In the Name of “Public Diplomacy”: Glory Days of Julie Chung, Welcoming Liz Allen, Afreen Akter, Lindsey Ford and Richard Verma : Silence of Anura Kumara
Posted on February 28th, 2024

By Sena Thoradeniya

US Ambassador Julie Chung was very busy welcoming Liz Allen, US Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, (on February 17), Afreen Akter, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs (Feb. 21), Lindsey Ford, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of  Defense for South and South East Asia (Feb. 22) and Richard Verma, Senior American diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (Feb.23). Elizabeth Marie  Allen was the first Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy to visit Sri Lanka.

1. Public Diplomacy”

 Public Diplomacy”, is an euphemism for espionage, information gathering, psychological warfare, propaganda.  Public diplomacy refers to reaching out to targeted sectors of foreign publics using persuasion or soft power”, as opposed to hard power”,  coercion; Information and CommunicationTechnologies (ICT), digital infrastucture, scholarships and educational exchanges, establishing and maintaining personal contacts and alliances, diplomatic networks, advocating democracy, freedom, human rights and many more cultural interventions are regarded as weapons of advocacy”.

Julie Chung’s daily meetings with Sri Lankan civil soceity , media, business leaders, young leaders (in Julie’s words changemakers”), digital creators, women, minority groups, marginalized people, alumni of US  universities,Business English students  and her photo opportunities with them are a few examples for public diplomacy. Young people, mostly nobodies were brought to the table of high politics.  Top priority is given to public diplomacy now, which is distinct from working through formal diplomatic channels, improving tools of ideological warfare”. Max Kampelman, a Cold War diplomat and Counsellor of the US State Department under Reagan wrote: We need eloquent, effective, pro-American, pro-democratic spokespeople and organized groups of champions”. Greater social inclusion”, coalition building” are Chung’s beautiful words.

Covincing foreign audiences and garnering support for military campaigns, discrediting other powers (for example China’s Road and Belt Initiative, Chinese Debt Trap”, Chinese spy ships”), pressurizing foreign  leaders, encouraging people to revolt against their leaders aiming regime change are some other activities connected to public diplomacy.

Readers are invited to refer to my book Galle Face Protest: Systems Change or Anarchy? (2003), to understand how US public diplomacy” worked prior to and during the so-called Arab Spring” in Egypt (Genesis of Arab Spring”and Drawing Parallels With the Galle Face Protest”). What happened at the Galle Face was a repetition of events in Egypt and other Arabic countries. The article US Footprints at the Galle Face Protest Site” gives a detailed account of US interventions.

Julie Chung and Liz Allen

2. Liz Allen 

According to Chung’s X message posted on 17 february 2024, Liz Allen met with government and media representatives, business, civil soceity and climate change (a new type leaders; do they change climate?) leaders, digital content creators (a glorified term for gossipers, rumour-mongers, rabble – rousers), NextGen leaders. Reason: to discuss US – Sri Lanka partnership, safeguarding Sri Lanka’s information and media space. Liz Allen’s visit and the timing of her visit are important. She visited  Sri Lanka at a time the debate on Online Safety Bill was still in the agenda of local and foreign NGOs and American tech companies and all Sri Lankan major political parties were getting ready for an election. This is the time of forging new alliances and breaking existing ones. If one party is going ahead of other contenders a strategy to checkmate it should be offered.

On 18 February Chung and Liz Allen met with local journalists, alumni of US USG programme (study abroad programme) and discussed the vital role of media in promoting accountability and transparency ensuring the public has information to make informed decisions”. A robust media and social media space are essential components of any healthy democracy”. So says Chung. What type of information they prefer to disseminate and what are the informed decisions?

On the same day both of them met with US Embassy supported initiative for online influencers, of young content providers” (they are Ideal Hell Creators and Digital Turtles Creators) which fosters open space for freedom of expression and thriving democracy”. Who are these online influencers”? Whom do they influence and for what purpose? What is the open space for freedom of expression”? Do these ladies think that Sri Lanka is under a military regime which has suppressed freedom of expression? In 2022 Digital Turtles Ltd. launched Creator Incubator for content creators; online workshops were conducted in English, Sinhala and Tamil; a grant in US dollars were given to selected creators. Thus US has created a digital army” that can be mobilized at any time for any event.

