Will President Rajapaksa be able to Withstand Pressure from Three Superpowers?
Sri Lanka, in the past few days, was evidently caught in a competition between two rivals who are determined to show their superiority. World superpowers United States of America and China were openly exchanging snide remarks against each other over this sovereign State, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led delegation arrived in the island. This exchange, however was compared by many Sri Lankans to that of a competition between two youths who had fallen in love with the same girl to win her heart. However, as a country that largely runs on debts and grants by both these superpowers, the situation could not be put as simple as that or taken lightly. Even though, not physically present in this cold war, Sri Lanka will not be able to ignore the sentiments of the third or rather the biggest party - its closest neighbour - India.
The US called China a predator while China called the US a bully. Pompeo after meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said in Colombo, that the US seeks to strengthen the partnerships with democratic, peaceful and prosperous sovereign State of Sri Lanka, and hinted that it is quite a contrast to what China is seeking under the Chinese Communist Party that is operating as a “predator” in Sri Lanka.
Just hours before Pompeo’s visit, the Chinese Embassy in Colombo accused Pompeo of trying to “coerce and bully” Sri Lanka with his visit.
Pompeo, who is the former Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was in the country to highlight Sri Lanka’s importance as an Indo-Pacific partner on security and economic issues, in the backdrop of China being seen as a rising power in the Indo-Pacific region, disputing the US’s strong position.
He called Sri Lanka to jointly walk with them as a strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region.
The top US diplomat noted that Sri Lanka is a strong strategic partner of the US on the world stage and it can be “big and for free open in the Indo-Pacific, which is quite a contrast to what China seeks.”
He criticised China, saying “from bad deals, violations of sovereignty and lawlessness on land and sea that the Chinese Communist Party is a predator, and the US comes in a different way, we come as a friend, and as a partner.”
He said he spoke with the leadership on security and economic relationships and that great American companies like Oracle and IBM create high-quality jobs. He said these US companies are reliable partners and the US works according to the law and are transparent in their assistance to the community in which they operate. He said good governance and transparency will attract more investors to Sri Lanka. “Those principles are deeply consistent with Sri Lanka’s history,” he said.
He also pointed out that they held discussions on security cooperation, which keeps some of the world’s most vital sea lanes open and have offered training for Sri Lankan Officers at West Point in the US and also recalled that the US had offered two Coast Guard vessels to the Sri Lanka Navy, that are now patrolling Sri Lankan waters.
On the issue of lifting the travel ban on Army Commander Shavendra Silva over war crime allegations, the US official said it’s a legal process in the US and they continue to review. “We want to make sure we get the right move through legal actions and we need to do that,” he pointed out.
The State Department is providing US$ 1.8 million of new counter-terrorism assistance programmes to help Sri Lankans bring the perpetrators of the 2019 Easter Bombings to justice, deter terrorist travel, and support counter-terrorism financing, prosecutions.
Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena told the United States of America that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy will remain neutral, non-aligned, and friendly and at the same time they were conscious of the opportunities and responsibilities having been an island that is strategically located in the Indian Ocean.
The Minister stated, the US Foreign Secretary’s wide-ranging discussion with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discussions held with the Foreign Ministry generated a renewed momentum to the conversations key American interlocutors have had with Sri Lankan leaders over the past months this year.
While welcoming US Secretary Pompeo and his delegation at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, he said, they see the importance of maintaining the freedom of navigation on our seas and air space while also protecting sea lines of communication and the undersea cables.
In the background of US- China rivalry that is escalating with verbal attacks on the foreign press and social media, Minister Gunwaradane said, Sri Lanka believes that all countries should adhere to and respect international laws, including UN Convention on Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]. “We share views on the potential multifaceted Maritime cooperation which Sri Lanka is keen to progress. He stated, Secretary Pompeo’s visit and the discussions have further enhanced the warm and friendly relations.
He said, for seven decades both countries have nurtured a strong relationship, founded on shared values of democracy and Socio-economic orientation.
Meanwhile, stating the foreign policy of Sri Lanka is on neutrality, President Rajapaksa said he is not ready to compromise the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nation in maintaining foreign relations, whatever the circumstances may be.
