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Have China and India "divided" Sri Lanka among themselves?

Dec 22, 2010 5:51:43 PM- transcurrents.com

By Malathi De Alwis

On 18 May 2009, Sri Lanka officially declared the end of a 30-year civil war fought between. Sri Lankan government forces (GoSL) and Tamil militants, namely the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). Such a sea change in the life of this tiny island nation has come at a tremendous cost; not just in terms of the dead, on both sides, but also those displaced, dispossessed, maimed, traumatized and made bereft.

While the de-mining, re-settlement and development of the war-torn regions seems to have been embraced with gusto by the Sri Lankan government, the deeper and more enduring psychic wounds of a war-torn nation sadly remain unaddressed.

It is clear that a military resolution of the ethnic conflict would not have been possible without the pivotal power play that ensued between two regional giants —the quiet dominance of China and the ‘hands off’ approach of India, particularly during the past three years. Chinese aid, de-linked from human rights conditionalities, included military hardware which was crucially buttressed by extensive loans and investments in infrastructural projects that considerably plumped dwindling foreign currency reserves, and significant diplomatic support at international for a. These varied and disparate forms of interventions contribute to what I have termed the ‘China Factor’, the unfolding of which, during and after the war in Sri Lanka, will be discussed here along with reflections on what it augurs for a new global and regional order.

Military aid

During the latter stages of the war, when civilian casualties began to escalate once the LTTE moved into the ‘no fire zone’ set aside for civilians, and continued to battle with GoSL forces while holding civilians hostage, debates regarding how best to resolve this horrific situation reached fever pitch at national, regional and international levels. The dominant argument articulated by numerous Tamil diasporic groups, many bi-lateral donors, innumerable UN, international and national human rights and humanitarian organizations as well as the majority of the international media was that the Sri Lankan government should cease fighting and start negotiating with the LTTE in order to ensure safe passage out of the ‘no fire zone’ for all civilians.’ The compliance of the Sri Lankan government was sought not merely through protest campaigns, condemnations and lobbying regarding human rights violations, but with North American and European bi-lateral donors threatening and often following through with cutbacks on development aid while also refusing to provide military equipment, support and training.

The Sri Lankan government countered with arguments that it was on the verge of decisively defeating the LTTE and, given the history of many other failed ceasefires between the two sides, attempting to negotiate with the LTTE, at this stage, would be tantamount to prolonging the war for another 30 years.3 It also constantly provided assurances that civilian deaths would be minimized and refuted estimates of the number of civilians trapped in the ‘no fire zone’ as well as those who had been wounded and/or killed, up to that point, on the grounds that the latter figures were being provided by the LTTE, which controlled the satellite phones inside the zone, or aid workers sympathetic to the LTTE. The GoSL also severely cracked down on anyone who publicly spoke out against the war, denying entry to supposed pro-LTTE parliamentarians from Canada and Sweden, deporting foreign media teams and aid workers perceived to be partisan towards the LTTE, attacking local TV stations and newspaper offices, intimidating and beating up journalists and even murdering one particularly outspoken newspaper editor. Journalists who could be relied on to provide ‘unbiased’ coverage were embedded within various army battalions.

The GoSL forces did succeed in defeating the LTTE, killing its leader, Velupillai Prabhaharan, along with several members of his family and most of his elite cadre as well as taking another 9000 cadre, many of them child soldiers, prisoner. GoSL forces also launched two daring rescue attempts (resulting in the decimation of entire battalions) which enabled thousands of civilians to escape from the ‘no fire zone’ although the number of those who died inside the zone, en route, and in the ‘welfare camps’ subsequently set up to ‘process’ them, is still a matter of fierce dispute. Serious allegations, as yet uninvestigated, have also been made that many of the elite LTTE cadre were shot dead rather than being taken prisoner, as per the Geneva protocols.

