In recent days, two pieces of news related to China have widely caught the eyes in Sri Lanka. Early this month, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sneaky visit to China’s TaiwanMore
“The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Oman categorically denies the recent reports by certain Sri Lankan media accusing the Embassy of not extending welfare and repatriation assistance to the stranded Sri Lankan female domestic workers in Oman,” the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Muscat of Sultanate of Oman, has noted in an email response to the enquiry made by Sri Lanka Guardian.
However, taking action against the alleged misconduct by a diplomatic officer in the mission, the statement reiterated the fact that “according to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE.”
“As informed through the Foreign Ministry media release on 17 November 2022, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oman is inundated with requests for the repatriation of Sri Lankan female domestic workers. Most of them are victims of human trafficking by unscrupulous and unregistered agents and have arrived using a visit/tourist visa through Dubai. The Embassy had previously reported this illegal practice to the authorities and taken action to bring the offenders to book,” it added.
Response from the embassy has further elaborated on the incident as follows;
“As of today, there are 77 female domestic workers sheltered at the safe-house, out of whom 63 had arrived on visit/tourist visas and only 14 had come with employment visas. The safe house was established in October 2019 with about 50 inmates. After a visa overstay amnesty period granted by the Omani government between December 2020 and January 2022, the number of inmates decreased to about 40 at the beginning of February 2022. However, due to the exploitation of visit/tourist visas by human traffickers, the number of stranded female migrants has once again increased.
The cost of providing adequate security and facilities to the inmates of the safe house is met by the SLBFE.
Their repatriation is restricted due to several reasons such as:
- Unavailability of funds to pay overstay penalty for those who arrived in Oman using a visit/tourist visa. Omani authorities charge OMR 10 per day for overstaying. The average cost per person to pay penalty is OMR 500. (Rs. 500,000.00)
- Unavailability of funds to pay recruitment costs demanded by employers/agents to get exit permission for those who want to return prematurely within a two-year contract period. The average cost per person is OMR 1000 (Rs. 1,000,000.00)
- Unavailability of air tickets and COVID Vaccination Certificate. The average cost per person is OMR 45 for a ticket and OMR 15 for PCR for non-vaccinated persons. The overall cost is OMR 60 per person (Rs. 60,000.00).
- In a few cases, the unavailability of correct data is needed to prepare temporary travel documents.
- Pending court cases and Police complaints for alleged theft etc.
The Embassy has undergone several predicaments due to the overwhelming number of safe-house inmates, compelling the owner of the safe-house villa to issue notice to vacate. While fully understanding their plight and duress due to limited resources, it is reiterated that the onus of solving their recruitment charges with the respective employers only relies with the agents who took a commission from Omani agents/employers to send them to Oman.
The Embassy officials had successfully negotiated the cancellation of overstay penalties for several females and repatriated 21 safe-house inmates and 12 others who were residing without proper visas in November 2022. The Embassy hands over the deportees to the Labour Department every Sunday with tickets to travel on the following Thursdays as per the negotiated agreement by the Embassy with the Omani authorities. At this point, the charge for PCR (OMR 15) is handed over to the officials of the Labour Department who arrange an escort for them to the airport.
It is important to note that each worker has a distinctive problem, associated with extensive dealings with agents, employers, police, labour department etc. It is noted that the main obstacle faced by the Embassy in arranging the repatriation is due to the fact that the concerned workers try to break the contract within a short period of time causing monetary loss to the employers. Moreover, medically and physically unfit females have been brought to Oman by the agents through visit visas who either do not get any job offers or get rejected and returned to the agents. However, the Embassy ensures that it takes all endeavours to safely repatriate them at the earliest possible occasion and tirelessly seeks the assistance of donors including IOM for air-tickets, and negotiates with the agents/sponsors for cancellation of charges.
According to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE. Further, the Embassy appeals to all those who report and comment on this sensitive matter to act responsibly and avoid tarnishing the image of Sri Lanka and Oman which will be detrimental to the well-being of the strong Sri Lankan professional expatriate workforce. Moreover, due to stringent rule of law, auctioning of females and prostitution cannot openly take place in Oman and anyone who has credible information on such incidents is requested to report it to the authorities immediately with details of the alleged victims.
On November 22, 2022, the President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Secretary to the Minister of Defense Kamal Gunaratne, the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne and the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung attended the commissioning of the Navy Ship Vijayabahu, formerly the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, in Colombo Harbor. The United States had donated the ship to Sri Lanka on October 26, 2021 as part of its continuing commitment to strengthen Sri Lanka’s ability to protect its maritime sovereignty and security.
Viewing the commissioning ceremony with Sri Lankan dignitaries, Ambassador Chung extended her appreciation to the ship’s officers and sailors for their skillful handling of the ship during the voyage. She also expressed her thanks to the families and loved ones of the sailors for their sacrifice during the crew’s long absence.
Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is seven times the size of its land area and maintains a Search and Rescue area nearly 25 times as large. The new vessel is capable of performing wide-ranging operations that include conservation of marine resources, search and rescue of naval and fishing vessels in distress and interdiction of drug and weapons smuggling among other crucial functions.
The Vijayabahu is the third ship donated by the United States to the Sri Lanka Navy, preceded by the Gajabahu in 2018 and the Samudura in 2004, which continue to patrol the nation’s waters. The latest ship, a former Hamilton-class high-endurance 115-meter cutter, undertook one of the longest voyages in Sri Lankan naval history embarking from Seattle, Washington, on September 3 and arriving in Colombo on November 2, 2022.
In its former U.S. role, the then-Douglas Munro enforced fishing regulations in Alaskan waters, seized trawlers engaged in illegal practices and interdicted 11.5 tons of cocaine off the coast of Mexico, one of the largest hauls in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard. After the 2004 tsunami, the cutter provided food and water to Indonesians and later seized a vessel overtaken by pirates off the Horn of Africa. The ship also rescued survivors of numerous shipwrecks in dangerous and frigid waters off the Alaskan coast.
The transfer of the vessel is just one point in a long history of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United States in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. is committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to protect its sea lanes, which are vital to alleviating the current economic crisis.
COP 27 in Egypt was organized with much fanfare and expectations, similar to COP 26 at Glasgow that was organised in 2021. While nothing significant was achieved in combating the climate crisis subsequent to the Glasgow Meet, one thought that COP 27 would be more productive and would find some real solutions to overcome the climate crisis.
Leaders and representatives from most countries participated in COP 27 including the President of USA, Prime Minister of UK and so many others. Cosmetic speeches were made by the leaders, committing themselves to save the world from global warming and noxious emissions. Finally, resolutions would be adopted after representatives of all countries put their heads together. With no tangible agreement about the fundamental issues, the resolutions would inevitably end up as face-saving documents.
During COP 27, the UAE President clearly said that the UAE would not reduce the production of crude oil and natural gas. In the wake of the Ukraine war, a number of countries in Europe are increasing their usage level of coal as fuel, in spite of the fact that burning of coal as fuel will lead to the production of carbon dioxide and other emissions causing global warming. Countries like India, China and others that are import dependent on crude oil and natural gas, are planning to increase the production and use of coal and they have not concealed this in their speeches. There were further discussions about providing fund support by rich countries to developing countries for reducing emissions. But, there has been no clear agreement or commitment on this.
The net result of COP 27 would be that there would be no appreciable change in the ground realities with regard to climate issues. As usual, activists have been protesting about the cosmetic discussions during COP 27 Meet, and they all seem to be part of all the climate meetings, of course from outside!
If this is the case with regard to COP 27, the G 20 meeting also seems to have taken place in a routine manner which ultimately looks like only a get-together of leaders from twenty countries.
The Ukraine-Russia war has destabilized the world economy but there is no real effort to stop the war by the G 20 leaders, Resolution was passed condemning Russia for the Ukraine war, with Russia opposing the resolution. There are a few other countries which have taken a neutral stand, as they do not want to displease either Russia or USA and NATO countries.
Again, in the present conflict-ridden world with an active war going on between Russia and Ukraine and with Ukraine being supported actively by NATO countries and USA, how can there be an agreement on any issue in the G 20 meeting?
Obviously, COP 27 and G 20 take place at regular intervals and they seem to have become mere periodical calendar events.
While this is the scenario with regard to COP 27 and G-20, even U N Security council meetings have become talk shows in a discussion forum, with countries disagreeing and leaving the meetings after agreeing to disagree.
There are many peace and climate activists in the world who constantly speak and write about restoring peace in the world and solving climate issue problems. They fill media space but the sane voices of these activists are not treated with any respect by the leadership of various countries, whose priority is self-interest rather than the world interest.
