By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Let me begin with one of the formative myths of the Sri Lankan state. It deals with the introduction of Buddhism to the country, in the 2nd century BC. The king at the time, Devanampiyatissa, was out hunting when he came across a strange man in the forests of Mihintale. This was Mahinda, the son, or some say the brother, of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka, who had converted to Buddhism after a terrible war in which, to complete his conquest of India, he had slaughtered thousands.
When the monk saw Tissa, he asked him whether he saw the mango tree before them. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked whether there were other mango trees. Tissa said yes, and then the monk asked if there were trees other than mango trees. Tissa said yes again, whereupon the monk asked whether, apart from all the other mango trees, and all the other trees that were not mango trees in the world, there were any other trees.
Tissa thought hard, and then replied that there was indeed the original mango tree the monk had pointed out. This was when Mahinda decided that Tissa was a fit person to understand the doctrines of Buddhism, so he preached to him and converted him and through him his people. Buddhism has since been the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, though, I think uniquely, we also have substantial proportions of our population belonging to the other principal faiths of the world, Hinduism and Islam and Christianity.
When I was young I used to think the story a silly one, but I have since understood its implications for the way we should look at the world. It seems to me now the epitome of what I would describe as the Eastern vision of the individual, society and the world, as opposed to the dichotomies the West believes in, and therefore often creates. In what I would posit as an ideal concept of our relations with the world, we should see ourselves as existing at the centre of several concentric circles, to all of which we belong. While we share aspects of identity with others belonging to those circles, ultimately we need also to be aware of the unique nature of our own individuality.
The negative aspects of a different view of the world were brought out by the Indian critic Nirmal Verma when he wrote that, for Indians, ‘The self was always accepted as self-referential; the “other” was neither a threat to their identity, nor a source of confirmation of their uniqueness. This was very different from the European notion of the “other”, an inalienable entity external to oneself, which was both a source of terror and an object of desire.’[i]
For Sri Lanka, the myth is also an object lesson as to how we should conduct our Foreign Policy. Given our location, and the cultural links we share, we need to see India as our primary source of reference in our relations with the world. We need then to be aware of our links with Asia, and the common problems we face in developing commercially and industrially when the West is so far ahead of us and has competitive advantages.
We need also to strengthen links with other countries in what used to be called, and perhaps still should be, the Non-Aligned World. I am glad therefore that our Ministry of External Affairs has recently expressed its determination to set up more missions in Africa and in Latin America, countries we tended to neglect in the past. At the same time I should note that one of some of our senior diplomats are not supportive of that view, and they seem rather to believe that we should still accept the primacy of the West in our international relations[ii].
That proved a recipe for disaster for us in the eighties. Whereas what I would call traditional Sri Lankan Foreign Policy, as practiced most successfully by both Mr and Mrs Bandaranaike when they were Prime Ministers, was that of Non-Alignment, the government elected in 1977, led by J R Jayewardene, who had also been known as Yankee Dicky, decided to become a fully fledged Cold Warrior. This was perhaps understandable, because he wanted to change our economic outlook, which had been stuck previously in statist socialism. But in his eagerness to encourage private sector activity, which in itself I believe was a very good thing, he swallowed wholesale the idea that we needed total integration with all Western systems.
Sadly this led to conflict with India which, though I believe she was essentially Non-Aligned (and certainly never embarked on the economic excesses that we engaged in) was seen, in the dichotomizing view of the West, as a Soviet ally. We tried to persuade the Americans to use the port of Trincomalee[iii], and gratuitously stopped an Indian firm from using the old oil tanks that had lain unused there since the Second World War. Even more upsettingly perhaps, and ironically, given how outdated the technology soon became, we agreed to allow the United States to set up a Voice of America station opposite the Indian Coast, which of course rang alarm bells.
