20 May, 2024

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Prioritising National Interest In Navigating Geopolitical Waters

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The Port of Colombo is the largest and busiest transshipment port in the Indian Ocean. It has been operating at more than 90 percent utilization since 2021, signaling its need for additional capacity. The US government investment of USD 553 million in Colombo port has come as a surprise. There were no public indications of this massive investment in one of the country’s most strategic assets. The investment will be in the Western Terminal of Colombo port which was offered to the Adani Group in India after the joint Japan-India bid to obtain control over the long established Eastern Terminal was blocked by trade union protests. The trade unions took the position that they did not wish the workers to be put under new management and to sell a national asset to foreigners. But the hand of geopolitics was believed to be behind the protests as China too controls a major terminal in Colombo port.

The new terminal it is said will cater to growing economies in the Bay of Bengal, taking advantage of Sri Lanka’s prime position on major shipping routes and its proximity to these expanding markets. The US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced it had committed more than half a billion dollars to support the development of a deep water shipping container terminal in the Port of Colombo, Sri Lanka, that will provide critical infrastructure for the South Asian region. DFC CEO Scott Nathan said “Sri Lanka is one of the world’s key transit hubs, with half of all container ships transiting through its waters. DFC’s commitment of $553 million in private-sector loans for the West Container Terminal will expand its shipping capacity, creating greater prosperity for Sri Lanka – without adding to sovereign debt – while at the same time strengthening the position of our allies across the region.” 

The investment in Colombo port by the US International Development Finance Corporation, the existence of which was not well known in Sri Lanka, will provide a boost to Sri Lanka’s economy at a time it is floundering and continuing to sink in negative growth. However, it is unlikely to compensate for the near total absence of major direct foreign investment in the country for the past few years, and especially since the economic collapse. it is noteworthy that this foreign direct investment in Colombo port is by a foreign government and not by a private sector company. US companies such as Apple and Microsoft are investing billions in other parts of the developing world, but not in Sri Lanka. The political instability, bureaucratic obstacles and corruption in Sri Lanka continue to be a deterrence to private sector investment, with even Sri Lankan companies investing their resources in other countries. 

National Interests 

In 2009, shortly after the war ended a research team from the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US Senate visited Sri Lanka. They produced a report titled “Re-charting US Strategy after the war” which was also known as the Kerry-Lugar report in honour of the two US Senators who were leading the bipartisan committee. Unlike in Sri Lanka, where foreign policy is ad hoc and often left to the genius or otherwise of an individual or two, perhaps the president or minister, in more developed countries foreign policy is decided on a bipartisan basis. The report stated that “the US shares with the Indians and Chinese a common interest in securing maritime routes through the Indian Ocean…the US cannot afford to lose Sri Lanka…”  

On the other hand, the western approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is indicative that their national interests trump democracy, human rights and good governance when it comes to other countries they deem to be not part of them. Lord Palmerston, British Prime Minister in the middle of the 19th century is quoted for having said in the House of Commons that “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” It is important not to lose sight of the reality that countries have no permanent friends, they have only permanent interests. The same would hold true for Sri Lanka whose foreign policy needs to be developed with Sri Lanka’s national interests coming first. 

The roping in of Sri Lanka into the western orbit is taking place in a context in which a government with a questionable mandate has had to face unprecedented mass opposition and economic problems. The western countries are proponents of principles of democracy, human rights and good governance which are values that Sri Lanka needs to reinforce within itself and for which it needs external support in the face of government resistance. The western countries also provide the most lucrative markets for Sri Lanka’s exports. Those in the political opposition and civil society who are concerned about the possible derailing of the democratic process need to take this opportunity into consideration. They need to keep in mind that the overall principle of foreign policy ought to be freedom to have trade and investment relations with any country that adds value to the economy in Sri Lanka’s national interest. 

Prioritising Security 

There are no greater powers than the US, China and India in the Indian Ocean where Sri Lanka is like a minnow in their midst. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that Sri Lanka should have a clear policy in dealing with them. Sri Lanka’s geopolitical location is clearly important to all three great powers which is why they have all invested in the country in different ways. In the recent past it was India that emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest benefactor, when it gave nearly USD 4 billion in emergency assistance to help the country tide over its economic crisis when it became internationally bankrupt and unable to obtain any new loans. Prior to that China was Sri Lanka’s benefactor providing money and armaments in the time of war and thereafter into infrastructure projects that were low yielding (with the acquiescence of ever corruptible leaders) and hastened the country into its current predicament.

