YAHAPALANA AND “WORLD WAR III” Part 7
Posted on October 17th, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The next World war will be located in the Indian Ocean, say the war mongers, The Bay of Bengal will definitely get caught up in it.   China will be on one side, the USA, India and Japan on the other and Sri Lanka in the middle.   A cartoon showing USA, UK, India and China warships converging on Sri Lanka, appeared in the newspapers.  It looks as h though Sri Lanka is silently preparing for war. The biggest allocation in  2018 Yahapalana budget is for defence. Naval power is expected to play an increasingly significant role.

There might be a war inside Sri Lanka too. China has got Hambantota and Colombo ports and the Quad does not like it.  Yahapalana assured India that Hambantota would not be given to any foreign navy. “I assure you that no action, whatsoever will be taken in our harbour or in our waters that jeopardizes India’s security concerns.” Instead a commercial agreement between Mattala and the Airport authority of India will be signed which see India will take over the management of Mattala airport, said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe  .

Sitting in the middle of the Indian Ocean at the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka occupies an enviable strategic position, said Palitha Kohona. That is its bane, not its strength, said N.A. de S Amaratunga.

The question today is how a small country like Sri Lanka could survive in a big pond such as the Indian Ocean in the midst of geopolitical interests of great powers, said analysts’. “Since all of them are converging on Sri Lanka, not for the benefit of Sri Lanka but solely for what is best for each of them individually or collectively, how Sri Lanka handles these great power relations is a matter of deep concern .

Because the games that Great Powers play leave in their wake  unintended consequences that countries such Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan are now facing, and Sri Lanka would have to prepare itself to face in the near future. If Sri Lanka hopes to emerge unscathed by the interplay of these five powers in and around Sri Lanka, it is not only being delusional but also fails to acknowledge its limitations, said Ladduwahetty.

How can Sri Lanka extricate itself from this entrapment? So far Sri Lanka has been able to balance the competing interests of India and China. The option for Sri Lanka is either to stay out of the fray of the rivalries of great powers and accept the fallout, or to be mindful of the opportunities that inevitably would be presented by the rivalry among the great power and use it for the benefit of Sri Lanka, he said.

Sri Lanka’s future is with China. India will continue to be only a jealous distracter replied an observer, bluntly. The only way ahead is for Sri Lanka to arm herself with assistance from friendly countries such as China and move forward without waiting for further meddling by poverty-stricken India, by hegemony seeking Christian West and the Jihadist nations in the Middle East,  he concluded,

Chandraprema calls for a defence pact with China. Trincomalee and Hambantota should be full of Chinese warships. China needs the trade routes across the Indian Ocean more than India does. India is not an exporting nation the way China is.

The Pentagon has ‘raised a red flag about Hambantota’ in its Annual report to the U.S. Congress on China’s military and security developments” 2017. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has   rejected US claims that China might establish a “forward military base” at Hambantota. He said that there would be no foreign military presence at Hambantota.  Sri Lanka navy’s Southern Command is being relocated in Hambantota to control port security,”

I state clearly that Sri Lanka’s government does not enter into military alliances with any country or make our bases available to foreign countries. We will continue military cooperation such as training, supply of equipment and taking part in joint exercises with friendly countries. Only the Sri Lanka Armed Forces have the responsibility for military activities in our Ports and Airports.

Sri Lanka has “no security or military relations with China said Rear Admiral Wettewa   of the Sri Lanka Navy.” Sri Lanka has no special military relationship with any country, he added, but has strong lateral partnerships with India, Pakistan, Japan, Australia and the United States. Analysts observed that apart from Pakistan, which is the odd man out in this list, the other four belong to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which was created to contain China.

Chinese Ambassador Cheng Xueyuan also said there is no truth in the alleged Chinese militarization of the Hambantota Port. Hambantota is a 100% commercial port, run as a joint venture between Sri Lanka and China. According to the lease agreement, even naval visits, like the stop made by the Japanese ship, Akebono come under the authority of Sri Lanka’s defense.

However, China’s position as a world leader is secure. China will overtake the United States to become the world’s biggest economy by 2030, said HSBC in September 2018. China will remain the biggest contributor to global economic growth over the next decade China’s GDP will increase from $14.1 trillion today to $26 trillion in 2030, while the GDP of the US will grow slowly from $20.4 trillion to $25.2 trillion. HSBC’s prediction is backed by another made by the International Monetary Fund in July, which also said China could become the world’s largest economy by 2030.

Economic ties with China have become so deep that the US, Japan and Australia cannot afford an adversarial relationship with it, observed Ravi Vellor in 2017.  Europe, Japan and Canada know that trade with China will be a big part of their future, observed TIME in 2018. China may even overtake the US as the EU largest trading partner.

China said it was aware of the importance of the Indian Ocean. Eighty percent of Chinese trade worth US$ 4 trillion must go through sea lanes and 50 percent of that passes through the Indian Ocean. So no one is more concerned about safety and security of navigation than China.”  But China has always preferred to deal with nations bilaterally rather than through multilateral organizations, said China.,  Also, despite concerns, the Belt and Road Initiative was an economic endeavor and was not for political or security” reasons.