How seriously the Indians took all this became apparent when they intervened in our efforts to eradicate the terrorist forces that they had in fact helped nurture. This is still held against them by some Sri Lankan commentators, but I think we should also remember our own adventurism. Certainly, once an Accord was signed which removed the threats noted above, India proved a solid ally, and stood by us when we finally decided, after decades of efforts at negotiation, to take on the terrorists militarily. There is no doubt that it was the support of India, together with the refusal of most third world countries, such as Brazil and South Africa, to succumb to Western pressures, and also the assistance of former Communist states such as China and Russia, that enabled us to conclude the operation successfully – though I should also note that the United States was less aggressively opposed to us initially, given the commitment of its then President and its Defence establishment to consistency in dealing with terrorism.
I had believed then that we had learned our lesson, and that we were back in the cocoon of friendship towards all, with stress on our geographical neighbours, that had given us a leverage in international affairs in the seventies. But recent events have suggested that the old dichotomies are raising their heads again, propelled by the Western view of how international relations should be conducted, with its propensity to relentless othering, and fuelled by a stange combination of resentment and ignorance on the Sri Lankan side.
Sri Lanka has had very good relations with China over the last 60 years and more. Indeed, we first established a trade link the Chinese are still grateful for in the time of the United National Party, the more right wing of our two major parties (the other being the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that was founded by Mr Bandaranaike, and to which the present President belongs). This was through a Rubber Rice Pact, at a time when the United States had spun a web of trade restrictions around China, after the Communist takeover. Our Commerce Minister at the time, a scion of the Senanayake family that had founded the UNP and provided our first two Prime Ministers, was a radical who soon afterwards joined the SLFP, and he arranged a deal whereby the Chinese received our rubber in exchange for the rice they were finding it difficult to sell on the world market. I need hardly add that this was soon after the Korean War, when the Chinese were in desperate need of rubber.
The friendship that developed then has been perhaps our most longstanding international alliance. It was not broken during the Sino-Indian War of 1962, when our close relationship with India continued, and Mrs Bandaranaike indeed offered to broker negotiations, an offer that both sides seemed to appreciate though it was not taken up. I should note that Mrs Bandaranaike in fact brought relations with India to a new height, and this allowed us to continue a trusted friend even though we maintained our friendship with Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971. Indeed we even allowed Pakistani planes, which could not fly over India, to refuel in Sri Lanka during the latter war, but Mrs Gandhi did not hold this against us and soon afterwards conceded to Sri Lanka ownership of a disputed island between the two countries, much to the chagrin of politicians in the southern state of Tamilnadu which had wanted the island for itself.
This then was an example of the inclusive foreign policy that we followed, maintaining good relations with all countries with particular stress on close understanding with our neighbours. But all this changed with the election of 1977 which brought Jayewardene to power. Unfortunately, to add to his predilection for the oppositional mindset of the West, he also had appalling relations with Mrs Gandhi. Thinking that she had been conclusively defeated, as Mrs Bandaranaike had been, he was quite rude about her. Unfortunately for him, the strong arm tactics he used in Sri Lanka both to stop Mrs Bandaranaike standing against him for the Presidency, and to postpone Parliamentary elections for 6 years (cheered on, I should note, by the West, in those Reaganite days when democracy counted for nothing), could not be tried in the much more entrenched democracy of India, and Mrs Gandhi was soon afterwards back in power.
Ironically, in those days, our continuing friendship with China was in accordance with the Western strategy of all out persecution of those it perceived to be its greatest enemies. For this purpose it was happy to use unlikely allies, the Taleban against the Russians in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein against the Ayatollah, the Chinese, along with the Pakistanis, against the Indians. In such a context India was quite right to be wary, and of us too. We should not forget that, even if the United States was not engaged in active subversion in India, it had no qualms about funding General Zia ul Haq to support terrorists against their joint enemies. For him these included India. After all, when President Clinton reacted to the Al Quada attack on the USS Cole, and bombed a Taleban training camp, the casualties were Kashmiri terrorists.