The recent visit of a Chinese ship, which China calls a research ship and India calls a spy ship has put Sri Lanka into a compromised situation akin to being between a rock and hard place. Pragmatism dictates that India’s national security would need to be given due attention. This is an observation born out of the lesson of the past. In the 1980s, when Sri Lanka appeared to be taking off economically, and with the western countries backing it, India deemed Sri Lanka to be getting too close to the west. In particular, there were stories afloat of a US naval base in Trincomalee. The thirty-year internal war that followed, with the Tamil rebels being armed and trained in India, put an end to Sri Lanka’s best opportunity to join the Tiger economies of Southeast Asia—South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.

As Sri Lanka’s neighbour India’s security is most affected by what happens in Sri Lanka and in its territorial waters. A country whose people number 1200 million will not permit their security and wellbeing to be put in jeopardy by a country of 22 million. It is therefore reasonable and sensible for Sri Lanka to give its closest neighbour’s national security concerns its priority attention in the conduct of foreign relations. The first priority of any country is to ensure its national security. It was for this reason that Sri Lanka went to China and Pakistan for economic assistance and armaments during the time of war regardless of India’s concerns. National security concerns, however, have to be shown to be reasonable and verifiable. Decisions regarding national security should involve a multi-partisan approach, including the opposition and civil society, to avoid reliance solely on the government leadership in power.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    3

    ICHABOD.
    .
    All else is gone; from those great eyes
    The soul has fled:
    When faith is lost, when honor dies,
    The man is dead!

    The only way is to put aside party differences and come together as one. Everyone, including the people, must understand that they have been wrong continuously. Common consensus is the only way, if the JVP-led NPP divides this nation, nothing will succeed in reaching such a consensus. I am very pessimistic that JVP will be given a chance because people are not smart enough to use their brains while voting. The corrupt mindset of the people (i.e. the majority) will not allow them to elect the Janata Vimukti Peramuna led NPP. PIMPs are THOUGH sure to be building castles in the sand about the NPP’s inevitable rule after October next year.
    .

  • 5
    3

    Cont.
    .
    We know very well that all the political parties including “Janatha Vimukti Peramuna” are part of the damage done to this nation so far..
    .
    We could not believe our eyes, but how the JVP thugs pushed their rivals’ valuable vehicles and other assets into Baira Lake last year as well.
    .
    And how they destroyed public property throughout the country during 89-92 is almost impossible to estimate. All this should not be overlooked when today they claim an audience that is almost corrupt in every way. This is a question of the PERCEPTION of the people [ALL RACES] of this country. As long as it stays away from the address, nothing will work for an inch of progress, that’s clear..
    .
    MAY [Any thinkable divine forces]GOD BLESS OUR MOTHERLAND

  • 8
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    “DFC CEO Scott Nathan”

    Are you accusing our Nathan is a traitor? A Yankee quisling?

    Who can you trust these days? ……. Always had doubts about Ranil and Native too.

    Native is very pro India and anti China ……. Lanka’s interests do not even come into the picture. …… Was Prabakaran the only patriot in recent times ……. who saved Lanka from India?

    The mere fact someone is a Sinhalese does not automatically make him/her a patriot ……… the mere fact someone is not a Sinhalese does not automatically make him/her a traitor.

    Gotta discard the Sinhala-prism for a fresh look at our true heroes/patriots.

    • 6
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      Nimal , look at the recent SC verdict to know who are those Lankan Patriots bankrupted the failed nation.

      • 3
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        chiv,

        In recent times, “patriot” has taken an entirely different meaning …… in time, they might even change it’s meaning in the dictionary!

        When the English expert can afford to take a breather from his hero-worshipping! :))

    • 4
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      nimal fernando

      “Native is very pro India and anti China”

      You are wrong.
      If you are unwell will you ask your neighbour for help or will you call your brother who lives 4000 miles away from your home?

      You also share south Indian stupid gene therefore my advice is try and get along with South Indians and Hindians. Don’t forget your cousin Stalin fed the country during Gota’s famine, Hindians lent $4 billion, ……. and supported this island during genocidal war, ………………….

      What did China do?
      Gave loans and grabbed land.
      Supported Sri Lanka in its genocidal wars.
      Now claims Sri Lanka is its friendly neighbour.

      Why

      • 2
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        “and supported this island during genocidal war”

        Native,

        India initially instigated, aided and abetted the “genocidal war” ……… early on, RAW even stage-managed the attack on Maha Bodiya with radio-contact. Whether we like it or not true-history is true-history. ……. We can’t Mahāvaṃsa -fy it! …….You are full of fire and brimstone when some homeless guy does it …….. then turn around and take the same liberties!

