Eurozone wages to continue to grow as prices remain high, says Spanish economist

2 mins read

Eurozone wages will keep growing as long as prices remain high, said Raul Ramos, full professor in Applied Economics at the University of Barcelona.

“We all expect prices to stop going up, but while the situation is still far from returning to normal, it’s to be expected that salaries will continue to grow,” Ramos told Xinhua in an interview on Monday, after experts from U.S. bank J.P. Morgan predicted the highest salary rises in 30 years in the eurozone during the first quarter of this year.

In February, the influential financial services group said the wage growth in the eurozone could be as high as 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2023, the highest figure seen since the first quarter of 1993, exactly three decades ago.

“There are pressures on prices that we haven’t seen since the adoption of the euro, and so salaries are recovering some of the purchasing power they have lost in the past year or so,” the professor explained.

While highlighting the relationship between the high inflation across Europe and rising wages, he rules out the development of a so-called wage-price spiral, in which high prices boost wage rises which in turn fuel higher prices.

“In Spain’s case, many companies are now in the process of negotiating wages, and what we expect is that wages will be set thinking more about how prices will rise during this year rather than how they went up last year,” he explained.

Although the phenomenon of rising wages can be seen across the eurozone, the professor pointed out that each country has its own system for negotiating wages, which is done in Spain by sector via collective bargaining.

“The type of wage negotiations we can expect will be over a long time period so that workers will not lose out, nor will too much strain be put on companies that still haven’t completely recovered from the pandemic and affect them negatively,” said Ramos.

There is still no concrete data on salary increases in Spain, but the recruitment consultancy Michael Page recently predicted that wages in Spain are set to rise by an average of 3.5 percent in 2023.

What’s more, the Spanish government announced on Jan. 31 that the minimum wage in the country will rise by 8 percent, to 1,080 euros (1,154 U.S. dollars) per month, which has a retroactive effect from Jan. 1.

“Raising the minimum wage may not seem the best idea because it can fuel inflation, but it’s also a way to help the lowest-paid workers to maintain their purchasing power. I lean towards it being the right decision at this time when there are no great difficulties in the growth of employment,” said the professor.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has raised its forecast for Spain’s economic growth this year from 1 to 1.4 percent.

Overall, the professor declares himself relatively optimistic for the rest of the year, but he also stresses that the emergence of unforeseen circumstances that could radically change the economic outlook in Europe and Spain cannot be ruled out.

“If we succeed in getting inflation under control and people can overcome their fear of continuing to lose purchasing power because wages cannot match the same rhythm, I don’t think the situation has to be bad, although I do think that a lot will depend on how interest rates develop and how that affects the level of debt of families,” he concluded.

Why China’s position paper on Ukraine crisis annoyed some countries?

5 mins read

To push forward the political settlement of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released last month a paper stating Beijing’s position on the issue.

In the paper, China put forward a 12-point proposal to end the conflict in Ukraine by addressing both the symptoms and the root causes of the crisis, and reiterated the necessity to end the conflict through dialogue and negotiation.

The peace proposal, since being offered, has been welcomed by many countries of the international community. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, hailed the position paper as “an important contribution.”

Yet some Western politicians turned a cold shoulder to the proposal, accusing China of being biased and dismissed the contents of the document as nothing new.

These claims have been refuted by experts and scholars in many countries, who believe the proposal demonstrated China’s commitment to objectivity and fairness as well as its role as a responsible major country in times of grave global challenges.

They argued that in the ever worsening conflict, it is the United States and its NATO allies that cling to the Cold War mentality and have kept on fueling the crisis for their own benefits.


Ali El-Hefny, secretary general of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, also a former Egyptian ambassador to China, said the Chinese paper reflects a policy and a clear vision on international relations that China has always adopted.

It’s a respectful and responsible position of a country with a big presence in the international arena, whether economically or politically, he said.

The paper is built on the necessity of giving up everything provocative, avoiding imposing sanctions and stopping providing Ukraine with all types of arms, which would in the end expand and prolong the war, the secretary general said.

Saeb Rawashdeh, a political analyst at the Jordan Press Foundation, said that on the first anniversary of the escalation of the crisis, China released the document expounding its position on the issue, hoping to promote an early resolution of the crisis through peaceful dialogue.

China’s stance is in line with the universal expectations of peace-loving people around the world, he said.

