Sri Lanka Guardian Essays

The Poverty Terminator: Xi Jinping’s Impact on China’s Economic and Social Development

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About five months after his election as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, Xi Jinping won his third term as Chinese president at the annual session of the national legislature, which concluded on Monday.

At the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC), Xi was also elected chairman of the country’s Central Military Commission. Assuming the top posts in the Party, the state, and the armed forces, Xi is leading the country with 1.4 billion people on a new journey to modernization.

Wrapping up the session, Xi delivered a closely-watched speech to a gathering of nearly 3,000 lawmakers. “The people’s trust is my biggest motivation moving forward and is also a weighty responsibility on my shoulders,” Xi said.

Xi announced that the central task of the entire Party and all Chinese people, from this day forward to the middle of the century, is to build China into a great modern socialist country in all respects and advance national rejuvenation on all fronts.

“The relay baton has been passed on to our generation,” he said.

A decade ago, when Xi was first elected Chinese president, he expounded on the “Chinese Dream,” saying the dream is about making the country prosperous and strong, rejuvenating the nation and delivering a happy life to its people.

Modernizing China has been a persistent pursuit of the Chinese since the Opium Wars. Over the course of a century, generations of the Chinese, led by the CPC, have charted a distinctively Chinese path toward that goal.

Born in 1953, Xi started his political career as the Party chief in a small village in northwest China. From there, over the past half century, Xi worked his way up through almost every level of the Party’s hierarchy. He has amassed extensive experience and made noteworthy accomplishments throughout his career.

Xi was first elected to the Party’s top post in late 2012. For the first time, the position was held by a person born after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Since then, he has taken the nation on an ambitious path of revival, according to international media reports. Xi has a clear vision for China, to see it as a powerful country in the world, the reports said.


In 1969, Xi left Beijing for a small village on the Loess Plateau to live as a farmer, sharing the same fate as millions of youths who came of age during the Cultural Revolution.

For someone like Xi who grew up in Beijing, life in the countryside was extremely difficult at the beginning. Villagers often went without meat for several months. Despite the hardships, Xi looked back on this experience as the time when he truly understood the struggles of the common people and society.

This unique experience fueled Xi’s determination to always do something for the betterment of the people.

While many of his college peers opted to go abroad, Xi applied to work in a poor county called Zhengding in Hebei Province in the early 1980s.

In 2012, soon after taking office as the general secretary, Xi visited poor rural families in Hebei. In Gu Chenghu’s home, Xi sat on a heated brick bed and chatted with him.

“I have come here to check your living conditions and see what the Party’s leadership can do more for you and people like you,” Xi said.

He held up Gu’s sleeve and showed it to the officials around him, saying, “Look, his coat is worn out.”

At the time, there were around 100 million rural Chinese living under the poverty line of earning an annual income of 2,300 yuan (about 366 U.S. dollars).

In less than a year, Xi put forward the “targeted poverty alleviation” strategy, and over the span of about eight years sent 255,000 work teams and 3 million cadres to villages, providing one-on-one assistance to impoverished farmers.

Xi himself conducted over 50 inspections and research studies on poverty alleviation, which included visits to all 14 regions with high concentrations of extreme poverty.

On Feb. 25, 2021, Xi announced that absolute poverty had been eliminated in China.

China’s poverty reduction rate has been notably faster than the global average, making it the country with the largest number of people lifted out of poverty worldwide.

“If not for Xi’s personal push, poverty reduction would have been even more difficult and taken longer,” said Zeng Shoufu, who once worked as a village poverty alleviation cadre in Fujian Province.

Another challenge was corruption. Upon taking the Party’s top office in late 2012, Xi cautioned that “if corruption is allowed to spread, it will eventually lead to the collapse of the Party and the fall of the state.”

Less than a month into the job, he fired the first shot in his war against corruption. Over the course of ten years, high-ranking “tigers,” including a former member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, were taken down.

Over 500 centrally-administered officials, most of whom were at or above the ministerial level, were investigated. Crooked officials who fled overseas were brought back through anti-corruption operations initiated by Xi.

In 2018, he announced that an “overwhelming victory” against corruption had been achieved. But the campaign did not end there. After the 20th CPC National Congress, another nearly 20 senior officials were investigated or punished for corruption.

Early this year, at the plenary session of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the top graft-busting agency, Xi urged a crackdown on corruption that involves both political and economic issues. He emphasized the need to prevent leading cadres from becoming spokespersons or agents of interest groups and power cliques.

The success of poverty alleviation and anti-corruption has won Xi popular support, but this is not the only reason he was unanimously elected into the top office of the Party and the state. In the past decade, many long-standing problems in the country were solved under his leadership.

China has steadily developed and become stronger overall, with an average annual economic growth of 6.2 percent over the past decade. It was more than twice the global average. Per capita GDP has doubled to over 12,000 U.S. dollars.

China’s share of the world economy has increased from 11.3 percent in 2012 to 18.5 percent at present. The output of grain has consistently been abundant.

In the past, China’s manufacturing industry was often referred to as “big but not strong.” It took a billion pairs of socks to buy a Boeing plane, some said. Today, China has developed its own large passenger aircraft, and technological advancement contributes over 60 percent to the country’s economic growth.

China’s digital economy is the second-largest in the world, and its new energy vehicle production and sales have ranked first for eight consecutive years.

Shan Zenghai, a technician at the construction machinery manufacturer XCMG, recalled how in 2017, Xi toured the company’s workshop and mounted an all-terrain crane.

“He gave us great encouragement, saying that the real economy should never be sidelined,” Shan said. “He also said the Chinese economy must transition from high-speed growth to high-quality development.”

During a deliberation meeting at this year’s NPC session, Shan sat down with Xi again and informed him that all the components of the crane that Xi once mounted are now manufactured in China.

“Are the chips in your company’s cranes domestically made?” Xi asked.

“Yes. All are made in China,” Shan replied.

In the past ten years, while eliminating absolute poverty, China has built the world’s largest education, social security, and medical and health care systems. China is adopting measures to provide more accessible and continuous medical and healthcare services to farmers. The life expectancy of the average Chinese increased to 78.2 years in 2021, nearly 2 years higher than that of the average American in that year.

Without Xi, China’s ecological environment protection would not have attained historic improvements, observers said. The average concentration of small particles, PM2.5, in the air has decreased for nine consecutive years in major cities, with a cumulative reduction of 57 percent. The once-common occurrence of smog enveloping the skies of northern China has now become rare.

Xi pushed for green development as he tackled pollution across the board. He announced that China aims to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. He also pushed for the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Also thanks to his efforts, China was among the first to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — the world’s largest free trade agreement — and has expanded its free trade pilot zones from one to 21. The entire island of Hainan was turned into a free trade port.

Xi is a strong advocate of the spirit of self-reliance and self-improvement. He emphasized the need to enhance the confidence and pride of being Chinese, and the importance of promoting China’s excellent traditional culture, stating that blindly following others is not the way forward.

“Are not Hollywood’s films like ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and ‘Mulan’ based on our cultural resources?” he said.

Xi’s reform measures have achieved “historical changes, systematic reshaping, and overall reconstruction” in many fields, ranging from the economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological protection systems, to national defense and the Party’s own institutions.

He made the decision to enshrine the statement of “allowing the market to play a decisive role in resource allocation and letting the government play a better role” into the Party’s documents, and led the establishment of the National Commission of Supervision, a powerful anti-corruption agency to oversee every single person in public office.

In late 2012, Xi initiated the eight-point decision on improving conduct. This is regarded as a lasting institutional solution to malaise such as squandering, indulging in pleasure, and extravagance. Through this move, Xi succeeded in curbing practices previously deemed uncontrollable.

In other aspects of institutional development, Xi oversaw the reform of the talent system to enable researchers at the forefront of science to benefit from their intellectual property rights.

A milestone CPC resolution adopted in 2021 states that the Party has affirmed Xi’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole, and affirmed the guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

This, according to the resolution, reflects the common will of the Party, the armed forces, and Chinese people of all ethnic groups, and is of decisive significance for advancing the cause of the Party and the country in the new era and for driving forward the historical process of national rejuvenation.

Xi considers the affirmation of his core status to be a weighty responsibility. In his words: “To honor the trust of the Party and the people, I will dedicate myself to the utmost and be willing to endure any hardship without hesitation.”

Party theorists say Xi’s sustained leadership in the Party and state apparatus provides direction, stability, and continuity for China’s development. They said this is conducive to strengthening the Party’s overall leadership and is an important manifestation of the political and institutional advantages of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Lu Man, who is an NPC deputy and head of an agricultural cooperative in Jiangsu Province, said the unanimous vote electing Xi as the Chinese president is a major outcome of this year’s “two sessions.” Lu added that the result is what people have been hoping for and is required to advance the Party and the state’s causes.

From the 20th CPC National Congress to this year’s “two sessions,” a new cohort of officials have assumed positions of governance, including members and alternate members of the Party Central Committee, ministers and provincial-level Party chiefs. Xi urged them to strive diligently and avoid letting down the expectations of the people.

According to Party insiders familiar with the matter, these new leading officials “share some common traits,” including their strong abilities in terms of political judgment, comprehension, and execution.

In the meantime, the military has also completed its leadership transition, with a new Central Military Commission team and a new defense minister.

In early November, Xi visited the military’s joint operations command center and called for “comprehensively strengthening military training and preparedness.” He emphasized multiple times “the absolute leadership of the Party over the people’s military.”

According to Xi, the Party’s leadership defines the fundamental nature of Chinese modernization.

Given the immense size of the Party and the country, it is impossible to achieve anything without the authority of the CPC Central Committee and its centralized and unified leadership, as well as the conformity of the nation, Xi said.

“General Secretary Xi has the charisma to unify the whole Party. He is our backbone as the nation charges ahead on the new journey toward modernization,” said Cai Hongxing, president of Yanbian University, who is also an NPC deputy.


The NPC is considered a major platform to turn the Party’s propositions into the will of the nation. This means that grand strategies for Chinese modernization, laid out at the 20th Party congress, are being translated into concrete plans at the “two sessions.”

In 1979, late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping introduced the term “Chinese modernization” at the beginning of the reform and opening-up as a reference to Xiaokang, or a well-off society. After achieving this goal, the CPC proposed the goal of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

Based on media reports, Xi first used the term “Chinese modernization” in a public speech in December 2015 while leading efforts to formulate a development blueprint aimed at propelling the nation toward a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

Six years later, during the centennial celebration of the CPC, Xi declared that this objective had been achieved.

Xi has continued to refine the strategic deployment of Chinese modernization, moving from building a moderately prosperous society in all respects to embarking on a new modernization journey.

At the 19th CPC National Congress, he established a “timetable” for achieving modernization, and at the 20th Party congress, five years later, he presented a “roadmap” to realize this goal.

Xi summarized five major features of Chinese modernization: a huge population, common prosperity for all, coordination of material and cultural-ethical advancement, harmony between humanity and nature, and peaceful development. This sketch of Chinese modernization is now even more precise, well-conceived, and feasible.

“He has given a lot of thought to modernization and put it into action. Throughout his career, he has worked from inland to coastal regions and from local to central levels. No matter where he worked, Xi was an active reformer and broke new ground in advancing modernization,” said David Ferguson, who edited four volumes of the English version of “Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.”

The objectives for 2023 are to do solid groundwork for building a modern socialist country. The five years starting from 2023 is deemed a crucial phase.

The national legislature has approved the government’s growth target of around 5 percent for 2023, which is two percentage points higher than the actual growth last year. This means China’s economic growth in a single year is equivalent to the GDP of a mid-sized developed European country.

But China has 1.4 billion people, lowering the country’s development ranking in terms of per capita figures. Explaining the 5-percent growth target, Xi said if China will lift per capita GDP to that of a mid-level developed country by 2035, it is imperative to maintain reasonable growth on the basis of improving quality and efficiency. And China has the capacity to do so.

“High-quality development is the primary task of building a modern socialist country,” he said.

Almost all 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities on the Chinese mainland had set higher growth targets. Shanghai has set its target at 5.5 percent, while Xinjiang and Tibet have set their targets at around 7 percent and over 8 percent, respectively.

Wang Xiangming, a researcher at the Renmin University of China, said a notable change in Chinese society after the 20th Party congress is that people have a stronger sense of developing the economy. “Without a solid material foundation, it is impossible to achieve socialist modernization.”

A major change is a shift in COVID-19 response. Over the past three years, China’s rigorous response measures have effectively protected the lives and health of the people. Last November, Xi presided over a Party leadership meeting to adjust COVID-19 response measures. Three months later, it was declared that China had emerged victorious from the pandemic.

Kristalina Georgieva, head of the International Monetary Fund, said China’s optimization of its COVID-19 policy will likely be the single most important factor for global growth in 2023.

Xi made his first out-of-town trip after the 20th Party congress to the countryside. He visited a fruit orchard in Nangou, Shaanxi Province and candidly asked fruit farmers how much they could earn in a day, what their incomes were like, and how their families were doing.

“What are the techniques for picking apples?” he asked, and picked a big red apple himself as farmer Zhao Yongdong demonstrated.

Outside an apple sorting workshop in the village, people gathered around Xi. “His top concern is the livelihoods of the people,” said Zhang Guanghong, a village cadre.

Before the Spring Festival, Xi spoke with cadres and people from across the country via video calls. He asked a cadre from a Qiang ethnic minority village in Sichuan Province about the number of tourists and their income. After Xi learned that the per capita income of the whole village exceeded 40,000 yuan last year, he exclaimed “Not bad!”

Wei Zhuo, a tourist, told Xi about her experience in the village. In particular, she said, the local Sichuan-style cured pork was delicious. “The general secretary asked me to eat more,” Wei said. “I feel that he cares a lot about rural development and boosting the income of the common people.”

