The entire system of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic has now got heavily overloaded. The Government continues to put up a brave front maintaining that the virus has not yet spread to the community at large, and is still at the ‘cluster stage’. Various reasons are trotted out for the recent spike in positive cases. One [...]


The second wave Covid tsunami


The entire system of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic has now got heavily overloaded. The Government continues to put up a brave front maintaining that the virus has not yet spread to the community at large, and is still at the ‘cluster stage’.

Various reasons are trotted out for the recent spike in positive cases. One is that more tests are being done. However, there is a combination of other factors. Medical professionals concede, privately, the holding of mass rallies for Parliamentary elections in August was an early cause of the then somewhat dormant virus gaining momentum. Then the re-opening of borders for charter flights for stranded Sri Lankans overseas got riddled in corruption by persons close to the Government hierarchy with high-priced ‘packages’ of all sorts that had flexi quarantine procedures with Mattala airport being used below the security radar as the entry point. Influence peddling and ‘most favoured status’ for Government backers; infighting at the Health Ministry between the unions, officials and retired military personnel inducted to the battle against the pandemic, inter-action with Indian fishermen and then, the craze to have the A’L exams became a deadly cocktail to the inevitable opening of the economy, fish markets, garment factories et al. It was a matter of time for the so-called ‘second wave’ to come almost like the tsunami.

Allegations of corruption in the importation of PCR testing kits are also being raised. The Parliamentary reporter of this newspaper tested positive this week. His case became a statistic in the Peliyagoda fish market cluster even though he hadn’t visited the place for two years. Parliament reacted by closing the Press Gallery though calls for a postponement of the 20th Amendment debate which the reporter covered fell on deaf ears — with the Government desperately keen to have it passed while gazetting laws for the public to maintain health guidelines.

It is not long ago that this country faced the trials and tribulations of a ‘civil war’ in all but name. Those were testing times; they were anxious times. This crisis is different, but not that much different. Those in the front-lines must be given all support. Despite the setbacks, and a few battles lost, the war has to be won.

Lanka’s way out of realpolitik quagmire

 The dust has somewhat settled on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit this week, and Washington’s verbal salvos targeting Beijing that preceded and accompanied it. A senior US official asked Colombo to take sides against growing Chinese ‘hegemony’ in the Indo-Pacific region which includes Sri Lanka.

The US Foreign Minister came with a fixed purpose — to tell Sri Lanka not to get too cosy with China; be careful of its Communist Party-run conglomerates and their doling out loan after loan with ulterior motives. Rather, he said, Sri Lanka’s preferred option ought to be doing business with the USA.

His visit came in the afterglow of a historic visit to India which has turned full circle from a long-time Friendship Pact with Russia, to fully aligning itself with the USA. India has tossed Non-Alignment to the rubbish heap of history and joined in a Quad with the USA, Japan and Australia against China as the common enemy. With the USA having struck a military pact with the Maldives as well, Sri Lanka sticks out now as the lone sentinel of Non-Alignment in this part of the world.

The Chinese embassy in Colombo did not remain diplomatically silent to the verbal storm over the Pompeo visit. It was not just diplomatic rudeness on its part to attack a guest of the host government, it gives credence to the question whether China already treats Sri Lanka as one of its colonies — like Hong Kong. Not that there wasn’t justification in rebutting the aggressive US statements, but the days of diplomatic niceties are probably a thing of the past. There seems nothing any more called ‘diplomatically speaking’. It’s ‘in your face’ talk that counts.

The city was abuzz as to why the Prime Minister missed a scheduled meeting with the US Minister. And why the US, which sermonises on the democratic way of life, dispensed with scheduling a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition. Does it mean old protocols are out of the window? This then, must be the ‘New World Order’.

It was left largely to the two former Infantrymen to engage in a one-on-one (or one-on-two as the US ambassador also sat in) business-like meeting between the President and the Secretary of State. Both sides kept to their versions of the talks in their public pronouncements, speaking to their respective constituencies. Significantly, there was no joint communique. The country is left none the wiser on whether the contentious ACSA, SOFA and MCC were thrashed out. The traditional meet with the press seemed a mere formality to tick the box that it was done.

The entire Pompeo visit brought the Chinese ‘debt trap’ saga more out in the open for debate. In complete contrast to the recent visit of their Vice Premier ranked Yang Jiechi, the Americans came making a big din. They even called the Chinese Communist Party a ‘predator’ which feeds on the inability of countries like Sri Lanka that borrow from them and are forced to give up real estate when they can’t repay. Probably the visiting US Secretary of State was not briefed that the chief political mastermind of Sri Lanka’s ruling party cites the Chinese CP as one of his role models. The US was portrayed as the good guys who are here because of their ‘bleeding hearts’ for the Sri Lankan people.

The fledgling government got a firsthand taste of global real-politik this week with two of the most influential nations in the world locking horns in these parts of the world. In just 48 hours or so, US voters will elect their next President. China has one for life. Whether these are the last days of Pompeo will be seen if his President is defeated.

However idiosyncratic the incumbent US President has been both towards US domestic policy and foreign policy, it has vicariously benefited Sri Lanka. This US Administration reached out to Sri Lanka because Pompeo’s State Department (which had a dagger into Sri Lanka) was sidelined in its foreign policy. With a win for the President’s opponent, there is every likelihood that Pompeo’s successor at the State Department could get back into their stride of needling Sri Lanka at international fora.

The US wanted Sri Lanka to take sides — its side. China expects the same, though it wouldn’t say as much. Sri Lanka ought not do either country’s bidding, even if it means remaining one of the last Non-Aligned member nations of the once glorious Movement of yesteryear.




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