The dragon laughs

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Time was when Sri Lankans thought they were blessed with more grey matter than their Chinese counterparts. Their superiority complex is evident in a popular local expression which they still habitually use on being told a tall tale: konde bendapu cheennunta kiyapan— ‘go tell it to the Chinese with chignons’. But, today, the Chinese sans chignons, smartly dressed in western attire, have turned the tables on Sri Lankans who think no end of themselves and have underestimated the power of Confucianism.

India, which gave a RAW deal to President Mahinda Rajapaksa for being pro-Chinese and allegedly went to the extent of helping topple him last year, has got a raw deal from its darling, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, which is desperate for Chinese funds for its survival. The current political leaders opposed the Chinese funded Port City, which was under construction at the time of the last presidential election and inveighed against the Rajapaksa government for appeasing China at the expense of the country’s sovereignty and relations with India and the western block. But, today, they have made a complete volte-face; they have not only authorised the resumption of the construction of the Port City but also allowed the Chinese company concerned to reclaim more land from the sea! Whoever would have thought the bigmouths of the incumbent regime would grovel before the Chinese? China has also got the Hambantota port and 15,000 acres in that area at bargain prices as it were. It couldn’t have asked for more! It has outfoxed not only Sri Lankan politicians but also their foreign allies.

China having thus got the best of both worlds, it will be interesting to see the reaction of India, the US and others, which helped engineer last year’s regime change here, to the handover of the Hambantota port and thousands of acres in its vicinity to the Chinese, their common enemy. Their silence is baffling. The Hambantota port is of strategic importance to China in that it lies close to its energy routes as is only too well known.

China’s rivals, however, cannot be expected to take it lying down. Now, Sri Lanka is of more strategic importance to them with China having secured the Hambantota port. They usually don’t baulk at anything in their efforts to protect their interests; they have a history of even bombing countries back into the Stone Age for that purpose. One wonders whether they have made a virtue of necessity by allowing the cash-strapped Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, which they certainly cannot help financially, to strike the controversial port deal with China so that they can use it to gain a foothold in Trincomalee and/or Mattala? There is no way the government can refuse if they want to have a permanent presence here. If what is feared comes to pass—absit omen!—this country will become another battleground for world powers and find itself in the same predicament as the proverbial monkey which placed itself between two elephants engaged in a fierce clash, as we argued in this space the other day.

The Joint Opposition (JO), consisting of UPFA politicians loyal to the Rajapaksas, is in a quandary as regards the controversial Hambantota deal. The JO big guns cannot back it openly as they do not want to irk the public and lose votes as a result; they cannot oppose it either because of their strong bonds with China, which has been solidly behind them. Their mild criticism of the deal is sickening. They are floating like bees and stinging like butterflies while the government is suppressing workers’ rights, crushing labour struggles, endorsing attacks on the media and forcing the public into submission so as to curry favour with China and obtain loans.

Sri Lankans should stop using the aforesaid Chinese-with-chignons expression, which is no longer valid. Their own government has taken them for asses! It is said that people get the governments they deserve.

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