Our friendship with China at that time though, while fitting into our efforts to position ourselves on the American side in those dying days of the Cold War, does not seem to have caused India any concern. Though obviously wary of possible incursions into disputed border areas, India had no reason to see China then as a threat in any other respect. Economically it was still struggling to adjust itself to new policies and programmes – as indeed India was doing, more slowly, though with fewer humps to overcome – and there was no question then of competing for influence in the region or in potential markets. The alliance with Pakistan was of course a constant worry, but this had existed for years, and it was not seen as part of a general strategy for the sub-continent. Conversely, though India had extremely cordial relations with Vietnam, and with Cambodia following the ouster of the Khmer Rouge, China did not see this as threatening, despite its own war with Vietnam which it saw as a Soviet ally without necessarily assuming that its friendship with India meant that India was also an enemy.
In short, China too based its foreign policies on the inclusive perspective I sketched out above. Unlike the Western policy of confrontation – unless you are wholly on my side, I must treat you as an enemy – the Chinese view was that, except when hostilities did occur, everyone could be treated as a potential ally. Thus, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, we have never had expressions of hostility towards India or efforts to drive a wedge between Sri Lanka and India. On the contrary, right through our conflict with the Tigers, China made it clear that we needed to ensure that India was supportive.
This was advice that we well understood. On the positive side, we had found India solidly supportive when the Tiger terrorists seemed to have convinced the Westerrn world that they were on a par with the Sri Lankan government. On the negative side, we had seen in 1987 that, contrary to Jayewardene’s expectations[iv], the West had no intention of stepping in when India intervened to prevent us defeating the Tigers militarily. It was therefore crystal clear to us that mutual confidence between India and Sri Lanka was crucial to our victory over terrorism, and this was maintained.
In 2009 then we scored a remarkable victory at the Human Rights Council in Geneva when the West tried to pass a resolution against us after our victory against the Tigers. Our ambassador then, Dayan Jayatilleka, who is perhaps the best exponent of the old Foreign Policy doctrines that had stood us in good stead in the past, took with him into negotiations with the West the ambassadors of India and Pakistan[v] The Chinese and Russian and Egyptian and Cuban ambassadors, the latter two as heads of the grouping of Islamic Nations and the Non-Aligned, had been principal advisers. The Brazilian ambassador helped to sway some of the South American countries that had initially signed the Western initiative for a special session, while the South Africans and other Africans also gave solid support.
The event exemplified the manner in which a small nation should conduct its foreign policy. But less than three years later we were in the dock again, and this time a resolution critical of us was carried. And in 2013 indeed Brazil voted against us[vi]. The reasons for this lie largely in the dichotomizing approach we adopted towards our foreign policy, dragged in the train of the Cold War hostility between the United States and China.
Sri Lanka found itself in a strange position indeed in 2009. We had overcome a terrorist movement, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that had held the country hostage for a quarter of a century, Massive explosions all over the country had cost hundreds of lives, and a process of ethnic cleansing in the areas of the North which the Tigers controlled had led to thousands of Muslims being rendered homeless. We also had in the refugee camps a number of what were termed Indian Tamils, those the British had brought over in the 19th century as indentured labour[vii], who had settled in the North in the preceding period but who, many of them, preferred to come back to government controlled areas when the conflict grew intense, since the Tigers conscripted ruthlessly.
The Tigers had also been heavily involved in narco-terrorism, and in the early stages of the war the Americans had been supportive of the Sri Lankan decision to take on the Tigers militarily after they withdrew from peace talks and launched a series of attacks during what was supposed to be a CeaseFire. We therefore assumed that the West, led by America, would welcome what was one of the few successful operations against terrorism.
However, immediately after the war concluded, we faced a Special Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This was initiated by the Europeans, and initially we thought the Americans were neutral, though later Wikileaks revealed that they had been pushing from behind[viii]. An explanation for this was provided by the then Ambassador to a Sri Lankan who had worked for the American government, but who served after retirement in the Sri Lankan Peace Secretariat which I headed.. He was told quite simply that the Ambassador had now to serve a different administration.