        With or without Prabakaran, there would’ve been a “genocidal war” because India wanted it. …….. Without Prabakaran, Lanka would be a partitioned country. …….. controlled by Indian proxies/quislings ……. including your buddy Dayan.

        In the last stages, India didn’t help, out of love for Lanka …….. Prabakaran was a greater threat to India, more than even to Lanka ……. the impetus Prabakaran’s success would’ve given Tamil Nadu also to secede

        • 2
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          cont

          “What did China do?
          Gave loans and grabbed land.”

          China didn’t force loans on Lanka. Our leaders asked and agreed to the terms. It would’ve been criminal for China, not to look after it’s – and her people’s – interests: unlike our leaders!

          Look where China and her people are today …….. look where Lanka and her people are today!

          Ranil’s 30 years of continuous failure as a leader of a major political party is the primary reason for it: even more than the Rajapakses! Some SLFP-side of pols have been ministers their entire lives!! The main reason for corruption to get so entrenched!!!

          Will you ever lay the blame on Ranil? ……. You’ll run around the bush and blame everyone else under the sun, except the main culprit!

          You’re more mentally-blocked than even Gunduvindu!!!

        • 2
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          nimal fernando

          “India initially instigated, aided and abetted the “genocidal war” ……… early on, RAW even stage-managed the attack on Maha Bodiya with radio-contact. “

          Now tell me how did Hindia hire your hero psychopath VP to carry out massacre in Anuradhapura 1985, and destabilise the island after 1983 riots?

          Clever dick politicians with their racist policies and frequent attacks on innocent people, stirred up politics and ruined lively hood, periodically. That was one excuse for Hindians to intervene as if it was Sultanate of New Delhi’s responsibility to protect people in Sri Lanka however the reason was USA had pressured JR and Athulath S**t bomb Mudali to lease out Trincomalee for it to build a rest and recreation facilities, basically brothel complex for US troops to relax. . and …. The second reason was VOA wanted to build a relay station in Puttalam. So Hindia found a convenient hired gun.

          Later when the price was right VP worked for Premadasa and his army, then of course VP found working for the West was more profitable.

          Karunanithy or any other South Indian politicians were/are not interested in their own separate states, they knew the benefit for their states to be part of larger India.

          • 2
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            nimal fernando

            I am told Karunanithy even wrote a letter to a Tamil paper (published by one of the stupid fan of VP, who demanded Karunanithy seceded from the Union ) in which he wrote a long list of benefits accruing to Tamil Nadu by being part of Hindia.

            You need to review what happened since 1980s.

            Like you SJ supported VP because VP was an ideal mercenary who could destabilise Hindia for a price not out any strategic reason, which would have benefited primarily China. Why did he force North East to boycott presidential elections in 2005, for a price Rs 165 Million? Do you find any strategic reason?

              • 2
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                nimal fernando

                Thanks for the link.
                Did I say anything wrong?

                • 2
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                  Sorry Native, I’m bored stiff to rewrite the same things again and again. I’m getting ready to be back home for X’mas and ride the 154 bus route. I’m in the gym whipping myself into shape: don’t want to be caught out short. Know who my competition is ….. men who can just whip their shirts off and display chiselled chest of Adonis!

                  “Did I say anything wrong?”

                  You’re never wrong …… except about Ranil, the only hero Lanka ever produced and women ……

  • 7
    7

    When it comes to geopolitics, US hegemony and great power politics, both have made sovereignity and national intersts rather illusory concepts, that are limited to rhetoric and theory, without much pragmatism, especially for a small nation like Sri Lanka,. Not even Europe or the United Kingdom has true sovereignty when it comes to crucial matters of geopolitics. They are all under the thumb of the United States.

    The social, political, and economic events currently unfolding in Sri Lanka suggests that we have already been effectively captured by the US’s and its most closest ally India’s geopolitical agendas, that would in turn, work in synch, to shape Sri Lanka’s future course and trajectory, with a little help of the Middle Eastern and Far Eastern US allies in the region.

    Ranil Wickremasinghe’s aspiration of making Sri Lanka a developed nation by the year 2048 seems to be a part of this agenda. Which seems fine at the outset, but given the ethno-religious composition of these powers and that of Sri Lanka, who the real winners and losers on the ground, of this drive for development remains to be seen. There could be hidden losers that no one would ever know or realise unitll its too late.

