The alarm bells had been ringing for some time in Sri Lanka. The island nation is strategically located at the center of the Indian Ocean on the busiest trade and Undersea Data Cables routes in the world and hence perpetually in the cross-hairs of big power rivalry.
For those who missed the signs if not the red flags; ripples caused by the US House of Representatives Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s Pivot to Asia last week announced loud and clear that colonialism and Cold War are back, big time in the mythical “Free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Island nations from Taiwan to Solomon Islands, and the illegally occupied Chagos islands that house the Diego Garcia military base are being used for target practice amid environmentally destructive militarization once again.
Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan was in the wake of the setting up of AUKUS last year as if the QUAD or Quadrilateral Group which comprises Australia, Japan, US and India was not enough, in addition an estimated 40 US military bases to contain China and the Belt and Road Initiative.[i]
Following remote instructions, the US-backed regime in Sri Lanka last week informed a Chinese research ship with Satellite tracking capability that was due to dock in the southern Hambantota Port to defer its trip. This was just when Yuan Wang-5 which also has intercontinental ballistic missile tracking capability was entering Sri Lanka’s maritime Exclusive Economic Zone.
Yuan Wang 5’s docking was delayed after India and the US Ambassador, Julie Chung, had raised concerns about the ship in a meeting with President Ranil Rajapaksa. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), refers to the Hambantota Port as one of the Indian Ocean “String of Pearls”, along with Chittagong in Bangladesh, Sittwe in Myanmar, and Gwadar ports in Pakistan.
Debt, Default, Greenwash or Hybrid Economic War
Signs of the escalation of Cold War geopolitics in scenic Sri Lanka, one of South Asia’s wealthiest countries that was classified as an Upper Middle Income Country (MIC), by the World Bank in 2019 have been apparent for a while.
The country was declared ‘bankrupt’ a couple of months ago by an Economic Hitman who became president in a deft ‘regime change’ operation after a Staged Default enabled the entry of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) into the strategic island in April this year.
As Sri Lanka negotiates a “Staff-level Agreement” with the IMF, it seems to be fully remote controlled from Washington DC with New Delhi as a junior partner. The country is already in structural adjustment mode and being readied for an IMF Firesale and asset stripping as part of a “bailout” of US and EU-based International Sovereign Bond (ISB) holders.
Although China is routinely blamed for debt trap lending, almost fifty percent of Sri Lanka’s $26 billion external debt is held by ISBs. They caused the odious debt trap, default and financial melt-down, ironically, also due to a purported lack of “exorbitantly privileged” US dollars to buy Oil and Gas from sanctions hit Russia and Iran! These same opaque bondholders stand to benefit from the sale of assets in the strategic island. The Sri Lankan Airline is set to be privatized soon and the state-owned Yugadanavi Power plant was sold to a US company, New Fortress, last year.
The IMF does not recognize the difference between ‘illiquidity’ and ‘insolvency’, or the fact that “location, location, location” matters in valuing assets, particularly, or the fact the island’s mineral-rich sea bed has UDC data cables that keep the global financial and economic system going, and if taxed would render the country super rich!
According to some United Nations agencies, Sri Lanka is now a potential victim of famine and may soon be listed as a Least Developed Country (LCD), like Haiti. This would enable Debt for Nature Swaps (DFNS), and humanitarian disaster capitalism promoted by the UNDP. This despite the fact that local communities would be impoverished and deprived of access to forests, fisheries and marine resources in the name of “environmental conservation’.
Beware the clean energy and organic fertilizer Greenwash that have caused food and fuel shortages and economic meltdown in a country with a minute carbon footprint, while the environmental impacts of the global military-business industrial complex remains the elephant in the room of the ‘Anthropocene climate catastrophe’ discourse.
There seems to a miss-fit between the economic disaster narrative and the data and ground reality: It is increasingly clear that Sri Lanka’s financial meltdown may have other roots/routes beside certain corruption by successive regimes in Colombo.