Xi told the accompanying cadres that “the most arduous and demanding task of building a modern socialist country still lies in the countryside.” At the Central Rural Work Conference in late 2022, he said to strengthen the country, agriculture must be strong first, emphasizing that ensuring a stable and safe supply of grain and important agricultural products is always the top priority.

Seeking truth from facts is a tenet much cherished by Chinese Communists. Xi himself has set a good example. Over the past decade, he has made over 100 inspection trips to the grassroots level to obtain first-hand experience on the ground.

One time, he left Beijing early in the morning and arrived in a mountainous region in southwest China’s Chongqing in the evening. Sitting in the courtyard with the locals, he said, “I took a plane, a train, and a car, switching between three modes of transportation just to get here to meet you and hear what you have to say to us.”

Another time, at a group discussion of the “two sessions,” Xi said, “You officials cannot fool me. I come from a poverty-stricken area, and I know what it’s like.”

The “new development philosophy,” introduced by Xi in 2015, prioritizes innovation, coordination, green development, openness, and sharing. It is expected to guide China’s modernization drive.

Sci-tech innovation is a priority. Xi has urged the acceleration of the pace of self-reliance and self-strengthening in this regard.

Zhang Jin, an NPC deputy and president of robotic company Xinsong, recalled Xi’s visit to the company a few months ago.

“In the workshop, he almost stopped at every step and asked questions all the way, showing a strong interest, especially in the company’s self-developed products such as mobile robots used in automobile assembly production lines and robotic arms in the chip-manufacturing industry,” Zhang said.

During a conversation with young engineers, Xi stressed that independent innovation is crucial for a country’s transition to a manufacturing powerhouse. He raised the question of whether there are still lots of technical challenges that need to be addressed urgently, and stated that it is imperative to promote scientific and technological self-strengthening to resolve “bottleneck issues,” some of which are caused by Western technological blockade.

Xi repeatedly emphasized that reform must adhere to the direction of the socialist market economy. In January, he sent a vice premier to the Davos World Economic Forum annual meeting where the official announced that China will never go back to pursuing a planned economy.

In February, a major reform involving the entire capital market was introduced, promoting a registration-based system for the entire market and various public issuance of stocks, which is beneficial for better allocation of resources according to market mechanisms.

At the same time, Xi deployed measures to prevent systemic risks in finance, real estate, and local government debt.

He emphasized on different occasions that, on one hand, China must deepen the reform of state-owned assets and enterprises, and on the other hand, it should continue to improve the business environment for the private sector.

At this year’s “two sessions,” Xi told private entrepreneurs that the Party “has always regarded private enterprises and private entrepreneurs as its own people” and encouraged them to let go of their concerns and burdens, and boldly pursue their development.

“I have always supported private enterprises,” said Xi, who has worked for more than 20 years in the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, both known for the vibrant private sector.

Chinese private enterprises have continued to grow. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in 2012, non-public enterprises accounted for only about 10 percent of the total market value of China’s top 100 listed companies. However, by the end of 2022, this proportion had risen to over 40 percent.

Xi said he plans to roll out a new round of overall reform measures this year. High-level opening-up will also be accelerated, including actively promoting the accession to high-standard economic and trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Digital Economic Partnership Agreement.

In 2021, China’s overall tariff level was reduced to 7.4 percent, lower than the WTO commitment of 9.8 percent. The country plans to further drop tariff rates for 62 information technology products, and the overall tariff level will be lowered by another 0.1 percentage point.

There are visible signs that the economic recovery is gaining momentum. In February, China’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) reached 52.6 percent, a new high in nearly 11 years. The economy is expected to stabilize and rebound in the first quarter, and foreign investment expectations remain positive.

The Canton Fair plans to increase its exhibition booths to nearly 70,000 this year. The China International Import Expo, the China International Fair for Trade in Services, and the China International Consumer Products Expo, all of which are strongly backed by Xi, are expected to see an expansion in their scales.

From building a socialist new countryside to building a beautiful China, from artistic creation to cultural-ethical advancement, Xi has made new arrangements covering all important areas.

Xi emphasized that achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation requires the complete reunification of the motherland, which is both necessary and achievable, and he has formulated a general strategy to resolve the Taiwan question.

Xi Jinping casts his ballot at a polling station to elect deputies to the Xicheng district people’s congress in Huairentang, Zhongnanhai electoral district in Xicheng District of Beijing, China, Nov. 5, 2021. (Xinhua/Ju Peng)

In his speech delivered before the conclusion of this year’s “two sessions,” Xi said external interference and separatist activities seeking “Taiwan independence” must be resolutely opposed, stressing firmly advancing the national reunification process.

“Xi is an idealist and a pragmatic person. He is sober, practical, decisive, has a broad vision and a systemic view,” said a cadre who had worked with him in Zhejiang Province in the early 2000s. “He is good at turning crises into opportunities, and can see a blueprint through to the end.”


Xi is not just for the people but of them.

When he labored alongside rural farmers, he learned to grit his teeth while hauling manure and ignored the constant hunger pangs as he worked the land. These formative years taught him the true value of these often overlooked members of society, leaving him with a natural ability to connect and listen to ordinary people to help resolve their problems.

He may have left the fields decades ago, but even as general secretary, he has not forgotten those that toil there nor those that man the country’s backbone industries, from workshops to markets. He has remained committed to maintaining a public-facing presence through personal visits or correspondence.

During one visit to a Beijing hutong, the capital’s distinctive residential lanes, Xi rolled up his sleeves to make dumplings with one family, and the conversation flowed. Before he left, Xi confided that he draws strength from such interactions.

In spite of his busy schedule, Xi has consistently prioritized people’s happiness as essential. On more than one occasion, he said, “Development should benefit all individuals more equitably and comprehensively, and continually promote the all-round development of people.”

At the start of the year, Xi was unanimously voted in as a deputy to the 14th NPC through a competitive election in Jiangsu. He was just one of over 2,900 deputies elected nationwide, representing the country’s dynamic socio-economic diversity, from workers to farmers, technical professionals to migrant workers.

On March 5, Xi joined his fellow deputies from the Jiangsu Province delegation at the NPC session to deliberate the government work report and discuss state affairs.

The Jiangsu deliberation was not the only meeting Xi attended at this year’s “two sessions,” nor was it the only time he has interacted with lawmakers and political advisors.

From 2013 to 2022, Xi attended 53 deliberations and discussion sessions, speaking directly to about 400 lawmakers and political advisors. From asking about the marriage rate of an underprivileged central Chinese village to pressing for details of the winter tourism industry in the northeastern province of Jilin, his questions are always poignant and relevant.

People familiar with Chinese politics view such interactions as a manifestation of Chinese democracy. Accordingly, it is no surprise that Xi has gained a reputation for supporting public empowerment in their own affairs and encouraging their participation in political affairs.

“China is a big country. It is only natural for different people to have different concerns or views on the same issue. What matters is that we reach consensus through communication and consultation,” Xi said in his New Year Address 2023.

In June 2022, China completed the election for the county and township-level people’s congresses. The election involved 1.064 billion voters. It was one of the world’s largest grassroots democratic elections.

The people’s congress is the backbone of China’s political system, and NPC deputies are responsible for a wide range of duties, including formulating laws, supervising the government and judicial organs, and electing national leaders.

Each of the country’s 55 ethnic minorities is represented in the national legislature. Dong Caiyun is a member of the Bao’an ethnic group, which has a population of only about 20,000.

At the “two sessions” in 2019, she proposed a new expressway that would boost the development of her county in Gansu Province, northwest China. Other deputies lauded her proposal, and Xi, who was present at the meeting, responded by asking the relevant departments to study the proposal.

After rounds of research and feasibility studies, construction began. It is due for completion this year.

“This road represents the aspirations of the people in my hometown for a modern life,” said Dong.

Quan Taiqi, who works at a bus station in Lianyungang, Jiangsu, has just completed her second term as a deputy to the national legislature. She voted for Xi to be the Chinese president five years ago.

“I endorsed him [as president] because I believe he is a trustworthy leader who truly cares for the people,” she said.

She recalled that Xi was present during a deliberation years ago when she raised an issue about ticket-free child passengers on buses, who might cause over-sale of tickets. Xi immediately spoke up, taking Quan by surprise, as she thought the topic was too specific and menial for a state leader. Xi not only spoke up, but also asked about the practice on trains for reference. After the meeting, a review of the issue quickly began, culminating in a practical plan.

“When Xi spoke to us grassroots deputies, he was not condescending. He quizzed us, ‘Is it like this?’ ‘Is this good or not?'” Quan recalled.

During the “two sessions” in 2021, Quan met Xi again. She went up to him and brought up their previous interaction. However, the corridor was crowded, but as he left, Xi said, “Let’s talk about it later.” Quan thought that would be the end of their conversation, but around 11 p.m. that night, she received a call from Xi’s team, asking if she had any suggestions or problems to raise.

Xi believes that democracy is a requirement for modern countries, but it must be in line with national conditions, and Chinese democracy should by no means be the same as Western-style democracy. He describes Chinese democracy as a “whole-process people’s democracy,” which covers all aspects of the democratic process and all sectors of society.

“The purpose of democracy is to address the issues that require resolution by the people,” he said.

Challenges to the system are not tolerated.

According to one witness, during a plenary session of the anti-corruption agency in 2014, Xi discussed at length a vote-buying case in the election of local lawmakers in Hunan. Visibly angered, Xi fired a barrage of questions: Where have the Party members gone? Where are their notions of Party discipline and law? Where is their conscience?

Afterward, Xi referred to this case on at least two other occasions. Eventually, 467 people were held accountable.

The Chinese practice of modernization has often been viewed by observers as difficult, especially given China’s massive scale — unprecedented since the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Xi has stated that even feeding over 1.4 billion people is a significant challenge. Issues such as employment, distribution, education, healthcare, housing, elderly care, and childcare should not be underestimated, especially given the size of the population.

According to Xi, advancing Chinese modernization requires a new journey of law-based governance. The issue of the rule of law versus the rule of man is a fundamental question and major issue that all countries must address in the process of modernization, Xi said.

In a signed article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the current Constitution’s promulgation and implementation, Xi emphasized the Constitution’s role in constructing a modern socialist country and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

On Monday, Xi and other NPC deputies voted to amend the Legislation Law, adding content to promote the implementation of the Constitution. In 2018, Xi was the first Chinese president to pledge allegiance to the Constitution. Last week, after being elected, Xi took the oath again, followed by members of his governance team.


In the second half of last year, Xi returned to “offline” diplomatic activities after the “cloud diplomacy” that characterized the two and a half years of the pandemic.

Over the past four months alone, Xi attended the G20 Summit in Bali, the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok, and the first China-Arab States Summit and the China-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh.

On the sidelines of the multilateral events, Xi also held bilateral meetings with leaders from dozens of countries, including France, the Netherlands, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq.

At home, Xi hosted many foreign leaders and dignitaries in Beijing after the Party congress. The guests included leaders from Vietnam, Pakistan, Tanzania, Germany, Cuba, Mongolia, Laos, Russia, the Philippines, Iran, and Belarus. For some, this marked their first visit to China, while others were “old friends.”

Over the past decade, Xi has clearly conveyed that China will create new opportunities through development and add more stability and certainty to such a volatile world.

“As it develops, China will make greater contributions to the common prosperity of the world,” Xi said.

During his meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Riyadh in December, Xi mentioned the FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar, saying that the event injected fresh and positive energy into today’s uncertain world. Tamim thanked China for its contributions to the World Cup, noting that Chinese companies built the main stadium, and the arrival of two pandas added to the festive atmosphere of the tournament.

The stadium Tamim mentioned is Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, which hosted the final game of the World Cup between Argentina and France. It is regarded by many as an iconic achievement of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI, proposed by Xi in 2013, also helped Indonesia build its first high-speed railway. After the G20 Summit in Bali, Xi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo watched the operational trial of the Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway through a video link. The railway, jointly built by the two countries, is expected to facilitate the move of goods and people and boost local incomes.

To date, 151 countries and 32 international organizations have signed documents under the Belt and Road framework, benefiting participating countries.

The Port of Piraeus of Greece has developed into one of the fastest-growing container ports in the world since a Chinese company joined its operation.

Another important proposal Xi raised in 2013 was the community with a shared future for humanity. It has been enshrined in both the Party and the country’s constitutions and incorporated into important documents of the United Nations and other international organizations or multilateral mechanisms.

Xi told the G20 summit that all countries must embrace the vision of a community with a shared future for humanity and advocate peace, development, and win-win cooperation.

“All countries should replace division with unity, confrontation with cooperation, and exclusion with inclusiveness,” Xi said in the speech.

He also solemnly promised the world, “No matter what stage of development it reaches, China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansionism.”

He believes that as long as major countries maintain communication and treat each other sincerely, the “Thucydides trap” can be avoided.

China has shown the world that a country can develop and progress without engaging in expansionism, and can help other countries develop simultaneously, said Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a signed article published before he visited China in February.

In response to Xi’s initiative, Saudi Arabia and Iran delegations held talks earlier this month in Beijing. The two countries have reached an agreement to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies and missions within two months.

One of Xi’s most high-profile diplomatic meetings in the past months was his first face-to-face meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden since the latter assumed the presidency. During the over-three-hour talk in Bali on Nov. 14, Xi told Biden that China-U.S. relations should not be a zero-sum game where one side out-competes or thrives at the expense of the other, and the successes of China and the United States are opportunities, not challenges, for each other.

“China does not seek to change the existing international order or interfere in the internal affairs of the United States and has no intention to challenge or displace the United States,” Xi said.