    • 3
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      Ruchira, What a superficial opinion.
      Your own small country indulges in hegemony and power politics on its minority communities. And you don’t seem to notice it!

      • 5
        4

        That’s an assumption in your part. Yes, hegemonic behaviour and power politics have a way of trickling down. They are all part of the current social, economic and political paradigm that prevails. No nation is immune from them. Those who fight against, end up dissenting losers, or if they win, they become, to a greater extent, what they fought against.

  • 1
    1

    It is therefore reasonable and sensible for Sri Lanka to give its closest neighbors national security concerns its priority in the conduct of foreign relations. The first priority of any country is to ensure its national security. It was for this reason that Sri Lanka went to China and Pakistan for economic assistance and armaments during the time of war regardless of India’s concerns.
    That statement was written by Jehan PhD as “Make to believe ” but not true. Ceylon was engaged in anti-West Policy from the very beginning (1948). Don Stepen did not deal with Britain with any kind of honesty when the Soulbury constitution was formulated. The basis for that could be the extreme anti-Tamil feeling of Don Stephen. Even if there is any truth in that, on the surface, racism was translated as anti-West feeling. After freedom Ceylon nationalized British Investment. Took back the lease of Trinco port and China bay airport. Still the fresh bool was liquidity in the war with Japan, Ceylon promoted Japan’s interest in the world. When China was banned for many trade deals, Ceylon challenged the West and got involved with China on the Rice- Rubber pact. After receiving Mrs. Gandhi’s help to put down the JVP, Langkang allowed Pakistan planes to land in Colombo. Just like now it is explaining why the Chinese spy ship it explained can land.

  • 2
    1

    Like Jehan PhD thinking that he can write anything, but the readers are obligated to believe it, Ceylon was setting up its foreign police as anti-West and local policies anti-Tamils and Anti-democracy, but expected everybody to go fooled, fully agreeing with its dirty little tricks. After starting a one-sided rivalry with India and Britain, at the same time having had established a new cozy relationship with China and Japan, Then Siri Ma O went for donation from America for the 1970 famine, which NMP created. Same way Junius Richard went to England and America for arms to fight against Mrs. Gandhi’s LTTE. It did not go as expected by the Langkang UNP-SLFP union.Tamils expected India to just simply split North East and South like what happened in Pakistan. But Rajiv took full charge of Ceylon. Sinhalese wanted to kill him because Sinhala south was about to become the 30th state and Tamil Eelam was about to become the 31st state of India’s Language based Federal system. Valaiththodam Sr associated with LTTE and spoiled Rajiv’s dream. In India politics took a different turn. The Indian Royal family bit dust. But the Langkang’s Royalism pegged on anti-Tamil, flourished when the war started to flare more and more. UNP-SLFP union spent $400B and Rowdy Royals deposited $20B in foreign bank accounts.

  • 1
    1

    Kadirgamar, Rohitha, Mangala, Tilak all concentrated on the side of foreign policy; cheating foreign diplomats for free arms and saving the rowdy Royal from the crime were being committed. No one’s worried about the country’s economy being on the back burner. A big drama has been playing in Colombo Court this week. Rowdy Royals and Central Bank governors are convicted of Economic Human right violation. This accusation did not start anywhere locally. It was first tabled in UNHRC’s previous sitting. They passed resolution 51/1, which accused Langkang political leaders of having committed Economic Human Right violation. It was with the UN for a long time but the Local interest surfaced recently.
    “ Sri Lanka’s top court ruled on Tuesday that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda, were among several government officials whose conduct contributed to the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
    The court was ruling was on a petition filed against 13 former officials by rights group Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) which said the Rajapaksa brothers and others were responsible for the crisis……….”Their actions, omissions and conduct contributed to the crisis,” the ruling said. The court did not order any punishment, according to a statement by TISL. The two Rajapaksa brothers, two former central bank governors and President Ranil Wickremesinghe were among those named in the landmark TISL petition.

  • 0
    1

    What is interpretable by the drama happened in the court in convicting political heads but ordering no punishment is saving the war criminal and economic criminals even at this stage. A simple request that can arise from the population and the past protesters is that neither UNP nor SLFP Criminals can develop the economy and they have no more mandate to remain in power by the court verdict, now they must resign immediately as requested by protesters. I do not hear this call loudly from opposition MPs like SJB or NPP.
    The World Bank says that lending will result in net inflow, not outflow; so, the exchange rate and country’s ability to import essential goods also will not be affected. Further the World Bank gave a deposit insurance of $150 M. This can enable bank operations to go forward without much nervousness.
    But Chandrika joins Evil in basing West. She believes the West is going to have two types of loans. One, they give you when even if you have not asked. These are unwanted. Another one they are going only when you ask. Those are very expensive and there are no developments that can be done with that; but the West is using them to trap Langkang on the Indian Ocean problems and capture countries’ resources.