Ultimately, COP 27 and G 20 appear to have become mere diversions and a sort of entertainment for people around the world who look at these events with amusement and misgivings.
Ultimately, COP 27 and G 20 appear to have become mere diversions and a sort of entertainment for people around the world who look at these events with amusement and misgivings.
COP27 has begun in Sharm el-Sheikh. Although the Ukraine war and the U.S. midterm elections have shifted our immediate focus away from the battle against global warming, it still remains a central concern of our epoch. Reports indicate that not only are we failing to meet our climate change goals, but we are also falling short of the targets by a large margin. Worse, the potent methane greenhouse gas emissions have grown far more rapidly, posing as much of a climate change threat as carbon dioxide. Even though methane lasts for a shorter time in the atmosphere, viewed over a period of 100 years, it is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The net result is that we are almost certain to fail in our target to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. And if we do not act soon, even a target of 2 degrees Celsius is hard to achieve. At this rate, we are looking at a temperature rise of 2.5-3 degrees Celsius and the devastation of our civilization. Worse, the impact will be much higher in the equatorial and tropical regions, where most of the world’s poor live.
In this column, I will address two issues. One is the shift from coal to natural gas as a transitional fuel, and the other is the challenge of storing electricity, without which we cannot shift successfully to renewable energy.
The advanced countries—the U.S. and members of the European Union—bet big on natural gas, which is primarily methane, as the transition fuel from coal. In Glasgow during COP26, advanced countries even made coal the key issue, shifting the focus from their greenhouse emissions to that of China and India as big coal users. The assumption in using natural gas as a transitional fuel is that its greenhouse impact is only half that of coal. Methane emissions also last for a shorter time—about 12 years—in the atmosphere before converting to carbon dioxide and water. The flip side is that it is a far more potent greenhouse gas. Its effects are 30 times greater over a 100-year period than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. So even a much smaller amount of methane has a much more significant global warming impact than carbon dioxide.
The bad news on the methane front is that methane leakage from the natural gas infrastructure is much higher, possibly as much as six times more—according to a March 2022 Stanford University study—than the advanced countries have been telling us. The high methane leakage from natural gas extraction not only cancels out any benefits of switching to natural gas as an intermediary fuel but even worsens global warming.
There are two sets of data on methane now available. One measures the actual leakage of methane from the natural gas infrastructure with satellites and planes using infrared cameras. The technology of measuring methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure is easy and cheap. After all, we are able to detect methane in exoplanets far away from the solar system. Surely, saving this planet from heat death is a much higher priority! The other data is the measurement of atmospheric methane conducted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. estimates that 1.4 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. leaks into the atmosphere. But the March 2022 Stanford University study using cameras and small planes that fly over natural gas infrastructure found that the figure is likely to be 9.4 percent—more than six times higher than the EPA’s estimate. Even if methane leaks are only 2.5 percent of natural gas production, they will offset all the benefits of switching from coal to natural gas. “Clean” natural gas may be three to four times worse than even dirty coal. At least in the hands of capital!
The EPA does not conduct any physical measurements. All it uses to estimate methane emissions is a formula that involves a number of subjective factors, along with the number of wells, length of pipelines, etc. Let us not forget that there are many people in the U.S. who either do not believe in or choose to ignore the fact of global warming. They would like to take a crowbar to even a weakened EPA, dismantling all measures to reduce global warming.
The impact of methane leaks can be seen in another set of figures. The World Meteorological Organization reported the biggest jump in “methane concentrations in 2021 since systematic measurements began nearly 40 years ago.” While WMO remains discreetly silent on why this jump has occurred, the relation between switching to natural gas and the consequent rise of methane emissions is hard to miss.
The tragedy of methane leaks is that they are easy to spot with today’s technology and not very expensive to fix. But companies have no incentive to take even these baby steps as it impacts their current bottom line. The larger good—even bigger profits, but over a longer time frame—does not interest them. They aren’t likely to change unless they are forced to by regulatory or direct state action.
The cynicism of the rich countries—the U.S. and members of the EU—on global warming can be seen in their conduct during the Ukraine war. The European Union has restarted some of its coal plants, increasing coal’s share in the energy mix. Further, the EU has cynically argued that developing oil and gas infrastructure in Africa is all right as long as it is solely for supply to Europe, not for use in Africa. African nations, according to the EU, must instead use only clean, renewable energy! And, of course, such energy infrastructure must be in the hands of European companies!
The key to a transition to renewable energy—the only long-term solution to global warming—is to find a way of storing energy. Renewables, unlike fossil fuels, cannot be used at will, as the wind, sun, and even water provide a continuous flow of energy. While water can be stored in large reservoirs, wind and sun cannot be, unless they are converted to chemical energy in batteries. Or unless they are converted to hydrogen and then stored in either tank or natural storage in geological formations, underground or in salt caverns.
There has been a lot of hype about batteries and electric cars. Missing here is that batteries with current technology have a much lower energy density than oil or coal. The energy from oil or natural gas is 20-40 times that of the most efficient battery today. For an electric vehicle, that is not such a major issue. It simply determines how often the vehicle’s batteries need to be charged and how long charging will take. It means developing a charging infrastructure with a quick turnaround time. The much bigger problem is how to store energy at the grid level.
Grid-level storage means supplying the grid with electricity from stored energy. Grid-level batteries are being suggested to meet this task. What the proponents of grid-level batteries neglect to inform us is that they may supply power for short-term fluctuations—night and day, windy and non-windy days—but they cannot meet the demand from long-term or seasonal fluctuations. This brings us to the question of the energy density of storage: How much energy does a kilogram of lithium battery hold as compared to a kilogram of oil, natural gas, or coal? The answer with current technology is 20-40 times less. The cost of building such mammoth storage to meet seasonal fluctuations will simply exhaust all our lithium (or any other battery material) supplies.
I will not address the prohibitive energy cost—electric or fossil fuel—of private versus public or mass transportation, and why we should switch to the latter. I will instead focus on addressing the larger question of how to store renewable energy so that we can run our electricity infrastructure when wind or sun is not there.
Is it possible that a new technology will solve this problem? (Remember the dream of nuclear energy that will be not only clean but also so cheap that it will not need to be metered?) But do we bet our civilization’s future on such a possibility?
If not, we have to look at existing solutions. They exist, but using them means seeking alternatives to batteries for addressing our grid-level problems of intermittent renewable energy. It means repurposing our existing hydro-projects to work as grid-level storage and developing hydrogen storage for use in fuel cells. No extra dams or reservoirs, as the opponents of hydroelectricity projects fear. And of course, it means more public transportation instead of private transportation.
All of these existing solutions mean making changes on a societal level that corporate interests oppose—after all, doing so would require public investments for social benefits and not for private profits. Capital privileges short-term private profits over long-term social benefits. Remember how oil companies had the earliest research to show the impact of global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions? They not only hid these results for decades but also launched a campaign denying that global warming is linked to greenhouse gases. And they funded climate change deniers.
The contradiction at the heart of global warming is private greed over social needs. And who funds such a transition, the poor or the rich? This is also what COP27 is all about, not simply about how to stop global warming.
What is Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and how Sri Lanka is pursuing its relationships with other countries during this most difficult period? Nilantha Ilangamuwa sat down with Ali Sabry PC, the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, to discuss various areas of the subject.In this lengthy interview, he offered his thoughts on opportunities and challenges ahead of Sri Lanka’s moves to overcome prevailing challenges and become more global.
Excerpts from the interview;
Question: How do you define diplomacy and the role of a diplomat in Sri Lankan context?
Answer: Diplomacy is the most important area that defines our relationship with the outer world. It is kind of looking at the Sri Lankan perspective as well as regional and international viewpoints on how we become responsible international citizens, how we reach out to the outer world, how we protect our sovereignty while protecting and promoting Sri Lankan reputation and leveraging that notion to the nation’s benefits, regional benefits, and ultimately the advancements of global peace and prosperity.
Q: We often called our foreign policy based on non-alignment but at the same time, it says our foreign policy is neutral. How can one become non-aligned at the same time being neutral?
A: Actually, we have been nonaligned, for a long period of time, but the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), since the end of the cold war, where leading Asian politicians like Mrs Bandaranaike reaffirmed that we do not belong to this block and that block, is no longer active. Most of the members of the NAM have progressively become neutral. The principle that we are a neutral nation to the outer world is that we do not identify ourselves as part of any bloc against the greater good of humanity or global cooperation. That’s why we have become neutral. Sometimes people blindly become neutral, but we don’t do that.
In the meantime, despite being neutral in a practical world, we have our own interests, at the multilateral and regional levels on our trade, international-external security and so on. Therefore, from time to time we need to abide by some decisions in the light of our own national interests.
