No one but a complete numbskull, clueless of the historic rivalry existing between India and China and ignorant of the current power play by both nations in the South Asian region with Lanka at the hub of contention, would have failed to fathom that India was against the Chinese-funded Colombo Port City. Only a nitwit [...]


Govt. and JO yo-yoing on the Colombo Port City seesaw


No one but a complete numbskull, clueless of the historic rivalry existing between India and China and ignorant of the current power play by both nations in the South Asian region with Lanka at the hub of contention, would have failed to fathom that India was against the Chinese-funded Colombo Port City.

Only a nitwit would have thought that India would keep her reservations about the security threat it would pose to her own borders to herself; and not make her opposition to the Port City Project crystal clear to the Lankan Government.

It was not the first time that India had expressed her opposition to Chinese forays into the island and certainly it will not be the last. Though India may not have published notices in the newspapers advertising to the world her objection to the Chinese encirclement of India with her String of Pearls’ policy in the Indian Ocean, it was only to be expected that Indian self interest in safeguarding her borders would dictate that she follows such a course, however paranoid her behavior may appear to some India watchers.

COLOMBO PORT CITY: A Chinese ‘Financial City’ set to rise from the Indian sea again

India, being Lanka’s closest neighbour with a massive stake in the island, had objected when the Rajapaksa regime allowed the Chinese to build the Hambantota harbour; had protested when the Rajapaksa regime allowed the Chinese to construct the Mattala Airport. India viewed the harbour as a possible future naval base for China to sail and anchor her warships and the airport as a possible airfield not even 16 miles away from Hambantota for China to land her fighter jets on the Mattala tarmac.

Thus when the Rajapaksa regime accepted with open arms without any regard for geopolitical realities and India’s natural concerns, China’s unsolicited project to construct an entire new city of 233 hectares on the Colombo seaboard, a horrified India viewed it as nothing less than allowing the Chinese to plant their red five-star flag on the capital’s port city soil.

Lanka, lying as the island does on the tip of the Indian sub continent, has always been considered as the Gateway to India; and from India’s point of view she can hardly be blamed if she gets the jitters at the very thought of having an enemy on her doorstep; with Lanka turned into a Chinese aircraft carrier with missiles pointed at her major cities.

Thus when the cabinet spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne stated on Tuesday at his weekly press briefing that India had exerted pressure on the present Government to suspend the port city project and revisit it later, the news would not have ruffled a single feather of surprise. It was already in the public domain.

But instead it was a matter that made the Joint Opposition take umbrage and attack the Government stating that revealing that India has pressured Lanka ‘reflects badly on both India and China’. Why? Does diplomatic protocol also demand that one must not speak the truth and conceal the truth from one’s own citizens? Even when they already know it?

The facts spoke for themselves. It hardly needed Rajitha Senaratne to spell it out. In fact, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had publicly spoken of how India had exerted pressure on the Rajapaksa government to stop the China port city project.
Last July speaking at a seminar on ‘Mega development, the country’s future and mega myths’, he had told the gathered audience that when the BJP government of India came to power, it was his responsibility to meet and hold talks with his Indian counterpart, the Indian National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval. Mr. Rajapaksa said: “His primary request was to stop the Colombo Port City. If it was presented to our government, then it definitely must have been presented to this government. “The reason he gave was that the Port City was a threat to the security of India”.

Most probably the Rajapaksa regime would have boorishly told India where to get off the bus, heavily dependent as the regime was on the almost bottomless pockets of the Chinese to dole out massive loans to keep the economy afloat, not to mention China’s veto powers as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to strike down any UN embargo resolution raised against Lanka on account of human rights issues?

It is this heavy handedness dealing with nations of the world on the strength of Chinese friendship alone which led to Lanka being condemned as an international pariah. The previous regime forsook the path of non-alignment long held as the bedrock of Lanka’s foreign policy to align the country exclusively to China.

This Thursday, the former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa exhorted political parties to take up this matter both in parliament and outside. The country needs a clear explanation in respect of the Minister’s statement, he said, adding that “the Yahapalana administration should explain whether India had to be consulted in respect of agreements with China or any other country deemed hostile to the regional power.”

Anything wrong with that? In international affairs, like in private relations, it is only right to consult those who may be affected or who think they will be affected by the course of action planned. In diplomatic jargon — if that is what is called for keeping with the Rajapaksas sudden ‘politically correct’ philosophy — it is phrased as solving issues through consultation and consensus.
If the Rajapaksa regime had followed this same course, had not thought that shacking up with the Chinese had empowered them with the right to treat the rest of the world with contempt and dismiss with disdain genuine concerns other nations, including India, may legitimately have, perhaps they may not have met with the fate they finally met.