Some Western countries have consistently failed to play a constructive role in easing the tensions of the Ukraine crisis. Instead, they have continuously imposed sanctions on Russia while arming Ukraine, fueling the crisis, Rawashdeh said.

The motive is to weaken Russia and Ukraine and to benefit from the conflict. This is a typical Cold War mentality, and the real victims are the people of the two countries, who have suffered from the trauma of the crisis, he said.

The high inflation and food shortages resulting from the Ukraine conflict continue to bite. The world will become more turbulent and unstable if the West keeps instigating, he added.

Richard Grenell, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, noted in an article on news website California Globe that China offered “a conceivable starting point” to end the conflict whereas “veteran State Department employees were furious that a year has gone by without a U.S. plan for a peaceful solution.”

The White House is thinking “morning, noon, and night” about how to give Ukraine more military aid, he wrote.

To date, the United States has provided many rounds of aid to Ukraine and allied nations, totaling some 113 billion U.S. dollars. Washington and its allies have already committed nearly 700 tanks and thousands of armored vehicles and 1,000 artillery systems, among other aid to Ukraine.

Xulio Rios, director of the Observatory of Chinese Politics in Spain, said it seems that Western countries are more interested in maintaining the conflict than pushing for a ceasefire and opening negotiations for a political solution.

Meanwhile, China’s approach allows the world to see a viable solution and that will be supported by countries valuing common good for the whole world, he added.


For many observers, the reasons why politicians in some Western countries felt displeased with China’s peace proposal are quite obvious.

Lewis Ndichu, a researcher at Nairobi-based think tank Africa Policy Institute, said The West has been used to realizing “peace” through intervening by providing warfare equipment, intelligence and sending air combat forces, all these will lead to a devastating arms race.

Seeing China playing an increasingly greater role on the world stage, the West is not happy, said Ndichu.

Ang Teck Sin, a political commentator in Singapore, told Xinhua that both Russia and Ukraine suffered heavy casualties and economic losses, but Uncle Sam, who pursues hegemonism and power politics, has seen a rare opportunity to continue to lead NATO and further intensify bloc confrontation.

Washington is actually expanding business for the military-industrial complex, he said. The more volatile the world is and the larger the market will be, and the more resources the military-industrial complex will get to develop more sophisticated weapons, thus creating more conflicts, he noted.

This is a terrible vicious circle. Unfortunately, it is the world that pays for America’s ambitions, the commentator said.

When the United States and its allies are arming Ukraine to the teeth, it is countries like China that have to come forward to remind all as to what is at stake, said Rabia Akhtar, director of the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research at the University of Lahore in Pakistan.

Filipe Porto, a researcher at the Brazilian Foreign Policy Observatory, said the attitude of the United States toward China on the Ukrainian issue is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the United States and its allies question and attack China’s relations with Russia, on the other they ask China to use that relationship to play the role they expect in the crisis.

Slovenian sociologist Tomaz Mastnak said the Russia-Ukraine conflict had been provoked, instigated and prolonged by the United States. At least in the short term, the United States is the only country that has benefited from this conflict.

The impact of the conflict on Europe is disastrous. The European economy is being dealt a heavy blow to, and first and foremost, Germany, the European economic engine, is facing “deindustrialization,” Mastnak said.

In his opinion, this situation in Europe is not collateral damage caused by conflict, but one of the goals of the conflict provoked by the United States. It is going to make Europe economically insignificant.


As the world is facing such a prolonged conflict as well as overlapping food and energy crises, China’s proposal, which insists on promoting peace talks, has been widely applauded.

China’s recent initiative to solve the Ukraine crisis politically is very timely and quite helpful, and it is completely in accordance with the UN rules, said Mohammad Reza Manafi, editor-in-chief for the Asia-Pacific news desk of Iran’s official news agency IRNA.

Bambang Suryono, chairman of the Indonesian think tank Asian Innovation Research Center, said the position paper is constructive, necessary and timely.

British political commentator Carlos Martinez said China’s position paper is a powerful contribution to the project of building peace in Europe. While not taking sides, it highlights the crucial elements required for the Ukraine crisis to be brought to a conclusion.

The position paper is closely related to The Global Security Initiative Concept Paper released by China on Feb. 21, as both papers are firmly grounded in international law and the principles of the UN Charter. Both reflect a profound desire for peace and global prosperity; for a community with a shared future for mankind, he said.