ON THE MINISTRY: I don’t always agree with this unfair criticism against our diplomats. We just have 170 diplomats in over 60 missions to represent Sri Lanka in the whole world. We don’t have resources compared with others.Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry
Everybody is doing the same thing. For us, our foreign policy is impetus by President Wickremesinghe, and as the Foreign Minister, myself the commitment is, to be Sri Lanka first. If you say anything else, it’s not true. While being Sri Lanka first, how do we become a responsible international citizen and a regional player, instead of steering up tension, and how do we become a peacemaker? As a responsible and dignified member of the international community, our foreign policy is friendship to all, enmity to none.
Q: How can you help us to describe in one line if someone asked you what’s our foreign policy?
A: Our foreign policy is neutral. While remaining neutral, we act in strategic Sri Lankan interests.
Q: In your recent speech, you say, that “the United Nations is a table where every State can sit down, a forum where everyone can be heard and where everyone is equally important.” Is it a reality?
A: No, it is not a reality. What I tried to raise is that what we expect from multilateral platforms like the UN or other treaty bodies, is equal opportunity for all. But, in today’s geopolitical division, and global north and south division, it is no longer happening. That’s unfortunate. But, yet, we still don’t have another alternative than pursuing the same multilateral forums and advocating for great reforms within. It is like Sri Lankan judicial system. People sometimes criticize.Just because of the criticisms, what will happen if you decided to take it away? There will be absolute anarchy then. Likewise, what is important is how to improve such a responsible global body while being a part of it. That’s what we are promoting.
Q: Do you think that Global South is looking for an alternative?
A: There is a little bit of talk here and there. But I don’t think a similar kind of movement like NAM from neutral bodies is any longer viable. Because big players are now aligned through different sectors and shapes, i.e. G7, BRICS, European Union, etc. These initiatives show that everybody is looking at their national interests. In a globalized world, national interests mean you continue to collaborate with the international community. That’s where the opportunities lie, but at the same time, that’s where the threats come from. Therefore, engagement is the most important principle in diplomacy. The first step is to continue engagement, as you can’t put Iron Gate and tell that we are not going to talk with you anymore, though sometimes we felt disgraced. But we must continue to engage on all available platforms. Give our perspectives and get the best out of them.
Q: Earlier Sri Lanka’s voice was heard and the opinions of policymakers and diplomats were matters in international forums. But now there is a sort of opinion saying that our voice is declining. Do you agree?
A: Comparatively, I would say, yes. But it has not been diminished, for example right now the First Committee of the UN which is involved in non-proliferation and disarmament is Chaired by a Sri Lankan. So we are influential and we are doing a lot of work there. And we are a much-respected member of the international community. In the region, we were the first country to open up but now that has changed and many countries have opened up. Almost everybody is into open trade and integrated with western markets. However, it is not that we have lost clout, but many countries emerged to contribute equally and sometimes even more.
Q: But, many people argue that unlike earlier, it is hard to see the substantive contributions from most of those who are working in Sri Lankan missions abroad. There are serious allegations over political appointees where many without a basic understanding of international affairs were installed in our missions. Isn’t it impacting the country’s reputation?
A: I think we need to get foreign experts in particular areas to head our mission. Well, there could be good inputs from outside, for example, some of our best diplomats were not from Foreign Service. If you take late Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar who is the best Sri Lankan diplomat ever, he was not from Foreign Service. Likewise, we have to carefully pick and choose people to lead the mission not on political affinities or political leverage or our relationship with them but on merits. While we keep the Foreign Service as the backbone, Foreign Service alone cannot do this as we don’t have the required number of officers. Therefore, we need those with integrity to get into serving us, as happened in the past. Well, I agree with you, we need to professionalize this, and we need to get politics out of it in a practical sense.
Having said that, I don’t always agree with this unfair criticism against our diplomats. We just have 170 diplomats in over 60 missions to represent Sri Lanka in the whole world. We don’t have resources compared with others. Like anything else we need to invest in diplomacy, we need to invest in their training. We have not recruited a batch of Foreign Service officers since 2018. If you look at the last fifteen years we have had just three batches of Foreign Service officers. So you can’t do that and expect the best. We need to continue to recruit them, at least, once in two years. But, ideally, I would suggest, every year. That’s why we need to look at alternative ways of getting our Sri Lankans who are well-settled in other countries, to get their service on voluntarily basis.
Q: Undoubtedly, you are doing a remarkable service, since you were appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. But wonder if you can tell us more about how you evaluate the service of our missions abroad.
A: Basically, I addressed all of them via virtual platforms once in two months. Then I asked each desk responsible for each mission in the ministry to get detailed reports on the activities of every mission every two weeks. For the first time, I have introduced a bi-weekly meeting with the management of the Foreign Ministry, which means all additional secretaries to the ministry who are in charge of every mission and subject i.e. legal, trade, culture, etc. to sit with me and my state minister, to look at the progress.
The duty of a diplomat is not just to go out and give a flash statement to the audience and come back, but a lot of hard work underneath has to happen. Unless everybody works in the same direction, same passion, and with the same vision achieving objectives is difficult. We have slowly put those principles into practice.
Yes, we need a few resources too, for example, in the whole public diplomacy division in the ministry we just have one Foreign Service officer. We don’t have people to deploy there. The whole legal division has just four lawyers whereas about 200 treaties are pending. These are huge challenges. We need to carefully look at this and upgrade it.
You would have seen when I was in Justice Ministry; a lot of reforms taking place. Likewise, some people might think ForeignMinister or a diplomat somewhere can go and do wonders and come. No, it is not like that. It is a reflection of the local policies. Local policies are important. Everything that is happening here goes public the moment it happened as we are not a closed country. Therefore, first, we need to achieve progress domestically in the required areas such as accountability, constitutionalism, power devolution, advancements in human rights protection, childcare, education, etc. before we blame a few of our diplomats abroad. Then we can go and represent somewhere else. Our domestic achievements are reflected in our diplomacy. Even to do that we need to have an organized structure. If that structure is not strong enough, it is very difficult for us to deliver.
Q: You meant to say the prevailing structure is weak?
A: Yes, extremely weak.
Q: What are the reasons behind this weakness?
A: We have not holistically looked into the system for a long period of time. The ministry has several limbs, it is not only about the faces talking at the UN and elsewhere but a lot of hard work involved. How strong our UN division, research division, how strong our West desk and South Asian Desk are, as well as other related institutes are very important. It is reflected in our foreign policy. What an individual can do is decorate the cake but the cake has to be baked properly with good ingredients.
Q: Do you have a strategy to revamp the system?
A: Yes, even in the midst of economic challenges, we are making it work. I can’t go to the phase which I would love to go, in terms of recruitment and so on. But definitely, we are working on it.
Q: Let’s talk about regional affairs, what is your opinion about SAARC?
A: In fact, SAARC has not achieved expected objectives fully though it was formed a long time ago. If you compared it with the ASEAN, they have gained a lot. Unfortunately, members within the SAARC are not united in their vision and mission. Hence it has hindered SAARC from real progress. I think, either we need to revamp the SAARC and have a very frank and open discussion about its progress or we may have to look beyond the SAARC.
Q: I assume the same thought you will have about the Colombo Plan as well?
A: Yes. It is time to look for other pragmatic organizations. Even BIMSTEC had not given the expected returns. Probably, IORA, Japan and China-based Think Tanks and related initiatives, will be good places for us to be concerned. President Wickremesinghe is also concerned about the progress of regional bodies like SAARC. I know we need to look at them carefully, but so far it’s been a great disappointment, to say the least.
Q: As you say, ASEAN is one of the most efficacious regional bodies. Sri Lanka tried to get membership since the beginning but is yet to succeed. Why?
A: I think probably the location per se if you see all members who are clubbed together in ASEAN. We are far away from them. However, we are an observer state, and we need to see how we can operate as ASEAN is a remarkable success in terms of tariff in trade, investments, and other bilateral and multilateral affairs. But, we have not achieved expectations, though we have opened our market at a very early stage.
Unfortunately, we have gone back to protectionism. Protectionism is not the right way to do as the end of the day it will eliminate your productivity and ability for innovation, and you will never become an export-oriented country if you are going down with the protectionist past. That’s what exactly happened here. Sri Lanka has 31% of exports in the early 90s but now it has decreased to 15%, that’s because we don’t protect the local manufacturers to serve the Sri Lankan market and they are not competitive enough in the international market. Consequently, their products cannot sale outside. That is the simple formula. Luckily, tourism was gained, and the war ended though we did not realize the huge benefit of them. But then tourism came to end and we faced different social scenarios where our remittent drastically came down, then the reality called. That is what exactly we are facing today. The long-term strategy or long-term prosperity of Sri Lanka is dependent upon the economy which is based on sustainable exports.