In the words of President Sirisena who declared last week, “If the previous government had governed the country properly its members, currently in the Opposition, would not have had to hoof it until they got blisters on their soles clamoring for another chance to rule”.

The Joint Opposition’s main ire was that Lanka had buckled under Indian pressure to stop the project in early 2015. But not a word of condemnation was uttered that the Government had buckled again this time under Chinese pressure to revive the project. Consider the following:

The Colombo Port City Project had been in the pipeline since 2011 but for various reasons never got off the ground. In September 2014 construction work finally began after it was officially commissioned by the then Lankan President Rajapaksa and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Though environmentalists and legal experts raised many environmental and sovereignty issues, their objections were summarily dismissed. India’s own security concerns in the region were studiously ignored, driving a further and almost irreparable wedge between Indo-Lanka relationships and making Rajapaksa persona non grata in India.

The advent of Maithripala Sirisena to power in January last year restored goodwill. The love hate relationship with India was back to love again. The work at the Port City was immediately halted, honouring one of the main election promises Ranil Wickremesinghe had made three weeks prior to the election. On December 17, 2014 addressing tourism industry officials, he had vowed to scrap the project. “I will stop it,” he had said. “We have to protect our coastal area. If the port city is built, we will lose the coastal area.”

India was glad to have the Lankan lamb safely back in her pen. But not the Chinese. They were positively miffed. The new government had not bargained for China’s stoic perseverance to achieve its long term goals, especially the one that concerned her own ambition which was to exert her dominance over the region as the new Asian superpower.

China did what commercial banks do to defaulters. She called in the loans given to the Rajapaksa regime. Ex parate execution. And the cash-strapped Sirisena regime, heir to the coffers which the Rajapaksa regime had left bare with their squander, waste and corruption had no alternative but to bend the knee, proffer the bowl, face reality and kowtow to China’s ultimatum.
As far as Lanka’s pathetic beseeching to China not to demand her pound of flesh went, China’s terse reply was ‘no port city, no dice’. And her strategy paid off. Upon his return from Beijing in April, Ranil Wickremesinghe announced the port city project was on again, though renamed as Financial City.

The Joint Opposition sees no reason to condemn this double take on the part of the Government after the Lankan Prime Minister received a bone-breaking panda hug from the Chinese to make him see financial reason and renege on his pre-election promise to scrap the port city. That is because bowing to Chinese pressure has been the norm for the Rajapaksa regime.

Neither do they criticise the reasons why the UNP prime minister, environmentalists, legal experts and India were all against the port city project. For joint opposition MP, the former Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena, for instance, anything is good if made in China. On Wednesday he stated the project was launched by the Chinese President. “How can they suspend it just because India told them to do so?” he asked.

But when questioned about the shortcomings of the first agreement signed by the previous government and the detrimental clauses in it to Lanka, Bandula Gunawardena stated the agreement was not presented in Parliament and therefore he didn’t see the contents. Isn’t it bizarre that a senior minister of the Rajapaksa cabinet should now say that he had not been told of the contents of the ports agreement? That the head of the cabinet in which he was a member had not presented the agreement to the parliament for discussion and debate? That even now, though he is hailing from the rooftops the benefits of China’s port city project and demanding its immediate implementation, he does not have a clue as to what it entails and what it means for the future of this country? Ministers like this are indeed only meant for walking up and down hills at Pada Yatras, with karaththa kavi sung to them to ease the load on their back and the strain on their calf muscle.

For his edification and for the edification of others in the joint opposition, let’s spell out the crux of the matter. It wasn’t the revelation about the Indian pressure that was a serious matter. It was common knowledge. What was far more serious, apart from the environmental damage that would be caused, was that under the original agreement signed by the Rajapaksa government in September 2014 a land of 20 hectares was to be granted on a freehold basis, thus conferring upon the Chinese ownership in perpetuity over a part of Lankan soil. In other words it was to be a sell out to the Chinese. The ultimate Chinese take away.

What was not only serious but shocking was when Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne revealed that it had taken the Indian Government to wise up Lanka what was at stake should the Port City Project go ahead: nothing less than the gross violation of Lanka’s virgin sovereignty to be ravished by a trophy-hunting Chinaman purely because he wanted to add another pearl to his necklace.

He said: “There was opposition to the project from several quarters leading to the UNP vowing to suspend it on assuming office. However, it was the Indian government that forewarned Sri Lanka of the negatives in the event Sri Lanka went ahead. India said once completed, the project will not come under the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka with a big question mark on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. India pointed out that the project management could refuse landing rights to Sri Lanka’s aircraft on the properties under its purview and prohibit the use of its air space.”

