MR Vs Biden
Democrat Joseph Biden (78) winner at the 49th US Presidential Poll held on 3 November of last year, was sworn in as the USA’s 46th President on Wednesday (See ‘Ceylon Today’s’ lead story of yesterday’s and Editorial of 6 November 2020, respectively).
A lawyer by profession and born to a working class family, Biden has been in active politics for the past 51 years, cutting his teeth in politics by being elected to the New Castle County Council on the Democrat ticket in 1970 as a 27-year-old .
In Sri Lanka, the only person who has been as long as Biden in politics is former President and now Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (76). Rajapaksa also has been in politics for the past 51 years, having been first elected to Parliament on the SLFP ticket from Beliatta, at the 27 May 1970 Parliamentary Polls at the age of 24.
Rajapaksa and Biden were both born in November, Rajapaksa on 18 November 1945 and Biden on 20 November, 1942.
Meanwhile, Biden’s inaugural address to America from Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, made on Wednesday had two messages, unity within and ‘re-engagement with the world once more,’ without.
In the immediately preceding Trump Presidency, America was struggling to build unity within and without; it had an acrimonious relationship with China, the world’s second largest superpower, second only to the USA, both economically and militarily.
Vis-à-vis ‘unity,’ Biden came down hard on white supremacy, a seeming hallmark of the Trump Presidency. This may also be a message to certain quarters of Sri Lanka’s polity, who promote Sinhala or rather Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. While Sri Lanka is a sovereign State, it’s not an island in the metaphorical sense and cannot ignore the overtones of the President of the world’s largest superpower, the USA.
A case in point is exports and the need to have good political relations with Sri Lanka’s importing nations and blocs to nurture this trade. And an example is Sri Lanka losing the GSP+ duty free facility in its exports to the EU in August 2010, the island’s single largest importing bloc then, revolving round alleged human rights violations in the closing stages of the then Government’s war against the LTTE in 2009. This facility/concession however was regained seven years later in May 2017 due to the pledge made by the immediately preceding regime in Colombo to investigate such alleged abuse.
Nonetheless, according to the IPS, a semi-Government think-tank, the GSP+ loss then, had a negative impact on real household consumption at the bottom strata of the population, and poverty indices.
The loss of GSP+ caused a decline in absolute apparel export earnings from EU vis-à-vis a nine per cent decline in annual growth in 2012 compared to 2011, slowdown in annual growth; 11 per cent in 2014 compared to 26 per cent in 2004, closure of firms and employment losses where 2,000 jobs of direct employment lost due to closure of two factories alone, declining competitiveness of Sri Lanka’s exports in the South Asian region – other South Asian countries still eligible for concessions such as Bangladesh, an ‘Everything but Arms’ (EBA) beneficiary, Pakistan becoming eligible for GSP+ concessions in 2014 and India negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU, IPS said.
In that context, the criticality of the USA’s relations to Sri Lanka was exemplified by ‘Ceylon Today’s’ editorial of 6 November 2020 where it was said, ‘USA is Sri Lanka’s largest export market. In a Biden Presidency, it’s important for the island to nurture this export market. However, contentious issues may surface vis-à-vis Sri Lanka’s relations with the USA on human rights led by the last few months of Sri Lanka’s successful war with the LTTE in 2009, and China, the USA’s now arch enemy, primarily, politically. Sri Lanka will therefore have to tread softly on the USA’s toes, considering its importance to the economy.’
This is where Rajapaksa’s 51-year-old political skills will have to be pitted at the upmost with Biden who also has similar political years of experience, so that it will be a ‘win-win’ scenario for both the USA and Sri Lanka.