Q: Right now we are facing the worst economic crisis since our independence. Do you recognize this as a national calamity?
A: Yes, of course. This is the biggest economic calamity this country has ever experienced. It is the result of a combination of reasons including bad debt inherited for a long period and bad luck due to the Easter Sunday Attack, Covid-19, and the War in Ukraine which caused international instability as well as bad monetary, bad agrarian and bad cultural policies which antagonized particularly the Muslim countries. So it is a combination of debt inheritance, bad luck, and bad policies that brought us here where we are today. We are in a very difficult time. Not only we, but we probably are the first but more than 50 countries are on the lope due to Covid-19 and subsequent international disorder in view of the Ukrainian crisis.
Q: But, what prevented you from taking precautions, especially at a time when a person like you who has an in-depth understanding of contemporary issues, was playing an active role?
A: Unfortunately, what has happened is the economy was handled by a few people. It was never debated in detail at the cabinet. Most critical decisions were taken by a handful of officials. And they were not willing to listen. True, we were not economists per se but we had good readings and constructive discussions and went to the cabinet and suggested we must go to IMF, we must slowly depreciate the local currency to encourage the inflow of remittance which will avoid the “undial”, “hawala” or any other illegal practices. Not me but most of the cabinet colleagues were telling that the decision to go total organic fertilizer is not good, but then those voices were not heard and respected. Those are the problem we faced, and I fought very hard to reverse that forced cremation which has clearly antagonized the entire Muslim community here and abroad. These are all unnecessary things that have happened and we should learn from them. Sometimes you felt helpless, though you have views no one is listening to though you get time to put them, especially, when you are not in a decision-making position.
However, during my time as the Minister of Justice, I was given free hand and I did a lot of work. That’s how I was able to increase the number of courts, appointments, recruitments, and clear backlogs. We have drafted around 10 new laws. We were taking a holistic approach to reengineering the existing system in the justice ministry. But in the economy, we were not the decision-makers. When not only mine but genuine experts’ opinions are being disregarded, then what can you do? They should have listened to them.
Q: Right, do you think at the moment, that policymakers have diagnosed our real problem?
A: Right now, one good thing is that we are now engaging with the world’s best institutes like IMF, World Bank, ADB, UNDP, etc., and taking steps to reshape our economy. When I was appointed as the Finance Minister, in a very short period of time, we took a firm decision including approaching the IMF and World Bank, Suspending the debt to ensure the right to livelihood of every citizen, hiring the world’s best to get support to normalize the situation. Luckily, President Wickremesinghe’s economic literacy is very high compared to any other leader. He knows that. And now he is leading the subject. I think we have diagnosed the problem properly. But it requires long-term medication. Stability is entirely depending on how we are going to continue this medication or if we are abandoning it halfway through. If we can do that like how India did in 1991, we will have a future; otherwise, our future is bleak.
Q: So what is your gut feeling saying?
A: It all depends on how our leaders are taking action. I have a lot of confidence in the President but others need to follow and support him. And the opposition too must realize and understand not to play politics with Sri Lanka’s economy. India did it from 1991 to 2023. India opened its economy in 1991. Dr Manmohan Sing being the Finance Minister introduced the reforms. Every political party irrespective of huge differences in their political viewpoints supported and continued those policies. They are reaping the benefits today. They will become the third economy by 2029. That is because of the consistency of the policies based on national interests.
There has to be an unwritten yet conscientious agreement among all politicians and the parties here, we will all do our politics, and we will have our policy differences and all but there are two areas we should not get involved. First education, we must continue to invest in education, and give English and IT-based education. The second economy, economic policy must be pursued consistently by inviting and permitting foreign investments. Relying only on foreign remittance and tourism is dangerous as they are extremely vulnerable. Look at China’s case, and India’s case, even in Bangladesh when the whole world was closed their economies were growing. They are suppliers, but we are not. Their economy is based on a broadly strategically designed export orientation. Therefore, they are not vulnerable as us. We can open the country but no one is coming in because social scenarios, such as terror attacks and the pandemic, took us down. That is why we can’t solely rely on dynamic areas like tourism or foreign remittent. This is the time we must do the required changes in our economy.
Q: Let me, once again, pay attention to your recent speech at the UN where you quoted President Wickremesinghe about social reforms, “I will implement social and political reforms requested by the nation”. Same time, a few media in the city have reported that Sri Lanka is going to establish a South African model truth and reconciliation commission. May I have your take, please?
A: That is one of the most important areas. Since the end of the war, we must accept that real reconciliation between the North and the South has not been undertaken. True, the war ended, and we have gained “peace” but real reconciliation has not taken place. We need to put effort into it. Because we have not done so, we are giving undue advantage to the enemy who’s against Sri Lanka all over the world saying that you have spoken about it but you have not done anything substantive. That’s very unfair because Sri Lankan forces, as a whole, did a tremendous job to restore peace and social order in this country. The benefits of that are for all Sri Lankans, particularly for Tamil people who were suffering the most because that was the theatre of the war.
But pointing finger at the forces and naming them as perpetrators of human rights abuses is very unfair. They also need a platform to redeem themselves. And if somebody or a few of them had done something excessive they should also be looked into and prosecuted. We must prove that we are capable of doing that as a country. If we don’t do that, then we are keeping the case open for foreigners to come and meddle. The first step was already taken by the UN Human Rights Council by establishing an external evidence-gathering mechanism. If it goes to the next level, they will go and start to investigate Sri Lanka at various forums. In order to not only prevent that but also actually reach a true reconciliation through our undertaking is that we are coming out with the domestic mechanism.
It will help us to protect our overall military establishment. If you are concerned about all these issues, we owe a duty to the country to establish our own truth and reconciliation mechanism like in South Africa. Once and for all people can come and talk about it and move away from the very dark past. So we learn from it, in order to not to commit it again to do the same mistakes that we have committed.
ON WAR ON TERROR: Then I told them, more than 26000 Sri Lankan forces and around 1200 Indian forces were killed. That was a fight against terrorism. Of course, there were casualties, representing every ethnic group. We need to get this clear picture out.Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry
Q: How can you establish public trust in order to move forward with this, as you know whenever we talk about this subject, certain segments of society will come up and tell that this is a great plot against the armed forces and a few others?
A: That’s important. But we need to have a mechanism to talk to different people and get a wider consensus as much as possible. Actually, we need to establish this to prevent the armed forces from being prosecuted outside. That’s precisely the case. Well, if you don’t do it, that danger is looming and it will become even closer. Already our top commanders cannot travel, some others have been closely looked at and their family members have been flatted. It is unfair for what they have done for this country. Some of the divisions in the army, which are the best divisions we have, all together have been blacklisted from UN peacekeeping. In order to get rid of it also, it is important to implement this mechanism.
Another point I must emphasize is that some people give the impression to the outside world that Sri Lankan forces have committed Genocide. However, I saw some of them mostly Tamils abroad come on my social media handle and say that they want to contribute to real reconciliation as they feel that they owe to this country. They say that they are here today because of free education, free health, and other social welfare facilities in Sri Lanka at the time. But, certain groups are propagating that Genocide has been committed in Sri Lanka. That’s a blatant lie. We need a platform to show that there was no Genocide here. True, it was a dark conflict. When someone came and say this, I asked them, do you know how many Sri Lankan forces were killed; they don’t have any clue about it. Then I told them, more than 26000 Sri Lankan forces and around 1200 Indian forces were killed. That was a fight against terrorism. Of course, there were casualties, representing every ethnic group. We need to get this clear picture out. How can we do that? Well, through this kind of mechanism. It is not easy; it will be opening up a can of worms. But, there is no other alternative. The idea is not retributive punishment of people. It is a kind of reconciliation, truth-seeking, reparation-based mechanism. Only extreme cases of clear violations of human rights abuses need to be prosecuted. This is not a Nuremberg that we are talking about; this is a kind of South African model, a truth-seeking mechanism.
Q: At the same time, there were talks about the devolution of power. Our neighbouring country, India, is suggesting to us full implementation of 13th Amendment to the constitution. Do you think it will solve our problem?
A: I think the parliamentary subcommittee should carefully look at devolution. Having come a long way on the 13th Amendment, we can’t now reverse it either. But there are areas of concern such as to which extent police power and land power we can give. Subject to that, governing by the people of the area is not a bad idea. They have most interests in their lands, subject to safeguards of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
Q: But what about the idea such as re-merging North and East?