Initially we believed, welcome as many of us had found the election of President Obama, that he had simply succumbed to what a Republican official in the Department of Defence, who had by then retired, described as the bleeding hearts syndrome. His line was that many of those who had criticized Bush practices now found they had no alternatives, and while actively promoting excesses against those they saw as Islamic terrorists opposed to them (as contrasted with those extremists who served their purposes, as in Libya) salved their consciences by criticizing Sri Lanka[ix].
The British initially claimed that the Special Session was to make sure that we treated the Tamils who had been rescued by the Tigers well, and resettled them quickly. But, while the High Commission in Colombo put forward this worthy excuse, the Foreign Secretary was claiming in the House of Commons that they wanted us tried for war crimes. This, it should be noted, was the government that had connived in the deceptions over weapons of mass destruction that had been used to attack Iraq, and which presided over the horrors of Abu Ghraib.
Wikileaks revealed that the Foreign Secretary confessed to the Americans that he was also concerned about votes, given that the Tigers had set up effective lobbying networks. Thus, while we would certainly have welcomed genuine concern for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, who had suffered brutally from the Tigers using them as human shields in the last stages of the war, we found that, instead of concern for them, we were advised to have discussions with those who had been raising funds in Britain to promote terrorist activity.
It was not surprised then that, though we have resettled the near 300,000 displaced, more swiftly than anywhere else in the world that suffered in the same way, the West is still not satisfied. The simple fact is, while we must recognize that Human Rights is important, and we must do much more to ensure that all our citizens, in particular the minorities, enjoy all rights with no discrimination, Western governments are more concerned with their own interests, and it is the determination to advance those that motivates their actions.
The problem, as I noted previously, is compounded by the oppositionalities they posit, As a paper at the recent conference to mark Rabindranath Tagore’s sesquicentennial birth anniversary put it, in discussing Tagore’s essay on Japan in which he worried that it was following a Western model, that model ‘discards inclusiveness, that is the cultural, creative, spiritual bond among peoples, in favour of the narrowly political materialistic, scientific, selfish separation of exclusiveness…in the name of false patriotism, it engenders hatred against other countries at times leading to conquest by war…it forges an inseparable link between partisan politics and aggressive economics leading to imperialism’[x].
With regard to Sri Lanka, the caricature in the Western media of what happened in 2009, when the Human Rights Council passed a resolution in our favour, was that we had been protected by countries like China and Cuba and Iran. Iran, I should note, was not a member of the Council, and though China and Cuba had been warmly supportive, the same went for India and Egypt and Pakistan – while as noted before, Brazil and South Africa and most Third World countries also supported us.
Subsequently the Western media has continued to focus on our relations with China, insinuating that we are part of what is described as its String of Pearls, a set of ports in the Indian Ocean which will facilitate what is presented as its expansionist agenda. What is ignored is that, while China certainly helped us to build the new port at Hambantota in the south of Sri Lanka, we had first asked India for support for this. But, as one Indian official put it, India is a democracy and cannot take such decisions swiftly without consideration of the financial and other implications, whereas China is able to step in and move swiftly.
As a footnote to this, I should add that the Chinese intervention led to swifter Indian action with regard to a port in the north which they had agreed to refurbish, but on which action had been very slow. We had in fact been worried about the delay, so we welcomed the new sense of urgency. I should add that India has also been extraordinary helpful with support for the resettlement process and that, while some infrastructural development is through loans, we have also had vast amounts of grant aid, including for housing at a level which no other country has provided. Unfortunately India – like Japan, which also still provides us with much financial and other support – is still not very good at publicizing its support, whereas the bigger Chinese projects, which are primarily through loans, are showpieces that government inaugurates with much fanfare.
The Western media does not focus on the invaluable assistance that countries like India and Japan offer us. Rather, the image that is projected is one of a Chinese ally. Anything is grist to this mill, as I found when the BBC interviewed me on Chinese support for infrastructure, and cut out completely what I had said about Indian and Japanese support – which I knew a lot about, since they have done much in the areas in which I concentrate for my Reconciliation work.