Biden said the United States respects China’s system and does not seek to change it. The United States does not seek a new Cold War and does not seek to revitalize alliances against China, he said. Biden also said that the United States does not support “Taiwan independence,” does not support “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan,” and has no intention to engage in conflict with China.

In his meetings with European leaders, Xi stressed that regarding the Ukraine crisis, China supports ceasefire, cessation of the conflict, and peace talks.

In February, China issued a 12-point peace plan on the Ukraine crisis, stating that all countries’ sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity must be effectively upheld, and universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, must be strictly observed. “Nuclear weapons must not be used, and nuclear wars must not be fought,” said the policy paper.

Xi is a leader who provides vision and plans for promoting the solution of major problems facing humanity, said Keith Bennett, a long-term China specialist and vice chair of Britain’s 48 Group Club.


When Xi delivered his 2023 New Year Address, people noticed the tomes on the bookshelf behind him in his office, among them, A General History of China, Complete Poems of the Tang Dynasty, Global History, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Having called reading his favorite hobby, Xi is known to draw wisdom from the written word to govern the country.

After the Party congress, Xi headed to Henan Province, central China, and visited the Yinxu Ruins. The 3,300-year-old site was the capital of the late Shang (Yin) Dynasty, the first ruins confirmed from this period. Walking slowly into the Yinxu Museum, Xi thoughtfully took in the exhibits, spanning bronze ware, jade ware, oracle bone inscriptions, and other relics.

“I have wanted to visit here for so long,” Xi said. “I come here thirsty for a deeper understanding of Chinese civilization so that we can make the past serve the present and draw inspirations for better building modern Chinese civilization.”

With a long and continuous history, Chinese civilization shaped our great nation, and this nation will continue to be great, Xi added, urging efforts to promote traditional culture, which according to the leader, is the “root” of the Party’s new theories.

Xi proposed combining the basic principles of Marxism with traditional culture, believing that only when a country’s modernization is rooted in the fertile soil of its history and culture can it flourish and endure.

In 2014, Xi said he was reluctant to see Chinese classic poems and essays removed from the textbooks when visiting Beijing Normal University. In November 2013, he visited Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, and the following year, he addressed an international commemoration of the ancient Chinese philosopher. In 2021, when he visited a park dedicated to Zhu Xi in east China’s Fujian Province, Xi stopped for a long time in front of the words of the renowned Chinese Confucian philosopher in the 12th century. Zhu famously said that a nation is based on its people, and society is also established for the benefit of its people. Xi, in an earlier group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, had quoted Zhu’s words, stressing that no political consideration is more important than the people.

Xi has repeatedly lamented the humiliation and defeat suffered by the Chinese nation, despite its place at the forefront of the world over the past 5,000 years.

In particular, he felt that China’s modernization had achieved significant results “at great cost and with great hardships.” He stressed China, therefore, should blaze its own trail toward modernization. Experts believe that Chinese modernization, which offers a new form of human advancement, dispels the myth that “modernization is equal to Westernization.” Xi said efforts must be made to achieve higher efficiency than capitalism while maintaining fairness in society more effectively.

According to Zheng Yongnian, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen), Chinese modernization is a way to deal with the problems all countries face. Above all, the source of its vitality is mainly sustainable economic development, he said.

British scholar Martin Jacques believes that if China can successfully address inequality in the way it has conquered absolute poverty, such fairer and more inclusive modernity will have an enormous global impact.

Xi is proud and confident of the achievements and prospects of the modernization drive. He once said, “China has been able to look the world in the eye,” referring to the country’s rise in strength. This, however, does not mean the pursuit of unilateral dominance, still less a clash of civilizations. He cited the famous “sleeping lion” metaphor for China and noted, “Today, the lion has woken up. But it is peaceful, pleasant, and civilized.”

He has underscored that China will not follow in the footsteps of certain countries that achieved modernization through war, colonization and plunder, and that China upholds peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit, which is determined by the Chinese system and culture.

A phrase containing “promote humanity’s shared values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom” was written into the Party Constitution last year.

Xi also modestly proposed that socialism in the primary stage must conscientiously study and draw on the beneficial achievements of civilization created by capitalism. “The cause of promoting Chinese modernization, which is an unprecedented and pioneering venture, will inevitably encounter all kinds of risks, challenges, difficulties, and even dangerous storms, some of which we can foresee and others we cannot,” Xi said. “Let us harness our indomitable fighting spirit to open new horizons for our cause.”

“Those who work will succeed, and those who walk will arrive at their destination. A person of action will leave a good name in history,” he said.

(by Xinhua writers Wang Jinye, Meng Na, Li Zhihui, Xu Lingui, Gui Tao, Zhang Bowen, Yao Yulin)

Sri Lanka: Storytelling as a Tool for Healing and Empowerment

9 mins read


by Our Cultural Affairs Editor

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American Proverb

A residential workshop held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, brought together participants to explore the significance of real-life story writing in the local context, where the goals of reconciliation and economic growth are intertwined. Organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and supported by civil society organizations, the workshop emphasized the power of storytelling in building social identity and empowering communities. Overall, the event served as a platform to highlight the importance of this creative medium for promoting positive change in Sri Lanka.

According to Chitra Jayathilake, a professor at Department of English and Linguistics, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, storytelling is a natural human activity and a primary form of expression. “Storytelling is in our blood,” says Robert Atkinson. People live surrounded by their stories and the stories of others. They see everything that happens to them through these stories and try to live their lives as if they were recounting them. The essential understanding laying on every human action, be it internal or external, is dialogue.

Resource persons: During the residential training for real-life story writing [ Photo Credit: Sri Lanka College of Journalism]

In storytelling, the convincing power of a story is not from its verifiability but from its verisimilitude. Stories will be true enough if they ring true, as Amsterdam and Bruner noted in their work. Storytelling has become more popular and useful than quantitative academic researches because it allows people to engage and empower themselves in building social identity through narrative turns.

During the workshop, participants engaged with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s influential essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Using deconstructionist approaches, Spivak’s work examines how global capitalism and the international division of labour shape our understanding of the world. In her essay, she aims to disrupt binary distinctions between subject and object, self and other, and center and margin, particularly as they relate to the divisions between the West and the non-West. By illuminating the intersection of factors like class, caste, religion, and nationality, Spivak highlights the deep-seated polarization that characterizes many parts of the world today.

M J R David, a noted journalist, who is the director of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, emphasized the value of storytelling as a means of gaining deeper insight into ourselves and the world around us. As he explained, our lives are a collection of stories that reveal hidden truths and complexities beneath the surface. By neglecting these narratives, we risk overlooking important social, cultural, and personal realities. Only by acknowledging and engaging with these stories can we hope to create a more just and equitable future for ourselves and others.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that has been used for centuries to communicate ideas, beliefs, and values. It allows people to connect with each other on a deeper level and share their experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Through storytelling, people can learn from each other, empathize with others, and gain a better understanding of different perspectives.

From the Ancient Greeks to Contemporary Society

Storytelling has played a pivotal role in shaping historical narratives and interpreting events. From the ancient Greeks to contemporary society, stories have been used to pass on knowledge, create a sense of identity, and provide a platform for debate and discussion. In the United States, the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement was told through the stories of people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and others who fought for justice and equality. Their stories continue to inspire and educate people today.

During the workshop, a new publication on female biographies in Sri Lankan history was also launched. [ Photo Credit: Sri Lanka College of Journalism]

Similarly, in South Africa, storytelling was an essential tool in overcoming apartheid and promoting reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1995, used storytelling as a means of healing and rebuilding a fractured society. Victims and perpetrators alike were given the opportunity to share their stories in a public forum, allowing the truth to be exposed and the wounds of the past to begin to heal.

Ubuntu is a Zulu word that refers to the interconnectedness of all things and the idea that an individual’s well-being is tied to the well-being of the community. It emphasizes the importance of empathy, compassion, and forgiveness, and it was a guiding principle for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

During the Commission’s hearings, victims and perpetrators were given the opportunity to share their stories in a public forum. The process was designed not only to uncover the truth about past injustices but also to promote healing and reconciliation. By telling their stories, both victims and perpetrators were able to humanize each other and begin to understand the complexities of the conflict.

The power of storytelling and the principles of Ubuntu were evident in the case of former South African President Nelson Mandela. After serving 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, Mandela emerged as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. He was able to forgive his oppressors and work towards a peaceful and democratic South Africa, all while maintaining his dignity and integrity.

Mandela’s story is an example of the power of storytelling to inspire and create change. His life and legacy continue to be celebrated around the world, and his story serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy, forgiveness, and unity in the face of adversity.

In India, the story of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle for independence has become a symbol of resistance and peaceful resistance around the world. His story has been told and retold in countless ways, inspiring generations of activists and leaders.

The power of storytelling in shaping historical narratives is not limited to the West. In China, for example, storytelling has played a central role in shaping the country’s cultural identity. Traditional stories and legends have been passed down through generations, helping to create a shared sense of history and values.

The importance of storytelling cannot be overstated. From the earliest human societies to the present day, stories have been a fundamental part of our lives. They have the power to inspire, educate, and heal, and they can be used to shape our understanding of the world and ourselves. Whether we are sharing personal experiences or interpreting historical events, storytelling has the power to connect us and help us make sense of the world around us.

Storytelling in Sri Lankan Context

In the Sri Lankan context, where the country has experienced decades of ethnic conflict, storytelling can play a crucial role in promoting reconciliation and building social cohesion. By sharing stories, people can learn about the experiences of others and gain a better understanding of the root causes of conflict. It can also help to break down stereotypes and biases that may exist between different communities.

Storytelling can also promote a more positive attitude towards diversity and multiculturalism. By sharing stories that celebrate diversity, people can develop a greater appreciation for the unique cultural traditions, customs, and practices of different communities. This, in turn, can lead to a more inclusive and tolerant society that is better equipped to address the challenges of social and economic development.

Storytelling has the potential to reconstruct the deteriorated social structure by providing a platform for underrepresented communities to express themselves. Vaclav Havel’s words, “The rescue of this world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility,” highlight the significance of storytelling. By enabling individuals and communities to share their experiences and shape their own stories, storytelling has the power to instill confidence and influence positive change. Through the medium of storytelling, marginalized groups can establish their identity and demand acknowledgement and reverence from the broader society.

Storytelling can play a vital role in overhauling the attitude of society and re-engineering the deteriorated social structure in Sri Lanka. By promoting reconciliation, building social cohesion, celebrating diversity, and giving voice to marginalized groups, storytelling can help to create a more inclusive, tolerant, and just society. The residential workshop organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism on the importance of real-life story writing is a significant step towards achieving this goal.

In her session at the residential workshop, Hansamala Ritigahapola, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sinhala and Mass Communication at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, delved deeper into the classifications of storytelling. She explained the various types of stories, including myths, legends, fables, and fairy tales, and how they are used to convey moral and ethical values. Dr. Ritigahapola also emphasized the importance of storytelling in preserving cultural heritage and passing down traditional knowledge from one generation to the next.

During the workshop, a new publication on female biographies in Sri Lankan history was also launched. The book highlighted the importance of storytelling with references to the many notable stories in the cultural history of Sri Lanka. It showcased the remarkable achievements of Sri Lankan women who have made significant contributions to society, but whose stories may have been overlooked or forgotten. The publication served as a reminder of the power of storytelling to elevate marginalized voices and empower underrepresented groups.

Power of Counseling

The day concluded with an inspiring session by H.M.C.J. Herath, the Head of the Department of Physiology and Counseling, the Open University of Sri Lanka. She described the basic principles and behavioural attitudes of counselling and victim narrations. Dr. Herath emphasized the importance of empathy, active listening, and trust-building in the counselling process. She also highlighted the critical role that storytelling can play in the healing process of victims of trauma and violence. Through the power of narrative, victims can reclaim their agency and gain a sense of empowerment over their own lives.

Counselling is a vibrant process that aims to help people overcome their emotional and psychological challenges. It involves a one-on-one conversation between the counsellor and the client, where the client can share their feelings, thoughts, and concerns in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Through active listening, empathy, and trust-building, the counsellor can help the client gain insights into their problems, develop coping strategies, and explore new ways of thinking and behaving.

Dr H.M.C.J. Herath, Department of Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Health Sciences, The Open University of Sri Lanka [ Photo Credit: Open University of Sri Lanka]

However, counselling is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each client is unique, and their needs and challenges must be approached with sensitivity, respect, and cultural awareness. Counsellors must adhere to certain ethical guidelines to ensure that they provide effective and ethical counselling services. These guidelines are established by professional associations such as the American Counselling Association (ACA) and the International Association of Counselling (IAC).

One of the fundamental ethical principles in counselling is confidentiality. Clients must feel safe and secure in sharing their thoughts and feelings, knowing that their information will be kept confidential. Counsellors must maintain strict confidentiality unless there is a risk of harm to the client or others. In such cases, the counsellor must inform the client of their intention to break confidentiality and seek their consent before doing so.

Another essential principle in counselling is informed consent. Counsellors must obtain the client’s consent before starting the counselling process, explaining the goals, procedures, and risks involved. The client must also be informed of their right to terminate the counselling process at any time and for any reason.

Counsellors must also be aware of cultural and diversity issues when working with clients from different backgrounds. They must respect the client’s cultural values, beliefs, and practices and avoid imposing their own cultural biases. Counsellors must also be aware of the potential power dynamics that can exist between the client and themselves and strive to create an equal and collaborative relationship. Counselling is an inseparable part of the process where the true stories of marginalized communities shall play a crucial role in social justice.

Lessons to be Learnt

Sri Lanka can learn a lot from other countries in terms of storytelling and its potential for promoting reconciliation, empathy, and understanding. For example, in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided a forum for survivors of the residential school system to share their stories and promote healing. The Commission’s final report emphasized the importance of storytelling in advancing reconciliation and recommended that the education system include indigenous history, culture, and perspectives.