A: No. The Supreme Court itself has ruled out and de-merged it. I don’t think we should revisit that. Basically, let the North run on its own and let the East run on its own with respect to demography till we build trust between each other where ethnicity or religious beliefs are no longer the subjects but a meritocracy. There will be a day but till then we will have to find the best way we could to live together and move forward.
Still, there is a campaign for a separate state. As long as that threat remains, very difficult for us to disregard the tendency for secession as 99% of Sri Lankans are not even in their wildest dream thinking of a Separate State.
ON UN RESOLUTION: As per the constitution, even if you want, foreign judges or hybrid judges are not allowed. That’s the separate arm of the constitution.Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry
Q: Do you think co-sponsoring the UN Resolution on Sir Lanka was a fatal mistake by the previous administration?
A: I would not go back and find what was right or wrong. That was a different strategy, probably, at that time to overcome the challenges. But, we cannot do it because it goes against our constitution. As per the constitution, even if you want, foreign judges or hybrid judges are not allowed. That’s the separate arm of the constitution. They have been appointed by the judicial commission; even the President cannot do it. That’s precisely why having to cosponsor the resolution 2015; in 2019 our Foreign Minister who was a former Attorney General went to Geneva and explained this legal ramification. I think people understood that. Now, when I explained to the President, he also understood that. That is why after deliberating all options, we took this decision, the stance, which we have taken this time. We say that we will not allow you to meddle with our constitution. Internal matters are to Sri Lanka. But Sri Lanka will provide a total mechanism and we are serious about that.
Q: There were some thoughts spreading around that our relationship with India is weakening due to the Chinese presence here. Is that true?
A: Not really. We are continuing to strengthen our bilateral relationship at every level. Of course, challenges are there, like any other relationship, over each other’s perceptions on certain issues. As Sri Lankans we need all of them, we need regional powers. Indian security is important to us. We can’t have a stormy situation in our backyard.
In the same meantime, China is also our long-term friend. They have maintained a steady relationship with Sri Lanka as well as with the international community. China is the biggest investor in the country. We can’t ignore it. We must find a way to work with all.
Q: Many people are talking about Chinese Debt Trap diplomacy. Do you agree?
A: No, I don’t agree with it. That’s a Sinophobic statement. China came here for investments, much-needed investments for Sri Lanka. For example, Hambantota Port was open to anyone, but the Chinese were shown the opportunity to put in their money and got it. Then Shangri-La that too was offered to everyone but the Chinese came and they invested in it. Colombo Port City is also the same. They are investors, and they take risks by investing in these massive investments.
When it comes to debt, they have not come and offered us debt but we have gone and asked them. We borrowed them voluntarily. I meant nothing wrong in borrowing debt as long as it is properly utilized for the purpose. And you pay back accordingly. It’s not China’s problem but our problem. Having borrowed the money, whether we have used it smartly or invested smartly, in a manner which gives you return so then you can pay back. If you haven’t done that it is your problem. This is like going to the bank to get a loan to build a house and instead of building a house; you buy a car and blame the bank.
We are not here to encourage Sinophobia, that’s why our foreign policy is neutral. We don’t want to take a side; our relationship is based on merits. We need India, the West and China and everyone else. All of them are equally important to us. China is the biggest investor, the West is the biggest market for us, and India is our neighbour who has stood for us during this extremely difficult time. And we managed to end the armed conflict due to India’s firm stance. Destabilizing these relationships is suicidal for Sri Lanka. The bottom line is everyone is important to us.
This is a complicated situation. But we are doing our level best. Sincerely, engaging with them, and talking to them frankly without duping them or giving them false speeches is our way. The policy we are pursuing is honest with all our external relationships.
Q: But, if you take the recent events, such as detaining of the Russian passenger flight and the controversy over docking Yuan Wang 5 Research vessel, telling us otherwise. Don’tthey?
A: I think the Russian passenger flight (Aeroflot) situation is totally different where Sri Lankan government has not had any hand in that. That was an order given by the court. But later we looked into the matter, and Attorney General made the submission. Then the matter was sorted out.
But, yes, Yuan Wang 5 is a different scenario. There were so many not only research but many military vessels docking at our ports that nobody has raised any concern. But this particular Vessel is different. Unfortunately, clearance had been given during the political turmoil, where most institutes were in dilemma. But, when someone comes and says that this is a threat, it is our duty to ask for evidence. If there is evidence, then we could have acted otherwise. In absence of evidence, it is not fair for us to recall permission which has already been given. Chinese are our friends and we requested them to pause it for some time until we relooked at it. Then we called our other friend to share the information. There was nothing that warranted for us to overturn the original decision of clearance. We decided to go ahead.
CHINESE FERTILIZER SHIP: Sometimes it is not as simple as you see it. There can be sabotage taking place at individual interests. It is a great loss to the country and a great loss to our future just like what has happened because of the forced cremation.Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry
Q: The third incident in a similar shape is the controversy over the Chinese fertilizer ship.
A: It is nothing to do with diplomacy but a commercial transaction. But it is indeed complex. If you look at the company that bought the shipment, that is one of the biggest companies in the world that provide organic fertilizer. They will not tarnish their image for a small shipment like this. They have got clearance from Singapore and Switzerland, who have the best laboratories in the world, but not from Sri Lanka. I don’t know what exactly went behind this.
Sometimes it is not as simple as you see it. There can be sabotage taking place at individual interests. It is a great loss to the country and a great loss to our future just like what has happened because of the forced cremation. So-called self-proclaimed geoscientists and a few others went against the whole world and the country was forced to follow which resulted in greater isolation of Sri Lanka. That was just because they maintained a kind of hate against a particular community in Sri Lanka. Their hate overtakes the rationale and national interests of the country. These are the incidents I’m really worried about and every Sri Lankan has a responsibility to see the holistic picture to be rational and strategic despite treating your ambitions. A decision has to be merit-based.
Q: For the first time in history, the UK is having an Indian-origin man as their Prime Minister. The UK Parliament is scheduled to have a debate on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation on November 9, in three days. What is your message to the Prime Minister and the debate that they are going to have on Sri Lanka?
A: We need to continually engage with the United Kingdom, as well as with other countries. We need to understand that both UK and Canada have a strong Sri Lankan Diaspora which can change the outcome of the votes in several electorates. That put a lot of pressure on the people who are being elected from those seats. That’s the ground reality. They may use it, and we need to give our side of the story. But, to get over the allegations against us, we also have to perform domestically. What they have been telling us for a long period is accountability. If you provide a truth-seeking mechanism and accountability mechanism domestically, then we will have something to go and present by saying ‘don’t come and interfere in this because we are doing it.’ Beyond that, we can’t do anything. These threats are there, particularly in UK and Canada because of their voting power.
Sri Lanka’s relationship with the UK is longstanding. We have a lot of similarities between us. Instead of a few isolated incidents-based complaints, we are requesting the new Prime Minister to look at the larger picture of Sri Lankan democracy. An elected President is forced to give up and go halfway through. Sri Lanka has thrived in democracy since 1931. Our elections are free and fair. None of the government leaders stays beyond their mandate. Let’s work together. My message is very clear, let us work as partners and do not be misled by a few people with ulterior motives and hidden agendas for their political gain. Support Sri Lanka to recover fast.
Q: In conclusion, please offer us your thought on President’s idea to establish the “Diaspora Office.” How are you going to attract Sri Lankan expatriates for greater contributions to do better for the country through this initiative?
A: The idea is to connect all Sri Lankans overseas and foreigners of Sri Lankan origins. We will have a separate office here and we will connect them all through our missions abroad where we will provide our services including proper guidance to channel their investments in Sri Lanka. We are in the final process of designing it. Hopefully, we will be able to launch this initiative on the upcoming Independence Day.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the high-level breakfast yesterday on the sidelines of OP27 and discussed the ongoing economic challenges in Sri Lanka and climate change efforts by both countries.
The report that Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning his first overseas trip after the Party Congress and it may be to Saudi Arabia drips with enormous symbolism. According to the Wall Street Journal, the visit is likely to take place early December and hectic preparations are under way.
The daily cited people familiar with the preparations that the Chinese leader’s “welcome is more likely to resemble” the 2017 visit by Donald Trump in its pomp and pageantry.
Predictably, the focal point will be the future trajectory of Chinese-Saudi oil “alliance” — rather, the making of an oil alliance comparable to the Russian-Saudi framework of OPEC Plus. That said, there is a great deal more to the forthcoming visit by Xi in geopolitics in the dramatically shifting alignments in the West Asian region and indeed its impact on the world order can be far-reaching.
The point is, both China and Saudi Arabia are major regional powers and any matrix involving them bilaterally will be highly consequential to international politics. The Wall Street Journal said “Beijing and Riyadh seek to deepen ties and advance a vision of a multipolar world where the US no longer dominates the global order.”