  • 0
    1

    Though her speech cannot be understood under which school of economics thought comes, her mind is quite easy to understand. She is saying that If somebody gave her Foreign Minister the job, like it was given to David Camaron, she could have stopped America investing the $550M in Colombo Port.

  • 7
    5

    Aligning with a declining global hegemon like the US is akin to committing geopolitical suicide. For one, the US will happily destroy a country if it does not do its bidding, and will support the worst human rights violators like Pinochet in Chile, Pol pot in Cambodia or Netanyahu in Israel. China on the other hand is ascending rapidly, has very meaningful relationships of sharing with poor countries and does not tolerate rank corruption of borrowers whereas the US merely wants to prop up any corrupt dictator who obeys their orders. This writer as usual is floundering in an ocean of ignorance although he likes to sound knowledgeable.

    • 5
      1

      Laughable that one would preach against a multi-partisan approach for SL. SL better take a multi-partisan approach than put all its eggs in one basket because of the fallacies of a few. SL is not at the luxury of alienating any economic power house at this time or will be in any foreseeable future.

      What is the timeline for U.S.’s complete decline that you have so readily forecasted? Can SL make hay while the sun is still shining on the U.S. with a multi-partisan approach over the next decade or two or three?

      Your pro-China propaganda is teetering on disinformation! China doesn’t have a history of propping up corrupt dictators? China is rapidly ascending? China isn’t experiencing setbacks of late? China is a beacon of human rights? No beneficiaries of China’s helping hand ever found itself in dire economic crisis?

    • 4
      1

      The US hegemony may be declining but it still has not defeated to that of Chinas, for which to happen, if at all it happens, may take a considerable time.
      .
      Meanwhile with its 700 plus military bases around the world, mainly encircling Russia and China, the US still commands the world order. Like you have correctly pointed out it is impossible to escape the clutches of the US, especially while having, India, an invaluable ally of the US, as our closest neighbour, without enduring consequences that may not be pleasant. Ukrain and Taiwan are examples.
      .
      Given this context what would be the long term consequences of being in this sphere of influence of US and India duo; and how do we then engage China in a meaningful way that does not threaten India or the US interests in the region nor creates any tension with them, without jeopardising the so called national interests either, are the questions that begs answers.

      • 2
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        R
        The US tightened its political grip on Europe since the past two financial-economic crises.
        Its actions besides imposing sanctions on Russia failed pathetically. It was so desperate as to wreck the Nordstream pipes and now struggling to pass the blame to some Ukrainian nonentities.
        Now the US cannot confront any major power militarily, let alone Russia or China, but even Iran or North Korea. Its threats do not intimidate any (see African developments) and it fully relies on proxies, and some of the proxies are waking up to reality.
        Things were downhill on a moderate slope, but Biden has made reversal almost impossible.
        Even Modi is not stupid enough to engage in war with China, especially in the SC Sea.
        The N-S divide is clearer since the war on Gaza. India will face potential isolation if its affair with the US continues.

        • 1
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          Alternate reality of a Pro-China propaganda addict.

        • 2
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          “India will face potential isolation if its affair with the US continues”
          A good analysis of a Chinese intelligent chief.

        • 0
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          SJ,
          Thank you for the comment.
.
Yes, I agree that the US hegemony is in decline globally and the proxy wars are not going anywhere either. .
Yes, India, given its economic capacity and position has been acting quite prudently maintaining a degree of independence as shown by its refusal to impose sanctions or denounce Russia and not accepting the request to join NATO.
.
It is true in the global order of things India seems to be carrying out a balancing act, being an ally of the US, that it seems to rely on for its economic progress, and at the same time aspiring to be a countering force to the western hegemony in its participation in BRICS.
.
But when it comes to Sri Lanka, regionally, for better or for worse, the US and Indian agendas and strategies seem to work insync and I don’t see how we could escape them or whether we should.
.
Only time will tell whether they will act as a force for good or not depending how skillfull we are in engaging them and what China in the meantime would do.
.
I hope we will not end up another battle ground for these greater powers and become victims of other peoples’ (proxy) wars and/or conflicts.

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