Unelected Team At The BRI Forum: Speaking From Both Sides Of Mouth

- colombotelegraph.com

By W. Vishnu Gupta

W. Vishnu Gupta

Though it is not publicly acknowledged and publicised worldwide, the unelected President and his international travelling club has become the laughingstock of many international forums and gatherings. It is not a secret, that every international leader knows that RW became the President of Sri Lanka through a constitutional coup d’état that was engineered by himself and the deposed president GR, hence there is no legitimacy in the eyes of the people of the country and the international community especially those who believe in norms of democracy. He represents 134 corrupt bunch of MPs nurtured by Rajapaksa clan. Then what is the rationale behind President’s much publicised jaunts with equally repugnant and unelected member of parliament Sabry who was the confidant of the deposed president GR, accompanied by the preferred aide Sagala and few other henchmen. Let’s leave this topic of RW’s frequent international jaunts and his regular entourage that costs millions of very precious foreign exchange earnings aside and discuss the 3rd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held between 17th and 18th October 2023 in Beijing, China. 

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was the brainchild of Xi Jinping, President of China, and it was launched a decade ago as a strategy to boost global connectivity, though some detractors of China allege that this was a clever ploy of China to offer its own vision of the world’s future. Unfortunately, the very same detractors have failed to convince the world with their alternative solution to help the developing world struggling to feed their people, house them and provide all other basic needs. Sri Lanka is not an exception; her people has been in this dilemma for more than seven decades. The following is an extract from one of the articles published in Colombo Telegraph; under the caption of “The Chinese Dream & Splendid Pearl” more than five years ago on May 22, 2018. Interestingly, the alternative strategy that the critics of BRI were promoting was based on the principle “Do as we do” or simply put “Do as Westerners do” or “Do as Indians do”. 

In March 2013, Xi Jinping also emphasized that the Chinese Dream is a dream for peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit for all. Therefore, it is connected to the beautiful dreams of the people in other countries. The Chinese Dream & “Splendid Pearl” will not only benefit the Chinese people, but also people of all countries in the world.

It is obvious under global prospect; the Chinese Dream will change the global landscape which was shaped by Western countries over the past two centuries with the help of industrialization. The new global landscape proposed by Xi is different; it will be established through international rules, dialogue, mutual respect, and experiences of both developed and emerging countries. Simply put “Do as we do” principle in the West versus the Chinese principle of “Let’s do it together”. It is interesting to note that on the eve of Xi Jinping’s historical visit to Sri Lanka on September 16th, 2014, he referred to the island nation as “splendid pearl” in the Indian Ocean. I doubt that Machiavellian politician understood the real meaning”

Now those who want us to do as they do have found another flimsy excuse to discredit the “Chinese Dream” by castigating BRI to be a debt trap and very frequently, these critics cite Sri Lanka’s pathetic economic and financial situation. None of them has the courage to inquire into what happened to the loans valued around US$7 billion dollars obtained by the government of Sri Lanka. None of these loans were obtained to feed, house or clothe the millions of poor people. 

They were not loans spent on any Chinese foods, medicine or on other basic needs, the interested parties must read only the SL auditor general’s reports to find any credible answers. Patriarch of Rajapaksa family MR obtained Chinese financing to build an airport, highway, and few other minor highways including an extension to the southern highway from Matara to Hambantota and a coal plant. All these projects raked in US$7 billion in debt. 

Compared to these Sri Lankan infrastructure projects, Laos another underdeveloped, landlocked nation borrowed US$6 billion and completed a 1050KM highspeed railway line linking Kunming City, China to the Laotian capital Vientiane. It brought prosperity to Laos and has served many millions of passengers including Chinese tourists since 2021. The critics of China claim that Laos will struggle to pay back China, yet Laos has not declared as a bankrupt nation and it is unlikely Laos will seek any debt relief initiatives as this nation currently enjoys a trade surplus and continues to attract foreign investment. There are more than 120 countries attending the BRI conference among them are many African Nations, South American Nations, Russia, Indonesia, and Hungary. None of them seem to be in a desperate situation like Sri Lankans and Zambians as both nations are in severe economic crisis and defaulted on their debt to China and other international lenders. For instance, another Southeastern country Indonesia   recently inaugurated one of the famous BRI projects, 142-kilometer high-speed railway line that linked Capital Jakarta with the Economic hub of Bandung. It is estimated to cost US$7.2 billion and funded by Chinese. Interestingly, Indonesian president Joko Widodo is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and discuss the plans to extend the rail link by constructing another 700 Kilometers to City of Surabaya during his visit to the BRI forum with Chinese assistance.

Most likely, RW is attending the conference to beg some relief measures to ride the bad times and plead Chinese leadership to support the debt restructuring strategy that involves other international creditors including India and Japan known to be among the major adversaries of BRI and on behest of IMF. Sri Lankan government has nothing to show that loans obtained under BRI has been invested well. Unfortunately, RW has nothing to offer to the Chinese as it is alleged that GOSL has offered practically every important geopolitically important asset to India. Yet as a feeble gesture to get into the good books of Chinese, his government may allow the Chinese Research Ship; Shi Yan-6 seeking permission to enter Hambantota port, so no-one should be surprised unelected Sabry, novice in foreign and political affairs, well known for speaking from both sides of mouth making an official announcement permitting “Shi Yan-6” to enter a Sri Lankan harbour very soon.  Chinese understand the background of Sri Lankan delegation and their antics very well, a few politicians without any mandate from the people of Sri Lanka, therefore RW’s much publicised bilateral meeting with Xi Jinping was nothing more than a courtesy call and a handshake (photo op) opportunity. 