Similarly, in Rwanda, the Gacaca courts provided a space for victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide to share their stories and promote reconciliation. The courts were designed to be community-led and focused on restorative justice rather than punishment. Through the process of storytelling and dialogue, many individuals were able to reconcile and move forward.

Resource persons and Participants during the residential training for real life story writing [ Photo Credit: Sri Lanka College of Journalism]

The aforementioned instances provide empirical evidence on the potency of storytelling to foster comprehension and reconciliation, hence serving as a paradigm for Sri Lanka’s own efforts towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka could implement storytelling and dialogue programs in schools and communities, emphasizing the promotion of empathy, comprehension, and reconciliation amongst diverse ethnic and religious groups. Such an initiative could dismantle prejudiced beliefs and encourage better comprehension among different communities.

Moreover, Sri Lanka can exploit its rich cultural heritage of storytelling and assimilate it into its reconciliation endeavours. The country has a longstanding oral storytelling tradition, which could be leveraged to cultivate understanding and dialogue between different groups. By accentuating shared values and common themes, such as community, empathy, and compassion, Sri Lanka could work towards fostering a more cohesive and comprehensive society.

Quoting the insightful words of Steve Jobs, we are reminded that the storyteller wields tremendous power. “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” As Jobs observed, the storyteller has the ability to shape the vision, values, and agenda of entire generations to come. This underscores the importance of storytelling as a means of creating positive change and promoting shared understanding.

Undoubtedly, storytelling is of paramount significance in advancing reconciliation and comprehension. Sri Lanka can capitalize on both international and domestic examples, including its own cultural traditions, to harness the potential of storytelling in promoting healing, empathy, and a peaceful future.

Why Sabotage Is a Growing Form of Warfare in Ukraine

5 mins read

On February 8, Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh published an article detailing the role of the U.S. and Norway in the September 26, 2022, Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions. U.S. officials denied the findings, while Russia, which previously blamed the UK for the attack, hailed the article as proof of Western involvement.

There remains “no conclusive evidence” indicating Russia was behind the Nord Stream attack, according to a December 2022 article by the Washington Post. At the same time, apart from Hersh’s report, there is little evidence currently indicating the U.S. was responsible for the explosions. Nonetheless, the ongoing dispute has underlined the increasing role of sabotage in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Around two weeks after the Nord Stream explosion on October 8, another explosion took out much of a key bridge, which connects the Russian mainland to Crimea. While no one has taken responsibility for the attack, Russia blamed Ukraine for it. Weeks before in September, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy encouraged Ukrainians in Russian-occupied territory to “sabotage any enemy activity” and “interfere with any Russian operations.”

Throughout the war, dozens of mystery fires in Russia have damaged or destroyed transportation routes, commercial and industrial centers, military and government facilities, and other infrastructure. Believed to be the work of both Ukrainian commandos and Russian dissidents, some U.S. experts also believe the U.S. and NATO states may be responsible for these “covert sabotage operations.” The Ukrainian government has typically neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in most attacks.

The Russian government often blames Ukraine for these fires but has downplayed their effects. While acts of sabotage can be used by governments to garner support for their cause, they may be wary of admitting successive instances of sabotage for fear of encouraging more, as well as showing their inability to protect the population and country. Furthermore, relentless acts of sabotage demonstrate that the effects of war have come home to populations thought to be removed from the conflict.

The attacks on the Nord Stream pipeline and the bridge in Crimea likely escalated the Kremlin’s resolve to respond to Western and Ukrainian sabotage efforts. While Russia’s most pressing concern is undermining Ukraine and damaging its capacity to sustain its war effort, conducting sabotage operations across the West has also become a major Kremlin policy.

Even before the war, Russia had indicated its ability to disrupt global underwater communications networks through its Main Directorate of Deep-Water Research (GUGI). In recent years, Russia has taken steps to develop submarines specifically to sever undersea cables that transport the world’s internet traffic. In early February 2022, Russia held military exercises in the Atlantic Ocean at a critical juncture where several submarine cables between the U.S., the UK, and France are located as a show of force.

The same month, France declared it would develop a fleet of underwater drones to protect undersea cables, while the European Defence Agency is expected to release a proposal soon for “a dedicated program for critical seabed infrastructure protection.” These developments show how seriously Western governments are preparing for Russian sabotage, particularly as recent cuts to Taiwan’s internet cables are believed to be the work of Chinese vessels and serve as an example of “a dry run for further aggression.”

Several incidents in Europe and North America in recent months have raised suspicions over the Kremlin’s involvement in these attacks, even if government agencies do not always label Russia as being responsible for them. On January 13, 2023, for example, an explosion at a gas pipeline in Lithuania near the Latvian border led to the nearby town of Valakelie being evacuated. While the pipeline’s operator dismissed suggestions of sabotage, Latvia’s Defense Ministry said it could not be ruled out. “Western leaders stopped short of publicly blaming Russia for the attack, but privately briefed their suspicions that Moscow was behind it,” stated a Daily Mail article about the explosion.

On February 7, 2023, a fire broke out at a U.S. company drone production facility in Latvia that supplies Ukrainian forces and NATO allies, with the local police stating that there was “no indication” of it being an act of sabotage. Moldovan President Maia Sandu, meanwhile, declared on February 13, 2023, that Russia was planning a coup, including the use of sabotage, to destabilize the country.

In January 2023, Polish authorities questioned and later released three divers who claimed to be Spanish citizens off the coast of northern Poland. The divers were rescued after their boat broke down while they were apparently looking for amber deposits. But amber farming is difficult to carry out in the dark and the divers also lacked the proper “amber-hunting equipment,” according to a CBS News article, raising suspicion about the explanation offered by them. Despite being caught near vital Polish energy infrastructure, the trio were let go and left Poland altogether shortly after. Speaking after the incident, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that “amid the war in Ukraine, when the risk of sabotage by Russia increased immeasurably, it was necessary to strengthen the supervision of critical infrastructure. We are also reviewing this supervision.”

Western Europe has also emerged as a major target of apparent Russian sabotage efforts. On October 8, the same day as the Crimean bridge explosion, German officials stated that sabotage caused a three-hour halt in rail traffic in the north of the country after “cables vital for the country’s rail network were intentionally cut in two places.” On October 10, undersea cables providing electricity to the Danish island of Bornholm were cut. And barely a week later, internet cables in southern France were also cut, impacting connectivity “to Asia, Europe, U.S. and potentially other parts of the world.”

Suspicion over these attacks and others in Europe has fallen on Unit 29155, part of Russia’s military intelligence agency General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (GRU). As mentioned in an article in the New York Times in 2020, the unit is believed to operate small groups across Europe and was responsible for a 2014 ammunition depot explosion in the Czech Republic, the 2018 poisoning of Russian dissident Sergei Skripal in the UK, and other attacks on the continent.

From 2012 to 2015, Russian-backed patriotic youth camps also emerged in California, Washington, and Oregon. Often targeting Russian and Slavic communities for recruitment, they mirrored attempts to develop militia groups in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. While it is difficult to say whether these groups are active, these initiatives demonstrate the Kremlin’s intention to make them viable actors in the U.S.

A series of train derailments in the U.S.fires at food processing plantsattacks on energy facilities, and other incidents across the country since 2022 have caught the attention of international news outlets and fueled conspiracy theories over who is responsible. Considering Russia’s reach in Europe, the possibility of Russian assets being responsible for some of these incidents in the U.S. cannot be ruled out entirely. On March 3, 2023, Peter Karasev, a Russian immigrant, was charged for two separate attacks on Pacific Gas and Electric transformers in San Jose, which took place on December 8, 2022, and January 5, 2023.

Russia, of course, is not the only country capable or willing to target the U.S. through sabotage. Several Iranian/Hezbollah sleeper agents in the U.S. have been caught in recent years surveilling vulnerable targets within the country to attack should they be given the greenlight. The downturn in U.S.-Iranian relations in recent years suggests that Iran too may be actively seeking to covertly harm the U.S. as payback.

Officially, the Russia-Ukraine war remains a conflict between the two states. Nonetheless, Russian and Ukrainian allies have supplied Moscow and Kyiv with significant aid. But sabotage is increasingly seen by both sides as a viable option to undermine their opponent. We should expect more sabotage incidents, not only in Ukraine and Russia but also across the Western world and beyond, as the conflict rages on.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Sri Lanka: President should be Responsible!

5 mins read

Reading news from Sri Lanka is depressing. Suffering of the people due to cost of living, loss of employment or small businesses, breakdown of welfare assistance from the government are some of the reasons. News from daily life of the people is also disheartening with full of crime, family violence, cheating, drug use, and stealing. All these are symptoms of a deeper crisis in society and a breakdown of a value system.

The day-to-daylanguage (yako, uba, thopi, thow) that people use, as evident from some teledramas,and social media is also clear of a social degeneration. Under these circumstances no one can blame the young people and the educated who try to migrate to other countries for living or for work.

The behavior, the actions and the explanations of the politicians are a deeper reflection of the above situation who are also mainly responsible for the country’s deepening crisis. Take the example of the President. It is the duty and the responsibility of a country’s leader to reveal and explain his or her positions to the country, and even to the international community, about important policy matters.

Elections and Jokes

In a democracy, there is nothing more important than elections. It was well known that local government elections were due in March. First, the President was obliquely silent. Then he started joking about it saying, ‘there is no elections to be postponed!’

There is no problem to the people that this President is a jovial man. But there should be a limit. He should not repeat his Royal Collage jokes especially when the country is in dire straits. It is good that he often appears in Parliamentary debates. But his behavior, arguments and jokes in those debates are reprehensible.

When he was appointed as the Prime Minister by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he even joked about the economy. He said ‘We invite tourists. They even can join the Protests!’ The above photo is by the BCC on this matter showing his jovial gestures. He even joked about the former British Queen just two days before her death which became condemned by many international journalists. What a Joker! It is difficult to believe that he is serious bout democracy or the economy. It is more difficult to believe that he will be trusted by the IMF although they might give priority to the country.

There is no doubt that compared to many other political leaders of the country he has some economic knowledge and experience. As a Minister (Finance or in charge of the economy) he can be good. But as the President of the country, he has so far proved to be hopeless,useless, and intolerable.

Importance Local Government

The local government system in Sri Lanka has a long history as Gam Sabha (village councils). It is not something just introduced by the British. Both the Colebrook Commission and the Donoughmore Commission acknowledged their importance. However, it was the British who introduced franchise to the system now under threat from the present President. It is difficult to believe that Philip Gunawardena’s son, as the Prime Minister, would oppose the elections. President undoubtedly is the culprit. From what heritage has he got this undemocratic orientation?

Of course, there are some weaknesses within the local government system. But who havecreated them? Present day politicians have done so. One of the major weaknesses of the present day politicians is their rigmarole manner in addressing crucial economic, political and social problems. They appoint committees (or commissions)and committeesand produce reports and reports. They are in the absence of commonsense, principles and practicalities. They change positions very easily and forget what they have said or promised even the last week! The reason is that they have come to politics for opportunistic purposes. Under the present ‘preferential voting’ system,it is difficult for the ordinary, the educated and genuine people to come into politics unless they go behind the opportunistic leaders.

The Heritage?

The present President has a more precise heritage. It is not directly related to his family except they all were rich and cherished personal wealth directly and indirectly. Wickremesinghe’s heritage is more of something created by him. It is about power, glory and perhaps fun! He has been the Prime Minister for five timesin the past without delivering much, except creating crisis from crisis. Can he deny that he was involved in Batalandatorture and violence? This was revealedby a commission, although no action was taken against him.

It appears that Ranil Wickremesinghe particularly has a hatred against youth from lower social classes.

Of course, no one can condone what the JVP has done in the past. Even at present they should be more careful not to ignite violence or unnecessary trouble in the country. But there are/wereindications that they are at a reform path, and this is something that should be strengthened without condemning all their actions and policies. Even in genuinely creating good governance (Yahapalanaya) they tried their best to support and participate. These principles also should apply to former LTTE supporters and even remaining sections.

There is a major task in the country to reform and reorient the youth for democratic processes and encourage them for positive, creative, and responsible activities. This cannot be done unless the establish political parties and leaders like Wickremesinghe, Kumaratunga or Premadasa take a positive attitude towards the JVP or the NPP. The universities, academics,and civil society organizations (NGOs) also can play a pivotal role in this endeavor if they free themselves from narrow party politics or similar orientations. A constructively worked out strategy is necessary.

Violence and Non-Violence

During the Aragalaya(struggle) last year, incursion and occupation of Presidential Office and Presidential House were perhapsinspired by what happened in America after the last elections. However, the invasion and damaging of Wickremesinghe’s private home was different and cannot be condoned by any means. Likewise, the attacks and burning of over 60 houses belonging to the government MPs also were despicable. If (or As) the JVP was involved, there is a necessity of soul searching in the country. Otherwise, the country would soon drag into the situation of 1980s.

Even if the JVP (or NPP) was involved inthese violence and violations, the President should not behave in the same manner. That is not expected from a democratic leader. This is not merely a defect of the presidential system. This is about the broader political system and qualities of the political leaders.

In coming straight to the recent situation, the way the police handled the protest march organized by the JVP and the National People’s Power(NPP) on 26Februaryin Colombo was reprehensible. Who was behind it? There cannot be any doubt that it was the President. Those parties and others have every right to protest over the virtual sabotage of the local government elections by the President. One has died and 28 others were hospitalizedbecause of police attacks at these protests. Although only water and teargas were used, those were enormous and brutal.