It would be naïve to think, as I once did, that all this was simply the melodramatic approach of newshounds. Rather, we must recognize that governing this presentation is the determination to present China as a predatory threat. Whilst individual journalists are doubtless convinced of the relevance of their approach, the singlemindedness with which the agenda is pursued is indicative of a brilliantly orchestrated policy framework[xi].
I first became aware of this at a meeting of a delightful institution the Dutch had set up, called the Third Chamber, which is a consultative mechanism with regard to development assistance – about which, I should note in passing, the Paris Principles that were negotiated with such care some time back are now almost forgotten. At this meeting, in Amsterdam, a journalist who was the keynote speaker talked about what he saw as a threat to Africa, in noting that the most worrying thing he saw on a recent visit was besuited Chinese businessmen on the planes he used.
The best answer to that was provided by an African delegate who said that Africans welcome Chinese interest in Africa, since now at least there is competition. He pointed out, rather indignantly, that Africans were not stupid, and did not think the Chinese were there for the good of the Africans. But they certainly did not believe that Western exploitation of Africa, which had been unchallenged for so long, had been in African interests, whereas now they had a choice of whom to deal with, and in the process perhaps the Africans would actually benefit more than had happened in the past from business deals. Remembering the horrors of Mobutu and Bokassa and Idi Amin, and others put into power by the West to facilitate their activities, I can only hope that things will indeed improve.
I have to hope too that the vision of competition that my fellow delegate enunciated, and competition on a level playing field, will govern the open market policies that we are now wedded to in Sri Lanka. Certainly these are a great leap forward from the state socialism we practiced for so long, and which led to economic stagnation. But the problems of the East Asian crisis of the nineties, and indeed the recent currency difficulties India has faced, make it clear that we need to be careful about blanket deregulation, in a context where obviously the playing fields are not level. We need therefore to ensure that we continue to develop links with new partners too, and overcome the current situation in which few people in this part of the world know about us, and we have done nothing to develop contacts and better communication.
What would be indescribably foolish is the approach adopted by some decision makers in Sri Lanka depressed by what they see as continuing persecution by the West. It is claimed that this does not matter, since we can rely on Chinese support, but that is to misunderstand completely both Chinese interests in Sri Lanka, and the limits of Chinese power.
Whilst China values its friendship with Sri Lanka, it certainly does not want nor need an exclusive relationship. We are far from China and obviously within the Indian sphere of influence both geographically and culturally. Also, we have nothing to offer that requires the exclusion of others, since it is not our natural resources that China needs but rather services. In turn, from our point of view, these will be profitable only if they are widely used, so obviously we need to make sure that everyone has access to them. In short, the games we played in the eighties, when we tried to keep India out of Trincomalee, in the vain hope that the Americans would appreciate exclusive use of the place, have no place in the modern world.
Part of our problem is that the legacy of those games of the eighties is still with us. I am bemused by what seems a concerted effort by individuals in our Ministry of External Affairs recently to damage our relations with India which, as noted previously, should be the foundation of our relations with the world at large. But perhaps I should not be surprised. As a distinguished Indian journalist put it, just as for many years after 1962 the Indian Foreign Office was full of those traumatized by the Chinese attack on India, who could not conceive of rebuilding good relations with China, so too we have diplomats obsessed by the hostilities of the eighties. They see the world through the lens of the Indian intervention that stopped our effort then to destroy the Tigers militarily, and they ignore the subsequent support India gave us, after the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987 both assuaged Indian concerns and provided basic measures of Provincial self-government for Tamils in Sri Lanka.
That is the charitable explanation. More revealingly, this approach fits in with the negative view of the Second and Third World of those who came to maturity in the eighties, who believe that the West is the repository of the hopes of Sri Lanka as well as the world at large. So, soon after the first resolution against us in Geneva, in March 2012, there were assertions that we would now go back to our ‘traditional’ allies in the West. Ironically this was accompanied by criticism of India for having supported the American resolution in Geneva.