No doubt, the war in Ukraine provides an immediate backdrop. It is going to be extremely difficult for the United States to extricate itself in a near term from the war without suffering a huge loss of face tarnishing its credibility as a superpower, undermining its transatlantic leadership and even risking the future of the western alliance system as such.
Both China and Saudi Arabia will have drawn the conclusion that the “bipartisan consensus” over the war in Ukraine may not survive the fierce tribal war among the American political elite that is certain to break out very soon once the midterm elections today get over. If the Republicans gain control over the House of Representatives, they will proceed to initiate proceedings for the impeachment of President Biden.
A Guardian survey of expert opinion on Sunday was entitled These are conditions ripe for political violence: how close is the US to civil war? At its core, therefore, both China and Saudi Arabia see the US retrenchment gathering momentum in the West Asian region.
One major item of discussion during Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia will be the latter’s “Look East” foreign-policy strategy that anticipated the US retrenchment at least by the middle of the last decade. Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2016 was a landmark event.
No doubt, Beijing has been closely watching the deterioration of US-Saudi relations since then. And it cannot be lost on Beijing that lately, Saudis have been plotting energy cooperation with China amid Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tensions with Biden.
The surest signal was the virtual meeting on October 21 between Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Minister of Energy and Zhang Jianhua, China’s National Energy Administrator, a senior politician (who was a member of the 19th Central Discipline Commission of the Chinese Communist Party.) The meeting took place amidst a deep crisis in the US-Saudi relations with the US elite threatening to impose sanctions against Riyadh.
Unsurprisingly, one of the key issues discussed between the Chinese and Saudi ministers was the oil market. According to the Saudi statement, the ministers “confirmed their willingness to work together to support the stability of the international oil market” and stressed the need for “long-term and reliable oil supply to stabilise global market that endures various uncertainties due to complex and changeable international situations.” Isn’t this more or less what the OPEC Plus (Russian-Saudi oil alliance) keeps saying?
Meanwhile, the two ministers also discussed cooperation and joint investments in countries that China sees as part of its strategic Belt and Road vision and stated their intention to continue to implement an agreement about peaceful uses of nuclear energy (which Washington has opposed.)
Without doubt, the meeting of the ministers was a clear rebuke aimed at Washington, designed to remind the Biden administration that Saudi Arabia has other important energy relationships and that Saudi oil policy does not come from Washington. Most important, the calculus here is that Riyadh is seeking a balance between Beijing and Washington. Biden’s vacuous talk about a “battle between autocracy and democracy” would bother Saudi Arabia, but China has no ideological agenda.
Notably, the Saudi and Chinese ministers agreed to deepen cooperation in the energy supply chain through establishing a “regional hub” for Chinese manufacturers in the kingdom to take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s access to three continents.
The bottom line is that Saudi political and business elites increasingly perceive China as a superpower and expect a global engagement that is transactional, similar to how both China and Russia generally engage in the world. The Saudis are convinced that their “comprehensive strategic partnership” (2016) with China would enhance the kingdom’s growing geopolitical importance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, and that it underscores that Riyadh has more choices now and will further seek balance.
Saudi Arabia has increasingly close ties with Russia, too. With one leg inside the SCO tent (having gained observer status), it is now seeking BRICS membership. These are complementary moves but BRICS format is also working on an alternate currency system, which attracts Riyadh.
Coincidence or not, Algeria and Iran, two other leading oil producing countries which keep close ties with Russia, have also sought BRICS membership for the same reason. The very fact that Saudi Arabia is joining them and is willing to bypass Western institutions and reduce the risk of interaction with them, and is instead exploring parallel ways of conducting financial, economic, and trade relations without relying on US or EU-controlled instruments does convey a big message to the international system.
The paradox is, the Saudi drive to strengthen strategic autonomy will remain fragile so long as the petrodollar ties it down to the western banking system. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has a big decision to make in regard of the continued relevance of its 1971 commitment enshrining the American dollar as the “world currency” (replacing gold) and its resolve to use only dollar for trading in oil — all of which has enabled successive US administrations through the past half century to print paper currency as they pleased, live it up by laundering the money — and eventually to weaponise dollar as its most potent instrument to impose American hegemony globally.
While reporting on Xi’s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal added that the “strategic recalibration of Saudi foreign policy is bigger than the recent blowup with the Biden administration over oil production… More recently, their (China-Saudi) courtship has intensified with discussions on selling a stake in Saudi Aramco, including yuan-denominated futures contracts in Aramco’s pricing model, and possibly pricing some Saudi oil sales to China in yuan.”
Traditionally, things used to move at a glacial pace indicative of Saudi policy shifts. But Crown Prince Salman is in a hurry to rest the Saudi compass and can take difficult decisions, as the creation of OPEC Plus in alliance with Russia testifies. Therefore, the likelihood of Saudi Arabia changing course to do part of its pricing in oil sales in yuan currency is stronger than ever today.
If things indeed move in such a direction, to be sure, a tectonic shift may be taking place — a major geo-strategic recalibration — and Xi’s visit gets elevated as an event of historic importance.
New UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s father, Yashvir Sunak, and mother, Usha Sunak, are Africans of Indian origin who migrated to the UK in the 60s. Rishi was born in Southampton, Hampshire, on May 12, 1980.
Sunak succeeded Liz Truss after having lost his first bid to secure the leadership, in September this year.
The appointment of Sunak, a Hindu of Panjabi lineage, as the UK’s Premier, at a time of a severe economic crisis, has attracted international media attention, particularly that of India. However, the fact that Rishi’s parents were east Africans, Kenya (Yashvir) and Tanzania (Usha) seemed to have been largely ignored, with a section of the Indian media claiming him as their own.
Sunak’s appointment, that was made amidst Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, prompted India’s largest Hindi-language newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar to go jingoistic. “Another Diwali gift to the country. The Indian origin Rishi to rule the whites.”
“Indian son rises over the empire. History comes full circle in Britain,” an NDTV telecast declared. “From Age of Empire to Rishi Raj as Sunak moves into No 10,” boasted The Times of India.
The BBC, in a report headlined ‘Rishi Sunak: A quick guide to the UK’s new Prime Minister,’ pointed out that the Conservative Party MP, for just seven years, had secured a US green card that granted him the right to live there while he served as the UK’s Finance Minister aka Chancellor, in February, 2020. In spite of entering government, Sunak remained a green card holder, though he was obliged to make the U.S. their permanent home.
Rishi Sunak had to defend his wife, Akshata Murthy, daughter of Indian billionaire, Narayana Murthy ,in the wake of shocking disclosure that she didn’t pay UK taxes on massive earnings overseas, though not illegal. Later, the lady agreed to pay British taxes. The issue at hand should be examined against the backdrop of the UK media assertions that the couple’s wealth amounted to as much as 730 mn Sterling Pounds. Against the backdrop of Sunak’s recent vow (a couple of months before his elevation to the top position), to pursue Sri Lanka on accountability issues, should be of grave concern to this country, though it could be mere election rhetoric. It would be pertinent to examine Sri Lanka’s triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in May 2009, the origins of terrorism here and post-war accountability issues.
Pro-Eelamists seem quite serious about holding the UK Premier to his promise. The Tamil Guardian, in a report titled ‘Rishi Sunak – Will Britain’s new Prime Minister deliver justice for Tamils?’ dated October 24, 2022, quoted the Conservative politician as having assured an online audience of Tamil Conservatives in August that he backs their struggle.
This assurance was given in the run-up to the 51st session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) where the UK, in its capacity as the leader of the Sri Lanka Core Group, voted for the resolution against Sri Lanka.
Sunak declared in August: “My heart goes out to all of you and all of those in Sri Lanka.” The politician went on to emphasize his vision for what he called a democratic country free from corruption and inappropriate military influence. To achieve this and overcome the crippling economic disaster, Sunak asserted the need for conditional assistance through the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The then Finance Minister commented on the ‘hurt and pain caused by the civil war and the events of 2009,’ while throwing his weight behind Tamils in their struggle for “justice and accountability for mass atrocities” claimed to have been committed during the final stages of the armed conflict. Sunak reiterated his support for Western powers taking a tougher stance on Sri Lanka.
“I am proud of the UK’s role, and the UK will continue to play a central role in bringing about justice and accountability,” The Tamil Guardian quoted Sunak as having said.
Sunak stressed his support for the latest UN resolution on Sri Lanka, which mandated the collection of evidence that may be used in a future war crimes tribunal.