In sabotaging the local government elections,planned to be held on 9 March, the reason given was lack of funds. However, millions of funds were spent on Independence Daycelebrations for the armed forces. Instead of the military, school children should have been mobilized for the occasion.The election is not an ‘essential service,’ according to the President!The Speaker has agreed however now to allow the Parliament to put forward a resolution to allocate necessary funds for the local government elections. Parliament is supreme. If it is approved (no doubt) the elections could be held somewhere in April.

However, there are other matters to be considered. Majority of the trade unions are on (token) strike on 1 March against the new high taxation and coercion against the working class. The situation reminds the year 1980 where the present President’s ‘maha-guru’ (big teacher), J. R. Jayewardene took measures to attack the working people and the trade union movement as a measure of economic reform. This is again the trend today.

Under the present circumstances, it might be good for the country to go for an overall political change by holding both Presidential and Parliamentary elections together and look for a new economic agenda with the support of the international community and closely friendly countries like India, China, Japan, EU,and other countries. This will save money and possibly bring a new agenda for democracy and development.

Sri Lanka: Is 13A Panacea?

11 mins read

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesman and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran says that his party has decided to boycott the independence day celebrations this year, as reported in The Island of January 31, 2023. Instead, they will declare it a Black Day and commence a movement towards achieving what they call true freedom. According to him, “Immediately after independence, it was transformed into a majority system under the guise of democracy. That’s why other people living in this country did not get freedom”. What he implies is that the ‘independence’ given was only for the majority Sinhalese, and not for the others (presumably, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, etc., the minority communities). Sumanthiran thinks that even though the  majority Sinhala Buddhist people had been under the impression that they got freedom for many years, they also now feel that they didn’t get any freedom either. So, when the 75th independence day is celebrated, the TNA “will declare it a black day and start a campaign for the country to get its freedom properly”.   

Meanwhile, the Indian news website The Federal reported that the 74th Indian Republic Day was celebrated at the Indian Consulate in Jaffna with a function attended by a large gathering of people including Indians, and  some local Sri Lankans, mainly Tamils, on January 26, 2023. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police took part in the celebration. Consul General, Madurai-born Raakesh Nataraj, mingled with the guests and exchanged greetings. According to The Federal, both Indian Republic Day and Independence day had been regularly observed in Jaffna until the outbreak of the ethnic conflict.

I wondered why our leaders (apparently) never thought of declaring a Sri Lankan Republic Day after the 1972 republican constitution was enacted on May 22nd that year, and the island nation became a republic independent of any links with the British monarchy . 

The truth is that Sumanthiran here, tongue in cheek,is  only hinting at a fresh (a last, hopefully successful, as he probably fancies) attempt at eventually realizing the idea of establishing a separate sovereign state for Tamils (but strategically camouflaged asTamil speaking people to co-opt Muslims into the project) in the (soon to be re-merged?) north and east provinces where respectively Tamils and Muslims form the majority, and the Sinhalese  are now in a thin minority due to ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. Late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi (1980-84) also talked about solving ‘the problem of the Tamil speaking people’ in these provinces in Sri Lanka, lumping Hindus and Muslims together as Tamil speaking people, in the interest of India’s own traditional expansionist ambitions against its smaller, weaker neighbours.

Sumanthiran is thinking exclusively about freedom for the Tamil minority, whereas the nationalists – the majority Sinhalese and the sensible majority of the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities – are concerned about freedom for all who make Sri Lanka their home, that is, the Sri Lankan people or nation; they don’t talk about nations based on ethno-cultural identities.  Deliberate disinformation by Eelam lobbyists and parasitic NGOs has turned nationalists into racists, chauvinists, xenophobes, right-wing nationalists, and whatnot in the eyes of the global media. 

Since 1948, all Sinhalese leaders have acted on the basis of the concept of one nation or one country, where the majority Sinhalese, who are the true autochthonous inhabitants of the island, along with the veddahs, were joined by other numerically small groups in the course of history in various contexts, such as trade, war, invasion, travel, and so on. The first prime minister of independent Ceylon D.S. Senanayake, when asked by the Soulbury Commissioners at the end of the 1947 parliamentary elections how many Tamils he wanted in his cabinet, said he didn’t mind even if all the cabinet members were Tamil provided they acted as Ceylonese. No Sinhalese parliamentarian has deviated from this line of thinking. 

On the other hand, Tamil leaders like All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) leader and later founder of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam were different. They adopted an anti-Sinhala racist attitude. They focused on perpetuating the special privileges that the Tamil elite enjoyed under the British. They felt threatened by a system of parliamentary democracy, because they feared that the Sinhalese majority would put an end to their privileged status. It was Ponnambalam who, for years before independence, had been making the absurd 50-50 demand (clamouring for the allocation of 50% of the seats in the  parliament yet to be introduced  for the Sinhalese who were the overwhelming majority of the population, and 50% for all the minority groups). The Soulbury Commissioners rejected that demand with contempt. Another Tamil lawyer who came from Malaysia, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, founded the Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party/euphemistically in English the Federal Party) in 1949 and the rest is history. Sumanthiran seems to be basically among the latest in this tradition.

 While preparations are being earnestly made by the government for marking an independence that was not granted (a long retired civil servant likens it to a birthday party for a baby that was never born), the 25th anniversary of the devastating LTTE suicide-truck-bomb attack on the Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic) in Kandy fell on January 25, without anyone remembering it. It looks as if the government let it pass without any commemorative observances unlike in previous years. Why? (My sincere apologies to everybody concerned, if I am mistaken in this assumption) Was it in the name of so-called ‘reconciliation’, which has been a not so seriously meant, hollow slogan right from the beginning? Or was it in order to avoid spoiling the national mood for ‘consecrating’ some ostensibly momentous event that is going to coincide with the 75th independence day ceremony? The epoch-making event that Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to celebrate thus, as everybody knows now, is the purported settlement of the alleged Tamil ethnic problem through the full implementation of the controversial 13A (forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka by India, without doubt, in the latter’s exclusive national interest, in 1987). Grown-up Sri Lankans remember how thousands of our patriotic youngsters died in opposing Indian intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, in the second JVP uprising, which occurred in the years 1986-89 during UNP rule. A thirty year civil conflict claimed the lives of thousands of Sri Lanka’s defence forces personnel,  Tamil rebel cadres, and civilians caught in terrorist bomb blasts; the conflict left many more injured. All this was in trying to prevent the certain Balkanization of the country through the 13A. Seven executive presidents from JR Jayawardane to Gotabaya Rajapaksa back-burnered it for a legitimate reason. What are the benefits of a fully implemented 13A that justify such sacrifices of the country’s youth of the previous generation?

Be that as it may, does Ranil Wickremasinghe want to invest this servile surrender to foreign pressure with a sacred quality by having a special Sacred Tooth Relic exposition? It can’t be that he is mocking Sinhalese Buddhist sentiments. True, he was totally rejected by the mainly Buddhist Lankan electorate as a prospective candidate for executive presidency. It could also  be a similar passive-aggressive attack on his part on the pohottuwa alliance (the Sri Lanka Podu Peramuna, the SLPP). He must have been waiting for a chance to take his revenge on the SLPP, which turned itself into his nemesis in the last parliamentary election. But the principal partners of the SLPP, the treacherous Rajapaksas, as it has now become so clear to the betrayed public, were able to do this otherwise commendable thing, by pretending to espouse the popular nationalist cause, merely to hoodwink the masses to win votes. Ranil and the Rajapaksas are partners now. They are not strange bedfellows; they are natural allies. Whatever they are making common cause in achieving, turning the country’s hallowed Sinhala Buddhist cultural heritage into a political football between rival factions of conflicting persuasions is something worse than the Maligawa bombing itself. It does not augur well for the future of our Motherland. It is the last thing that fair-minded patriotic citizens belonging to all communities are likely to take lying down. 

The only thing that people expect Ranil Wicktremasinghe to do at this moment is to focus on rescuing the country from the economic crisis that it is engulfed in, and leave it to the present day youth of the country from all the diverse communities to lawfully, democratically and peacefully usher in the new corruption free Sri Lanka that they want to build. 

When three LTTE suicide cadres drove an explosives laden truck to the Maligawa early on the morning of January 25, 1998, and set it off, it caused massive damage to the building, while killing seventeen innocent worshippers including two two-year old infants and the three suicide bombers. The attack was universally condemned across the civilized world in the sternest terms. It was reported that three times more money was donated by the ordinary people than was necessary for restoring the destroyed parts of the Maligawa, which was completed within two years of the heinous crime. Ranil Wickremasinghe was the leader of the opposition then. Condemning the bombing he said, “Not even in the darkest moments of Sri Lanka’s 2000 year history has such an act of destruction been perpetrated against the very symbol of our civilization and history.” He should know (I am sure he does, for he is a very well-read knowledgeable person) that the Tooth Relic has been a symbol of sovereignty over the island since the 4th century CE when it was brought to Anuradhapura from Dantapuri (modern Puri, Odisha) in India. If he insists on having the Mahanayakes agree to hold a Tooth Relic exposition to give some sort of legitimacy to his controversial move, and if his request is granted by them, then he will appear to mock the sanity of Sri Lankans and the sanctity of this national symbol. 

To my shock, however, I hear that the relic exhibition that Ranil Wickremasinghe proposed, is scheduled to start on March 4, a month after the day of disputed independence. If this incredible piece of information is true, then it means that the two Mahanayakes, the guardians of the Maligawa, (no one is above them in this matter) have agreed to bless the ultimate victory of those who wanted to destroy ‘the symbol of our civilization and history’!

Of course, Ranil Wickremasinghe alone cannot be held responsible for what is now almost a certainty. All the leaders (or most of them) and their mostly inarticulate juniors in parliament  reportedly support the president’s decision. They should share responsibility, too, for what is going to happen. Constitutionally, of course, there appears to be no barrier to the full implementation of 13A. But that is only a technical point, beyond morality. The three pillars of parliamentary democracy are said to be the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The country’s moral values reign over all three. The ethical conduct of the humans who embody the legislative, executive, and judicial powers is imperative for the proper functioning of the democratic system. That is my idea. 

Civil social activist and Vinivida Foundation convener, lawyer Nagananda Kodituwakku argues in a recent video that president Wickremasinghe has no moral right to take that decision, but that it is in accordance with an agreement reached between the Tamil  National Alliance (TNA), the UNP, and the JVP (represented by Anura Dissanayake, now National People’s Power leader) on September 20, 2017. Recently, Anura Dissanayake even appeared on a TNA stage in the north, according to him.

The NPP leaders say that their goal is to bring in a good government that is free from corruption and theft, and that  establishes the rule of law. But that is the main platform on which even UNP’s J.R. Jayawardane fought the 1977 general election, pledging to bring in a Righteous Society (that has to date failed to materialise). The Island newspaper reported (February 2, 2023) that NPP MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya, asked about her party’s stand on Ranil Wickremasinghe’s decision to implement the 13A fully, said she didn’t believe he would do that, because he didn’t do it when he could do it. The NPP also believes that it should be fully implemented, though there was still a debate about this within the party. She told The Island: 

“It has been presented as a solution to the national problem. It is already there in the Constitution and we believe that it should be implemented, but we have a debate whether it could be a tenable solution for the national problem. Our standpoint is that a government with genuine intention of addressing the issues of Tamil people must bring about solutions to the national problem, and we have no faith in other parties, but only the NPP could do that.”

It is not clear how the NPP is going to deal with the 13A issue. But if it is hoping to wangle the support of the Sinhala Buddhist masses while horse-trading with the federalists, Anura’s chances of becoming president will evaporate soon. As he has already apparently indicated that his prime minister will be Sumanthiran (I am not sure of this piece of gossip) in case he becomes president, the voters in the south will be even more sceptical about voting for him. Sumanthiran is the exact opposite of Lakshman Kadirgamar, that the Sinhalese universally loved, and honoured above all other politicians.

To return to Nagananda, he blames former elections commissioner Mahinda Desapriya for conniving at the TNA’s treacherous intentions revealed in its constitution. Desapriya had been given only the Tamil version of the TNA’s constitutional proposals, which he apparently couldn’t read and understand. He hadn’t asked for or they hadn’t given him the English version of the document (which means, according to Nagananda, they didn’t want its contents to be accessible to the Sinhala majority). Nagananda claims that he had some significant parts rendered into English: According to him, the TNA constitution (includes) “…… the right to self determination, the policy of founding an autochthonous Tamil State, Tamil Aru, and an autochthonous Muslim State, Muslim Aru, and thereby seeing the liberation of the political and economic aspects of the Tamil speaking people…….

Note: An absolute guarantee will be given to the right of religion and language of the minority national races that live in the autochthonous Tamil State that will be set up in the Tamil Motherland……..”.

(Incidentally, I do not agree with Nagananda’s explanation of the concept of the independence of the judiciary in this context.)

Now these autochthonous claims for Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka are ludicrous inventions. Authoritative historians (including Professors Karthigesu Indrapala and Kingsley de Silva) have shown that before the 13th century invasion by Magha of Kalinga, there was no Tamil kingdom in the north of Sri Lanka nor a settled Tamil population there. Tamils are the autochthonous inhabitants of Tamil Nadu in the mainland India. As for Muslims in the eastern province, they were settled there by king Senerath of Kandy (1604-1635 CE) as fugitives from Portuguese persecution in the coastal areas that they were occupying. Muslims and Portuguese were rival traders. The Sinhalese king also settled some of these Muslims in the central highlands. Still later the occupying Dutch and British brought Javanese and Malaysian Muslims, thereby adding to the growing Muslim population in Sri Lanka in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Implications of Nagananda’s revelations for the country need not be elaborated. He emphatically says that the ordinary Tamil people he met in Jaffna do not ask for a separate state. They only want to live in one Sri Lanka peaceably with the other communities.