Over the Horizon Operations: Chinese Experiment-3
Over the Horizon (OTH), hybrid war operations have been apparent in the island ever since the mysterious 2019 Easter attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS), that targeted the environs of South Asia’s busiest port, the Colombo harbor and adjacent Chinese investments, as well as, Sri Lanka’s tourism dependent economy and multi-religious society.
Four scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences scheduled to board the “Experiment 3” research vessel at the port of Colombo to carry out joint research with local scientists were confirmed dead after the Easter attacks. Li Jian (38), senior engineer of the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, senior engineer Pan Wenliang (35) Chinese Academy of Sciences, assistant researcher Li Dawei (30) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the doctoral student Wang Liwei (28) were killed at the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo. They had arrived in Sri Lanka on April 18, 2019.
The Easter bombers also targeted the Hong Kong Chinese-owned luxury Hotel Shangri-La and Sri Lanka’s tourism-dependent economy in a hybrid war attack. Although the purported reason for the crime was religious, the leader of the group, Zaharan Hashim died at a luxury hotel!
Colombo’s Shangri-La was built on land where the Sri Lanka military headquarters once stood, overlooking South Asia’s busiest port and trade hub which was also protected by the iconic St. Anthony’s Church that was also bombed. The soon to be commissioned Chinese Port city built on reclaimed land was adjacent to the Colombo port.
The Easter suicide attacks that targeted hotels and churches were staged by locally networked external actors while the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement were being discussed, and were believed to be a pretext for setting up a US ‘lily pad base’ to purportedly fight Islamic Terrorism in the Indian Ocean region.
Like the devastating explosion in Lebanon’s strategic Beirut Harbour in 2020, there have been endless cover up ‘investigations’ into the 2019 Easter attacks in Sri Lanka by local and foreign intelligence agencies. The identity of the mastermind of the hybrid war style crimes remain elusive.
Militarization amid Fishy Lockdowns and Blockades
Over a hundred pilot whales were stranded on southern beaches of Sri Lanka, with many dying during the Malabar War Games staged by the QUAD in October 2020, a year after the IS claimed Easter attacks. The stranding of so many Whales due to the sonar disturbance was unprecedented.
The Malabar exercises were followed by 2 mysterious burning ships– the MV Pearl and the MT Diamond – spilling oil and other deadly cargo eon the east and west coasts of the island in 2020 and 2021. The MV Pearl sank just outside the Colombo Port.
The months of curfews and lockdowns in the wake of the Easter attacks in 2019 seem like a dry run for almost two years of ill-advised economically devastating Covid-19 Lockdown and militarized mass injection policies by the Rajapakse regime in 2020 and 2021, albeit on the advice of the World Health Organization. These dealt a devastating blow to the country’s economy.
So too the island’s impoverished fisheries communities lost livelihoods for many months, indeed years as a result of various ‘disasters’ ever since the mysterious Easter 2019 attacks that targeted coastal regions. These lockdowns and blockades were enforced ironically by the Sri Lankan Navy (which is constantly receiving foreign training), against the island’s fisheries communities enable Distant Water Fishing State ‘aid donors’ like France, Japan, Korea, and EU trawler companies to fish literally and metaphorically in Sri Lanka’s strategic seas.
Sri Lanka is constantly visited and its Navy trained in “inter-operability” by various foreign powers seeking a foothold in the country while citizens are often kept in (Covid-19) lockdowns and blockades. At other times the SL Navy follows external orders, arresting citizens in the EEZ while the country’s fisheries resources are looted by Distant Water Fishing States (DWFS) and their trawler companies.
Thus the price of fish hit record highs, indeed was unaffordable, in an island with fifteen times more marine extent than land. In 2022 following Covid-19 lockdown precedent, fuel shortages and embargos again devastated the livelihoods of coastal fisheries communities who were unable to operate their boats due to the fuel embargo enforced in the island by external actors and their local “economic hit men.”
