Of all the foreign relations perspectives on Sri Lanka, the most engrossing for scholars and editorialists alike, has been the one regarding our ties to China.
The focus is back on China Sri Lanka ties, as Sri Lanka’s post Covid-19 economic prospects come under increasing scrutiny. Partly, this is owed to what have been labelled the ‘Western agency doomsayers,’ the Moodys, Fitch, etc. that have been predicting a somewhat dire debt outlook for this country.
The relevant Minister and the other responsible State sector actors have vehemently denied that there is any debt issue that should be cause for concern.
It is in this context however that there is some focus on Sri Lanka’s reliance or possible future reliance on China, to bail us out in the short term if need be.
There is no need to elaborate. Sri Lanka if we rely on China instead of the IMF would come under closer international scrutiny, or so we are told. But, is this quite correct — this assessment in a new world order, and particularly a post-Biden world order where there is a ‘great reset’ in many areas, not just global economics?
In short, the world has seen a rapid mainstreaming of this country’s all-weather friend China, in the last four years at least. This ‘mainstreaming’ of the global giant — the world’s second largest economy — has many implications for friends of China, such as Sri Lanka, and other similarly placed nations.
The four years under Trump’s leadership of the global superpower, saw the Chinese ‘mainstreaming themselves’ or positing the country as the global leader on many issues, such as climate change, and free trade.
This was hitherto, unthinkable, but the mainstreaming or the Establishment Swagger of China, as it shall be referred to for convenience in the rest of this article, was something that Western nations in particular looked at with some measure of not so thinly veiled gratitude.
China played its part. So much so, that today, the country is looked upon in some circles as the global leader for free trade and action on climate change, because the US is still in the process of ‘being back’ as their new president, Joe Biden puts it.
Such mainstreaming has won China some obvious advantages. For one, the Western establishment had to look at China as the major ally, against Trump, who many actors in that Establishment thought was a destabilising force that was imperiling the globalist economic order.
When that’s the case, all perspectives on China change. Loathe as they may be to admit it, China became more of a friend and ally to the Establishment in the West than an enemy, and it follows that friends of a friend such as Sri Lanka, would derive a natural advantage from that standpoint as well.
It’s a stretch? Not exactly, though appearances may be such. The issues are far too complex — even awkward — to be gone into here, but the current US administration, particularly in the end-stage of the former Trump administration, had more reason than one, to consider China a friend.
Suffice to say, that in some quarters they even accused China and the Biden folk of having collaborated to see the back of Trump. Refer all the stories of Biden and the laptops, etc.
Whether such stories are true or false is a different matter, but what more mainstreaming than this for the second largest economy on earth, whose tactics hitherto had been considered ‘iffy’ at best in the Western establishment?
The point is that, if Sri Lanka relies on China at a time of some concern over a Covid-19 hit economy — that may not have the bad optics it used to have among certain interlocutors in the West. This includes the all important media, the diplomatic establishment, etc.
These interlocutors know that China could not have pulled off the advocacy for free markets and action on climate change, without allies such as this country— which backed these Chinese policies to the hilt in international forums.
It’s also a tad difficult for the Western political establishment to rely on and look to China when things, as per their own viewpoint, went a little awry back home — and then abruptly spurn China once they are firmly ensconced back in power, partly with a little support — if some are to be believed — from the Chinese … (even though the Chinese scoff at the idea that they provided any such assistance.)
Does this all mean that there would be an unprecedented détente between Biden’s US and the Chinese, which will benefit particularly China’s friends?
On the surface, not so much. The US continues to protest over the usual gripes any American government has with reference to China, such as the Hong Kong policy, and other so-called human rights issues they constantly claim are ‘concerning’ regards the Chinese.
But the picture beneath the surface, could be somewhat different. Speaking of which, there has necessarily to be a point of empathy for Sri Lanka as well, arising from various other considerations.
To segue this article into a different topic — it’s now appearing as if the PCOI on the Easter Sunday attacks has virtually conceded that the carnage in 2019 was planned by the terrorists as retaliation for the Christchurch bombings in New Zealand.
This writer doesn’t purport to have the answers, but that conclusion of the Commission leaves open the possibility that these attacks were planned and executed by the people that died carrying out the suicide attacks, and nobody else.
Now, the Cardinal seems to be reluctant to even consider such an explanation, and that is understandable. The leading voices of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka are also understandably not inclined to accept such a version of events.
But what if that’s in fact what happened? That has been the nature of Islamic radical extremism. Perpetrators are religious fanatics and are capable of carrying out elaborate schemes entirely on their own due to their single-minded and bizarre religious zealotry.
From the outside looking in, that this kind of extremism by a close knit cult/gang is possible, is not something ordinary people are easily able to wrap their heads around. They feel there has to be a different story that sources these acts to organised entities — countries, secret service arms of nations, politicians even — because it defies logic that a bunch of zealots can plan out and carry through such a destructive plan on their own.
Besides, the Cardinal’s local Catholic flock is not prepared to accept the explanation that the terrorists that died, planned and executed the attacks themselves, because the former’s state of loss and grief naturally demands that there should be a specific perpetrator that has to pay — in order that there is justice, and closure. They need someone alive to pay, and feel cheated to contemplate that perhaps the perpetrators can’t be punished because they already perished in the attacks.
All these are understandable human reactions. This writer does not purport to know or purport to guess ‘whodunnit’, and does not want certainly to incur the wrath of anyone who is convinced there is a hidden hand behind the attacks, that surely has to pay.
But ever so gently, is there anything wrong in venturing the suggestion that there does not necessarily have to be anyone else behind the attacks? Of course it is the right of the victims, and the Church to leave no stone unturned to further dig into the mystery — and not end the quest to find answers for the next hundred years even. Just think Kennedy assassination.
But it just might be that there is really nobody else. Arising from which, if the Catholic Church or anybody else is asking that the deed has to at the very least be pinned on somebody else for the sake of closure for the victims — well, then that’s not a very good position to take …
Not for a moment do I suggest that anyone connected to the Church wants to pin the deed on somebody they can find — just anybody at all. But the total unwillingness to even consider the possibly that the terrorists that did it may have planned and carried out the scheme on their own, could sadly lead to the unpleasant situation when even the authorities feel a need, at least at the back of their minds, to pin the deed on someone — just anyone — to pacify the insistent call for an identifiable hidden perpetrator. (Of course the authorities will never do that however great the temptation, as that would be unconscionable.)
Nobody in their right minds would think that’s a good way to end the matter. It was a bizarre deed, a despicable terrorist act, and it put Sri Lanka on global headlines for weeks, if not months. As much as there is a different perspective on China after the mainstreaming of the Chinese with regard to some key global issues, there is probably a different international perspective on Sri Lanka after the country was made victim on Easter Sunday 2019, very probably for something that happened in far away New Zealand.