The Sri Lankan government’s ability to continue waging war amidst excessive pressure to cease fire exerted by what was colloquially described as ‘Western pressure’, which included high powered visits from key UN special rappoteurs, the foreign ministers of Britain and France, delegations from the United States, Norway etc, would not have been possible without the support it received from China and its allies as well as the Indian government’s refusal to intervene, as it had done in 1987, during a similar standoff between GoSL forces and the LTTE This shift in diplomacy and dependence is cogently captured in the words of the Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with Somini Sengupta:

Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona said that Sri Lanka’s ‘traditional donors’, namely, the United States, Canada and the European Union, had ‘receded into a very distant corner,’ to be replaced by countries in the East. He gave three reasons: The new donors are neighbors; they are rich; and they conduct themselves differently. ‘Asians don’t go around teaching each other how to behave,’ he said. ‘There are ways we deal with each other - perhaps a quiet chat, but not wagging the finger.’ (Sengupta 2008)

As I noted above, China’s support came in several forms, much of it being negotiated during a well-publicized visit to China by President Mahinda Rajapakse in February 2007, when the two governments resolved to fight against three evils: terrorism, separatism and extremism (Foster 201 0).7 During this visit, a US$37.6 million deal with Beijing-based Poly Technologies was signed to purchase Chinese Jian-7 fighter jets, anti-aircraft guns, JY-11 3D air surveillance radars, armoured personnel carriers and other sophisticated weaponry (Chellaney 2009). Indian policy analyst, Brahma Chellaney, attributes Pakistan’s support to Sri Lanka as also being engineered by its ‘Beijing ally’: ‘With Chinese encouragement, Pakistan — despite its own faltering economy and rising Islamist challenge — has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly US$100 million while supplying Chinese-origin small arms and training Sri Lankan air force personnel in precision guided attacks’ (Chellaney 2009). Iran, also singled out as an ally of China (Foster 2010), and the supplier of 70% of Sri Lanka’s oil imports, not only offered a special concessionary rate on its oil but also provided a low interest loan to fund the purchase of military equipment from China and Pakistan while investing US$100 billion in energy-related projects on the island, after President Rajapakse’s visit to Tehran in November 2007 (Raman 2008).

Not surprisingly, the unconditional support of China and its ‘unsavoury’ and ‘villainous’ allies along with their poor human rights records incited the ire of the international media, which responded with scathing articles bemoaning the ‘Democratic Dictatorship of China malign influence’ (Peter Foster, Daily Telegraph, UK), its ‘threat to global good’ (Susenjit Guha, UPI Asia.com) and querying whether it was ‘doing a Myanmar in Sri Lanka’ (B. Raman, rediff.com) (Foster 2010; Guha 2009; Raman 2008). These articles, in turn, elicited vituperations against the ‘finger pointing at China,’ in the local media, with columnist Neville de Silva commenting that Jilt is China’s growing diplomatic and economic clout challenging the former western colonial powers who have held sway over their historical hunting grounds in the southern hemisphere that they find unacceptable’ (De Silva 2009). Members of the Tamil diaspora responded by attacking the Chinese embassy in London (Times of India 2009). Interestingly, a post-war analysis of India’s ‘betrayal’ of the Tamils, posted on the popular website, www.transcurrents.com, suggested the time was right to ‘[forget the North, turn East to China’ (Sivathasan 2010). The mixed but primarily favourable comments it received is best summed up by this post:

China is going to be the next super power and only China can make a difference in Sri Lanka. China does not care about internal politics of another country. It is only concerned about its interest and the safety of its growing trade routes. If Eelam Tamils can befriend with Communist China and allow it to use Tamil homeland for mutual benefit Eelam Tamils might get what they want! Eelam Tamil diaspora can cultivate their relationship with Western powers but they are not going to help the Tamils as they will only listen to India, when it comes to Srilanka [sic]. Therefore [sic], the only power that can really make a difference for the Tamils will be China and Tamils should start making contacts with China at the highest level. (Gopi 2010)

Among the majority of the Sinhalese, China now occupies ‘most favoured’ status; it has been lauded as the ‘real Superpower of the World’, grateful thanks have been extended to its ‘Great People’ for supporting Sri Lanka and its ‘Beloved People’s President, Mahinda Rajapakse’ against the ‘Wild West’, while ruing the fact that Sri Lanka does not have a large Chinese community as in Malaysia and Indonesia (Sri Lanka News-Adaderana 2010).