Both papers reflect a clear understanding that peace and prosperity require a reorientation of international relations toward multilateralism, cooperation, non-interference, respect for sovereignty and respect for diversity; that hegemonism and Cold War mentality are driving humanity toward a very dangerous future, Martinez emphasized.

Christine Bierre, editor-in-chief of French newspaper New Solidarity, said China’s Global Security Initiative allows people to get to the root causes of the great turmoil and conflicts in the world.

China’s Global Security Initiative and its position paper can have a very positive role in the Ukrainian conflict, he added.

Interview: Today, no one can contain China or stop its development

4 mins read

“I have the warmest, kindest memories from my first visit to China, from my first impressions of the country, and from my cooperation with the leaders of the People’s Republic of China,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told Xinhua in an exclusive interview ahead of his visit to China.

This year marks the 31st anniversary of China-Belarus diplomatic relations, which have been continuously strengthened and upgraded, with solid progress in all-round cooperation through these years.

On Sept. 15, 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Lukashenko met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on the sidelines of the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The two heads of state decided to elevate bilateral relations to the level of an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership. China-Belarus relations have reached their highest level in history.

Lukashenko has high hopes for his upcoming visit to China. “I have been to China many times. I am very glad to visit China again in the coming days and meet with the Chinese leader, my old friend President Xi Jinping, a very smart, wise, creative and modern person,” the Belarusian president noted.

During the interview, Lukashenko looked back on his previous visits to China, recalling his first visit to China as the president of Belarus over two decades ago as well as his earlier trips as a member of parliament to China’s special economic zones.

At that time, China was not the same as it is now, he said. “The population was huge… Everyone had to be fed and dressed. China needed to strengthen national defense. Everything was not easy. However, China was determined to achieve all of these,” Lukashenko said.

After visiting China, Lukashenko said he felt that in just a couple of decades China would achieve significant development, so China’s experience should be learned.

The president noted that Belarus had drawn on China’s experience, primarily that regarding special economic zones. “Based on this, we have established several free economic zones, including the Great Stone China-Belarus Industrial Park… China’s experience lay at the heart of it,” he said.

The industrial park mentioned by Lukashenko is the largest project to attract investment in Belarus and a landmark cooperation project within the Belt and Road framework, which was promoted by the two heads of state personally and prized by the two governments. Since the two countries’ leaders visited the industrial park in May 2015, development and construction of the project have forged ahead, and fruitful results have been achieved.

According to the National Statistical Committee of Belarus, the net profit of the enterprises of the industrial park totals 34.1 million Belarusian rubles (13.51 million U.S. dollars) in 2022, up by 144 percent from the previous year.

Reviewing the development of the industrial park in recent years, Lukashenko said that progress has been made despite the COVID-19 pandemic along with other crises and problems. Last year alone, there had been 19 enterprises moving in.

The latest statistics showed that there had been 107 companies in the industrial park by Feb. 22, 2023, with seven new enterprises settling in the park this year.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping once described the Great Stone as ‘a pearl along the Silk Road Economic Belt,'” said Lukashenko, adding that Belarus attaches great importance to the development of the industrial park and provides many preferential policies including tax exemptions. “This is very beneficial for business,” he stressed.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. Belarus, as an important transit hub on the Silk Road Economic Belt, was one of the first countries to respond and participate in the initiative.

With the growth of biliteral ties, China and Belarus have seen a boom in trade over the past years. Statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China show that two-way trade surpassed 5 billion dollars in 2022, up by 33 percent year on year.

Lukashenko said that Belarus has a strong machine manufacturing sector. Currently the two countries are engaged in dialogue on issues of industrial policy.

“Today, we are already learning from China’s new technologies, which are of interest to us. And this concerns all sectors, from the biotechnology to national defense. China has made significant progress,” Lukashenko said.

“We are expecting more high-tech enterprises from China to join the industrial park,” he said.

In recent years, China and Belarus have deepened cooperation in the field of scientific and technological innovation.

The Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC) project, a “high-tech full-cycle agriculture project,” which includes the first amino acid manufacturing plant in Belarus and built in cooperation with China, was officially put into operation in the Minsk region on Nov. 4, 2022.