President Rajapaksa, who is considered to be pro-China, days after taking office in November last year, said he wants Sri Lanka to be neutral and work with other countries. “We are so small and we cannot survive to get into these balancing acts,” he added.
Rajapaksa noted the significant role played by the Indian Ocean in current geopolitics. He observed that Sri Lanka was positioned in a very strategic place as all the sea lanes were close by. The lanes should be free of control of any one country, the president added.
Rajapaksa said the previous administration of President Maithripala Sirisena had made a mistake by giving away the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year-long lease. The President said he would urge Beijing to renegotiate the deal. “Giving a small loan for investment is a different thing but giving a strategic important economic harbour is not acceptable,” he added.
President Rajapaksa also said what Sri Lanka wants is not obtaining loans continuously, but to achieve a high level of economic growth, by attracting more foreign investment.
“We have already begun to remove bureaucratic red tape that hinders foreign investment. Sri Lanka is a country that possesses necessary factors to achieve a high agricultural development. Our agriculture sector should be modernised. Scientific research should be conducted to reach this goal. We expect your assistance towards this,” President Rajapaksa pointed out.
Noting that China assisted in the development of the country’s infrastructure since the end of the separatist war, the President reiterated that Sri Lanka was not caught in a debt trap as a result.
During the discussion, they further agreed to strengthen the defence cooperation between Sri Lanka and the U.S. These include training opportunities and material assistance from the U.S. to security forces personnel in Sri Lanka.
When the President emphasised the need to strengthen the Coast Guard services to combat drug trafficking, Pompeo said the US could assist in this endeavour.
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz, Under Secretary of State Brian Bulatao, Chief Assistant Deputy Secretary at Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson, Senior Advisor to the State Secretary Mary Kissel were the other members of the US delegation.
Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Relations Admiral Jayanath Colombage, Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador-designate to the US Ravinatha Aryasinha were also present during the discussion.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) staged a protest, opposite the US Embassy in Colombo, against the visit of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
After the protest themed ‘Hands off Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty’ they handed over a letter to the US Ambassador. It was seen that the protesters were maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks in accordance with COVID-19 health guidelines.
“We wish to register our strong protest and condemn efforts by the United States Government to interfere with the independence and sovereignty of Sri Lanka,” was the cry of the protestors.
The JVP, in the letter, also queried whether there were any undeclared secret options, including signing of the MCC agreement, strengthening of SOFA and pushing Sri Lanka to be a partner of QUAD.
The letter stated, they do not believe that the visit of U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo to Sri Lanka was at all to do with a ‘commitment to a strong, independent, and democratic Sri Lanka’ as stated by U.S. diplomats.
“On the contrary, the USA has consistently sought to bring Sri Lanka under its sphere of influence and thereby drag it into an unnecessary and costly global and regional power play. We are well aware that the USA is willing to violate every democratic and international norm and principle when it comes to protecting its interests.”
Furthermore, the letter said, the statement by the U.S. Government urging Sri Lanka to make ‘necessary but difficult decisions to secure its economic independence’ was not just hypocritical given that the US Government is making all efforts to undermine Sri Lanka’s political and economic independence, but also threatening and deeply disrespectful of the independent and sovereign Nation-State.
“Now that the USA’s influence and power, is waning in the world, it is desperately attempting to fix its interests in South Asia with whatever means it can. If not, we see no reason why a week before a critical election in the US, the Secretary of State should hurriedly visit Sri Lanka is this manner. We are well aware that several critical military and trade agreements are pending, and, which the US Government is pressurising the Government of Sri Lanka to enter into, without proper accountability and due process. Unfortunately, the current Government in Sri Lanka has proven itself unable to maintain an independent and non-aligned stance on these issues,” the JVP said.
JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said, the purpose behind the US Secretary of State’s visit, is to initiate a plan to make Sri Lanka a partner and supporter of military domination in the Indian Ocean.
“Although Sri Lanka has bilateral or multi-lateral relations, it has been a member of international organisations, and signed bilateral and multilateral agreements Sri Lanka has never signed an agreement with an international war organisation or expressed support for a military organisation. The purpose of the US Secretary of State Pompeo’s visit is to implement a plan to make Sri Lanka a partner and supporter of military domination in the Indian Ocean.We warn the Government not to make Sri Lanka a partner or partner in any international war organisation.”