Furthermore, why did Chinese loans intended for development projects failed in Sri Lanka, what really happened to the value of US$7 billion. If BRI is a debt trap as claimed by the detractors of the western world and India, why do so many counties continue to seek Chinese financial assistance to develop their nations by launching projects designated under BRI. For instance, Argentina’s President who arrived to participate in the BRI forum has asked China to fully finance a new $8.3 billion nuclear plant. Argentina did not join BRI ten years ago like Sri Lanka, it joined BRI in 2022 and it is reported that the Argentinians have sought Chinese investment in areas such as railways, nuclear energy, solar and hydropower, agriculture, and digital infrastructure. 

Clearly, in the case of Sri Lanka, Chinese or Chinese loans or BRI or President Xi Jinping has got nothing to do with the economic and financial crisis in Sri Lanka. However, it is highly likely that the Sri Lankan politicians, well known for speaking from both sides of mouth may have told the detractors of BRI that Chinese loans and Covid-19 pandemic were responsible for the severe economic and financial crisis of the nation. China’s BRI came at the “Right time” particularly after 30 years of devastating war with LTTE, for boosting Sri Lanka’s development and it was not debt trap as claimed by the critics. Rajapaksas, RW and MS must be held fully accountable for the economic and financial crisis.  

The success or failure of BRI was dependent on the Project Leader (Mahinda Rajapaksa) and his Project Team (Cabinet of Ministers). Firstly, these guys never personally subscribed to the concept of “Sri Lankan Dream”; for instance, Rajapaksas did not focus on the well-being of ordinary citizens within the context of a national development plan but were driven by private agendas and focussed on the desire to be rich and create opportunities for their families to lead unconstrained hedonist lives. They seem to have directed the billions of dollars obtained under BRI, to alleged schemes of misappropriation of national funds and money laundering as claimed by certain parliamentarians. The bleak situation got further worsened by the CB bond scam supposed to have engineered by RW and laid the foundation for a debt trap. Secondly, Rajapaksa’s government and his predecessors never developed any master plan to develop infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, health services, education, fisheries, and plantation industry to accomplish the “Sri Lankan Dream.”  All politicians were pre-occupied in squandering national wealth and embezzlement of funds obtained from foreign countries. Thirdly, they completely ignored the history of the nation, specifically how the nation was built on food security, health security, respect for different ethnic groups, and tolerance among different religions. Above all governments since 1977 have imperilled the sovereignty of the nation that was preserved and guarded for many centuries by tinkering with the constitution and entering into dubious agreements with countries vying for supremacy in the Laccadive Sea and Indian Ocean. Fourthly, the governments lead by Rajapaksas, and others have failed to understand globalization and balance it with national needs as they were engrossed in embezzling the national wealth to preserve and nurture hedonistic lives of their families and business friends. Fifthly, driven by political survival and dishonesty, all Sri Lankan politicians have taken antithetical approach to BRI, to appease Indians and few other prominent nations pretend to be friends of Sri Lanka. It is not a secret that the current president was brought up in an antithetical environment to the vision of Chinese and he supposedly reveres the global conservatives lead by some British Politicians. Therefore, it is bizarre he is seeking the support of China for the debt restructuring strategy by attending the 3rd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. Nevertheless, one must understand the Chinese have been sincere friends of Sri Lankans despite the nefarious characteristics of SL politicians and their political antics. Therefore, it is heartening to know that in a carefully and diplomatically worded statement was made by the Chinese Finance Minister at a meeting held after the BRI forum. He has

“Reaffirmed China’s commitment to extend comprehensive support for the implementation of a medium-term and long-term program that is mutually beneficial to both parties and aimed at optimizing Sri Lanka’s debt.” 

There wasn’t any debt trap set up by Chinese as claimed by BRI detractors, Sri Lankan economy and the financial system collapsed due to the actions of corrupt politicians and equally corrupt upper echelon of the administrative system including that of the central bank. IMF knows corruption which is rampant has plagued the country for many decades and hence insisted the GOSL must implement credible measures to weed out corruption in the country. The corrupt politicians never understood the taxonomy of five dimensions that Xi Jinping proposed to examine the Chinese Dream and BRI – National, personal, historical, global, and antithetical. Then again it is doubtful that 225+1 will ever dream of a prosperous country for Sri Lankans devoid of hunger, malnutrition, narcotic drugs, murders, unsanctioned medicine, unemployment, and insecurity. It is time to question ourselves that “Do we want to do as Indians do” or “Do we want to do as Westerners do” or “Let’s do it together as Sri Lankans without waiting until 2048.”  

The post Unelected Team At The BRI Forum: Speaking From Both Sides Of Mouth appeared first on Colombo Telegraph.

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