitation extended to you by him dispels any and all qualms surrounding your arrival mainly because this Minister happens to be a highly reputed personality in this country hailing from a family of a famous fire brand who fought valiantly to free our country from Foreign domination, British, at the time. The minister too is, identified with the progressive block in this country. Any way we are a hospitable nation historically acclaimed for our generosities associated with our hospitality. Regardless of the outlook of any guest, friend or foe, we Sri Lankans are used to extend a warm hand.
Michael Pompeo is the 11th high ranking person in the U.S. ‘Order of Precedence’ of the declared ceremonial order of the State. The record of his early career show many facets in his life which have added up to making him a unique personality in the world politics today. He hails from a family migrated to US from Italy in 1899. A keen sportsman in school he has played forward in the basketball team before he joined the US military academy and served in the US Army between 1986 to 1991 where he rose to the rank of captain. Like many of his predecessors in the American Culture, he also graduated from the Harvard law school and has practiced as a lawyer attached to a Law Firm. He entered politics in 2010 as a Republican and became an elected representative of the Kansas District Congress seat until he was appointed as the Director of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in 2017. From this position he was elevated to his current status as the Secretary of State in 2018 by President Donald Trump.
It is an admissible fact that when a person holds high positions particularly in the CIA demanding intervention in international affairs, there is a tendency and a possibility to have many fingers pointed accusingly. Nevertheless, Mike’s stand on the Myanmar Rohingya Muslims and his stance regarding the ISIS show his concerns related to human issues. Some of his sometimes highly criticized controversial involvements in certain instances apart, we have to recognize the role he is compelled to play to sustain the powerful image of the country he represents. Be that as it may, the period of his arrival visit is marked with several significant underlying factors politically as well as nature’s hazards on humanity.
He comes from the country which is worst affected due to the COVID 19 pandemic. The latest reported status is as follows;
The current COVID-19 situation
Data reported to WHO in the last 24 hours. Latest update: 26 October 2020, 09:36 pm GMT+5:30.
82 626 New cases; 8 485 747 Confirmed cases; 223 328 Confirmed deaths;
Extremely serious not only for his country but to the entire world. US is also on the verge of holding the biggest election in the Country to elect the next American President. Mike’s finding time to get out of the country in such a situation makes us think how important this visit to this region, (IOR) is, for his country.
The economic impact his country is facing is enormous. According to WB and IMF reports, the real US GDP has declined by a record of 32.9% in the second quarter of 2020.To make things more clear I wish to quote from the report of the World Bank Global Economic Prospects – released in June 2020;
The domestic COVID-19 outbreak and associated large-scale pandemic-control measures have massively disrupted activity. High-frequency service sector indicators point to an unprecedented collapse, especially for services and travel. Compared to the global financial crisis, weekly unemployment claims have risen much faster, while industrial production and retail sales have fallen much more sharply. Meanwhile, the collapse in oil prices has depressed investment in the highly leveraged U.S. shale oil sector. The Federal Reserve has cut rates to near-zero, and announced far-reaching measures to stabilize the financial system. The latter include unlimited purchases of U.S. government debt and mortgage-backed obligations, as well as large-scale purchases of corporate bonds and of securities issued by lower levels of government. The U.S. government has also provided fiscal support approaching $3 trillion, including over $1 trillion in loans to firms and to state and local governments. Further measures, such as another round of direct transfers to households, are under consideration.”
No further elaboration is necessary to indicate the devastative and grave impact of the Corona Virus epidemic on the US.
The 2021 rebound forecast figures too are not so promising for the US economy besides the unpredictability of even those projections due to the unforeseeable future of the disease.
It is no secret that there is an open trade war between the two giant World powers, US and China, now on going.The geo-political ramifications now prevalent in the Indian Ocean Region too are no more state secrets. China has advanced in leaps and bounds encompassing 53 countries stretching from the Mediterranean (Red Seas) across nearly two thirds of the Eurasian continent extending to the Pacific Ocean. There is a fast developing infrastructure investment plan in place under the proposed Belt and Road initiative led by China. A new silk road era is in the offing to which several governments in the region have pledged support to commit trillions of dollars during the next decade to complete the worlds’ largest population connectivity program which would taper into a constellation of commerce and cultural exchange. This is a program conceived and launched in Asia led by Asians.
Naturally the big powers and their associates will be seriously concerned about these developments. And in the process there will be a heavy focus on the highly strategic locations in the region. We are beginning to see the mushroom effects of such concerns. The renaming of the IOR as Indo-pacific region, the birth of Free and Open Indo –Pacific concept to create an ‘open indo-pacific corridor’, efforts taken to enter into Strategic agreements with several countries in the Asian region appear as the manifestations of this focus.