He further said, the JVP is thoroughly of the view that the US should not be allowed to take part in discussions of international military operations with the President or the Prime Minister.
“Prior to Pompeo’s arrival, Dean Thompson and David Steelwell had stated, the United States should expose the impact of the resolution on Sri Lanka, in deciding who we should travel with, in the future. He is not a visitor. India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia have been selected to establish military dominance in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka should not be made a partner in their international war plan,” claimed Dissanayake.
SJB act on rebels
The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) on Thursday (29) requested Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, to allocate seats for the Opposition MPs, who voted in favour of 20th Amendment, within the ruling party benches.
A letter signed by Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella stated, the SJB decided to expel MPs who voted in favour of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
“Since, MPs Diana Gamage, A. Arivind Kumar, Ishaq Rahman, Faisal Cassim, H. M. M. Haris, Nazeer Ahamed, S.M.M. Musharaf and A. S. M. Raheem, have been expelled from the SJB Parliamentary group I request you to provide seats for them within ruling party benches,” he said.
Following, the passage of the 20th Amendment Bill in Parliament on 22 October, the SJB requested the leaders, of the above mentioned MPs’ political parties, to take action against them for violating the agreement reached by them during SJB Parliamentary group meeting.
Meanwhile, SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Maddumabandara on Friday (30) said that disciplinary action will be taken in next week against the SJB MPs who voted in favour of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
Maddumabandara said that legal advice regarding the matter has been obtained by now and next steps would be taken accordingly.
Hakeem in two minds
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader MP Rauff Hakeem is presently struggling to institute disciplinary action against four of his MPs who had voted in favour of the Bill for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution which was put forward by the Government recently.
SLMC sources said that MP Hakeem has already notified the four MPs who had voted for the controversial Bill to give written explanation as to why they went against the party decision and voted with the Government.
It has also been reported that the supreme council of the SLMC would meet to take a final decision regarding the conduct of the four MPs next week.
It has been reported that the four MPs who voted for the Bill are continuing to maintain that the party has to take a shrewd decision at this stage as there is a Tamil political force that is currently emerging in the Eastern Province which is supportive of the present regime.
The four SLMC MPs have pointed out that politicians such as Sathasivam Viyalendran, Pillayan and Karuna Amman had been instrumental in forging this new Tamil political force which is supportive of the Government in the Eastern Province.
They have warned that any move by the SLMC hierarchy at this point in time to take disciplinary action against them will be detrimental to the party’s political future in the Eastern Province.
These MPs had also warned that if they were to be expelled from the party, its leader would be forced to steer the party all by himself in Parliament.
However, they insisted that they will never leave the party under any circumstance.
Former head of FCID
Former Chief of the Financial Crimes Investigation Department (FCID), retired SDIG Ravi Waidyalankara said investigations carried out by the Financial Crimes Investigation Department from 2015 – 2019 were influenced by certain prominent political figures of the UNF Government and I was mentally under pressure due to that.
Testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed to probe into political victimisation of public officials, during the tenure of the UNF from 2015- 2019 he added these prominent political figures influenced the FCID to implicate members of the Rajapaksa family in certain investigations.
Waidyalankara handed over a confidential document containing the names of the said political figures to the PCoI.
When questioned from which parties the FCID received the most complaints, Waidyalankara stated that while certain complaints were made by the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat, the FCID also received complaints from external sources. He said, all those complaints were forwarded to the IGP.
He added, investigations into complaints would only commence upon approval of the IGP and the IGP has to decide as to which Police Units each complaint would be designated to.
When questioned about a statement that Waidyalankara had formerly made to the Media, that a Minister had told him that a member of the Rajapaksa family should be arrested weekly, there was a particular individual who stated so but the details will be produced to the PCoI in a confidential document, otherwise there could be a possible threat to his life.
In response to a question about the MiG Aircraft deal, Waidyalankara stated, although there could have been a fraud with the MiG deal, there was no evidence to the furtherance of the involvement of incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Therefore, he was against arresting Rajapaksa without evidence, Waidyalankara said.