The BNBC is the first amino acid production enterprise in Belarus and the first import-substituting project in the industry of deep grain processing. Lukashenko said that the project would elevate the technological capability of the country and become the locomotive of national development.

Thanks to Xi’s leadership, the project was able to implement, Lukashenko said, adding that “this is highly advanced technology. Not many countries in the world have such production facilities. China has helped us create such a biotech corporation.”

The Belarusian president also mentioned that his youngest son is currently studying biotechnology in a joint training program between the two countries.

China has achieved great development and plays an important role in international affairs, he said, adding that China has become a major country with an independent policy and “today, not a single issue in the world can be resolved without China.”

Expressing his firm belief that China will, as always, pursue an independent foreign policy of peace, Lukashenko said that China’s position paper on political settlement of Ukraine crisis is a testimony to its peaceful foreign policy as well as a new and original step that will have a far-reaching impact all over the world.

On the U.S. downing of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship, Lukashenko called it “a very unfriendly step” and a “show” deliberately staged by the United States for political reasons.

“Today, no one can contain China or stop its development,” the Belarusian president said.

Interview: Hysteria over balloon incident proves US’s inability

5 mins read

Blaming the United States for letting the “balloon incident” unnecessarily create “a very unfortunate effect on Sino-American relations,” Chas Freeman said the implications of the abrupt scrapping of Blinken’s trip to China are threefold, all of which are indicative of the Biden administration’s inability to engage with China meaningfully.

The Joe Biden administration’s hysterical overreaction to a Chinese unmanned civilian airship unexpectedly entering U.S. airspace is proof of the current U.S. government’s inability to overcome domestic pressure and manage the relationship between Washington and Beijing in times of high tension, a former U.S. diplomat has said.

In an interview with Xinhua, Chas Freeman reiterated his criticism of the Biden administration’s strategy toward China that wrongfully prioritizes competition over cooperation and called on the administration to learn from the diplomatic wisdom possessed by the older generation of leaders of both the United States and China that made the normalization of ties between the two countries in the 1970s a reality.

A retired career diplomat, Freeman was a member of then-U.S. President Richard Nixon’s entourage during the president’s ice-breaking trip to China in 1972, serving as the U.S. delegation’s principal interpreter.


Speaking of the so-called “balloon incident,” Freeman highlighted the “clear disconnect” between the initial assessment by the U.S. military and the intelligence community of the non-threatening nature of the airship and the peddling by U.S. politicians of what they speculated to be the craft’s purpose of “espionage.”

“From the beginning, the military said this did not represent a threat of any consequence to U.S. national security. And it was the politicians who began to invent a series of theories about the use of this balloon for espionage,” Freeman said, adding the fact that the arrival of the airship coincided with a polar vortex over North America made him believe that the incident was not something the Chinese side was able to anticipate beforehand. “The course of the balloon may and well have been accidental.”

Despite China’s timely notification — based on an earnest verification — to the United Sates that the airship was used for meteorological research and unintentionally entered U.S. airspace, Washington overreacted to the isolated incident by shooting down the airship, claiming that China has a so-called high-altitude surveillance balloon program and imposing sanctions on Chinese companies it alleged are linked to the program.

“They struck me as hysteria,” Freeman said of U.S. perceptions about and reactions to the incident. It was “a kind of almost psychotic reaction to an event in which facts were set aside and replaced by conspiracy theories.”

Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, had an informal contact with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday in Munich, Germany, where they were both attending the 59th Munich Security Conference participated by world leaders.

“If the U.S. side continues to fuss over, dramatize and escalate the unintended and isolated incident, it should not expect the Chinese side to flinch,” Wang told Blinken when setting forth China’s strong position on the “balloon incident,” according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Freeman said he agreed “completely with the Chinese statement that this was an overreaction” by the U.S. side.

It is “unfortunately not uncommon” for the United States to exaggerate the nature of this unintended accident, he added, given that the country is currently plagued by domestic political polarization.

On the revelation from the Chinese side that the United States illegally flew high-altitude balloons into Chinese airspace multiple times to surveil intelligence information, Freeman said he suspected “maybe there is” a U.S. balloon program that’s still in existence, noting “the United States in the 1950s had a very active program of using balloons for military targeting purposes over the Soviet Union.”

