No cooking gas; no fertiliser; no medicines; no milk powder; no vegetables; no trains; no post office; no imports; no foreign exchange; no Parliament and it looks like no Government. The only likely import is Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant that has reached 77 countries big time, and the only export, Members of Parliament ‘Boeing’ [...]


Omicron and the virus that refuses to be beaten


No cooking gas; no fertiliser; no medicines; no milk powder; no vegetables; no trains; no post office; no imports; no foreign exchange; no Parliament and it looks like no Government. The only likely import is Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant that has reached 77 countries big time, and the only export, Members of Parliament ‘Boeing’ abroad on holiday, and for some, on furlough!

That this is the ‘festive season’ has to be a misnomer under these conditions. The country is going down the tubes and those in charge are missing. With Parliament shut, it is only the media left to bring the issues confronting the country and the people to the forefront. All these misfortunes seem to hit at the same time one atop the other.

Omicron is still treated lightly in Sri Lanka due to the single digit cases detected and the false sense of security from the vaccine booster. In many countries, this new variant and the earlier Delta variant are doing their number side-by-side with the new variant being the dominant one. It is raging in the UK, Europe and Africa where it was first discovered. Most countries have, however, abandoned their previous closed borders policy and lifted restrictions on people entering through their sea and air ports partly under pressure from the travel and hospitality trade. Sri Lanka is no exception.

The World Health Organisation has warned of what it calls an imminent “tsunami” of cases due to Omicron’s speedy spread and the resultant numbers of hospitalisation. Frontline health workers who just got a breather from the pandemic might well be called in again to face the brunt of a new wave of infections like in the rest of the world.

The Presidential Task Force set up to combat the pandemic has all but been disbanded. The Health Ministry has been put in charge but the problem is few take its advice seriously. The Public health Inspectors (PHIs) are blaming the Ministry for its lackadaisical approach. The Generals have now been shifted out and tasked with implementing the Green Revolution on the agriculture front. In India, the Government is getting roasted for mishandling its own Task Force and boasting about its achievements when half the population (500 million) is yet to be fully vaccinated. It has failed to place orders for new stocks of vaccines from its own Serum Institute.

The signs are ominous as the deadly virus causes havoc around the world. Saddled with a mountain of problems on so many fronts, the Government policy appears to be “Each for him or herself, and God for all”.

Cold War: The new edition hotting up

With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the United States of America became the dominant, if sole superpower in a unipolar world. No more. China has arrived. The sleeping Dragon has been woken — thanks to American business. It is now a superpower in its own right and has reverted global politics to a bipolar world.

The gloves are off and the diplomatic pugilism is in full glare. Non-alignment is no longer an easy option for countries like Sri Lanka with the two in the ring demanding the taking of sides.

Last week, Chinese embassies around the world took three page advertisements in daily newspapers to rubbish the US ‘Summit of Democracy’, which sidelined countries like Sri Lanka that were seen as too far in the Chinese orbit of influence. Just weeks earlier, Sri Lanka had voted in support of China at the UN Human Rights Council and against a UK-backed resolution condemning draconian new laws suppressing dissent in Hong Kong.

As many as 53 countries voted with China to defeat the UK move which could muster only 27 votes. India played its diplomatic cards judiciously by abstaining. The Chinese extracted the support of the Asian and African countries that it has in its grip in debt traps and eventually pressured them into submission.

For an office that churns out a daily press release on some mundane issue, there was deafening silence from Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry on the vote supporting China. Sri Lanka is beholden to China for economic support, but it was the right decision. However much China’s repression in Hong Kong needs to be condemned, it has been a steadfast friend to Sri Lanka in politically motivated aggression by the UK and the US at the UNHRC for decades. The UNHRC is not about human rights; it is about politics.

Still, Sri Lanka has also strained to disassociate itself from being seen as a Chinese vassal state. When the Finance Minister trekked to New Delhi last week begging bowl in hand seeking financial assistance, the visit signalled that all its eggs were not in the Beijing basket. India was equally keen to read that signal and to reciprocate the diplomatic dispatch. When the two Finance Ministers met, the Foreign Minister and the National Security Advisor sat in to drive home the point.

India, one of the founding fathers of the Non Aligned Movement, has abandoned that policy for all intents and purposes. It is squarely in the US axis now against its immediate threat, China, which has encircled it by winning support from its neighbours including Sri Lanka. Hopefully, India has realised its folly — that destabilising its neighbours is not the way to win friends and the Indian envoy’s recent visit to Chennai to discuss the vexed irritant of Indian fishermen poaching in Lankan waters and this week, the charge-sheeting of Sri Lankans trying to rev up the LTTE rump in south India (see page 1), will lead to better relations.

The aggressive new approach by China to tow its line, or face consequences has been felt very strongly by Sri Lanka. From the Hambantota harbour to the Colombo Port City project and now, the rotten fertiliser issue, China drives a hard bargain with a smiley face. And it doesn’t distinguish between small states and big ones. It slapped Australia with trade sanctions recently, is taking on the US on trade and technology issues, and threatening the UK for making noises about Hong Kong.

The two leaders of China and Russia, friends who fell out and patched up also met virtually to forge closer ties in the face of increasing Western powerplay against both. The cold war is warming up. The world is on the boil, and it is not only due to climate change.


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