Nagananda believes that the local government elections that are going to be held will not be of any value and that the Anura Dissanayake-led NPP is unlikely to win such a significant victory at imminent local government election. I personally think that the NPP appears to be the front runner, judging by the size of the crowds that attend its rallies (as reported on online media). But do these people know what the party leaders are really committed to, I wonder? There is no stamp of conviction on most faces, though. Most look sceptical of the leaders

We need statesmen/women, not mere politicians. People are fed up with the latter. Anura is not likely to turn out to be a real statesman, even if he gets the chance to do so one day, if he pursues his proven hypocrisy. However, compared to the leading buffoons of the two traditional parties (the UNP and the SLFP/or their ghostly modern reincarnations), Anura Dissanayake would be someone that the people can look towards as an alternative leader, provided he does not forfeit the trust of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in his attempt to win the loyalty of the traditional minority leaders, who will never ever change their spots, though they may change their hunting grounds.

Ranil Wickremasinghe has got his last chance to prove his statesmanship and retrieve his lost popularity and honour. He should not, as default president, abuse his executive powers to implement the long disputed 13A for the time being, but do whatever he can do to address the economic woes of our suffering masses before the current presidency ends. It is hoped that he will use his constitutional powers to achieve that end. Then let him call presidential elections and fight it himself or get his nominee to fight it on the single issue of the all important 13th Amendment, perhaps against a principal rival like Anura Dissanayake. Whoever it is, the next president must have the support of the active, truly educated youth of the country, not the half-wits now in the limelight.

What does Ranil Wickremasinghe have up his sleeve? 

9 mins read

Whatever it is, equipped with his education, native intelligence and acquired political wisdom, he will be able to hold the country whole until it passes lawfully into the hands of the uncorrupt patriotic young generation that is waiting in the wings in patient silence (not into those of the ignorant noisy buffoons in the ‘aragalaya‘). 

A number of sacrilegious attacks have been made in recent times on the Sri Dalada (the Sacred Tooth Relic) in Kandy, astonishingly by some Buddhists. The two most recent instances are: Sepala Amerasinghe, an elderly YouTuber, committing repeated verbal sacrilege by calling the Tooth Relic a ‘labba’ (an impolite word implying a pendant male sexual organ) in his videos; the other instance may be described as a form of desecration of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy where the the Tooth Relic is housed: a kind of faith-healing veda mahattaya/native physician (a notorious charlatan and a crooked businessman according to social media accounts) by the name of Janaka C. Senadhipathi is building at Potuhera, Kurunegala, an unauthorized replica of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, claiming that the sacred relic will be miraculously transported to his new shrine from the Kandy Sri Dalada Maligawa, which according to him, is polluted by the materialistic corruption of its present custodians). It is ironic that these acts take place (by design or coincidence) only a few days after president Ranil Wickremesinghe showed his desire to have a special exposition of the Dalada ahead of the next independence day due to be held in February. The president is obviously hoping to achieve something of tremendous importance for the nation that he seems to think is significant enough to be celebrated with a Dalada exhibition. What this epoch making development probably is not a mystery to adult Sri Lankans who have some idea about the dynamics of post-independence politics in Sri Lanka. It must be something to do with the final settlement of the so-called Tamil national problem or the implementation of 13A+.

This confronts the nation with a dilemma concerning Ranil Wickremesinghe as everybody’s  (225 in parliament’s and the general public’s) refuge/saviour: it is the general public perception that, at this moment, there is no political leader who can at least try to bring about some sort of economic stability to the country except Ranil Wickremasinghe. But will he be able to garner enough parliamentary support to implement 13A+? To compound the confusion, there is the problem of holding the lawfully scheduled local government elections, the likely result of which will not strengthen the mutually dependent parliament+president combine, nor benefit the nation economically or politically. The people will question: Why are you so particular about sticking to the electoral laws at this critical juncture where the flagrant violation of other existing vital laws such as the antiquities ordinances has introduced a previously non-existent religious and racial dimension to the country’s political divisions? But be that as it may. Let’s return to our present topic.

Since the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka in the 4th century CE (this is well recorded in the Mahavamsa and other chronicles), a tradition evolved according to which the ruler of the island acquired the legitimacy of his sovereignty by virtue of the possession of the sacred relic. The Dalada was held in a shrine within the palace complex. The shrine itself later came to be called ‘Maligawa’ or palace, the residence of the king, because of this connection between sovereignty and the sacred relic. Due to this reason, the Dalada was subject to changing hands between external invaders or internal rivals and the reigning monarchs in troublous times, as happened several times before the European advent in the island and after. The desacralization of the sacred relic and the attempted dilution of the sanctity of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy could be premeditated. Though it is  well known that the Dalada has neither any connection with, nor bears any responsibility for, the current economic and political crises, it has become a target for attack concerning even natural disasters. Sepala Amerasinghe mentioned above, before calling the Dalada a ‘labba’ for which offence he has been arrested and remanded till January 17, blamed the recent floods in Kandy caused by heavy rain on the ‘kunu datha’ (rotten tooth) in one of his videos. This was an oblique reference to the traditionally held belief among Buddhists that the Dalada has rain making powers. Such beliefs (and relic worship itself for that matter) are not found in Theravada Buddhism, but are imports from the Mahayana tradition which are now part of the local Buddhist religious culture.

So there seems to be a deliberate attempt by certain inimical forces  to dilute or totally negate the symbolic power of the Sacred Tooth Relic for the majority Sinhalese Buddhist polity. It is the bounden duty of the government on behalf of all concerned citizens to investigate what sinister force is behind these incidents and take remedial action. But there are no blasphemy laws in Buddhism. When a TouTuber brought the ‘kunu data’ insult to their notice by phone, the Anu Nayake Theras of both Malwatte showed little concern about it. It was when several concerned lay Buddhists complained to them again about Sepala Amerasinghe repeatedly making sacrilegious statements that the Mahanayake Theras and the Diyawadana Nilame, the guardian of the Maligawa, wrote to the president about it.

Incidentally, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to be lurking protectively behind Senadhipathi. The former’s erstwhile sidekick Mervin Silva visited Potuhera, and ordered the demolition of the front part of the building in question, declaring that there should be only one Dalada Maligawa, the one in Kandy and that the rest of structures in the place must remain. Mervin Silva was reported to have threatened with death social activist Nilantha Ranasinghe who had raised the issue in public and exposed Senadhipathi’s questionable activities with audio, video and print evidence. Mervin Silva told another YouTuber (named Chaturanga Bandara) that Mahinda Rajapaksa phoned him to thank him for what he did.)  Mahinda exploited the nationalist groundswell to sweep the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections against the previous infamous yahapalanaya led by prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and president Maithripala Sirisena; but he totally betrayed that victory through the entrenched corruption he supported among his stooges and his own obsession with dynastic rule, which ultimately brought repeatedly rejected Ranil Wickremasinghe to the helm. Mahinda seems to have so morally weakened in parallel with his obvious physical degeneration as to make a futile attempt to salvage his lost popularity among the Buddhist voters by championing fake ‘Bosath’ Janaka Senadhipathi, with the help of thuggish Mervin. 

To return to the beginning, the media reported (December 24, 2022) that a request that president Ranil Wickremasinghe made for a special exposition of the Sacred Tooth Relic before February 2023 when Sri Lanka completes seventy-five years of independence did not get a positive response from either of the two Ven. Mahanayake Theras of the Siam Nikaya, Malwatte and Asgiriya, in Kandy, who are joint custodians of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The president’s request was conveyed to the prelates in a letter from him personally delivered to them by prime minister Dinesh Gunawardane, who expressly called on them for the purpose. The Malwatte prelate, according to the news reports, suggested that the PM should approach the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera about this as it is the latter’s turn at the moment to be in charge of the service at the Dalada Maligawa. When the premier visited the  Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera with the president’s proposal or appeal, the latter wonderingly asked him  if a Tooth Relic exposition at this juncture wasn’t a difficult task to perform.

With hindsight one would hazard a guess that the two Buddhist prelates of the Siam Nikaya, namely the Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera of the Malwatte Chapter and the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, especially the former, might accommodate the presidential wish, if  Buddhist public opinion also favours it. There are two other nikayas, Ramanna and Amarapura, which signed an agreement to merge in August 2019; the expected merger was a step in the right direction, for the Maha Sangha unity is indispensable for the survival of the Buddhasasanaya as a religious cultural establishment. The living component of the Buddhasasanaya is the ‘sivvanak pirisa’ or the fourfold community of male and female bhikshus and male and female lay Buddhists. This is not a political entity, but a religious one, though it needs state protection (just as it enjoyed full royal patronage under Sinhala kings before the time of foreign invasions); in this, the Sinhala Buddhist community  is not different from other religious communities. (In Sri Lanka, 70% of the ethnically and religiously diverse total population comprise Buddhists.) No religion is more compatible with the best form of government evolved to date, democracy than Buddhism, though it is not your average religion. Bhikkhus and Bhikshunis may personally hold different political views, and even exercise their voting rights as they please, as citizens, but it is not proper for them to engage in partisan politics, because that would definitely cause divisions within the fourfold community of Buddhists. The clergy must leave active politics involving campaigning and electioneering entirely to the lay Buddhists. May the Mahanayakes have the wisdom to tell the president not to desecrate the Sri Dalada by dragging it into politics.

However, traditionally and historically, Buddhist monks have wielded great power over the Buddhist community including the rulers. Currently though, they are becoming increasingly powerless, mainly because of their meddling in politics, patronizing corrupt politicians, and also because of the Mahanayake Theras’ incomprehensible inaction and disunity. President Wickremesinghe’s seemingly cynical suggestion must be viewed in this context. Is he, through having a special Tooth Relic exposition held to coincide with the implementation of whatever solution he proposes to the Tamil ethnic problem, trying to make palatable to the Sinhala Buddhist majority something they would not normally look upon with favour. Is he bringing back an earlier unpopular deal that sent him and his party home at the hustings? But Ranil is too intelligent to repeat past errors.

I am tempted to say this because Ranil Wickremesinghe, unlike his predecessors Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, does not usually make a show of unfelt religious piety for hoodwinking the masses. If he wants, he uses religion in a more street-smart way. Unlike the latter duo again, he is no religious hypocrite; he doesn’t even care to show if he is really a Buddhist (which of course is right, and befits a genuine Buddhist). The important thing, I think, is that he seems to know that ordinary Buddhist voters, true to their faith, do not worry too much about whether he is a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist. (Unfortunately, however, global scale media distortion against them demonizes Sinhalese Buddhists as racist chauvinists and religious fanatics simply because circumstances force them to raise their voice when their human rights are violated by others (such as unethical conversion of Buddhists, encroachment or vandalizing or desecration of Buddhist archaeological sites, deliberate distortion of historical and Buddhist doctrinal facts).

What is happening in Sri Lanka in this respect, hardly recognized or taken seriously by the global powers that be, is doubtlessly a crime against humanity carried out by an externally well funded medley of subversive organizations and individuals, that is getting more and more explicit and more and more overpowering in the Sri Lanka’s present economically and politically debilitated situation. It can be argued that the same forces that are behind this insidious barbarity are at least partly responsible for worsening the political and economic maelstrom that is currently engulfing Sri Lanka, despite the abundance of  rich natural resources and the  high quality of the human resources locally available, both of which its citizens can be justly proud of.

For president Wickremasinghe to want a special Dalada exposition he must be contemplating to consecrate, as it were, something momentous like a nationally important historic event concurrently with government celebrations that will mark the completion of seventy-five years of independence (whatever the last word is held to mean) from British colonial occupation. When it comes to true freedom from Britain, we believe that the 1948 independence was eclipsed by the promulgation of the republican constitution in 1972 under the United Front government of Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike. Yet, it looks like that Wickremasinghe wants to return to the Western fold by ignoring the 1972 change, which was not supported by the Illankei Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Lanka Tamil Kingdom/State Party/or misleadingly called the Federal Party in English) founded in 1949 by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, an immigrant Tamil from Malaysia. (The clamour for a separate state for Tamils started soon after the grant of so-called independence, which was actually nothing more than dominion status. The 1972 declaration of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was until then known among foreigners and English speaking locals) as a republic severed that last link with the  British empire.

 Sri Lankans are a democratic people. Ranil Wickremesinghe or any other political leader could easily accommodate the legitimate interests of the global and regional superpowers that the country’s geographical location makes it obligatory for it to satisfy, if he did it with the people’s full democratic approval, while at the same time preserving their national dignity, sovereignty and independence.     

When in 2019 Wickremesinghe and the UNP that he still leads got kicked out of parliament, he had spent forty-two years in that august body as elected member serving repeatedly in responsible senior positions over that long period as cabinet minister, opposition leader, and prime minister, and now as president at least by default. Ranil Wickremasinghe the politician has nothing more to win or lose in his life; he has nothing to look forward to, except perhaps a dignified obituary. But he suddenly finds ‘greatness thrust upon him’ by a strange turn of events in a context where  Sri Lankans of all religious and political persuasions are up against the wall economically and politically. The Sinhalese Buddhists, in addition to this adverse global predicament experienced, not only in Sri Lanka, but across most of the world outside, are simply facing a form of cultural genocide as argued above. It is expediently connived at by our corrupt traitorous self-seeking politicians and blithely indulged by an apparently unconcerned, blissfully ignorant Maha Sangha.

Ranil Wickremasinghe can still use his intellectual superiority and political acumen to rescue our nation.

A very happy New Year 2023 to Sri Lanka and its people

6 mins read

I am writing from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I wish a very happy New Year 2023 to Sri Lanka and its people.