Asked how Britain would ensure that Sri Lanka officials would not spend their “ill-gotten gains in the UK”, Sunak responded by stating that any future government, under him, would look at “how we’ve done this to Russian officials.” The Minister was referring to harsh sanctions ever against Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine. “I helped put this together” Sunak boasted. “We’ve got a much better playbook and we know more about how to do it… It is a new tool in our toolkit.”
Commenting on the continuing demand to accept the Tamil genocide, Sunak stated that he would look into the matter and that different countries would have different standards but that for the UK this would be a legal matter, following a court proceeding.
Of course, no one among the audience raised India’s accountability in spite of thousands of deaths and disappearances in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern regions, during the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990). India lost nearly 1,300 officers and men and double that figure wounded. The LTTE retaliated by assassinating wartime Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi, at Sriperumbudur, in May 1991. The new UK Premier cannot be unaware that at the time the LTTE assassinated Gandhi, the group maintained its International Secretariat in London. The UK turned a blind eye to the LTTE issuing statements from London about its terror attacks. Those statements primarily dealt with attacks in Sri Lanka.
Anton Balasingham, former employee at the British High Commission, Colombo, was among those who received British citizenship in spite of being members of the dreaded terrorist organization. At that time (Balasingham died in December 2006, in the UK,) he served as the LTTE’s theoretician. The late Balasingham’s wife, Adele, who adorned female LTTE cadres’ necks with cyanide capsules, still lives in the UK. Perhaps, the suicide bomber, who targeted Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally, received her cyanide capsule, too, from Adele. Tamil conservatives wouldn’t dare discuss that wretched past.
A hostile agenda
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, seven years before Sunak entered Parliament, in 2015, the year the then yahapalana government co-sponsored the Geneva resolution against one’s own country, in Geneva.
Three years later, the UK succeeded the US as leader of Sri Lanka Core Group after the latter quit the Geneva Council alleging it was a cesspool of political bias for exposing crimes committed by Israel in occupied/illegally annexed Palestinian lands. (Don’t forget how Israeel ‘killed’ the Goldstone report on 2008 war crimes report).
The new Conservative party leader owed an explanation how the UK compared the ongoing war in Ukraine and eradication of Tamil terrorism in Sri Lanka. Obviously, the two situations cannot be compared, under any circumstances though Sunak felt comfortable in playing politics, with the issue at hand, for his benefit.
With Sunak moving to No 10, the ongoing war crimes allegations campaign against Sri Lanka is likely to be intensified. Over the past several years, the issue has been raised in the House of Commons, on many occasions, with some MPs targeting General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, of Indian origin, is one of those lawmakers seeking political benefit at Sri Lanka’s expense. Sharma has asked the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the status of discussions with the US Administration, regarding the designation of Gen. Shavendra Silva, under the Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions regime. The US designated the CDS, in February, 2020, as a persona non grata.
Both President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena congratulated the new British leader. They expressed confidence bilateral ties could be further strengthened. However, the incumbent leadership should take tangible measures to set the record straight. Fourteen years after Sri Lanka eradicated Tamil terrorism that at one point threatened to destabilize the region (Sunak was nine when Indian-trained Sri Lankan Tamil terrorists launched a sea borne raid on the Maldives. They nearly succeeded in assassinating the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. India intervened to save Gayoom. A vessel that had been commandeered by Sri Lankan terrorists, fleeing the aborted coup attempt in the Maldives, was sunk in international waters, by the Indian Navy. Those who demand accountability on the part of Sri Lanka are never bothered about the deaths caused by such confrontations.
As a person of Indian origin, though his parents were from East Africa, Sunak should be able to comprehend the daunting challenge countries face in defeating terrorism that received the backing of powerful international players, when it is in the interest of their global agenda. The LTTE couldn’t have waged nearly a 30-year war unless it had the wherewithal to raise funds in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and many other countries, over the years. The LTTE had unlimited funds to procure weapons, ranging from Chinese artillery to shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. In spite of the group being proscribed in the US, the UK and India, its operatives continuously collected money required to procure weapons and transferred them to Sri Lanka. Thanks to specific intelligence, provided by the US, in the latter stages, intrepid SLN units hunted down the LTTE’s floating arsenals, on the high seas. The war couldn’t have been brought to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009, if Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s Navy failed in its task.
The UK never interfered with the LTTE operations on its soil. In fact, successive governments there ensured law enforcement authorities refrained from taking action as they didn’t dare to upset voters of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. The UK granted special status to the LTTE, during the war. The LTTE continued to enjoy privileged status, even after the assassination of highly popular Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, during the Ceasefire Agreement worked out by the Norwegians. Anton Balasingham, who definitely knew of the planned assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991, moderate lawmaker Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, in July 1999, and Kadirgamar, in August 2005, was allowed to continue his ‘work’ in the UK without hindrance. As the LTTE’s top Europe-based emissary, Balasingham, a British passport holder, received foreign delegates and other LTTE operatives.
Close on the heels of Kadirgamar’s assassination, Balasingham received the then Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen, in London on August 17, 2005.
How UK tried to suppress wartime cables
The UK strenuously tried to thwart the disclosure of diplomatic cables, that originated from the British High Commission in Colombo. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) desperately tried to block the revelations as the UK realized the whole operation, meant to haul the Sri Lankan military before foreign judges, could go awry.
Lord Naseby, in terms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), made his request to the FCO, on November 6, 2014, nearly a year before the yahapalana government betrayed the military, at the UNHRC, by co-sponsoring an accountability resolution, seven years after the successful conclusion of the war.
The FCO, on December 3, 2014, informed Lord Naseby that it had the required information though it needed time to consider his request. Clearly, Naseby’s request rattled the FCO. On January 5, 2015, the FCO told Lord Naseby that his request couldn’t be granted. Lord Naseby, on January 14, 2015, requested for an internal review of the FCO’s decision.
The FCO informed Lord Naseby, on February 19, 2015, that the decision couldn’t be changed. An irate Lord Naseby complained to the FCO, on March 16, 2015. The FCO, on May 7, 2015, reiterated its original decision to deprive Lord Naseby of the requested information.
Interestingly, the FCO, on December 21, 2015, offered to provide a section of the previously withheld documents, claiming that the move was made possible due to the releasing of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on the investigation, on Sri Lanka, on September 15, 2015.
However, the FCO withheld a substantial section of the requested documents, on the basis of Sections 27 (1) (a), 31 and 41 of FOIA.
Having received a part of the requested documents, Lord Naseby had raised concerns with the Information Commissioner’s Office that the FCO could be still holding documents that could be released. Subsequently, the FCO released three more censored documents, on February 23, 2016. The three documents were dated April 7, 25 and 26, 2009.
The FCO wouldn’t have released any documents if not for Lord Naseby seeking the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Lord Naseby got in touch with the Information Commissioner’s Office, on June 10, 2015, five months after the presidential election here that brought an end to the unbroken Mahinda Rajapaksa rule, from 2005 to 2015. Following Rajapaksa’s defeat, President Maithripala Sirisena, as agreed in the run up to the presidential poll, invited UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a new government. Violating all parliamentary norms, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Prime Minister, in spite of having the backing of less than 50 members in the 225-member Parliament. The SLFP-led UPFA, in spite of having a staggering two-thirds majority in the House, with the SLFP group alone comprising 126 members, gave into the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe move. The Geneva betrayal should be examined against that political background.
The new UK Premier must be reminded that Northern Tamils, at the 2010 presidential election, voted overwhelmingly for the then General Sarath Fonseka though he lost the election by over 1.8 mn votes, though they had previously accused him and his Army of committing war crimes. The war-winning Army Chief fielded by a coalition of political parties, including the dominant Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), secured all eight predominately Tamil speaking electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces less than a year after the LTTE’s defeat. The TNA’s backing for Fonseka should be examined taking into consideration its 2001 declaration that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people and the role played by the US in forming that grouping.
Republished with permission from the writer. Click here to read the original article
The Russian-American summit meetings have a history of calibrated foreplay. As the G20 summit in Bali on November 15-16 draws closer, the big question is still hanging in the air: Will there be a meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the event?
From the look of it, a meeting cannot be ruled out. It increasingly seems that the scheduling of such a meeting may even be under discussion between Washington and Moscow.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that Putin had a call with Indonesian President Joko Widodo (who is hosting the G20 summit.)
Parrying questions, Peskov cryptically added that “we are currently working on a statement” and declined to answer if Putin and Widodo had discussed the Russian president’s possible participation in the G20 summit. Instead, he simply told reporters to wait for an official statement on the phone call.
The Russian-American meetings at the highest level are customarily announced simultaneously in the two capitals. The delay in the release of the statement that Peskov referred to can only be taken to mean that consultations are still going on.