On 19 February Liz Allen addressed the SLPI Press Club, emphasising the importance of press freedom as a cornerstone of a strong democracy  and acknowledging their vital work to keep Sri Lankan citizens informed. In our increasingly digital world press freedom and the free flow of information require perfect freedom. Tech companies agree that a growing economy relies on that freedom too” (Julie’s X message). Do these Americans think that there is no press freedom in Sri Lanka, no free flow of information?

Their aim is cultivating and pollinating here a set of young journalists who write to English dailies and weeklies and so-called digital creators, Youtubers, mobile journalists and mobilize them for the campaign they map out. We saw this during the Galle Face protest. For the forthcoming elections the regime changers need more of them. This is the reason for the influx of distinguished US visitors.

Their efforts bring instant results: we reproduce a post of a nobody whom Liz Allen had praised: Much appreciation for your dedication and thoughtful and uninterrupted service to the Tamil community (our emphasis). We are very proud of you. May god bless you and your family”. It’s a proud moment for me and (name withheld)…. creations (a digital creator in Jaffna), that Elizabeth Allen the United State’s Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has quoted my name and (name withheld) creations at a creators’ gathering in Colombo”. Liz Allen was able to mention names of nobodies and their name boards”! How smart she was?

3.  Afreen Akter

On February 21 Chung had to welcome US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Afreen Akter. She was in Sri Lanka between May 13-16, 2023. In his meeting with Akter the State Minister for Defense in 2023 had told her that Sri Lanka military will be right-sized gradually, afterwards it will be set up for the classic role” responding to steps taken concerning defence reforms. We did not know what this amateur State Minister meant by  right-size” and classic role”.

This time she met with government officials, civil soceity representatives, parliamentarins and think tanks”.Why Akhter visiting Sri Lanka at this time? We should not forget that Imran Khanis using social media to try and thwart US fixing the elections in Pakistan and Akhter the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs that includes Pakistan.

4. Lindsey W. Ford

On 22 February, Julie Chung’s high visitor” was US Deputy Assistant Secretary of  Defense  for South and South East Asia, Lindsey W. Ford. Her area of responsibility includes bilateral relations with India and all other South Asian countries. She discussed US defense cooperation programme and Sri Lanka’s important role in the Indian Ocean Region”.

Akter’s and her visit coincides with Pakistan’s controversial elections. Imran Khan and his party allege that the national elections held on February 8, were rigged, candidates backed by Khan’s party won the most number of seats. It is no secret that Western powers are behind the alliance of Khan’s rival parties allowing it to form the next government.

5. Richard Rahul Verma

Next comes Richard Rahul Verma, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources on February 23.  His visit represents the positive momentum in our US-Sri Lanka friendship as key partners in the Indo-Pacific”,  messaged Chung. Their intentions are clear, that they want to make Sri Lanka a partner  in their Indo-Pacific” war games. Funny names! Who amalgamated the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean? We thought that the east of the Indian Ocean was bounded by the beaches of Western Australia!

Verma also had discussions with representaives of civil soceity, economic leaders” and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He stressed the vital need to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms including freedom of expression”  and explored opportunities to deepen defense and maritime cooperation between US and Sri Lanka”, apparently all these bigwigs warn against Online Safety Bill. 

On board SLNS Vijayabahu, one of the three former US Coast Guard cutters he said a fourth cutter would be transferred soon. Why? To increase Sri Lanka’s capability to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone, monitor its search and rescue area and provide additional security for ships that transit the sea lane of Indian Ocean; Sri Lanka playing the role of the kangani at the command of US Sea Lord.   

Verma discussed with Ranil Wickremasinghe, Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and progress of its IMF Programme” including economic and governance reforms aimed at putting Sri Lanka on the path of sustainable economic growth.” We saw in the TV, RW like a subdued school boy presenting his report card to Verma. RW outlined the progress of the dedt restructuring , key economic reforms measures, agricultural modernisation programme. Important part of this discussion was Verma thanking RW for the assistance in the on-going naval operations in the Red Sea, Operation Prosperity Guardian”.

