Posted on October 8th, 2019


Russia and China are now emerging as world powers. They are challenging USA. Sri Lanka is associating with both while continuing its links with USA. This essay looks at Yahapalana links with Russia and China, with particular reference to USA.

After a lapse of a few decades when it was battling with Glastnost, Russia is now coming back onto the international scene. Russia    plans to become a world power. Russia started by complaining, at the start of the 74th UN General Assembly sessions in September 2019, that Russia’s role in defeating Hitler is ignored in the west. The sole credit for winning World War II was given to America and Britain, when in reality, Britain and America moved in only after Russia had weakened Germany in the east and the Russian army had arrived in Berlin. 

Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, wrote, Expunging from memory the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazism, belittling the Soviet contribution to the victory, but also   retrospectively strip our country of its historic role as an architect and guarantor of the post-war world order”. (‘Russia in Global Affairs’, 20 September 2019)

Russia has now established significant links with other countries. Putin was shown standing next to President Ji at China’s 70th anniversary celebrations in Beijing. Russia sent an army contingent for the parade. In the float parade, the second float silently recognized the Russian Revolution.

Putin and North Korea’s Kim met for their first-ever summit in April 2019. Putin, known for delaying meetings with international guests, was waiting for Kim when he emerged from his limousine. The two leaders greeted each other warmly, shaking hands and smiling. The meeting lasted nearly five hours, reported the media.

At least 18 governments have signed military cooperation deals with   Russia since 2015, said TIME. Two Russian warships docked in the Philippines. Philippines is a US treaty ally. In 2019 India signed a $3 billion deal to lease a third Russian nuclear-powered submarine. Russia remains a major supplier of arms to India, despite the fact that the United States has imposed sanctions on nations buying military hardware from Moscow. 

Russia is specifically targeting countries which have a toxic relationship with USA, observed TIME. Russia is intervening wherever USA is active. Maduro in Venezuela has survived USA sanctions thanks to Russian cash and political cover. In Syria Russia rescued Bashar Assad with a militia campaign that force the US to abandon hopes of ousting him. Russia is also wooing the elites in Africa, said TIME. 

Russia participated in Cormorant Strike 2019”, the combined forces field training exercise   organized by Sri Lanka army.  Sri Lanka is taking steps to enhance naval cooperation with Russia announced the Foreign Ministry. Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, made an official trip to Russia in July 2019 at the invitation of Russia. This was the first visit by a Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy to Russian Navy Headquarters Saint Petersburg.

Sri Lanka participated at the Main Naval Parade, Russia’s largest-scale international ceremonial event at sea. Vice Admiral De Silva also called on the Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy. He participated in a working meeting with high level specialists in military technical cooperation and was given a detailed tour of a Russian patrol corvette.

Representatives from Sri Lanka embassy in Moscow, had met with Russian Navy Headquarters’ International Relations officers to discuss upcoming visits which aim at advancing cooperation between Sri Lanka and Russia Naval educational institutions, the first exchange visits between the Naval & Maritime Academy, Trincomalee, and Admiral Kuznetsov Naval Academy, Saint Petersburg, the principal education & research centre of the Russian Navy.

President Sirisena had spoken with President Putin at Fifth Summit of Heads of State of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in June 2019. He had told Putin about the difficulties in buying defense equipment from Russia due  to a US directive prohibiting his government from dealing with some Russian enterprises. This prevented Sri Lanka from using a credit line made available by Russia. Sirisena had sought advice from President Putin as to how ‘the problem could be tackled’. He told Putin that that the three MIGs given by Russia in 1972 to fight an insurgency are still in service.  President Sirisena spoke warmly about his interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, reported the media.

Economists agree that China has made a spectacular rise from a very poor nation in 1949 to very rich one in 2019. The country has improved in all aspects and made several advances.  Here is one. China now has the world’s largest high-speed rail network of 29,000 kilometres. This is about two thirds of the world’s total high-speed rail network. China’s high speed trains travel at a maximum speed of 300-350 kilometres an hour.    Internationally, too there are express   freight trains from China to Europe which send   goods faster than by ship. There is a China- Europe express train from Hamburg to Wuhan.

China’s economy is now very strong.  USA recognizes this. In 2008,  Berkshire Hathaway,  a leading American multinational conglomerate holding company”  invested USD 232 million in BYD, a Chinese  energy products company (Economist  21.9.19 p 67).  Chinese banks are among the largest cross border lenders in Asia. Seven of the top 20 equity underwriters in Asia In 2018 were Chinese. America still controls the dollar payments system but that could change too, said Economist. China is now due to become the biggest economy in the world, ousting the US from that position.  By 2030 China will be the leading economy, said analysts. By 2030 China will also have the largest navy and the most powerful aircraft carrier, they said.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a massive global network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks spanning Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, with trillions invested in new infrastructure.  China’s B&R is supported by a bank, unlike other similar ventures. The  B&R is  looked at with suspicion by Washington, which sees it as an attempt by China to  increase its influence in the world. But more countries are joining it.

 Iraq announced in September 2019 that Iraq will join China’s “Belt and Road” project.  Iraq is grateful to China for its valuable support  and is willing to work together in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ framework,”  said the Prime Minister of Iraq during a state visit  to China. The two countries would cooperate on oil and infrastructure projects. Beijing is Baghdad’s biggest trade partner, while Iraq is China’s second biggest oil supplier.