That all this was deliberate was borne out when the Secretary to the President confirmed that the President had been told that the Indian delegation which came to Sri Lanka shortly after the vote in Geneva had criticized him harshly. The culprit, as attested by a leading NGO activist who was with the President at the time the allegation was leveled, was the second most senior official at the Ministry of External Affairs, who as the successor of Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva had begun the process of dismantling the relationships with India and other symopathetic countries that he had so painstakingly built up. More recently, she has made allegations about the current Indian High Commissioner seeking a private meeting with the UN Commissioner for Human Rights[xii].
This is of a piece with the American approach, which requires Indian involvement in the attack on Sri Lanka. This is obviously because of the very practical reason that Indian support is necessary to obtain the majorities required in votes in the Human Rights Council – a factor that became crystal clear back in 2012 when it was the assertion that India would vote against us that swung several votes. This perception was confirmed in 2013 when, with Indian support assured, it was a foregone conclusion that the resolution against us would be carried. Indeed on this occasion the pressure from Tamilnadu was to get India to make the resolution harsher, whereas in actual fact, given that India stuck by her principles, the United States had to be satisfied with a relatively moderate resolution.
But there is another reason for the effort to involve India, which has led to relentless courting of Indians in decision making positions by the United States. The reason for Sri Lanka being of such interest to the United States is obviously not our internal problems, but rather the desire to incorporate Sri Lanka once again within the global alliance that America thinks it needs, and has set up so effectively in other areas. Unfortunately, in the American confrontationalist view of the world, without resting content with the positives it has to offer, it propounds negativities that need to be combated. This explains the relentless highlighting of Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, and the effort to persuade India that the best way to limit or get rid of this is through weakening of the current Sri Lankan government.
There are two reasons why India needs to resist such pressures. Firstly, any substitute for the present government would swing wildly towards the West, as happened in the eighties. Secondly, India knows perfectly well that alliances with non-Western countries are only a matter of convenience for the United States, as indeed Saddam Hussin found out to his cost. Such alliances are obviously based on self-interest, and it would be foolish for any country to base its foreign policy on the assumption that support from the United States to attack another country means perpetual friendship. Indeed I suspect this would apply to any country, even though India and some other countries which are sentimental about Gandhian principles of decency might like to think otherwise about themselves.
The problem for India is compounded by the fact that, within Sri Lanka, it has comparatively few supporters, as had been exemplified by the discourse in recent months. Even the Secretary to the President, who had been in the forefront of maintaining good relations with India during the conflict period, was reported (albeit by one of the most prominent journalistic supporters of the Western perspective, who happens to be married to an influential official in the Ministry of External Affairs) to have taken ‘huge swipes at India, blaming New Delhi for having a big hand in planning and executing terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka in the 1980s’. This happened at the launch of a book about the role in the war against the Tigers of the Secretary of Defence, who is the most senior government official to have asserted that, if we have problems with other countries, we can rely on our friendship with China. Given the very unfair attacks on the Secretary (one of which is highlighted in the book, namely an attempt by the American Political Affairs Officer to subvert a serving general into giving evidence against us about War Crimes, by offering him refuge in the United States), it is understandable that other officials rally to side when he responds to what he sees as attacks against us.
But, though this is understandable, it is also foolish. Developing a foreign policy requires professionalism and analysis, and should not be a matter of reacting to threats and perceived enmities, and obsessions with the past. Besides, as noted previously, China has made it crystal clear that it does not see the world in terms of polar opposites, and it is not prepared to engage in hostilities with India on our behalf. Of course, as is common, everywhere in the world I suppose, but in particular in this part of the world, there will be satisfaction of belittling of rival interests, and perhaps assertions of undying friendship when others might prove fickle. But to base foreign policy on such pronouncements would not be sensible.
What we should rather be doing is cementing our relations with India, while also using them to develop better links with other Asian countries. In this context, our Ministry of External Affairs has completely ignored the suggestion of the President that we need to strengthen our formal links with the Association of South East Asian Nations. India has paved the way for developing such connections without formal membership of ASEAN, and while we should perhaps renew the attempt we made a couple of decades back, to join ASEAN, we should do this in the context of our continuing membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, not as an alternative to that, which was our perspective in the days of UNP governments.