He suggested that the United States and China discuss “what kind of overflight at what altitude is permissible,” so that the flight of high-altitude aerial objects can be governed by either certain “legal standards” or “perhaps some kind of arms control agreement.”


As part of U.S. response to the balloon incident, Blinken postponed his trip to Beijing originally scheduled for early February.

In the view of Freeman, one of Blinken’s intended goals for the planned China trip was “a domestic political posturing” to show Americans at home that the Biden administration was “just as tough on China as the Donald Trump administration was.” Now the “cancellation of the visit did exactly the opposite,” he said.

Blaming the United States for letting the “balloon incident” unnecessarily create “a very unfortunate effect on Sino-American relations,” Freeman said the implications of the abrupt scrapping of Blinken’s trip to China are threefold, all of which are indicative of the Biden administration’s inability to engage with China meaningfully.

“First, it appeared to show that the United States and China cannot talk under conditions of tension,” he said. “That is very unnerving to the world. It is a matter of grave concern not just to Americans and Chinese who follow these things, but to many in other countries.”

 “Second, we showed that we do not know how to manage this relationship in conditions of crisis. And that, too, is a matter of concern,” he said. “And third, we showed not that Mr. Biden was politically strong, but that he was weak. He could not stand up to domestic political pressure.”

“Apparently we are politically paralyzed in the United States and prevented from taking any initiative to address the first two questions: Can we talk? Can we manage the relationship,” said Freeman.

In recent days, the Biden administration’s public messaging on China has been self-contradictory.

In what U.S. media interpreted as a move to contain the further fallout of the balloon episode, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told Politico in a recent interview that she didn’t think U.S.-China relations would be impacted by the incident.

Days later, when Harris was in Munich meeting with leaders of France, Germany and Britain, “the challenges posed by China” was a recurring topic during the respective interactions. It’s hard for anyone not to read into this as a sign of the Biden administration stepping up its alignment with allies against China.

“I have been a critic of the formula that the Biden administration has adopted for U.S.-China relations,” Freeman said.

“They begin by saying we will compete. We are in a competition, but we will cooperate in a few areas where that is mutually advantageous. I think that’s the wrong order. We should be focused on cooperation, and at the same time acknowledge that in some respects we will compete. So the question is the priority that you assign,” he said.

Freeman categorizes competition into three forms — “rivalry,” a positive process where the two competing parties seek to excel and ultimately result in self-improvement by both; “adversarial animosity,” a zero-sum competition like a running race where one party tries to “trip” rather than “outrun” the other party; and “enmity,” a destructive mode where one party fight for the complete annihilation of the other party.

The word “competition,” Freeman said, has been used by the Biden administration as a “euphemism” and in way that makes the concept hardly distinguishable from “animosity and hostility.” The result is that the United States, by failing to accurately describe the status of its relationship with China, has driven bilateral ties into the phase of adversarial animosity.

Freeman lamented the fact that “empathy,” which he said is required in diplomacy and was shown by both the U.S. and the Chinese sides when Nixon visited China, is nowhere to be found among those making decisions on China in the current U.S. administration.

“Empathy is understanding where the other side is coming from, what they believe, how they see things,” Freeman said. “You must understand the other side’s point of view. I don’t see much evidence that there’s much effort being made to do that on the American side.

– Xinhua 

Nord Stream explosion is Act Global Terrorism

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An investigation by the UN Security Council into the explosions that blew up the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines in September 2022 is a high global priority, said Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned economist, on Tuesday.

“The destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines on Sept. 26, 2022, constitutes an act of international terrorism and represents a threat to the peace,” Sachs told the Security Council in a briefing.

“It is the responsibility of the UN Security Council to take up the question of who might have carried out the act in order to bring the perpetrator to international justice, to pursue compensation for the damage parties, and to prevent future such actions,” he said.

The consequences of the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines that linked Russia and Germany are enormous. They include not only the vast economic losses related to the pipelines themselves and their future potential use, but also the heightened threat to transboundary infrastructure of all kinds — submarine internet cables, international pipelines for gas and hydrogen, transboundary power transmission, offshore wind farms and more, said Sachs, who is the director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

“The global transformation to green energy will require considerable transboundary infrastructure, including in international waters. Countries need to have full confidence that their infrastructure will not be destroyed by third parties. Some European countries have recently expressed concern over the safety of their offshore infrastructure,” he noted.

