Even though it seems that the COVID-19 virus is no respecter of persons, trust the world’s VVIPs to devise a novel mechanism by creating an “air bubble” concept to permit the high and mighty to bypass the rigours of quarantine rules enforced for the hoi-polloi. The United Nations cancelled world leaders coming to New York [...]


Lanka placed on geopolitical air bubble


Even though it seems that the COVID-19 virus is no respecter of persons, trust the world’s VVIPs to devise a novel mechanism by creating an “air bubble” concept to permit the high and mighty to bypass the rigours of quarantine rules enforced for the hoi-polloi.

The United Nations cancelled world leaders coming to New York last month, but last week, a high-level Chinese delegation whizzed through Colombo. Their embassy said the visitors wore masks, but photographs taken of them with the Prime Minister showed otherwise. Later this month, a senior United States diplomat is expected straight from COVID- hit Washington and then New Delhi.

The geopolitical stakes are too high in this Indo-Pacific region which is heating up in an adversarial tussle for space between China and a four-nation US-India-Japan-Australia alliance.  The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be in New Delhi to sign a BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement), an intelligence sharing agreement aimed at an increasingly assertive China. His overnight stop in Colombo comes not only in the backdrop of the visit by a senior and influential Chinese Communist Party member, but in the wider context of Sri Lanka’s drift towards the open arms of Chinese economic largesse.

From Colombo, the US Foreign Minister plans to go to the Maldives which has just concluded a Defence pact with US. The US already has a base in Diego Garcia, near the Maldives archipelago giving it a firmer foothold in this neck of the woods. It must have felt Sri Lanka, after all, is not necessarily ‘the only girl on the beach’.

The US never really made inroads in Sri Lanka like it did in the rest of Asia. Left-wing parties locally saw to that with anti-imperialist bogeys. When the right of centre UNP Government of 1965-70 was invited to join the US-led ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake yielded to left wing opposition. Many ASEAN members went on to become economic powerhouses.

Early US economic assistance to Sri Lanka like PL 480 (Public Law 480), a post World War programme that provided flour to the poor, was dubbed a trick to get the people to eat American bread rather than rice. The VOA (Voice of America) relay station in Sri Lanka was called a US propaganda tool beaming to Asia (which it was) and the US Peace Corps volunteers were booted out in 1979 labelled “CIA agents”.

Yet, none of these could really be said to have compromised Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence.

In more recent years, the US was reluctant to support Sri Lanka in defeating the Indian-backed northern separatist insurgency. When helicopter gunships were requested they refused and gave Coastguard cutters instead. They only gave intelligence on LTTE arms shipments when the terrorists went against India which the US was cultivating at the time. On the other hand, China backed Sri Lanka wholeheartedly though not for altruistic reasons.

With that insurgency over, the US blundered in sponsoring anti-Sri Lanka resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council and tried to get back into Sri Lanka’s good books not least to counter China’s growing influence in the region with a ‘carrot and stick’ approach. Military agreements were deftly signed with Colombo and the visiting US Minister, who is also ex-officio chairman of the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation), is expected to raise the USD 500 million now controversial grant when in town.

Whether it is kicking a gift horse in the mouth or beware of those ‘bearing gifts’ is still in dispute. As our Editorial before the elections (July 12 issue) said; the MCC was first mooted during Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s time (2001-2004) and fully supported by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The JVP in fact wanted the identified areas of weak transport infrastructure and weak land administration practices extended for irrigation rehabilitation work.

We also said that the Government has realised “that there’s a world of difference between saying something in Opposition and doing something in Government” — however much the visiting US dignitary is made to look the Bogeyman.

The Chinese, on the other hand, just pledged a loan of USD 500 million and a grant of Rs. 16.5 billion for livelihood development projects. They appear to show no strings are attached to these gifts but the Chinese are not in it for today. They have a long-term end game; not strings today, but windlass anchor chains tomorrow.

India has moved away from outdated dogmatic politics to the world of realism. Its Foreign Minister has just published a book; ‘The India Way’ suggesting a more pragmatic pro-West foreign policy for his country. He writes; “there are momentous shifts underway” and warns against underestimating the role of the West in the economic development of Asia.

That is something Sri Lankan leaders need to ponder on as well, and not put all the country’s eggs in one basket.

Warning from the top of the world

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges on, a historic German expedition force has returned from a year’s research of the Arctic region with the conclusion; “the sea-ice is dying”.

The scientific voyage’s findings after witnessing the ice disappearing – even in the North Pole are further evidence that Planet Earth is disintegrating. “In a few years, we will have an ice-free Arctic — this will have a major impact on the climate around the world,” said the professor who led a hundred-strong team of scientists who took turns studying the ‘top of the world’. COVID-19 today is considered as nature’s revenge. It is said that the way earthlings live today is an invitation for animal viruses to infect humans. A TIME magazine report this week states an estimated 80 billion animals are slaughtered worldwide — mostly from factory farms, annually for meat. That provides for only 18 percent of calories but takes up 80 percent of the Earth’s farmland. Human extensions into natural habitat through roads, deforestation, factories etc, interfere with nature, warn disease ecologists.

The spate of recent reports of illegal deforestation, even in places like Sinharaja, may bring short-term gain to humans but at long-term expense. Together with the prospect that melting ice will cause rising sea levels must surely be matters of serious concern to an island-nation of finite square kilometres and a burgeoning population.



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