Trade and investment

The Rubber-Rice Pact, signed between China and Sri Lanka in 1952, even before formal diplomatic ties were established in 1957, has often been cited as a landmark moment in Sino-Lankan relations. Enduring for over 25 years, this pact has proved to be one of the most durable and successful agreements despite ideological differences between the two countries (Naizer 2009). Under this pact, China agreed to buy rubber from Sri Lanka at premium prices while supplying rice at considerably less than the market price. Sri Lanka entered into this agreement after the United States refused to offer a fair price for Sri Lanka’s rubber after releases from American rubber stockpiles had depressed market prices during the Korean War (Gunewardena 2003: 315). The USA had also placed an embargo on the sale of rubber to China, given its support to North Korea, and thus withdrew development aid to Sri Lanka for several years as a punitive measure. Today, China and Hong Kong combined make up the second largest importer to Sri Lanka, behind India (Naizer 2009). Chinese companies have set up garment, leather, telecom and electronic manufacturing facilities in Sri Lanka, with further investments expected through lucrative tax concessions being offered to Chinese entrepreneurs in the Special Export Processing Zone in Mirigama. All Chinese entrepreneurs who invest a minimum of US$25 million will be provided with a Sri Lankan passport in lieu of what has been termed a ‘second home’ passport (Naizer 2009).

According to a recent Treasury report, China was also Sri Lanka’s largest single lender in 2009, overtaking the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (The Island 2010). China has lent US$1.2 billion to build expressways and railways, a coal power plant, a port and an airport, the latter two in the President’s constituency of Hambantota. This is a five-fold leap in aid —from a few million US dollars in 2005 to providing more than half the total of the US$2.2 billion in foreign aid received by Sri Lanka in 2009 (The Island 2010). Such substantial support is particularly reassuring to Sri Lanka, which is on the verge of losing important trade preferences (popularly known as the GASP+ facility) from the European Union due to concerns over Sri Lanka’s human rights record and its failure to ratify certain international conventions.

China has been long attracted by Sri Lanka’s advantageous location in the centre of the Indian Ocean — a crucial international passageway for trade and oil transportation. The billion-dollar port and oil bunkering/storage facility Chinese engineers are now building in Hambantota, on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast, is perceived to be the latest ‘pearl’ in China’s strategy to control vital sea-lanes linking the Indian and Pacific oceans by assembling a ‘string of pearls’ in the form of listening posts, special naval arrangements and access to ports (Chellaney 2009). The work on the Hambantota port is considered to be particularly timely due to the lack of progress on the massive Kra Canal Project, a critical component of China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy (Devonshire-Ellis 2009). China, along with India, has also received the rights to prospect for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mannar, in Sri Lanka’s north west. The ‘semi-permanent presence’ of the Chinese in Sri Lanka, notes a perturbed former RAW (Research and Analysis Wing —India’s euphemism for their secret service) agent, B. Raman, ‘will bring them within monitoring distance of India’s fast-breeder reactor complex at Kalpakam near Chennai, the Russian-aided Koodankularn nuclear power reactor complex in southern Tamil Nadu and India’s space establishments in Kerala’ (Raman 2008).

As one of the leading international partners for the development of the war-torn north, China has gifted de-mining equipment and heavy machinery, invested in infrastructural support systems such as railway and road networks, and provided humanitarian aid in the form of tents and a cash donation of US$100 million (Zee News 2010).