There is only one detailed account to date of the Nord Stream destruction — the one recently put forward by U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh ostensibly based on information leaked to Hersh by an unnamed source, said Sachs.

Hersh attributes the Nord Stream destruction to a decision ordered by U.S. President Joe Biden and carried out by U.S. agents in a covert operation. The White House has described Hersh’s account as “completely and utterly false,” but did not offer any information contradicting Hersh’s account, and did not offer any alternative explanation, he said.

Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and some other senior U.S. officials made statements before and after the Nord Stream destruction that showed the U.S. animus toward the pipelines, he noted.

The destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines required a very high degree of planning, expertise, and technological capacity, he said, adding that as a number of senior officials have publicly confirmed, an action of this sort must have been carried out by a state-level actor.

Only a handful of state-level actors have both the technical capacity and access to the Baltic Sea to have carried out this action. They include the United States, Russia, Britain, Poland, Norway, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden — either individually or in some combination.

A recent report by The Washington Post revealed that the intelligence agencies of NATO countries have privately concluded that there is no evidence whatsoever that Russia carried out this action. It is also in concord with the fact that Russia had no obvious motive to carry out this act of terrorism on its own critical infrastructure. Indeed, Russia is likely to bear considerable expenses to repair the pipelines, said Sachs.

Three countries have reportedly carried out investigations of the Nord Stream terrorism — Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. These countries presumably know much more about the circumstances of the terrorist attack. Sweden, in particular, has perhaps the most to tell the world about the crime scene, which its divers investigated. Yet instead of sharing this information globally, Sweden has kept the results of its investigation secret from the rest of the world. Sweden has refused to share its findings with Russia and turned down a joint investigation with Denmark and Germany, he said.

“In the interests of global peace, the UN Security Council should require these countries to immediately turn over the results of their investigations to the UN Security Council,” Sachs said.

– Xinhua 

Interview: Nord Stream bombing “dumbest” act from Washington

1 min read

American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has termed the Nord Stream bombing, which he says was done by the United States, the “dumbest” act from Washington in years, an Indian news website Firstpost reported.

Hersh reported that the United States planted the bombs on the Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic sea, which carried Russian gas to Germany, during the Baltops joint military drill in June last year, and the Nord Stream pipeline was blown apart in a series of explosions in August, the news website said.

“I think the consequences politically for us (the United States) are enormous,” Hersh was quoted in an interview as saying.

He said the long-term effect of the sabotage would be “horrific” for Europe, adding that the act “cut into the notion that they can depend totally on America, even in a crisis,” the website said.

Hersh noted that the United States always wanted to isolate Russia to prevent it from selling oil and gas to the European Union.

According to the website, Hersh feels that the United States saw energy alternatives for Europe as a “threat,” and the Biden administration feared that Europe would “walk away” from the Ukrainian crisis if it felt the need for Russian fuel carried by the pipeline, which was under sanctions.

“The fear of losing European support in the Ukraine conflict made the U.S. to take out the only option Europe had should it want to restart buying fuel from Russia,” Hersh argued.

The White House has denied Hersh’s claim as “complete nonsense” but Hersh said that his information was accurate, said the website.

The American journalist slammed the U.S. mainstream media for looking the other way on his expose. Hersh singled out the New York Times and Washington Post for refusing to “run a word” on the story and ignoring calls for an international investigation into the Nord Stream blasts, said the website.

He said that he would carry on his expose on how the United States blew up the fuel lines without considering the adverse effect it would have on Europe in the winters, the website said.


Sri Lanka: I am the common enemy – Anura Dissanayaka

1 min read

“Despite extreme political polarization in Sri Lanka, I have become the common enemy of the country’s all political fronts,” leader of the Marxist JVP, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka says in an interview with Sudewa Hettiarachchi, a well-known TV journalist, who broke the silence after two years of silence.

Describing several political and structural failures in the country, the JVP leader did not hesitate to admit the party’s responsibilities of involvement in those events with several parties including former President CBK and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“Those were mistakes, but still, I believe, certain positive achievements like ending the war are there on records,” Dissanayaka said.

“Ranil Wickremesinghe is rude, but by contrast, Sajith Premadasa is a farce,” Dissanayaka describe his main political rivals.