In the New Year-2023, Sri Lankans will need to put extra efforts together, to reignite the economy and promote growth and also to make it inclusive and beneficial to all. They will also need to intensify investment in education in 2023. They must work together to eradicate corruption, crimes, drugs and substance abuse as well as violence against people in their communities. Where they disagree, let them do so with dignity and respect and promote unity and cohesion as they build their country together. The challenge now is to continue to pursue the economic and political conditions that will spread the wealth throughout the population and provide an example for the rest of the world. They must work harder to build a truly caring society in 2023.

Despite all the success the country has achieved in recent years including 2022, new and old dangers – economic, political, and security-related – threaten to derail its progress. With sound policymaking, effective leadership, and enough foresight, however, can meet and defeat these challenges as well as the many more to come in the New Year. They probably use the beginning of every year to reflect on the past years, make decisions and set resolutions for the New Year. It is a good thing to make resolutions, but it takes a good deal of discipline and commitment to get results that would be different and better than what they got last year. Catherine Pulsifer wrote, “The New Year symbolizes the ending of one year and the beginning of yet another. We celebrate this event, yet it is only a moment in time, like any other day. But it is also considered a time when new beginnings can happen. Be determined to have a Happy New Year!” 

In the New Year’s foresight, Sri Lanka’s growth initiatives may be overarching themes that place the country at the tipping point and people perceive to be key areas for intervention to keep Sri Lanka on its current rising trajectory. This year’s format is different from years past, encompassing viewpoints from high-level policymakers, academics, and practitioners, as well as utilising visuals to better illustrate the paths behind and now in front of Sri Lanka. Growth in Asia and elsewhere has shown that industrialisation is crucial to job creation, a value that has to be enshrined in the new sustainable development goals of Sri Lanka.

The country has witnessed remarkable improvements in poverty reduction in recent years, but persistent challenges in inequality, education, health, and violence, among others, still plague it. As the 2023 year may provide the opportunity to be a jumping-off point for strong policies and efforts to accomplish the desired goals, they should understand the assortment of opportunities of 2022 provides for supporting human development efforts and argues for the central role that better data and corrective measures play in addressing them.

To explore the consequences of Sri Lanka’s rapid urbanisation which historically has facilitated the country transition from a reliance on agriculture to industry and jobs. However, without strong policies to deliver services, finance and build infrastructure, and support the urban poor, the country’s rapidly growing cities and intermediate cities cannot deliver on their potentials. The New Year may see a number of governance milestones and obstacles, and the march towards good governance. Any sort of violence, killing and destruction… shall have to be ruthlessly suppressed by the law and order controlling body of the government. People want peace and that has to be ensured. People do not want the banal forces and their mango-twigs to get any chance to fish out any benefits in the troubled waters. Raise your voice. Beware of that the ruffians must not get any chance to disturb them because Sri Lanka is for Sri Lanka’s people of all religions to live together in peace. 

The government should reflect on the country’s growth-governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes necessary to move from economic growth to economic transformation. Historically, urbanisation is a sign of economic prosperity. As a country underwent structural transformation, and its economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and industry, the composition of the population of the country shifted from being predominantly rural to predominantly urban. However, urbanisation in the Sri Lanka’s context displays different characteristics from the ones witnessed in Asia and other countries. This growth demonstrates a great need for better urban management and institution building. Thus, if managed properly, the new emerging cities can produce several economic opportunities as cities offer economies of scale, which can be conducive to sustainable economic prosperity and improved human development. 

Despite all the political and economic challenges facing the country, the people’s desire for a better life with better education for their children, strong domestic institutions, full employment opportunities and faster economic growth means that the future can be much brighter. Many of the hurdles they may uncover have policy solutions. Government should spend primarily on the work to improve not just education systems but also infrastructure across the board. Smart, pro-business policies will also help ensure the creation of decent jobs that can keep young people engaged in society and out of troubles.

Despite challenges on the economic front, together they made substantial progress in providing basic services, such as, electricity, housing, roads, water and sanitation, healthcare as well as accessible education. The country’s GDP has begun to show welcome improvements. Thus significant strides were made in the past years in fighting poverty, inequality and unemployment. Still the government needs for renewed efforts to boost inclusive economic growth and improve the lives of poor and working-class; and it remains a key priority of the government.

The mornings of winter fall on the last of the fogbank and will wash it away. We can smell the grass again, and the torn leaves being eased down into the mud.  The few loves we have been allowed to keep are still sleeping on the sky of Sri Lanka. Here in the country, they walk across the fields with only a few young cows for company. Big-boned and shy, they are like girls we remember. Those girls are matured now. Like Sri Lankans, they must sometimes stand at a window late at night, looking out on a silent backyard, at one rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons and cry hard for whoever used to make them happiest, and wonder how their lives have carried them this far without ever once explaining anything. They don’t know why they are walking out here with their coats darkening and their boots sinking in, coming up with a mild sucking sound we, as foreigners, like to hear. We don’t care where those girls are now.  Whatever they have made of it they can have. Today, Sri Lankans want to resolve many things. They only want to walk a little longer in the cold blessing of the wind, and lift their faces to it.

Emotions and excitement will be lifted up inside eyes and mouth widely grinning hands clap together anticipation rising going through the whole body. As we, foreigners, wait for the sunrise, we wait for a shimmering blue sea in Sri Lanka. We shall see a beautiful golden sun. And we believe it will set them free. We put our pens down greatness without sound; love without a doubt and a heart unbound; freedom of tongues is freedom of minds; and free air is freedom of lungs. We smoke though, temporary satisfaction for eternal sorrow; one more drag; confidence to load the mag up against our heads, we then resurrect ourselves with memories of something else in Sri Lanka. So, we as foreigners are grinding again, making our way up the lane, but the cities big so we take a… Melody Beattie reminds us, “The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

With the moon as the conductor, the symphony of lights begins. As the heavens open in anticipation, stars one by one comes filing in with each rhythmic starlight flicker keeping in tune with the galaxy. Entire planets hold their breath in wonder from everlasting to everlasting nebula breeze. It all plays out in harmony keeping perfect 3-4 times and such beauty is not held by boundaries and seen and heard light years through time. The year 2023 should be to do only good deeds for Sri Lanka.

The winds of bearable and golden-like and sweet-note are on the heads of Sri Lankans. The winds of civility and refinements having good or auspicious marks; of commendable looks… good governance…gentleness of disposition…exquisite beauty or grace…quite consistence; very reasonable; judicious; fair; adequate; relevant; well-refined life shall prevail in their days; and I wish our Sri Lankan friends, and people in general a glorified and restful festive season. Celebrate new life in the New Year 2023. From Bangladesh, I wish to finish-off today in the words of Goran Persson, “Let your New Year’s resolution be this: you will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.”

The End –

Sri Lanka: Living with the Hope in Precarious times

19 mins read

Following is the keynote address delivered at the launch of the Junior Bar Journal on the theme ‘Law in context: Current trends and future projections’ held on 16 December

We live in precarious times. But precarious times are also times of great opportunity. The end of World War Two gave birth to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the end of Apartheid gave birth to the South African constitution, a constitution that has inspired the legal community for decades. A great deal is happening in the world and in Sri Lanka in particular, creating a fog of ideas and desperation to see our way out of the darkness.

This fog of ideas is based on the fact that there is a fundamental struggle taking place on the kind of society people wish to construct for themselves. This struggle over very basic ideas animates the most virulent hate and bias that we see throughout the world. What I am going to do in this lecture is to spell out some of those struggles, especially those relevant to young lawyers, and see what the future holds for their resolution.

The first debate in this fog of ideas relates to the debate on human rights. For my generation of lawyers working in public law at the international level, the most inspiring documents were those related to human rights – the universal declaration, the covenants and many other conventions relating to torture, women and children among others. Though today human rights and humanitarian law are dismissed as Western, at the Bandung conference in the 1950s, the Non-Aligned movement openly embraced human rights and it would be the driving force in getting rid of apartheid in South Africa and challenging disappearances in Latin America. Third World progressive activists were strong supporters of human rights during this period writing personally to heads of state when prisoners of conscience were taken in.

Amnesty International’s first visit to Sri Lanka in the 1970s was fully supported by everyone who worked on issues of social justice. Leading personalities like Suriya Wickremesinghe, Kumari Jayawardena, Professor Sarathchandra, and Raja Goonesekere formed the civil rights movement after the 1971 insurrection basing their founding principles on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today both the edifice and the norms are under a great deal of challenge especially from universities and think tanks many of them situated in the Western world.

The challenge to human rights is twofold. The first is that it is a Western structure created around the values of the Enlightenment where the individual is valued over the community and where reason is given prime of place over social values of cohesion and harmony. The second argument is about process and the double standards in the application of human rights. The rich and powerful countries are not held accountable while smaller countries may face the full force of the international political and legal process.

My argument has always been that the values of human rights may have resonance with some traditional values but they actually derive from a consent-based system of law. By signing the UN charter and the many conventions on human rights Sri Lanka and others have agreed to be governed by these norms and standards and as a result must be held responsible for their implementation. As for the argument of double standards, though this is certainly the case and the rich and powerful countries do enjoy impunity, it does not mean that we should put forward a position that we should have no standards at all.

The political and legal strategy should be to make more countries accountable for their actions. In national systems like ours the rich and the powerful also get away with a great deal and with a high level of impunity. The answer is not to throw away the law but to make sure that the system reforms itself to make everyone more accountable. For this we need not only law reform but also public mobilisation, national and international solidarity as well as political will.

The Suriya Wickremesinghe generation in Sri Lanka which founded the national civil rights movement was followed in the 1990s by a generation of some intellectuals who were part of a movement that spearheaded the post modern assault on human rights. In my mid thirties I was deeply influenced by the thinker Michel Foucault whose life’s ambition was to deconstruct the European Enlightenment and the particular cruelty it has visited on the world. Seeing human rights as a part of that legacy he saw it just as a façade for imperial and national political ambition. In his famous book Discipline and Punish he analyses the legal process and the carceral system that goes with it. He refuses to acknowledge that law, the legal system and the judiciary could be an autonomous sphere making decisions on positivistic principles. He insisted that politics, hidden or open always guided their intervention. He is also particularly harsh on those who try to rehabilitate and mould prisoners in their own image. Humanism was a dirty word for him, a thin veil that hid the real exercise of power in any given situation. He saw the humanitarian impulse and the desire to save the world as another side of the European conquest.

Later in life as part of the United Nations I went constantly to the field to situations of armed conflict. As I landed in Rwanda in 1995 a month after the genocide I was taken to a school. Throughout the school, on the floor was skeleton after skeleton, their bodies smashed and mutilated by the perpetrators. I was then taken to a church with a beautiful sculpture of the Madonna. Beneath her, again bodies upon bodies, a terrible haven for violence and destruction. Children, women, old men – none were spared. The victims who survived reached out to us. “Take our story tell it to the world”, they said.

I realised then that Foucault only saw the structures; he did not feel the pain. The world just could not be silent. It needed a language and discourse to give expression to this outrage. After that, in a qualified way, I embraced international human rights and humanitarian law as a vocation.

The embrace of human rights and humanitarian law with a realistic understanding of geopolitics becomes all the more important in the face of governments developing deadly styles of warfare while also increasing repression at home. I spent some time in an Afghan village and watched as children cowered under their beds fearing drone strikes. To this day governments will not move to formulate a convention on drones. The technology of war has totally outpaced the laws of war. As a member of the International Commission of Experts on Ethiopia I chronicled just two months ago the devastating consequences of aerial bombardment by drones as well as other forms of weapons that operated on the ground. Total destruction. The Ukraine war is another reminder. Regulating and curtailing these weapons is a major challenge for the future in the area of humanitarian law.

More repressive legislation and practices

At the same time many countries, including our own government, are developing more repressive legislation and practices to prevent freedom of speech, freedom of organisation and political protest. Under the guise of fighting terrorism all manner of legislation is brought that result in incarcerating mostly young people. My first human rights task in the 1980s was to take down an affidavit of a young prisoner kept at Boosa who had been tortured. It was clear to me that he had committed no act of terrorism though he was taken under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He just came from a cohort of young men that the state suspected as being likely to be influenced. I saw the same thing when I went to Batticaloa last year and met with wives and families who had their husbands and sons taken under the PTA after the Easter attacks. There were no charges but they were not released.

Incarcerating young men so as to control their behaviour and beliefs is not a healthy or productive practice for any criminal justice system. In a book recently shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize Carla Power went around the world looking at counter terrorism programs and concludes that this practice of incarceration does not really work and the young men emerging from such incarceration are not going to become good citizens.

If one decides to have programs, which in itself is problematic, they should be outside the purview of the criminal law and she points to programs of mentoring that have been quite successful in some countries. In any event any such action should also be taken with caution. Freedom of belief is a fundamental human right and some countries are against any action in this regard. Any interference with freedom of belief must be subject to the greatest possible scrutiny.

Given this onslaught at the international and national level, human rights in 2022 has a new and urgent responsibility and many are beginning to recognise its renewed importance. Young people in their twenties around the world are rediscovering human rights and rescuing it from post modernism and geopolitical agendas. Whether in Thailand, Sudan, Myanmar, Iran, Chile, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, the US, they have embraced the language of human rights. It is the only universal language of dissent and results in mobilisation that cuts across borders and has universal appeal. These movements are also refining the concept of human rights so that it addresses the many issues of class as well as the systemic structures of discrimination that earlier rights activists were less sensitive to. Often dismissed as “woke” their sensibility has already had a major impact not only on governments but also on every day life. They face an inevitable backlash but as the mid term elections in the US show the next generation seems mobilised and committed to these norms.