Outright gifts from China, such as the Supreme Court Complex, the Central Telecommunication Exchange and the redevelopment of the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital are scattered across Colombo, the capital city, but none of them are as impressive or of such symbolic significance as the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) which was built during the heyday of the Non-Aligned Movement, as a mark of friendship between the peoples of China and Sri Lanka, and is now undergoing a very costly refurbishment courtesy of the Chinese government. The National Performing Arts Theatre, currently being constructed by the Chinese government, promises to be another gigantic symbol of friendship between the two nations, which will be indelibly etched in the memory of future generations of Sri Lankans.

Diplomatic support

Diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka were established in 1957, and since then the two countries have consulted each other at the United Nations and other international for a and cooperated closely on political, economic and cultural matters. Sri Lanka has consistently upheld and supported the ‘One China Policy’ by opposing all attempts by Taiwan to seek membership of the United Nations or any other organization of sovereign states (Rodrigo 2007). It has adopted a similar position on Tibet (De Silva 2009). Sri Lanka also co-sponsored the draft resolution to restore China’s legitimacy in the UN, in 1971, and signed a special agreement with China in 1997 in support of China’s admission to APIA (Asia Pacific Trade Agreement), where both countries have benefited from tariff concessions (Premadasa 2009). In early 2000, the Sri Lankan government supported China’s entry into the WTO (World Trade Organization) while also playing an active role in helping China obtain ‘observer status’ at the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) meetings. China has reciprocated by supporting Sri Lanka’s request for observer status at the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Regional Forum (Naizer 2009). Having such a close ally on the UN Security Council has reaped rich dividends for Sri Lanka with China ensuring that no Security Council resolution would be issued against Sri Lanka, while supporting Sri Lanka during last year’s ‘skirmish’ at the UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council).

So far, the Sri Lankan government’s military victory has been greeted with two major initiatives by the United Nations. In May 2009, the UNHRC convened a special session at which a resolution was brought forward by Switzerland, with the support of Britain and France (and behind the scenes backing by the United States), calling for an investigation of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, as well as the LTTE, during the war. The Sri Lankan government, with the support of China, Russia and India, proposed a counter resolution, which turned the Swiss resolution on its head by congratulating Sri Lanka on eliminating terrorism, liberating the north, addressing the needs of Tamil refugees and also reaffirming the ‘principle of non interference in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states’ (cited in Dias 2009). After two days of acrimonious wrangling, the UNHRC adopted the Sri Lankan government’s resolution 29 to 12 with six abstentions. The Island likened it to a battle between David and Goliath (cited in Dias 2009), while the Daily Mirror hailed it as a momentous victory that demonstrated that ‘Asians and Africans have started to realise their true potential’ (cited in Dias 2009).

Wije Dias, analysing the outcome of the resolution, remarked in particular on China’s decision ‘to cast aside its usual low-profile diplomacy and back a direct challenge to the European powers and the US’ (Dias 2009). It is a significant indication, he further noted, of China’s growing determination to assert its influence and Sri Lanka was not alone in ‘viewing Beijing as a counterweight to a waning Washington, particularly as the global economic crisis deepens’ (Dias 2009).

In March 2010, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, announced that he would be appointing a panel of experts to advise him on ‘accountability issues’ with regard to alleged violations of humanitarian law and human rights, by the Sri Lankan government, during the latter part of its military operations, against the LTTE. An incensed President Rajapakse responded by pointing to the double standards once again being adopted by this world body. How could the UN demand a war crimes probe against Sri Lanka’s counter terrorist operations, he queried, while turning a blind eye on the multinational counter terrorist operations in Iraq and Afghanistan? (Ferdinando 2010). A ‘government spokesman’ accused the Labour government in Britain of exerting ‘unjustifiable pressure’ on the UN while seeking to interfere in another country’s domestic issues for political gain in a ploy to garner diasporic Tamil votes in the upcoming elections in May (Ferdinand 2010). The Sunday Times alleged that Ban Ki Moon, who was seeking a second term as Secretary General, was being pressured to act tough by ‘western nations, including the United States’ (Sunday Times 2010a: 1), while the Daily Mirror editorial asserted this latest initiative was an effort to ‘checkmate Sri Lanka’ over its ‘robust and ever growing ties’ with China, Russia and perhaps even India (Daily Mirror 2010). It was time, the editorial concluded, that the UN adapted to ‘new global realities’ rather than genuflecting to an obsolete ‘post-cold war hierarchy’ (Daily Mirror 2010).