I should note, similarly, that the President’s initiative to use our former ambassador to Brazil, who has very good connections with many South American nations, to build up links with this region, has also been subverted by the Ministry of External Affairs. But this is only to be expected from an institution that advised the President not to accept the position of Chair of the Group of 17, on the grounds that its members were of no importance. In fairness to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs though, when I told him that the members included Indian and Brazil, he was converted to the cause, and the President did accept the Chair.
But the Minister did not follow up on why he had been misled, and subsequently, with our ambassador in Geneva not interested in the Group, nothing was done to advance cooperation. Thus Sri Lanka, in the period when we had a certain prestige, having won our war against terror and defeated the Western attack on us in the Human Rights Council, sank into moribundity, and is now the prey of competing interests.
This is sad because, given our location, as well as the pluralism of our society, we are in a unique position to act as a catalyst in bringing other countries together. Unfortunately we have extremists in Sri Lanka who think of the country as being a Buddhist state and believe that this will justify a special relationship with China[xiii], as opposed to India which is denigrated as Hindu. There is similar disregard for the Islamic countries which supported us so strongly in our struggle against terrorist, as did the Muslims in Sri Lanka; and attacks on Christians, who are seen as surrogates for the West which is persecuting us, with no regard for the solid support of the Catholic community in general in our struggle against terrorism, and the brave stand against the Tigers of the priests who first led people out when they were being kept as hostages.
I return then to the theme with which I began, the need for an inclusive view of the world, as suggested by Mahinda Thera over two thousand years ago. I think that, in assessing the position of China now, we would all benefit from such a perspective. Given that it was the West that first popularized the concept of Win-Win situations, following the Industrial Revolution, as opposed to the Zero-Sum concept that traditional agrarian societies had adopted, I hope that they too will acknowledge that a change in attitude will promote not only peace, but also prosperity for all.
*Text of a presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, at the Seminar on Crossed Perceptions: China, the United States, the European Union, Brazil and the Emerging World – October 22nd 2013, Rio de Janeiro
[i] The passage is worth quoting at length – ‘The self was always accepted as self-referential; the “other” was neither a threat to their identity, nor a source of confirmation of their uniqueness. This was very different from the European notion of the “other”, an inalienable entity external to oneself, which was both a source of terror and an object of desire. Sartre’s famous statement, “hell is the other”, carries a strong echo of Hegel, who always defined one’s identity as “identity against the other”, either to be appropriated or to be destroyed. By defining the identity of the self in this manner, however, a European finds himself entrapped in his own contradiction; if he succeeds in completely subjugating the other, the identity of his own self becomes dubious. He wants to become whole by destroying the other, but without the other, he becomes nothing.” India and Europe: Some Reflections on the Self and the Other’, Nirmal Verma, 1993.
[ii] As is noted below, a distinguished Indian journalist told me that some of our diplomats seemed to suffer from what he termed the China syndrome that had affected Indian bureaucrats after 1962. Following the Sino-Indian War, several Indian bureaucrats saw China as intrinsically an enemy, never to be trusted. His view was that, following the hostilities that led to the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987 being imposed on Sri Lanka, some Sri Lankans were incurably wary of India. His argument of course was that those stuck in mindsets connected with past hostilities need to awaken to current realities.
[iii] I am not sure the Americans even wanted this, since at that time they had got Diego Garcia from the British, with its inhabitants obligingly thrown out, in one of the worst violations of Human Rights that sadly the international community has failed to address.
[iv] On an earlier occasion he had indeed sent his Foreign Minister to ask the British whether he could invoke the Mutual Defence Treaty we had signed with Britain in 1947 when we got our independence, to be met with a polite if definite refusal. I was told that Mrs Thatcher had been inclined to agree, given the support Sri Lanka had given Britain during the Falklands War – which had precipitated a resolution against us by Argentina at the Human Rights Committee in Geneva which paved the way for what the Indians termed humanitarian assistance in 1987. But the British Foreign Office had explained to her that this was impossible.