The Republic of China celebrated  its   70th  anniversary with a very impressive ,very long parade which included an ‘awesome display’ of military equipment. In the  military parade in 1949, only 70 planes could be found so they had been ordered to fly past twice. In 2019 there were 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of military equipment on display., China has developed military abilities that can reach potential adversaries across the globe, said experts. 

The military parade was broadcast live, so everybody  now knows that the China has invented powerful new weapons . China has no recent  experience in  sea or air battles, observed critics,  but they are developing [effective] missiles and asymmetric systems.

The military  parade showed off China’s most advanced weapons, some being shown for the first time.  They included the following.  The J-20 supersonic stealth fighters,  the H-6N with an aerial refueling probe added,  that could be used to deter US aircraft carriers venturing into the South China Sea  and the DF-26 ballistic missile which, fired from land bases, is believed to have the accuracy to strike at US Navy’s aircraft carriers.

Also on display was the DR-8 or WZ-8 supersonic drone,  a reconnaissance drone that that could potentially be deployed by aircraft, to infiltrate enemy airspace and gather intelligenceincluding determining the damage done by China’s missiles.It could be used to spot distant targets on very short notice and hit them with a conventional ballistic strike.

The Dong Feng  41 is an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 15,000 kilometers, allowing it to reach anywhere in the United States in about 30 minutes.  It is capable of hurling multiple nuclear warheads  all over the United States, said experts. It could be moved around by road and fired quickly. It’s range of up to 15,000 kilometers  would make it the  world’s longest-range military missile. Some analysts  say it can travel up to 25 times the speed of sound. It could carry as many as 10  independent warheads,  which can  hit 10 different targets over a wide area.

One of the most closely-watched weapons was the Dongfeng-17,  a new hypersonic ballistic nuclear missile believed capable of breaching all existing anti-missile shields deployed by the U.S. and its allies. Experts  say it can breach any defence system.  The DF-17 missile is thought to be able to travel at more than five times the speed of sound. It’s designed to bypass enemy missile defense systems by traveling at speeds more than 3,400 miles per hour at low altitudes. 

DF-17  is a nuclear-capable glider that is designed to maneuver at high speed to evade anti-missile defenses. The glider is believed to be able to carry conventional and nuclear devices. The emergence of such a system would have a considerable impact, highlighting China’s progress in designing hypersonic non-strategic gliders, a segment in which Russians and Americans are lagging behind, said experts.

If  Mahinda Rajapaksa  was the President, he would have been invited to this display and Sri Lanka would have sent a contingent to march smartly  in the parade. I know  that  the Sri Lanka navy has gone  to China for training, I do not know about the army. But Rajapaksa is not the President today. It is Yahapalana that is ruling.

 Under Yahapalana , Sri Lanka’s relations with China swing from sensible to ludicrous. All countries in the world are falling over themselves to woo China and to attract Chinese investment, but Sri Lanka has been  insulting and demeaning China almost as a matter of habit over the past five years. No country has insulted China the way Sri Lanka has  under Yahapalana, said Chandraprema.

At the opening of the China financed Lotus Tower, in September 2019, President Sirisena said in the presence  of the Chinese ambassador , that the Chinese firm ALIT had taken Sri Lanka ‘s money and vanished, without building the Tower. This was absurd, said Chandraprema. ALIT is a  highly respected Chinese company producing  advanced missile weapons systems, and it is still there. No money was paid to it for the Lotus Tower.

But China is not angry. President Sirisena  went to China in May 2018, to attend Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations”. This was described by the media as  a move that has surprised both political and diplomatic circles over its urgency. At this conference, President Sirisena met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a one-on-one meeting. He also met with Prime Minister Le Keqiang in a similar meeting.

Discussions  had  focused on strengthening cooperation in the defence sector and sharing intelligence between the two countries, said the media. This is a new development in the relationship, said Lasanda  Kurukulasuriya. Sunday Times says Sirisena had also signed a defence pact. The details of that agreement are not known even to his  Cabinet said Sunday Times.

Sirisena  also  took along a  catalogue of projects for which he is seeking Chinese assistance, said  the media. At President Sirisena’s request, China has given a generous grant to help combat terrorism, and said that a Chinese technical team will be sent to Sri Lanka soon, the media reported. China has  donated high tech bomb detecting equipment, including bomb detecting robots, to Sri Lanka. This donation was made on a request made by President Sirisena, China said.

The donation  included three explosive detectors worth Rs. 90.5 million, designed to sense explosives and weapons hidden in the human body.50 X-ray Security Inspection systems to search parcels and luggage. Three bomb detecting robots which can detect explosives and drugs within a range of 3km valued at Rs. 85.5 million each. 25 Walk Through Safety Inspection Gates worth Rs. 6.5 million to detect weapons. 25 Hand Held Vehicle Scanners worth Rs. 3.2 million and 500 Hand Held Metal Detectors worth Rs. 2.75 million to be used by the Security Forces to detect automatic weapons carried by individuals. The total value stands at Rs. 210.5 million.

We have always had excellent relations with China, said local analysts.  Sri Lanka relations with China is mainly economic, observed Gotabhaya Rajapaksa at an interview. The docking of Chinese submarines in Colombo harbor, some time ago,  was only for re-supplying and not for any military purpose, he said. China has not sought to project its military might in  Sri Lanka, said analysts.  In March 2019    C.A. Chandraprema, in his weekly column in the Island,  called for a defence pact with China. He said  Trincomalee and Hambantota should be full of Chinese warships. ( Continued)

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