Almost on cue, the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest regional bloc representing two thirds of the UN membership, issued a strong statement condemning ‘the selective targeting of individual countries’ contrary to the founding principles of NAM and the UN Charter (cited in Sunday Observer 2010). The Secretary General’s initiative, it further noted, does not take into account ‘the particularities of the domestic situation,’ nor has it been done in consultation with the government concerned (cited in Sunday Observer 2010). The NAM statement is reflective of opinions expressed by UNHRC members who voted in support of Sri Lanka, in May 2009:

Many delegates were of the view that the Western countries, simply because they had written the international laws and built international systems like the UN, refused to accept the fact they no longer were the policemen and interpreters of who could do what in the world, and can no longer selectively apply ‘humanitarian intervention to small eastern countries. Would they, for example, have convened a special session of the UNHRC to call for a war crimes investigation in Iraq - or Afghanistan - or even Northern Ireland? (Wijesinha 2009)

These views led columnist Sanjiva Wijesinha to speculate whether they augured a ‘clash of civilizations’ and a possible re-making of the World Order (Wijesinha 2009).

Regional games

Reflecting on nation and empire 50 years after the Bandung Conference, which inspired the formation of the Non Aligned Movement in 1961, Partha Chatterjee suggests that in our current global context, the ‘imperial prerogative’ is no longer annexation or occupation of foreign territories, but rather, ‘the power to declare the colonial exception’ (Chatterjee 2005: 495). While everyone agrees that nuclear proliferation is dangerous and must be stopped, who gets to decide that India and Israel and maybe even Pakistan be allowed to have nuclear weapons but not North Korea or Iran? Those who claim to decide on such exceptions are ‘indeed arrogating to themselves the imperial prerogative,’ argues Chatterjee (2005: 495). Such a declaration also opens up a ‘pedagogical project’, of taking on the responsibility of educating, disciplining and training up the colony to bring it up to par with the norm (Chatterjee 2005: 495-496).

Economist Saman Kelegama’s observations regarding the EU are also consistent with Chatterjee’s arguments regarding imperial prerogatives. The EU, which seeks to withdraw trade preferences offered to Sri Lanka (see above), is extremely inconsistent in its application of this system of ‘rewards for democratisation,’ says Kelegama.11 Some of the biggest increases in recent EU aid and support have gone to authoritarian or partly autocratic regimes. In fact, China and other ASEAN countries have refused to have political conditionality clauses included in their agreements with the EU, points out Kelegama, which proves that if commercial or strategic interests are important, fulfilment of political conditionalities are overlooked and non-fulfilment is confined to verbal denunciations: if it is a ‘state of marginal interest to EU they will be subject to strict political conditionality in order to show the world that the EU is doing something about, say human rights’(The Island, Financial Review 2010).

Indeed, this linking of development aid with the pedagogy of human rights is a relatively new phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Sunil Bastian’s recent mapping of the politics of foreign aid in Sri Lanka has led him to conclude that donor support to Sri Lanka has been primarily fuelled by economic interests rather than those of Shuman rights; as long as Sri Lanka continued in the broad direction of economic liberalization and capitalist development, donor support was forthcoming despite the war in the north and east and youth uprisings in the south which resulted in increasing human rights violations by the state as well as militant groups (Bastian 2007). 12 If this is so, how do we account for recent shifts to link development aid with human rights, despite Sri Lanka not having deviated from its path of economic liberalization and reforms? What is required is a broadening of this economic frame to also encompass strategic interests of donor countries as well as the increasing presence of diasporic populations in these countries who now constitute important voting blocs.