Finally Julie Chung interviewing  Verma on 26 February asks us to listen to Verma’s thoughts on Sri Lanka’s role in the Indo-Pacific and the importance of diverse voices in democracy”. Chung begins her interview saying, Sri Lanka at the heart of Indo-Pacific, gem in the region” . They all are trying to bleed this heart” and grab the gem”!

This week’s e-Con e-News (February 24) reported as its headline, US Sends Nordstream Bomber to Sri Lanka”. According to it, Verma a member of President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), came to Sri Lanka with unnamed senior officials from the White House National Security Council. PIAD planned the 26 September 2022 US bombing of the Nordstream pipeline.

PIAB provides advice to US President concerning the quality and adequacy of intellegence collection, analysis and estimates of counter intelligence and other intelligence activities. PIAB through its Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) also advices the President on the legality of foreign intellegence activities.      

Verma was appointed to PIAB by Biden in May 2022. Do our digital turtles” , digital frogs”, digital fireflies” and others invited by Chung know whom they are meeting and what work they do in the US and what work they have in Sri Lanka?

Why this influx of high ranking US officials? Because India invited Anura Kumara of NPP to counter RW’s moves is a very simplistic suggestion.

6. New Developments

Some Pohottuwa dissidents including a rollling stone” Professor joining Sajith, Anura Kumara receiving an audience from Indian political and business leaders, campaigning by Lansa Group,  reemergence of CBK and Sirisena’s manipulations (recently he was invited to US), Champika Ranawaka’s  United  Republic Front” meeting RW and Sajith and presenting a document, United Step for the Country”, IUSF meeting JVP, FSP, the breakaway group of JVP alleging China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) obtaining sand from the Port City, another group of Pohottuwa dissidents including another Professor rallying around Roshan Ranasinghe, dividing ex-servicemen on party lines, imminent merger of SJB with RW are not isolated incidents, all orchestrated by hidden hands. These hidden hands will choose the right man at the right time.

7. Silence of Anura Kumara

We remember, Dudley Senanayake’s Government in 1965, establishing Ceylon Hotels Corporation and Hotels School to revitalise tourist industry. Several star-class hotels were opened in the seaside resorts including Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Ahungalla, Hendala. Nandasiri Wijeweera the then JVP leader created a  spectre, thathotels in the seaside are being constructed for the use of CIA and MI 5; at any time British and American soldiers can land to these seaside hotels and be used as military bases.   

With all these top US officials visiting Sri Lanka we don’t hear any comment from NPP or Anura Kumara although they organise public rallies at every corner of the Island waxing eloquence about their dream government. Already they have appointed their Cabinet of Ministers!

Now slogans such as, Adhirajyawadayata Vinasaya – Janathawata Vimukthiya” (Death to imperialism – Liberation to the masses); Dhanawadayata Vinasaya – Samajawadayata Jayagrahanaya” (Death to capitalism – Victory to Socialism); Anthima adhirajyawadiya anthima dhanapathiyage badawelin ella marana thuru janathawata vimukthiyak netha,” (until (we) hang the last imperialist by the intestines of the last capitalist there is no liberation to the masses), has no place in the JVP’s political armoury”.

JR Jayawardena released Wijeweera and other JVPers imprisoned by the  Criminal Justice Commission (CJC).  Wijeweera true to his murky politics started a campaign to vilify the Old Left  and SLFP after his release. A series of meetings were conducted with the theme,Gamanaka Avasanaya” (End of the Journey), borrowing the title of a documentary produced on SWRD’s funeral.

At a subsequent Left May Day Rally, a funny slogan chanted reverberates still:

Wijeweera honda lamaya-Katchal batchal nethi lamaya

UNP anduwata – Karadarayak nethi lamaya”

(loosely translated as Wijeweera is a good boy; he’s not a difficult boy; he is a good boy, who does not make any trouble to the UNP government).

The history of wheel of JVP had turned several rounds and now it is the phase of Anura Kumara. Very soon the disillusioned men and women who come to listen to NPP rhetorics and watch antics of its hotheads will chant:

Anura Kumar(a) honda lamaya – Modi – Chung ta honda lamaya”.

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