A readout drafted by a Kremlin official would have served the purpose in the normal course on the phone conversation between Putin and Widodo, but in this case, there has been an undue delay while a statement is still under preparation. Given the state of relations between the US and Russia, a unilateral announcement of a Biden-Putin meeting by either side is simply inconceivable.
Then there are discernible signs that both sides are striving to lower the tensions as much as they can so as to create a “cordial” enough atmosphere. Thus, from the American side, the White House spokesman John Kirby went on record yesterday to categorically state that the US does not see any signs that Russia is making preparations to use nuclear weapons.
From the Russian side too, it is apparent that Moscow has virtually ignored the media leaks in the US that American military personnel are on Ukrainian soil on a mission to audit the weaponry given to Kiev to fight the war with the Russian forces. The US has a record of staying put in foreign countries and Moscow is in all likelihood conscious of that. Yet, it is keeping mum.
Again, on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Ministry issued an important statement proposing out of the blue that the atomic powers should “demonstrate in practice” their own commitment to the principle that a nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought as well as “abandon dangerous attempts to infringe on each other’s vital interests, balancing on the brink of direct armed conflict and encouraging provocations with WMD, which can lead to catastrophic consequences.”
The statement reaffirmed categorically that “Use of nuclear weapons by Russia is hypothetically allowed only in response to aggression carried out with the use of WMDs, or aggression with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is threatened.”
Interestingly, the IAEA inspectors on a mission to Ukraine have given a clean chit to Kiev on Wednesday regrading the latter’s “undeclared nuclear activities and materials.” This followed Moscow’s recent allegation that Kiev was working on a “dirty bomb.”
Clearly, there will be no need now for Biden and Putin to squander away their time discussing the spectre of Armageddon if they meet in Bali.
Today, again, Moscow and Kiev conducted a second major prisoner swap in under a week.
Meanwhile, Russia has returned to the UN-brokered grain deal to facilitate the transportation of Ukraine’s produce to the world market. Of course, this followed written guarantee from Kiev that the humanitarian corridor will not be used for military purposes. Foreign Minister Lavrov, in turn, expressed appreciation that such an assurance has been held out by Kiev.
Neither Moscow nor Washington has shown any inclination to dial up tensions over the Russian allegation regarding the involvement of British intelligence in the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines and the drone attack on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol.
Curiously, Washington has been somewhat indifferent washing its hands off the entire unsavoury episode involving Britain, while the Russian demarche with the UK ambassador today suggested good behaviour by the British intelligence in future and hinted at a desire to move on. Indeed, Russia is not contemplating any retaliation against the UK.
Quite obviously, if a Biden-Putin meeting indeed takes place, the discussion will be largely devoted to the Ukraine situation. Significantly, the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration Magomedsalam Magomedov said today at a public function in Moscow that Putin’s decision to launch the special military operation in Ukraine was not an easy one but he had no other choice given existing dangers.
That said, if a meeting between Biden and Putin were to take place, that would create a piquant situation insofar as the stated American position all along has been that the US will not discuss Ukraine with Russia without President Zelensky’s participation.
However, on his part, Zelensky said today that Ukraine will not participate in the upcoming G20 summit if Putin also attends the event. He sounded wary of being left out. One possible way out of the labyrinth would be that Putin also meets Zelensky at Bali. Perhaps, that is precisely what the wily TV actor himself has in mind.
Something has got to change in Ukraine, for sure. The plea by 30 left-wing US lawmakers from President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party on Monday seeking a negotiated settlement with Russia to end the Ukraine war is an extraordinary event.
In the US Congress, they form part of a nearly 100-member block called the Congressional Progressive Caucus – chaired by Pramila Jayapal, a representative from Washington state. They are a motley crowd of democratic socialists and self-styled “progressive capitalists,” but what the party bosses cannot ignore is that they stand in the way of the Trumpist juggernaut and their potential to defeat Trumpism can be crucial in 2024.
Therefore, the Biden administration’s low-key initial response to their plea on Ukraine cannot be taken as the last word. In the past 48 hours at least, there has been no tirade against them in the US commentariat.
They made four key elements in their letter addressed to President Biden:
- Washington should explore “vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire” in the war in which the US has spent tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars in military assistance.
- Such efforts should be front-loaded with “direct talks with Russia.”
- A framework for peace should include “incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief, and bring together the international community to establish security guarantees for a free and independent Ukraine that are acceptable for all parties, particularly Ukrainians.” [Emphasis added.]
- The war is wide open, the western narrative notwithstanding. “The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.”
The signatories would have been aware that although the Biden Administration is pursuing a hardline policy, things can change if the midterms hand down a crushing defeat to the Democrats.
Several extraneous factors are also at work. For a start, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s planned visit to China comes so soon after the unveiling of the US National Security Strategy in Washington which visualised China as the enemy. Europeans are dissenting.
The French President Emmanuel Macron called on the US to take the lead to engage with the Kremlin, echoing what Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has been demanding. There is discontent in Europe, hit hard by the economic crisis, that the American oil companies are “war profiteering.”
Lurking below the radar is the hidden truth that Ukraine is a basket case with a non-functioning economy. The US cannot expect the European allies to keep that economy afloat.
Meanwhile, a massive military Russian build-up signals plans to launch a major offensive in a few weeks from now aiming to end the war on Moscow’s terms.
However, dovetailing with all this is an unthinkable development casting shadows on the US-UK tandem navigating the Ukraine war, which may turn out to be the ultimate clincher.
What emerges is that the UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace’s secretive visit last week to Washington was more in response to a summons from the White House than a British initiative. Wallace said in a dark tone as he was leaving that there were things to be discussed that were far too sensitive.
At any rate, following the flurry of phone calls on Saturday by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu with his French, British and US counterparts regarding the possibility of Ukraine using a “dirty bomb” in the war, the foreign ministers of France, the US and the UK promptly issued a joint statement rejecting “Russia’s transparently false allegations” and called it “a pretext for escalation.”
Nonetheless, acting on the Russian allegation, the IAEA has been told to undertake an investigation. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Rafael Grossi, the agency’s Director-General on Monday and “welcomed the IAEA’s readiness to visit Ukraine.”
Blinken also spoke with Stoltenberg on Monday and, strangely enough, “called for continued Western unity and support for Ukraine.” But, interestingly, the State Department quietly removed from its website the US-UK-France joint statement.
This was when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disclosed on Monday that “Detailed information indicating the institutions that may be commissioned for this purpose was conveyed through the defence minister [Sergey Shoigu] during his contacts with his counterparts in the United States, Britain, France and Turkey. More contacts are planned between our defence ministries.”
Lavrov added: “Some of our partners have really suggested a discussion of the information we have at a professional military level. This is a kind of approach that we supported.”
Could elements in Kiev be having their own Plan B to escalate the war and drag the US and NATO into it? There are no easy answers.
The bottomline is that “constructive engagement” has begun between Moscow on one side and Washington, London and Paris on the other. But it’s really touch-and-go. The Moscow daily Izvestia quoted the noted Russian military expert Vladislav Shurygin on Monday: “What is a dirty bomb? To create it, all that is necessary is to dig up a barrel with nuclear waste from some power plant, put them in a capsule and then jerk 100 kg of TNT.”
Shurygin explained: “Even in this case, the infection will be in a radius of maybe 500 metres, maybe a kilometre. And then it all starts to sink into the soil… If it is torn in the water or infect the water, then it will all sweep downstream, lie on the bottom and gradually go away. To make the waters of the Dnieper radioactive, I do not even know how much [water] would need to be drained out. Remember, Fukushima poisoned the sea for six months and no one even noticed it. The intention of the Ukrainian authorities is not very clear. If they want to blame it on us, it won’t be easy; when we have “clean” bombs, why we would need “dirty” ones is completely unclear.”
It is no secret that MI6 and SAS are in the driving seat in the Ukrainian military command in Kiev and in the front lines. The paradigm is something like the tail wagging the dog. MI6 calibrates the dynamics of the war while the CIA and Pentagon claim success for Biden’s Russia strategy. MI6 has a whole history of that sort — be it in Iran or the Suez crisis — even in Hong Kong.
The current regime change in Westminster absolves the MI6 of accountability. Of course, Boris Johnson — Zelensky’s best friend, guru and guardian — becomes a burnt-out case. He has discreetly withdrawn his hat from the ring and slunk away.
Kiev has been deprived of its last hurrah, as Russia nips the “dirty bomb” in its buds, clearing the pathway for its grand offensive to end the war. Whether the planned Russian offensive will go ahead would depend on any meeting between Biden and President Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali on Nov, 15-16.
The big question is whether this is a wake-up call for the one-dimensional men in the Biden Team. Perhaps, that is too much to expect. But there is no question that the 30 lawmakers stand vindicated.
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