Canada, Britain, USA, France, Germany, Norway and Australia have large, well-organized and articulate diasporic Tamil populations who carefully monitor how their host nations interact with the Sri Lankan state. 13 They are also experienced in lobbying the media as well as politicians, and are gradually even running for political office in these countries. However, the situation in India, which also has a large Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, with over 100,000 still living in 115 refugee camps in Chennai, is somewhat different. The cause of Sri Lankan Tamils is supported by Indian Tamils, primarily resident in Tamilnadu, who seek to influence policy in Delhi through their local politicians and parties. 14 Interestingly, China, which has recently emerged as a key ally of the GoSL, does not have a Tamil diaspora, and therefore it is telling that members of the Tamil community now seek to ‘turn East’ to rectify their lack of influence (see above).

The presence of diasporic and/or sympathetic populations complicates geostrategic manoeuvres of nation-states. This is particularly clear in the response of India to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka during the past three decades. India has armed, trained and harboured Tamil militant groups while also intervening in a variety of other ways too complex to address adequately here. 15 It has constantly vacillated between trying to intervene in Sri Lankan affairs in order to appease its Tamil constituency in Tamilnadu and also ensure its strategic interests, while simultaneously trying not to antagonise its tiny neighbour across the Palk Strait by being too interventionist. For the past 25 years or so of the conflict in Sri Lanka,

India’s dominance within the South Asian region has been strong, extensive and unchallenged; recall the astute observation in the transcurrents post quoted above: ‘Western powers ... will only listen to India, when it comes to Sri Lanka’ (Gopi 2010).16 Until China decided to join the game. China’s recent’artful moves in India’s backyard,’ as Somini Sengupta aptly puts it, have considerably complicated India’s power play in the region (Sengupta 2008). India shares a national border with China and has already weathered several disputes with regard to it, so it must tread particularly carefully when dealing with this neighbouring giant. 17

The United States, which has in recent years forged a strategic partnership with. India, which for many years had been more closely allied with the Soviet Union, seems to share its concerns about Beijing’s increasing influence in the region, judging by a report published by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in December 2009. The report called for Washington to counter Beijing’s influence in Colombo, noting that the US ‘cannot afford to "lose" Sri Lanka’ (cited in Symonds 2010). It advised ‘a new approach that increases US leverage vis-a-vis Sri Lanka’ using economic, trade and security incentives (cited in Symonds 2010). While human rights remained important, the report argued that ‘US policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be dominated by a single agenda. It is not effective at delivering real reform, and it short-changes US geostrategic interests in the region’ (cited in Symonds 2010). The US Pacific Command is currently providing training and equipment, worth over US$100,000, to the Sri Lankan Army to support its de-mining efforts in the north (News Line 2009). In addition, the Pacific Command is funding the work of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to rebuild schools and hospitals in the east -(UPS Pacific Command Blog 2009).

While India is no doubt counting on Washington’s assistance to counter China, it is sure to be wary of Washington’s own strategic goals articulated rather overtly in the US Pacific Command’s offer, supposedly scuttled by India, to attempt a sea rescue of civilians trapped in the ‘no fire zone’ during the war — the US Navy is considering Trincomalee harbour as a fallback option in case its use of the Karachi port, for logistics and other purposes, is jeopardised due to anti-US feelings in Pakistan (Raman 2008). This is not the first time India has sought to curb America’s interests in Sri Lanka, which were given free reign during the eponymous Yankee Dickie’s (President J.R. Jayawardene) regime in the 1980s, when the US built a Voice of America transmission/ listening facility, set up an Israeli interests section in the US embassy, and acquired the coveted Second World War oil tank farm in Trincomalee through a shadow company (Jeganathan n.d.: 4).18 It is widely believed that several clauses in the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement, signed after the Indian government facilitated a ceasefire between the GoSL and the LTTE, were inserted with the US in mind. These include references to Sri Lanka reviewing agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations in order to ensure that they will not be used for military or intelligence purposes (Jeganathan n.d.: 4)19 and that Trincomalee or any other port in Sri Lanka ‘will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests’ (cited in Nalankilli 2002). An Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which would have allowed the United States military to utilize Sri Lanka’s ports, airports and air space was not signed in 2002 due to India’s ‘displeasure’ being conveyed to Sri Lanka (Nalankilli 2002).20