[v] Who would discuss matters in a language no one else there understood, and then convey their advice to Dayan. This was Urdu, the language of both Hindu and Muslim elites in the old British India, before partition, now the official language of Pakistan.
[vi] Though I am told this was contrary to the advice given by your Mission in Colombo, and was precipitated by the absence at the time from Brasilia of officials who had been previously briefed about the situation. That having been said, we know the pressures that were applied by the United States which had originated the resolution were strong.
[vii] As opposed to what were termed Sri Lankan Tamils, who had lived in Sri Lanka for generations
[viii] It is one of the sadder aspects of American Foreign Policy in recent years that it has grown more duplicitous, as the manner in which Iraq was attacked and Syria has been threatened has demonstrated. Encouraging one’s allies to commit War Crimes is perhaps the most despicable of stratagems but this now seems to be common practice. The gloating with which barbarous acts against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan were celebrated in the Western press was perhaps a precursor of things to come, leading inexorably to the psychopathic finger cutting that occurred recently. Sri Lanka incidentally suffered from this, when Human Rights Watch claimed our forces had engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians, when we defeated the Tigers in the East of the country. This was the claim of a press release to launch a report on the conflict there, but the only instance cited in the entire report was when mortar locating radar had led to firing on a refugee centre. HRW admitted that the Tigers had had weapons there, but said disingenuously that these were not heavy weapons. Assuming that they were gullible rather than complicit, they must still bear responsibility for the Tiger decision to replicate this tactic in using nearly 300,000 Tamils as human shields during the later hostilities in the North.
[ix] His not entirely cynical advice was that we should do a few things to satisfy our critics in the administration, and then President Obama could tell them to concentrate on Djibouti instead.
[x] Subhoranjan Dasgupta, ‘Tagore’s Critique of Nationalism’, in Tagore at Home in the World, edited Dasgupta and Guha, SAGE Publications, India, 2013. While a few years back I would have thought this sort of neo-Marxist perspective exaggerated, recent events in the Middle East have led me to worry more about the takeover of Western decision making by a Dr Strangelove mentality. Unfortunately the majority perspective, which is why we used to set such store by Western democracy, has lost out to a culture of soundbites, the telegrams and anger that E M Forster identified so long ago.
[xi] I saw something similar in the seventies, soon after the then government had taken over the plantations owned by the British. The Indian Tamils the British had brought over had been treated virtually as slaves, and the efforts of Sri Lankan managers to improve facilities for them were met by sanctimonious pronouncements about how this would not go down well with shareholders, and the primary responsibility of the Directors was to maintain high profitability. Soon after nationalization, there were several articles in the British press about how badly we treated the Indian Tamils – even though we had begun to improve conditions, with incorporation in the free education and health systems Sri Lanka had established, systems we continued to operate and fund even in areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers during the recent conflict.
[xii] All this relates to what happened in Geneva in 2012, when an initial Indian commitment to support us changed. While there was much pressure on India, by politicians from Tamilnadu and also by the Americans, who had established close relations with Tamilnadu politicians too, the problem was exacerbated by two indiscreet pronouncements by Sri Lankans. The Minister heading the delegation in Geneva was reported as having announced Indian support for Sri Lanka, which he had been asked not to do, since this would inevitably lead to strong reactions from Tamilnadu, as then in fact occurred. Subsequent to this our High Commissioner in Delhi was reported to have commented denigratorily on the Tamilnadu politicians, which provided them with greater jusitification to pressurize Delhi.
[xiii] Where of course the Buddhism is Mahayana, though thankfully there is no intrinsic rivalry between that and Hinayana. The same is true of the different branches of Hinduism, whereas in both Christianity and Islam the two main branches have seen their differences as leading necessarily to rivalry if not overt enmity. This suggests that the two different world views I noted to begin with do have a geographical provenance, though the origins of both are in Asia, South and South West respectively. The synthesis we see of Hinduism and Buddhism in South East Asia, as well as in Sri Lanka, supports this theory.