Why did Lanka need another nation to spell out the implications it would pose for Lanka’s sovereignty? Couldn’t the Government have figured it out for itself even as the concerned people of this country had already noticed it and alerted both the previous government and the present government to it?

If that was indeed the case, perhaps the time has come when this island nation must look beyond the Palk Strait and, with clasped hands raised in worship, thank her lucky stars that though shifts in tectonic plates may have severed her from the Indian mainland and set her free to float on the Indian sea, the sluggishness of continental drift has kept her in close proximity to still come within big brother India’s sweeping ken — close enough for India to keep a sharp but doting eye on the naïve Lankan lass.
And to be ever alert and ready to snatch little Red Riding Hood from the jaws of danger whenever she wanders off to the forest untended and bumps into the wily Chinese wolf in grandmas’ drags lurking in the undergrowth.

If the Lankan Government wanted an excuse as to why it suspended the project, it could merely have said that taking into cognizance India’s serious concerns about her security, promote regional peace and stability and in order to foster greater goodwill between the two nations, the Government had agreed to suspend the project until the time is more opportune. It didn’t have to brand Lanka as a nation of simple Simons, twits, unable t comprehend the nitty-gritty of legal rights and make head or tail of their true import.

But then again excuses have to be made when one is torn between two suitors, even if it means ending up looking like a fool.

Trans-portly Minister Nimal’s tuk-tuk idea
Rotund Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva says he has new plans to introduce seats belts for tuk-tuks. He says he has ordered the National Council for Road Safety to formulate a new safety code for three-wheeler taxis and to make seat belts mandatory and says that he will bring in new laws to give effect to his snazzy brain child.

While it is a laudable proposal to make it compulsory for passengers to wear seat belts in three wheelers on paper at least and will, no doubt, be welcomed by a great many who will swear such a safety measure will be the universal remedy placebo pill Goddess Panacea would prescribe for all ills on three wheels, has the trans-portly minister considered its practical aspect when it comes to stuffing it down the users’ throats?

At present the law states that a tuk-tuk can hold no more than four passengers. If seat belts are introduced, it will reduce the number to two. It would mean that a family of three wishing to travel in a three wheeler will have to hire two: with the father travelling in one and the mother traveling with the child in another to the same destination on the same chocker blocker, bumper to bumper road at double the cost. Secondly are three wheelers designed for seat belts, even as old cars still on the road are not? These tuk tuk are made for a quick get in and a quick exit and are mainly used for short distance city hires.

Tuk-tuk drivers warn that a belted passenger would face graver risk should an accident occur for this would prevent him from getting out of the compact vehicle in a jiffy. It might even strap a person to his maker. Furthermore they pooh-pooh the idea claiming that this will be another opportunity for the cops to harass them and afford them another gold mine to earn more money from bribes.

Mr. Siripala should tout his idea amongst, the tuk-tuk drivers, the passenger public and his officials further before he rings the meter with his seat belt law. He is in danger of antagonising the army of a million tuk-tuk drivers, and making hard times harder for the thousands who use them as a convenient mode of transport for short distances.

Luckily for Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, he has his mega luxury vehicle to travel in style and comfort and thus would be spared the trials and travails of tuk-tuk travel. Otherwise he would have had a tough time finding a tuk-tuk with a seat belt long enough to wrap round his girth, let alone being able to get into a tuk-tuk at al.


After the Yatra, the numbers game
After the Pada Yatra, a deflated JO has resorted to playing the numbers calculating the figures with their own Chinese made abacuses to inflate their burst balloon of hope of toppling the government.

GEETHA: Everyone and more came to JO’s five day street party

According to Wimal Weerawansa there was a crowd of 100,000 or 200,000 but next time he promised there will be more. According to Dinesh Gunawardena the figure was 1. 5million. According to Mahindananda Aluthgamage it was 2 million.
But if you thought you were at work or at home or at play between July 28th and 1st August you are wrong. According to Geetha Kumarasinghe, you were at the “Colomba sanniya coming sweet’ walking all the way from Kandy to the capital. Her figure was over twenty million people. That’s more than Lanka’s entire population.

The more realistic figure according to independent observers was a modest 4,000 or so walking from Kandy replaced by similar groupings from district to district. No more than 30,000 brought from different parts of the island walked the final lap of 6 miles from Kiribathgoda to Colombo’s Lipton Circus.

But then, like time and space, numbers are infinite, so who’s counting?


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