As further appeasement, the Indian Oil Corporation’s wholly owned subsidiary in Sri Lanka, Lanka IOC pvt (LIOC), was granted a 35-year lease, in 2002, on the one million metric tonne capacity oil tank farm in China Bay, Trincomalee — the largest tank farm located between Singapore and the Middle East (Indian Oil 2003). The tank farm connects to the Trincomalee harbour, coveted by various colonial governments over the centuries, due to it being ‘the fifth largest, all weather, non-tidal natural harbour in the world, with a 56 km shoreline’ making it most effective for fuel receipt, storage and supply (Indian Oil 2003). In a move to further consolidate India’s dominance over this harbour, India’s giant utility company, the National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) is building a 1000 MW coal fired power plant on a 770 acre plot in Sampur. The Memorandum of Understanding signed in December 2006 was to locate it in China Bay, but it was shifted to the other end of the harbour after the Eastern Province was ‘liberated’in 2007. The power plant will now be located within an area that has been conveniently declared a ‘High Security Zone’, thus restricting residents, primarily Muslims who had fled during the war, from. returning to their homes and paddy fields (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions 2009).21

India, like China, is also currently involved in revitalising the war-ravaged Northern Province and has been supporting Sri Lanka’s de-mining as well as relief and resettlement efforts in that region (The Hindu 2010). It recently offered a US$108 million aid package that would include the restoration of rail links, upgrading of the Palaly airbase (the only civilian airport for residents in the north) and setting up a consulate in Jaffna (Jayasekere 2010; The Hindu 2010). Indian companies have been invited to build technology parks and invest in telecommunications in the north (Sengupta 2008). India is also involved in the rehabilitation of the southern coastal railway line from Colombo to Matara by providing credit worth US$167.4 million (Jayasekere 2010). In addition to these more recent interventions, India has considerable investments in Sri Lanka in the retail fuel, telecommunication, hotel, cement, banking, tyre, rubber and information technology sectors (Jayasekere 2010).

There is a joke circulating in Colombo which recalls that, several centuries ago, the King of Kotte elicited the help of the Dutch to get rid of the Portuguese and ended up having the Dutch occupying parts of his kingdom. Today’s King of Kotte, i.e.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, elicited the help of the Indians and the Chinese to get rid of the LATE and now these two countries have annexed the entire island – the Chinese have taken the south and the northern half has gone to the Indians! While my discussion above has shown that there is no clear cut northern and southern division of ‘spoils’ as is alluded to in this joke, it nonetheless illuminates the vulnerable positioning of Sri Lanka vis-à-vis global and regional powers. Clearly, the new global realities of which the Daily Mirror editorial (see above) speaks cannot be fully grasped without first understanding regional feints, sparring and negotiations. It also requires one to be cognisant of those who arrogate to themselves an imperial prerogative as well as those who refuse it or seek to thwart it. In a context where the Non-Aligned Movement no longer retains the respect and authority it once wielded, the future of nation-states who seek to refuse and thwart remains precarious. The greatest tragedy however is that those who get crushed underfoot in this unequal battle between Davids and Goliaths are the oppressed, the displaced, the dispossessed and the traumatized.

COURTESY: Inter Asia Cultural Studies