Will NYT allegation about Chinese contribution to Rajapaksa have the desired impact?
Posted on July 3rd, 2018

Courtesy NewsIn.Asia

Colombo, July 2: The allegation by New York Times (NYT) that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had accepted a contribution of US$ 7.6 million from the Chinese government owned China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) ahead of the 2015 Presidential election, is creating a sensation in Sri Lanka.

But according to informed sources, the allegations are unlikely to have the desired impact, which is the destruction of the Rajapaksa family’s prospects in the 2019 Presidential election and the creation of a rift between Sri Lanka  and China.

Will NYT allegation about Chinese contribution to Rajapaksa have the desired impact?

The reason for thinking so, does not lie in any belief that there was no Chinese contribution to Rajapaksa’s campaign. There could well have been contributions, as foreign entities and agencies are known to fund select politicians in countries in which they have interests.

Reports in the last few days have quoted official sources to say that there had been apprehensions about Chinese contributions to Rajapaksa in 2015 itself. The former Indian National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, had written in his book Choices in 2016 that Rajapaksa had built a political machine with Chinese money.”

With the West, and some other powers, openly backing the then opposition to bring about a regime change in 2014-15, armed with a policies like Right to Protect”, it is conceivable that Rajapaksa might have accepted aid from China to counter the West’s machinations.

But in a statement issued on July 1, the former President stoutly denied any Chinese contributions and had told newsmen that he plans to sue the NYT.

Political Effectiveness

Be that as it may, there are a number of reasons for doubting the political effectiveness of the NYT’s allegations. Quite clearly the article was aimed at jeopardizing the chances of the Rajapaksas in the 2019 Presidential election and driving a wedge between Sri Lanka and China, whose expanding footprint in the island nation scares the Western powers and their allies.

Firstly, corruption is not an issue which agitates the Sri Lankan public and the voter at this point of time. Ever since the Good Governance Government” of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came into being in January 2015, a slew of investigations were launched against  the Rajapaksa family and its  cohorts. But nothing has come out of these in the past three years.

There was an allegation by Minister Mangala Samaraweera that  billions of dollars were stacked away in Dubai by Rajapaksa but efforts to prove it failed.

The NYT’s allegation about Chinese contributions is but one more in a series of allegations before by  the Financial Crime Investigation Department  (FCID).

But even with all the humongous allegations and the remand of his brother Basil and son Namal,  Mahinda Rajapaksa’s  popularity graph has only been going up. His newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) swept the local government elections in February, relegating the Prime Minister’s  United National Party (UNP) to a poor second position, and the President’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to an abysmal low third position.

Clearly, the people wanted the Rajapaksas’ functioning, development-oriented and strong government back in place of the non-functioning Good Governance Government”.

The need of the hour for the Sri Lankan electorate is a functioning government which will promote the interests of the common man and not just those of an elite or some foreign powers. The Rajapaksas personify a functioning, nationalist government which will not bow to foreign powers needlessly. The corruption charges which tarnished their image and threw them out of power in 2014-2015 are now a distant memory.

A source close to the President said that the issue will peter out because no sensible political leader will use it as stick to beat Rajapaksa with. Most Sri Lankans are anti-West because of its interfering ways. Making an issue of this allegation will actually end up generating sympathy for Rajapaksa,” the source said.

Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka, political scientist and former Ambassador, also expects the issue to fizzle out because the NYT article is not substantive enough to make a political impact in Sri Lanka.

According to him ,the article’s  content did not  merit the huge play it  got in the paper. He suspects that certain elements,  including a pro-Western section in the Sri Lankan government, with a political axe to grind, might have led the reporter into the story and assisted in getting some material. And at the US-end, some very influential elements might have persuaded the editors to use the story in the way they did.

Colombo Port City being built by China Harbor Engineering Company. Investigations showed no wrong doing by CHEC.

Jayatilleka feels that the government might not pursue the case beyond a point partly on account of the fact that China is involved. The Good Governance Government has mended its fences with China to make it the dominant partner in its infrastructural development projects.

Other sources pointed out that at the time of the transfer of power in January 2015, Wickremesinghe had promised Rajapaksa that he and his family would not be victimized. That is why the issue of Chinese payments had not been taken up when it came to light first in 2015, the sources said.

Sino-Lankan Relations

The fourth and the most important reason for feeling that the issue would die out is the adverse impact it could have on Sino-Sri Lankan relations.

After about a year of hostility to China’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s economy, based on the suspicions that graft and flouting of regulations were rampant under the Rajapaksa government, the Chinese government companies including China Harbor Engineering Company, were cleared of any wrong doing and work on major projects like the Colombo Port City resumed.

The company involved in the Port City project is the one which allegedly paid Rajapaksa during the elections.

The  Hambantota Port was given to another  Chinese government company (not the one which allegedly paid Rajapaksa) on a 99 year lease. The Chinese loan of US$ 1.2 billion was turned into equity to China’s advantage.

Chinese companies now account for 40% of the housing projects in Sri Lanka. And according to the Chinese Ambassador, China has so far executed US$ 15 billion worth of projects in Sri Lanka. China has replaced India as the biggest investor and financier in Sri Lanka.

A reversal of the situation is well neigh impossible at least in the foreseeable future.

Add to this, the Chinese embassy’s unusually sharp  reaction to the NYT story and one cannot but feel that China will not take the allegations lying down.

The Chinese Embassy said in a statement on Saturday, that the New York Times article was full of political prejudice and completely inconsistent with the fact.”

The statement said: The Embassy stresses that China has always been pursuing a friendly policy towards Sri Lanka, firmly supporting the latter’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposing any country’s interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka.”

It is encouraging that all sectors of the Sri Lankan society highly appreciate China’s tremendous support and selfless assistance for ending the civil war and post-war reconstruction in the Island nation.”

Despite any interference from a third party, China would like to work together with Sri Lanka to actively implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, and concentrate unwaveringly on our fixed goals, continuously promote the pragmatic cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiatives following the golden rule of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, to better benefit the two countries and the two peoples.”

With China officially committing itself to continued involvement in Sri Lanka and its assertion that it has the support of the present government and the people of Sri Lanka, there is no likelihood of the Sri Lankan government’s pursuing any investigations even if they are formally launched.

Perhaps no investigations might be launched, despite a complaint being filed in the FCID by a UNP MP and the Minister of Social Empowerment, Ranjan Ramanayake. The FICD is yet to take up the case, having asked the police for their opinion.

Moreover, while junior ruling party leaders have made statements about the issue calling for investigations or an explanation from Rajapaksa, the top most government leaders, including President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have been totally silent.

According to Dr.Jayatilleka,  while Wickremesinghe is careful in such matters, Mahinda Rajapaksa himself may  not make an issue of it unless political circumstances warrant it.

(The featured image at the top shows the Rajapaksas: brothers Basil, Gotabaya, Mahinda, and Chamal, and Mahinda’s son Namal)

One Response to “Will NYT allegation about Chinese contribution to Rajapaksa have the desired impact?”

  1. Christie Says:

    The NYT joke coming out of Delhi was to lighten the financing of Sinhala politicians by an Indian Colonial Parasite from Singapore; Mahendran.

    No more talks about Mahendrans billions.

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