While talking about the major policy decisions that he is going to implement if he becomes the President, Mr Dissanayaka says that he will turn all ministerial residences and President’s palaces outside Colombo into tourist hotels.

Click here to watch the interview

South Africans Are Fighting for Crumbs: A Conversation With Trade Union Leader Irvin Jim

4 mins read

In mid-December, the African National Congress (ANC) held its national conference where South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was reelected as leader of his party, which means that he will lead the ANC into the 2024 general elections. A few delegates at the Johannesburg Expo Center in Nasrec, Gauteng—where the party conference was held—shouted at Ramaphosa asking him to resign because of a scandal called Farmgate (Ramaphosa survived a parliamentary vote against his impeachment following the scandal).

Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), told us that his country “is sitting on a tinderbox.” A series of crises are wracking South Africa presently: an unemployment crisis, an electricity crisis, and a crisis of xenophobia. The context behind the ANC national conference is stark. “The situation is brutal and harsh,” Irvin Jim said. “The social illness that people experience each day is terrible. The rate of crime has become very high. The gender-based violence experienced by women is very high. The statistics show us that basically people are fighting for crumbs.”

At the ANC conference, five of the top seven posts—from the president to treasurer general—went to Ramaphosa’s supporters. With the Ramaphosa team in place, and with Ramaphosa himself to be the presidential candidate in 2024, it is unlikely that the ANC will propose dramatic changes to its policy orientation or provide a new outlook for the country’s future to the South African people. The ANC has governed the country for almost 30 years beginning in 1994 after apartheid ended, and the party has won a commanding 62.65 percent of the total vote share since then before the 2014 general elections. In the last general election in 2019, Ramaphosa won with 57.5 percent of the vote, still ahead of any of its opponents. This grip on electoral power has created a sense of complacency in the upper ranks of the ANC. However, at the grassroots, there is anxiety. In the municipal elections of 2021, the ANC support fell below 50 percent for the first time. A national opinion poll in August 2022 showed that the ANC would get 42 percent of the vote in the 2024 elections if they were held then.

Negotiated Settlement

Irvin Jim is no stranger to the ANC. Born in South Africa’s Eastern Cape in 1968, Jim threw himself into the anti-apartheid movement as a young man. Forced by poverty to leave his education, he worked at Firestone Tire in Port Elizabeth. In 1991, Jim became a NUMSA union shop steward. As part of the communist movement and the ANC, Jim observed that the new government led by former South African President Nelson Mandela agreed to a “negotiated settlement” with the old apartheid elite. This “settlement,” Irvin Jim argued, “left intact the structure of white monopoly capital,” which included their private ownership of the country’s minerals and energy as well as finance. The South African Reserve Bank committed itself, he told us, “to protect the value of white wealth.” In the new South Africa, he said, “Africans can go to the beach. They can take their children to the school of their choice. They can choose where to live. But access to these rights is determined by their economic position in society. If you have no access to economic power, then you have none of these liberties.”

In 1996, the ANC did make changes to the economic structure, but without harming the “negotiated settlement.” The policy known as GEAR (Growth, Employment, and Redistribution) created growth for the owners of wealth, but failed to create a long-term process of employment and redistribution. Due to the ANC’s failure to address the problem of unemployment—catastrophically the unemployment rate was 63.9 percent during the first quarter of 2022 for those between the ages of 15 and 24—the social distress being faced by South Africans has further been aggravated. The ANC, Irvin Jim said, “has exposed the country to serious vulnerability.”

Solidarity Not Hate

Even if the ANC wins less than 50 percent of the vote in the next general elections, it will still be able to form a government since no other party will attract even comparable support (in the 2019 elections, the Democratic Alliance won merely 20.77 percent of the vote). Irvin Jim told us that there is a need for progressive forces in South Africa to fight and “revisit the negotiated settlement” and create a new policy outline for South Africa. The 2013 National Development Plan 2030 is a pale shadow of the kind of policy required to define South Africa’s future. “It barely talked about jobs,” Jim said. “The only jobs it talked about were window office cleaning and hairdressing. There was no drive to champion manufacturing and industrialization.”