WE are no doubt a small Island nation which will attract the attention under all these formations. As it is known we have maintained our neutrality and today “among the Free Nations Sri Lanka is one”. We seek to see the world settling their disputes by agreement rather than by force. The Asian concept is something that is not easy to disregard owing to our geographical and cultural closeness. Some of our close associates in the region have had long historical links and relations with us starting from thousands of years before. Our concerns are to continue this highly respected position of our independency and dynamic neutrality maintaining the unity and harmony in the Asian Region as a prime consideration.
WE begin to worry when big powers clash and impose sanctions on each other. We worry more when we find that some of the sanctions are directed at some nations whom we are close to in our free and independent transactions. We realize the inevitability of international politics. But our wish is to remain as a country free from any unintended consequences. To that extent we are compelled to play safe and keep committed to beneficial strategies as a country. We wish and expect the powers that be to advocate flexible responses in place of massive retaliations in their confrontations. In our well respected concerns about our vision in the foreign policy we urged the rest of the world to march towards a restriction of nuclear weapons into the Indian Ocean and to close its ports and airfields to ships and aircraft which either carry nuclear weapons or are equipped for nuclear warfare and also prohibit overflights of crafts thus equipped.
It will not be difficult for Mike Pompeo to understand our cultural background. Our national interests are closely linked to safeguarding our historical values. The religious dignitaries of our country are highly respected and play a key and dynamic role in all spheres of the lives of our people. Governments in power are obliged to listen to their advice and guidance. This has happened from time immemorial coming from our monarchial rulers. When they express an opinion people demand due consideration of such by the governments.
We passed through a period recently when the US insisted on entering into certain strategic bilateral agreements which certainly would impact our freedom and independence. There was serious opposition centered round those propositions which included signing of agreements with involved military strategies. When the last government was under some kind of pressure to enter into a SOFA agreement with US the highest echelons of our clergy from all sectors vehemently opposed and called upon the government to abandon those. On 31st march 2019, the highest order of Buddhist prelates congregated at the Asgiriya Maha Vihara Temple premises with His eminence the cardinal of the catholic church and issued a public statement calling upon the government not to enter into any binding strategic international agreement without the concurrence of the parliament of Sri Lanka. The religious prelates were well aware of the mechanisms provided under such programs to table the agreements before the parliament after signing them. They categorically emphasized the inadequacy of this provision in a context of the need to paying full attention to the clauses in those agreements before committing agreement.
We are not aware whether the State Secretary has been properly briefed about these matters. When the MCC issue cropped up the then President of the country expressed reservations and cancelled the scheduled signing of the relevant agreement. It was highly hilarious to note that one of the excuses given to justify the signing of the MCC compact was to state that the Compact program has been developed on Sri Lanka’s needs! Well then why should the US object when that need is disputed by the recipient himself. WE need assistance and specially grants oriented towards development activities. But when there is an element of doubt whether such grants are with adverse strings attached disadvantageous in the long run why should someone resort to strong arm tactics to force it down?
US is our main trading partner. We have a very positive balance of trade with US. WE cherish it from a commercial point of view. Besides US is the biggest economy in the world today. WE need to keep our associations on going and undisturbed. To that extent let us look at their needs.
Mike Pompeo is coming to our country via India our immediate neighbor and a great country which has been a birth place to the many Noble Philosophers this world ever produced. WE are lucky to have inherited those invaluable human values as our heritage. It would be appropriate to mention one graet humanitarian India produced in the recent past, Hon. Great man Mahatma Ghandi. He pronounced non- violence as the means of achieving ultimate peace. I will quote him in a political context relevant to all of us“for what appears to be the truth to one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self- suffering. So the vindication of the truth , is not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one self.”
I wish to conclude my welcome to Mike by recalling one of his predecessors whose name has gone into human history. The context is self-explanatory, hence I leave no narration.
“The United States is seeking a peace that heals. We have had many armistices in Indochina. We want a peace that will last…therefore it is our firm intention in our relationship to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to move from hostility to normalization, and from normalization to conciliation and cooperation. And we believe that under conditions of peace we can contribute throughout Indochina to a realization of the humane aspirations of all the people of Indochina. And we will, in that spirit, perform our traditional role of helping people realize these aspirations in peace.”
For this apparent resolution of the Vietnam conflict, Kissinger shared the 1973 Nobel Prize for Peace with Le Duc Tho (who refused the honour).
After the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 (see Yom Kippur War), Kissinger used what came to be called shuttle diplomacy in disengaging the opposing armies and promoting a truce between the belligerents. He was responsible for the resumption of diplomatic relations between Egypt and the United States, severed since 1967. He remained in office after Nixon’s resignation in 1974, directing the conduct of foreign affairs under President Ford. After leaving office in 1977, Kissinger became an international consultant, writer, and lecturer. In 1983 President Ronald W. Reagan appointed him to head a national commission on Central America. In the 1980s he also served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy.
With this reminder, I wish you all the best Mr.Mike Pompeo , our new State Secretary whom we look up to think like your predecessor, the great Noble Prize winning humanitarian.
May you be blessed.