China has made its position on Sri Lanka very clear. China always respects Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and internal affairs, offering aid given gratis without any attached political conditions, only requiring it to be used for people’s livelihood and benefit the general public as much as possible, said YI Xianliang Chinese ambassador in Sri Lanka,    addressing the media in December 2017.

China-Sri Lanka cooperation doesn’t include any hidden agenda. China has never sought to monopolize ports or any industry in other countries. We always adopt an open, inclusive and win-win way which contribute to the development and prosperity of Sri Lanka. China welcomes any third country to join in the BRI, participate in the project construction by China and countries along the routes and share the cooperative development achievement at any time, said YI Xianliang .

I was surprised to hear that some third country Ambassador said his country was against a particular country using a port exclusively in another country while referring to Hambantota Port recently. According to the agreement signed between a Chinese company and Sri Lanka Port Authority, the two sides will establish two joint ventures to operate the port.

Hambantota is run by several companies, it is not Chinese investments exclusively. So, any decision-making is not by China alone. And it is common sense that a port will never be exclusively used or operated. Hambantota Port just like other ports in the world, is open to ships of all countries, continued YI Xianliang.

I noticed that Ms. Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of the State of the United States, recently claimed in the Congress that unsustainable debt burdens for Sri Lanka were made out of Chinese non-concessional loans. It is completely unfounded statement. Instead, she stated that the United States was the largest grant provider of assistance to Sri Lanka, continued YI Xianliang. Elsewhere he said that the interest rates on Chinese concessionary loans to Sri Lanka are ‘very low’ compared with international market rates and the loans are given on relatively long repayment structures and grace periods.

China is a great trade power. Nearly 40% of its foreign trade goods have to transport through Indian Ocean shipping line. Each year, more than 5,000 merchant ships depart from China or travel to China through the route, navigating around South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Safeguarding the freedom of navigation and security in the Indian Ocean are major interests and concerns of China. China stands as a major force for the development, peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region concluded YI Xianliang .

A confident China issued a large newspaper supplement in Sri Lanka in 2018 to celebrate the 69 anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. It ran to 12 pages.  It included developments in modern China as well as China’s assistance to Sri Lanka. There were lots of photos of China assisted projects.   Earlier, in 2018, Bank of China, the fourth largest bank in the world, opened a branch in Colombo. It’s a new chapter in the modern economic history of Sri Lanka and China, said China happily.

The annual Sujata Jayawardene Memorial lecture of the University of Colombo featured on two consecutive years, talks by the Ambassadors for China and India. There was a huge difference in the talks. The Chinese ambassador was confident, as usual and clearly stated China’s vision for Sri Lanka .The High Commissioner for India said, tentatively that what they wanted most was to get on  nicely with Sri Lanka .  India and Sri Lanka had so much in common, starting with Buddhism.

Sri Lanka has a long memory, as China and India well know. The Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka during the long drawn out violent conflict is noteworthy, said Colombage. Although India, Pakistan, USA, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine supported the government of Sri Lanka to battle the most ruthless terrorist organization – the LTTE, the major contribution came from China.

China provided weapons when many other nations shied away citing human right considerations. China even established a bonded warehouse for arms and ammunition that was required to fight the war in Sri Lanka. The post conflict period also witnessed the west and other powers staying away from Sri Lanka’s development programs. China became the number one development partner and biggest Foreign Direct Investor in Sri Lanka, mainly focusing on much needed infrastructure projects such as highways, ports, airports and power generation sectors.

The global power blocs are now shifting. They are shifting very slowly and carefully. China and Russia are rising. They cannot, be easily destabilized through elections, either. Regime change is nearly impossible in those two countries.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has established a relationship with Russia. In South Asia, not wishing to be seen as a mere puppet of USA, India is maintaining relations with Russia and China. India has ambitions of its own.  In South East Asia, North Korea and South Korea will   eventually combine, with the approval of China. This will greatly affect US power in South East Asia. South Korea was its plant in the region. Nobody, anywhere,   is paying diplomatic obeisance to USA.  Instead satellite states supporting USA are running away.

The prospects of the US “containing” China in the Indo-Pacific are also marginal say experts. The South China Sea is China’s front yard. The US allies and friends in East Asia, even Japan, Australia and South Korea are economically intertwined with China and will be reluctant to confront it. Short of war, the US cannot wrest the South China Sea islands from China. A reckless US decision to discard the One-China policy could unleash a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. China’s navy is second only to that of US.

On the other hand it seems unlikely that China would be rash enough to challenge nuclear-armed India in the Indian Ocean for decades to come, said an analyst.  India enjoys overwhelming military superiority in the Indian Ocean and is likely to consolidate this position even further in the future.  Additionally, the U.S. maintains a mammoth base in Diego Garcia to the south of Sri Lanka. It is highly improbable that Chinese policy makers would consider challenging the existing power arrangements in the Indian Ocean any time soon, if ever. (CONCLUDED)

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