A new program—which would revitalize the freedom agenda in South Africa—must seek “economic power alongside political power,” said Jim. This means that “there is a genuine need to take ownership and control of all the commanding heights of the economy.” South Africa’s non-energy mineral reserves are estimated to be worth $2.4 trillion to $3 trillion. The country is the world’s largest producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium, and vermiculite, as well as one of the largest producers of gold, iron ore, and uranium. How a country with so much wealth can be so poor is answered by the lack of public control South Africa has over its metals and minerals. “South Africa needs to take public ownership of these minerals and metals, develop the processing of these through industrialization, and provide the benefits to the marginalized, landless, and dispossessed South Africans, most of whom are Black,” said Jim.

No program like this will be taken seriously if the working class and the urban poor remain fragmented and powerless. Jim told us that his union—NUMSA—is working with others to link “shop floor struggles with community struggles,” the “employed with the unemployed,” and are building an atmosphere of “solidarity rather than the spirit of hate.” The answers for South Africa will have to come from these struggles, says the veteran trade union leader. “The people,” he said, “have to lead the leaders.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Exclusive: Champika ready to join President Wickremesinghe

2 mins read

Former Cabinet Minister who served in several ministries, including Power and Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka, in an exclusive interview with Sri Lanka Guardian, confirmed that he is optimistic about joining President Wickremesinghe when the President accepts the proposal he made on political and economic restructuration.

“This is not the time to play dirty politics but to find ways to be part of a collective effort to overcome the gravest crisis the country has faced,” Mr Ranawaka told.

Time to release all the ex-LTTE members who are currently in jail

Champika Ranawaka MP

He says, that President Wickremesinghe will try his best to bring the country’s situation back to normal despite the many hereditary weaknesses that have affected his political power. But, unfortunately, some political parties created a hostile situation for him. Therefore, the former minister proposed the formation of an all-party government, which was talked about by many, to revamp the country’s degraded governance system.

While talking about his new political initiative, the 43 Brigade, he says that there is a significant number of Tamils and Muslims have rallied around it and now the movement is penetrating into the grassroots.

While responding to the government’s idea of establishing the South African Model Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the former Minister says that could be an unnecessary opening up to reemerge adverse elements who acted against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.

“In post-conflict time, what we as the country have done is domestically exceptional. Thousands of former LTTE cadres were rehabilitated and empowered them. But no one in the so-called “Tamil Diaspora” or international community recognized them as they were leading by ulterior motives,” he observed while proposing the immediate release of all imprisoned former LTTE members.

“Let us forgive and move forward together. It is time to release all the ex-LTTE members who are currently in jail and give them proper guidance to lead a meaningful life,” he suggested”, he suggested.

Meanwhile, talking about the economic calamity the country is currently facing, the former minister reaffirmed that “those who are responsible should be held accountable and prosecuted. They are the real criminals.”

When we asked about the Indo-Sri Lanka relationship, the former minister expressed his concern about the weak strategy in our foreign policy-making and did not forget to express his gratitude for India’s support.

China and Japan are the most important friends who can help us restructure the debt and secure our banking system

Champika Ranawaka MP

“It is sad to see that India’s much-vaunted foreign policy is now being run by a group of businessmen and thereby bringing adverse consequences. However, India was part of QUAD to prove that they stand with the West, but when the Ukraine-Russia war broke out, India took a strategic path to increase trade with Russia. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s how diplomacy works. But India should allow other countries to do the same. They cannot force us to sign off on the project without competitive bidding just because they offered aid during hard times,” he suggested.

Meanwhile, presenting his views on Sino-Sri Lankan relations, he did not hesitate to rebuff fabricated theories such as “China’s debt trap diplomacy” and said that China is Sri Lanka’s inseparable partner in overcoming the current economic quagmire.

“China and Japan are the most important friends who can help us restructure the debt and secure our banking system before we end up like Libya,” says the former minister. “China and Japan can salvage us, it’s time for us to convince them and I hope they will help us,” he said.

In response, when we asked him if he has ambitions to lead the country in the future, the former minister outlined his plan to rejuvenate the nation based on meritocracy and the introduction of a strong anti-corruption mechanism. “As a pragmatist, I believe the political context will determine my course. The next presidential election is the biggest turning point in our history and we will seize that opportunity,” he said with confidence.

Our Foreign Policy: Friendship to all; Enmity to None

25 mins read

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. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

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. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

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.  

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

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. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry while talking to Sri Lanka Guardian at his residence in Colombo [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne/ Sri Lanka Guardian]

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.

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