Sofa – A Huge Threat To China
Posted on May 13th, 2019

By Winston de Valliere Courtesy Ceylon Today

A  Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United States and an ally or partner, defines the legal status of any member of the U.S. armed services (land, sea or air) serving on active duty anywhere in such a country, excluding personnel of U.S. Armed Forces attached to the United States embassy in that country and such personnel who have been specifically mentioned as being outside the binding clauses of such agreement. They can include the civilian staff, being American citizens in the employ of, serving with or accompanying the U.S. Armed Forces personnel in the ally/partner country. Usually, a SOFA will not cover civilians ordinarily resident in the partner/ally country, occupying similar capacities with US Armed Forces personnel coming under the agreement.
Army Commander Lt. General Mahesh Senanayake is the latest aficionado of these hyped–up anti-SOFA elements. His take on it was, to put it mildly, very shocking: He is on record as having said that How can we sign such an agreement? That is like committing suicide after writing all my properties to someone else”. One presumes he knows what he is talking about because he has been privy to the contents of the pending agreement.

What is significant and to the point, however, is not anyone’s fear about the contents of the SOFA because on closer analysis one sees that the Commander has preceded his comments by observing that There are various regional and world powers trying to take advantage of the current situation due to the strategic and geographical (and geo-political?) importance of Sri Lanka’s location.

 When the Army Commander comes out with such a firm statement at this specific juncture , one may be excused for presuming that the Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s Armed Forces, President Maithripala Sirisena, might well heed his Army Commander’s advice to tear up the proposed SOFA with the U.S. That matters have been brought to the brink of the signing of this geo-politically defining landmark agreement mostly because of the accommodation by the UNP-led Government is seen in diplomatic and other political circles as the outer manifestation of America’s success in seducing Sri Lanka away from capitulating blindly to Beijing with whom this country may well be having a similar agreement.

Presidential election as an excuse

The political grapevine is abuzz with speculation whether this is the real reason behind President Sirisena’s trip to Beijing, ostensibly to attend a conference, but more importantly for a briefing with Xi Jinping on advice as to what position is to be now adopted with the Americans relating to the SOFA agreement. Xi Jinping can be trusted to have some tough things to say to the Sri Lankan President, not forgetting that he botched the plan to reinstate Rajapaksa in power and thereby put an end to Ranil Wickremesignhe’s cooperation with the U.S. to the detriment of China’s Belt and Road plans and the crunch plan to take total control of the South China Seas.

A positive nod from Sirisena to Xi Jinping, offering the imminent Presidential Election as an excuse for ‘postponement’ could totally jeopardise the SOFA signing in Colombo. That would be the best news Beijing has heard in several decades, especially ever since Xi Jinping lost out when Sirisena botched plans to reinstate Rajapaksa in power last September.

Coincidence or not, it’s interesting that the Army Commander’s opinions were voiced exactly at this specific juncture. Seducing Sirisena into the SOFA process began way back on 29.11.2016  at the Galle Dialogue at which President Sirisena met U.S. Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, since renamed the U.S. INDOPACOM  (broadened to include the entire Indian Ocean) at the Galle Dialogue 2016 Maritime Security Conference, at which Harris also met PM Wickremesinghe, and Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces Commanders. This led to the  USS Somerset arriving here to support the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit Exchange with Sri Lanka Marines and still later on had U.S. Marines, Sailors work with the Sri Lanka Navy’s newly-minted Marine Corps.  

Admiral Harris then stressed the importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and expanding partnerships among like-minded nations TO UPHOLD THE RULES-BASED GLOBAL OPERATING SYSTEM. SRI LANKA IS A WELCOME AND SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTOR TO THE SYSTEM.

 Admiral Harris also met privately with Commanders of the Sri Lanka Navy, Army, and Air Force, along with discussions with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene, and other senior Government leaders.

Expanded cooperation with the United States – cooperation that benefits both countries in meaningful ways” was how Admiral Harris put it. SOFA is the plum in that scenario of cooperation. But those in the know will tell you that SOFA has absolutely nothing in it even remotely engendering Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity or sovereignty. The US-Korea SOFA has been inexistence for decades and it has in not in any way been negative for South Korea: Just the opposite in fact.

 The difference is that there was no way that Beijing could find broad political support in Korea of the nature found in Sri Lanka…and so the US-Korea went through  and persists to this day with no negative issue whatsoever emerging from it. Unfortunately for China, her support was across the border in North Korea. Not so in Sri Lanka pre-2015 and for Beijing, hopefully, post-2019!

 So, then the sudden recent spate of news taking up space in the print media against the SOFA is a manifestation of the pro-US and pro-China forces trying to hit, while the iron is hot with the staunchly pro-U.S., pro-SOFA Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at his weakest since getting ‘outside’ help in 2015 to send Beijing man, Mahinda Rajapaksa, out of power.

Commander Senanayake’s opinion, therefore, is the first hard indication of a split in opinion among leaders of the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka vis-a-vis the proposed SOFA.

 The contention that the current security situation in Sri Lanka is being exploited to hurry up the signing process however, is flawed. The fear is that any future Government reneging on such agreements, such as the SOFA with the U.S., can have nasty diplomatic and bilateral trade negatives emerging from it. Those negatives, as Iran well knows, can hurt extremely harmfully. They can destroy Sri Lanka economically and in affairs before the UNHRC.

 This is what is back of the sudden haste to drum up resistance to tear up the imminent SOFA threat that sends grave danger signals to China’s Lankan political stooges on one side and America’s friends in Colombo on the other.

 How very badly the U.S. wants SOFA to go through, will, I am afraid, also determine the outcome of the coming presidential and general elections.
For the U.S. and China, it’s now a winner takes all” prospect in Sri Lanka…and that’s fraught with all sorts of dangers. The U.S. plays very rough, China plays dirty.

That’s on the record. Will Sirisena now nix it?

One Response to “Sofa – A Huge Threat To China”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Neither China or US should be allowed any military facilities in the island. They can kill each other elsewhere.
    Let US and China or any one invest on jobs generating ventures in the island.
    We must trade with Iran as usual as they are not a threat to the island.US or anybody can’t dictate terms to us but sadly our para Sinhala umbudaya politicians will sell the country to any devil.
    We should completely ban travel to gulf states except Qatar because they propagate the ugly side or version of Islam.
    We must save the Muslims from the hole they have dug in and these riots are a wake up call to the Muslims that they have been brainwashed by their religious scalars that have mislead them
    When ever the Christians, Hindus or Buddhists have any contact with Muslim community must make the Muslims realize in a friendly way that the lifestyle and culture they have acquired is harming them.
    Some of the gangs that has a particular political agenda and keep on moving about attacking the Muslims should be sought and arrested.
    Muslims were very modern in 1953 where I noticed the ladies from Pakistan that visited the mosque near our house smoked extended cigarettes, they look so grand where Liz Taylor look a domestic, when the latter was taking part in the film Elephant Walk. It was filmed in Kandy.
    Muslims were very secular then where they intermarried with the burghers, Sinhalese and Tamils.
    They turned away from us after being brainwashed buy the gulf states and Saudi.
    I will write about the Saudis,Pasikuda and Kathakudi later, our experience in 2005.Too busy to write about that, perhaps another time.

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