Leftish lecturer at Colombo University, Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, argues that “Western imperialism” is better than so-called “Chinese imperialism”.
Meanwhile, former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera says the “IMF strait jacket” is better than the “Chinese debt-trap.”
Two sides of the same silver dollar.
These smoking hot takes follow a visit to Sri Lanka by Chinese Communist Party politburo member Yang Jiechi, whose delegation inked a number of deals that have all but rescued Sri Lanka from another bout of Yahapalana-style structural adjustment.
The fact that this irks Samaraweera is understandable. But the Sinophobic rhetoric of the New Left intelligentsia needs challenging, especially since Lanka-Sino ties in the modern era are themselves a product of the Left movement.
Dewasiri argues that Sri Lanka can always protest in Washington or London, but not in Beijing. Perhaps he needs a reminder of how anti-US protests were dealt with when the US wanted to build a Voice of America facility in Iranawila, and park their submarines in Trincomalee.
One could point to the fact that in over a year of protests in Hong Kong, not a single person was killed by police, compared to the carnage unleashed in France and the US during the Yellow Vest and George Floyd protests respectively.
Yanis Varoufakis famously told a hysterical Sinophobe that China is “far more humanistic than the United States ever was.” He would know, having had to personally conduct negotiations with the IMF, World Bank, European Central Bank, and China as Greece’s Finance Minister.
China has forgiven nearly 10 billion US dollars of debt in the last 18 years, half of which was for Cuba. China forgave all of Iraq’s debt to state entities, and 80 percent of debt to private companies. China even suspended debt payments for 77 countries after COVID-19.
Some of Sri Lanka’s anti-China “Leftists” wear Che Guevara pendants and idolise Fidel Castro. Yet Castro called China the “most promising hope and the best example for all Third World countries,” and Xi Jinping, “one of the strongest and most capable revolutionary leaders”.
Do these “Leftists” who romanticise socialism in Latin American know how the likes of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Lula da Silva leaned heavily on Chinese development finance and technical assistance to build their national industries and welfare schemes?
Do these “Leftists” who support Palestine know that China brought drinking water to 10,000 people in Gaza, where 90% of water is unfit for consumption? Do they realise that Chinese economic support to Iran and Syria ensures the survival of the Palestinian resistance?
This New Left may be surprised to hear that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has officially endorsed the BRI, and pushed for converging it with India’s Maritime Spice Route, saying it will “greatly enhance multipolarity in a world being driven towards unipolarity.”
Though paying lip service to the achievements of socialists and social democratic governments, the New Left offers no concrete proposals for cooperation with these countries, and in the case of China, actively opposes deeper cooperation.
Ironically, the New Left is in many ways more isolationist and nativist compared to the veritable internationalism of the supposed nationalist camp, who actively seek out better relations with countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Myths about Chinese “imperialism”, “debt-trap” and “string of pearls” have by now been thoroughly debunked, even by pundits who are by no means “pro-China”. For educated activists and intellectuals to repeat these myths is a choice.
Is the Sinophobic rhetoric coming from New Left intelligentsia a “red” carpet for US Secretary of State and former CIA agent Mike “we lied, we cheated, we stole” Pompeo’s threatened visit to Sri Lanka?
By Shiran Illanperuma