US Marines in Sea Vision Operations
The various lockdown and blockades imposed on Sri Lankan citizens and the fisheries communities during various bio- war games by big powers reached its peak this year in June-July during the US Department of Defense ‘Sea Vision’ training operation by US marines when the island was effectively shut down due to an oil and gas blockade.
While the US Marines under a US Department of Defense program carried out “Sea Vision” Operations, purportedly trained the SL Navy, ships bringing Russian oil had disappeared mysteriously into thin air.
The US had imposed sanctions of Russia following the Ukraine war, but many countries have been de-dollarizing and continue to buy oil and gas from Russia, while India has set up a currency swap widow to trade in rupees and rubles. However, the island at the center of the Indian Ocean was under US-India and Quad air and sea embargo and blockade with planes diverted to South India as the Sea Vision operation proceeded.
While the Indian Oil Company made massive profits selling small amounts of oil in fuel during the embargo, citizens starved of oil and gas protested, and the economy was shut down while an International Monetary Fund (IMF), team with Special Advisors from Washington was in Colombo!
Thus it came to pass, that Ranil Wickramasinghe, Washington’s Economic Hit man who became President in an Arab Spring Protest Playbook regime change operation less than three months ago, declared the country with the best Human Development and Social Indicators and one of South Asia’s wealthiest, bankrupt– with relish — shortly after taking office, while promising 15 hour-power cuts, zero fuel, and famine.
Conclusion: Yuan Wang to dock and IMF to bailout BlackRock
The thriller narrative around the mysterious Yuan Wang-5’s arrival in Sri Lanka has ended for the time being. Colombo has declaring that New Delhi and Washington had “failed to give concrete reasons” for why they opposed the arrival, of the high-tech Chinese tracking vessel Yuan Wang 5. The ship will dock at the Hambantota International Port on August 16, five days behind its original scheduled visit and we must hope that there will not be any explosions at Hambantota Port!
It is increasingly clear that the so-called “free and open Indo-Pacific” is a device to contain China and the BRI for global connectivity and infrastructure development.
In Sri Lanka the game with the Yuan Wang 5 ship is also related to ongoing IMF negotiations to bailout of Sovereign Bond traders, like BlackRock. The IMF controlled by the US and G-7, is making new transparency demands from countries in Western debt traps, seemingly to target the new Asian donors like India, China and the members of the New Development Bank. The later have resisted joining the Western Paris Club debt restructuring process, preferring to deal bi-laterally with development partners.
The Chinese and Indian approach to debt restructuring also enables great policy autonomy and sovereignty for debt trapped countries, rather than the IMF approach of enforcing convergence of all debt holders in a debt restructuring process designed to benefit the BlackRocks and Hamilton Reserve Banks of the world and Global One percent, and enable asset stripping of Global South countries.
Ironically, while the IMF claims to promote transparency the ISB holders whose interests it represents in so-called debt restructuring are not properly identified, the interest rate and fees are unknown and as opaque as their deals and trades in secondary markets.
Given the lack of information and transparency about the ISB Debt holders, the Coalition for Economic Development (CEDSL), has called for ISB debt to be declared “null and void” and cancelled outright, while re-structuring bi-lateral and multi-lateral loan payments which would also enable future borrowing from friendly countries.
In the final analysis, the facts on the ground are clear: There is a miss-fit in the fear inducing debt and famine narrative and ground realities at this time: Sri Lanka’s economy has picked up and is open and functioning while the Chinese ship draws near. However, in the months of June and July, when Washington advisors and US Marines were conducting Sea Vision operations in the country, the citizens were under a fuel embargo, the economy shut down, with famine threatened in the midst of a psychological operation of fear, dread and debt messaging.
Ironically, the only thing happening while the IMF team was in Colombo was the Arab Spring style protest, or Aragalaya—that had enabled an Economic Hit man to become President. And Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the opposition, is yet to call for the resignation of the Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijeratne, for incompetence, corruption, and bringing the country to standstill with fuel shortages.
[i] David Vine 2020 The United States of War. University of California Press.