While human rights is struggling to survive as a worldview the second debate that is emerging around the world is the debate on the nature and function of constitutional democracy. At the national level, my generation working on public law issues was very involved in what has recently been termed the movement of Constitutionalism. The idea of the Constitution as a written text that prescribes the rule of law and limits the power of government is a product of the Enlightenment, especially the English Enlightenment. But Constitutionalism, on the other hand, is a very modern phenomenon.

With its origins in the famous case Marbury vs. Madison, it entrusts the judiciary as the role of the guardian and gives the judges powers to nullify legislation and executive acts that violate the written text of the Constitution. It also gives the judiciary the power to interpret the Constitution to the facts before it. This sometimes results in judges going beyond the plain meaning of the law and engaging in judicial innovation to ensure that justice is done. In this way we have what advocates call “a living Constitution”.

Despite its American origins, this framework of Constitutionalism spread to Germany with its Basic Law, India with Ambedkar’s Constitution and South Africa after Apartheid. With decolonisation many countries have also accepted this framework. Loyalty to a written text that will protect the interests of the nation is the hallmark of this tradition. It has given rise to thousands of young lawyers committed to the Constitution, determined to write that brief, argue that case and persuade the judges to do what is right.

The main driver of constitutionalism has been the bill of rights or the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution. Perhaps the first such case was Brown vs., Board of Education where the US Supreme Court outlawed the practice of racial segregation and introduced busing children as a way of remedying the segregation. Professor Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom I have worked, meticulously argued her cases on sex discrimination that would set the stage for legislation that would prevent discrimination against women.

In South Asia lawyers came together to get the powerful Indian Supreme Court to follow suit. With Justice Bhagwati they found a willing partner and Professor Upendra Bax and Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam helped draft brief after brief in the 1970s and 1980s fighting for the economic and social rights of individuals. Using the right to life and dignity clause of the Indian Constitution many victories were won. Under trial prisoners, pavement dwellers, bonded labour, women in custodial homes all found their day in Court and managed to secure innovative judicial decision making and forward looking remedies. The Court expanded its standing provisions to allow a wide array of parties to file cases and as part of its proceedings often set up fact finding commissions to investigate cases. The remedies were also sweeping though recent reappraisals point to the fact that with time they lost their effectiveness.

Though Sri Lankan judiciary did not open its processes in this radical manner, the Fernando Amerasinghe era also saw many forward-looking judgments. Even today in Sri Lanka lawyers file case after case in the spirit of Constitutionalism to attempt the Court to pronounce on issues relating to justice, to interpret the Constitution so it better protects the public interest. Sometimes they are very successful. Some of the judgments of Justice Prasanna Jayawardene were path breaking and his early demise has deprived the court of a strong and thoughtful judge.

Constitutional democracy

As the American Courts gave an initial impetus to this tradition of Constitutionalism, they are now signalling its eventual demise. Martin Loughlin in his new book Against Constitutionalism makes a strong argument why we must move beyond Constitutionalism to what he calls constitutional democracy. The shocking recent decisions of the US Supreme Court in throwing out clearly laid out precedents in every field and under the guise of “textualism”, playing to the worst prejudices in society has made many realise that reliance on the judiciary to make positive changes is not always the answer.

Judges are appointed in diverse ways, they reason in complex directions and sometimes they can make major changes. Sexual Harassment was incorporated into the law not by the legislature but by the Indian judiciary in the famous Visakha case and Justices Mark Fernando and Amerasinghe opened our eyes to many things including environmental law. Recently in the Court of Appeals there is a far-reaching judgment about elephants having legal recognition as sentient beings. These developments have to be recognised as forward looking.

But Loughlin cautions us to be weary. As the US Supreme Court does away with some of America’s most precious liberties, the new generation of young lawyers is trying to find alternatives. Relying only on judges to make changes in your society may backfire and one may not be able to control the direction of the bench. In the end according to Loughlin it is constitutional democracy and political practice, meeting, speaking and convincing people at the community level that will truly make a change that is lasting and more sustainable.

In recent times the debate on constitutional democracy has also deepened in other ways. As we speak about democracy, we remember only decades ago, Francis Fukuyama declaring, after the fall of the Berlin wall, that the world had agreed that there is only one form of government and that is representative democracy. In recent years, there has come the belief that democracy leads to chaos and the pampering of minorities. In its place came the ideology of the strong leader and majoritarian democracy. Throughout Asia, Western Europe and the United States strong leaders exercised charismatic control over their populations. For public interest lawyers it was a truly an era of darkness.

Recently the tide appears to be slowly turning again with the active participation of what is termed generation Z. There is the realisation that not all strong leaders are in the model of Lee Kwan Yew, even if that is an authoritarian model that is acceptable. Instead many may become Pol Pots or Idi Amins emphasising the fact that the need for checks and balances in a system of government is essential for modern governance. Whatever reservations we have about Constitutionalism, its role in limiting the executive and developing independent Commissions have been key to the successes of democratic experiments.

There is a belief among business and political elites that you cannot make hard economic decisions without a measure of authoritarianism. This has been disproven in Sri Lanka itself. Minister Mangala Samaraweera, taking the unions and other stakeholders into his confidence managed to partially privatise Sri Lanka Telecom. The belief that reform can only be imposed and not negotiated in a good faith bargaining process is the key to this misunderstanding that democracy will prevent economic development.

Struggle to maintain democracy may only be beginning

In this struggle against authoritarian schools of thought Sri Lanka has clearly not been an exception. The Aragalaya movement showed many of us that the democratic spirit was alive and well but the hold that such democratic ideas have on the public at large will only be tested at another general election. As we watch a government taking action with the help of the security forces, unapologetic for its authoritarian ways, the struggle to maintain democracy may only be beginning.

At the same time, while protecting representative democracy from the onslaught of authoritarian models of governance, many new thinkers around the world are being imaginative thinking new ideas about democracy itself. Such experiments focus on direct democracy and organising at a community level. They question who should represent and who is privileged. While representative democracy is fairer than authoritarian models it is still not structured to prevent inequality and discrimination. It does not truly engage the full participation of the citizenry as in the model of democracy outlined by thinkers such as Rousseau. By raising these questions there is an attempt to deepen democracy and participation.

These issues came to ahead in Chile during and after its recent elections. The Chilean elections brought forth a government that believed in experimenting with these new forms of democracy placing emphasis on direct democracy and implementing a broad scope with regard to participation. The new Constitution was drafted using these principles and a very innovative, imaginative Constitution was presented. Nevertheless it was roundly defeated at a referendum sending Chile back to the drawing board. Unless new experiments in democracy truly understand the nature of the electorate, the conservatism of many ordinary people and the years of ideological conditioning that predates the exercise such experiments will inevitably result in failure.

In Sri Lanka today, given the failure of representative democracy there are many discussions and experiments suggested with regard to alternatives. The Chilean experiment is a reminder that though people may want change, they may not want the kind of drastic change that alters the system of government they are comfortable with. Any experiment must be realistic and practicable and command the confidence of the average person. Lawyers will be intermediaries in these developments. They will be the drafters and the gatekeepers who can help and guide any such process. Their skills are crucial. Without Ambedkar, the visionary dalit draftsman, the Indian Constitution would have no legacy.

Any democracy has to be founded on the principle and exercise of free speech. Governments understand that and journalists are usually the first to be imprisoned when there is a crackdown. For lawyers to protect them and defend them is a constitutional duty as a means of securing democracy. The murder of eminent journalists throughout South Asia and the impunity for such a murder points to the fear of information being made available to the public. All over the world especially in South Asia, the assassination era is slowly being overtaken by an era where businesspeople close to government or political actors acquire media houses so that the marketplace of ideas is strictly controlled and the public only receives select messages. Only social media has broken this stranglehold. Based on the principle that every individual has the right to publish unedited and undeterred it helps prevent a complete shutdown of opposing views.

Yet social media has added complications to this process. While it is liberating in many ways the dark web and hate speech are its frightening dimension. I was on the International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. There was no doubt that Facebook had a major role to play in the violence there. Part of my work involved reading the most horrendous posts and the posts of the military generals contributed evidence to make the case for genocide. Myanmar generals were unrestrained in their feelings of disgust for the Rohingyas and many were open in the suggestion that they should be eliminated.

Even in Sri Lanka with regard to the incidents in Digana recently, Facebook and WhatsApp played the role of bringing thugs and crowds to the location and in creating a climate of hostility. Content moderation then becomes a serious issue. It cannot be left solely to governments or big tech – the Elon Musk drama with regard to Twitter is a clear example. Some mechanism has to be devised at the global level to play that role of moderating content on social media platforms. Hopefully a fair and reasonable one that understands and respects freedom of speech will be devised in the near future.

The third area where there is a struggle and debate over ideas is the field of economic and social rights. While discussing the issues mentioned above it is important to remember the warning of Thomas Picketty, one of the world’s leading thinkers, that the most important issue of the 21st century is the problem of inequality. Inequality destroys societies from within creating fissures and social tensions that can only lead to violence and injustice. It is the cancer that truly destroys a society.

For societies like Sri Lanka the first issue of inequality that has darkened our 75 years of independence has been ethnic relations and minority rights. In law and political science classes all over the world there are textbook solutions to these issues. For minorities one creates a constitutional and legislative framework to ensure equality at the Centre with mechanisms for implementation. For a territorial minority the textbook solution has always been power sharing agreements. Lawyers have spent hours devising, writing and redrafting such solutions. For a great part of my early career I worked with Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam reading every constitution and every analytical text on equality and power sharing. But as Indian scholars have written murderous majorities and minorities have torn apart any textbook solutions creating an atmosphere of distrust, suspicion and hate.

Reconciliation and rebuilding of trust will take some time

Reconciliation in this context and the rebuilding of trust will take some time. Whatever is agreed to on paper will only be sustainable if there is a buy in from the majority of the population and only if trust is created and rebuilt by media and educational systems that have so far been for the most part divisive and destructive.

The issue of inequality is also alive within communities. As Partha Chatterjee has written our traditional elders made a compact with British colonialism. While public life was to be governed by western and multilateral models of governance such as the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the corporation, it was decided that private life would be governed by the distinct communities through their own laws. Private life where women dominate would remain untouched and timeless – the sacred private space where tradition and rituals will be enjoyed. Many of these laws written centuries before modern personhood was defined discriminate against women in fundamental ways.

When the community is the majority the legislature can change the law through the normal process but if it is a minority community the politics is far more complex. My approach is to listen to the voices of the women of the community. The recent legal reforms suggested to the Muslim Marriages and Divorce Act is spearheaded by leading Muslim women. It is important that their voices be heard and that we support their endeavours.

The most important issue of inequality that grips Sri Lanka and the whole world at this moment is of course income inequality. After the pandemic and our present economic crisis, economic and social rights of the population become paramount. With rising poverty and malnutrition and with the forecast that things will become worse trapping a generation into a cycle of poverty, it is important that the whole country including lawyers pay attention. Much of the writing on these themes is divided between the so-called neo liberals with their emphasis on growth and the Marxist school with a strong redistributive class analysis.

The discourse and narrative of social democracy has been erased from the debate especially in Sri Lanka – a narrative that accepts the market as inevitable but attempts to ensure maximum social protection. It was once called the Scandinavian model. Many of the international legal instruments are built around this impetus for social protection. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women for example places a great deal of emphasis on women’s economic and social rights as well as their labour.

If we are to go through the IMF process, a process that seems inevitable, it is very important that public lawyers keep their attention on the delivery of services especially food and education and the provision of resources such as cash transfers. Lawyers will be drafting these agreements and perhaps in the public interest they should raise these questions. As the economy contracts in the next few years it is vital that the public remains fed housed and educated.

Perhaps the debate on economic and social rights is supplemented with our mounting concern about the environment and our wildlife. This debate is about how we are going to structure our world so that we share it with nature and other animals on our planet. I am a petitioner in the recent case that attempts to prevent the mistreatment of elephants by private actors, to protect them from harm and to recognise that they have some rights under the law. The Supreme Court provided interim measures in our favour last Thursday. These young, ambitious hard working activists in the environmental movement must be commended for keeping these issues alive. They are about our future in every sense of the word.

Though many people are pessimistic about Sri Lanka’s future I remain open to the possibilities. As young lawyers and as you navigate your future, step back and reflect what is your idea of Sri Lanka. Sunil Khilnani once wrote a book called the idea of India and showed how Gandhi, Nehru, especially Nehru, and Ambedkar not only freed India but moulded and created the idea of India. Now Nehru’s grandson Rahul Gandhi is marching the streets of India fighting for that idea to be kept alive in the wake of what he sees as an assault on its fundamentals.

What is your idea of Sri Lanka? Some see it in religious or ethnic terms; some see it in terms of a modern nation state. For me it is a work in progress. There must be an idea that everyone can embrace – not only one community, caste or class. If we ever have genuine discussions on a future Constitution perhaps a unifying idea will emerge. At the moment it is fragmented and the debates I have mentioned are only the beginning of an honest discussion. 75 years after independence we are yet to decide on the final social contract that will govern us.

Finally, one image I carry in my mind’s eye throughout these difficult times is the picture of the young lawyers during Aragalaya linking their hands separating the protesters from the security forces. I also remember the image of young lawyers flooding the courts in their hundreds to protect the rights of those taken in after peaceful protests. In my conversation with young people I saw a lot of potential. They did not appear to carry the baggage and the scars of the previous generations. There was freshness and a wholesomeness that should be preserved.

Though there was terrible violence toward the end that should be condemned, Aragalaya also brought out the best in young people and that should not be forgotten. I have no illusions. All over the world movements led by young people are being crushed. But time is on your side. You will outlive the older generation with their oppressive world-views and hopefully you will make society anew. We may not be alive to see it but we hope seeds planted by the generations before you will strengthen your resolve.

Sri Lanka: Deconstructing Sinhala Psyche

7 mins read

Sarath Weerasekera M.P. has said that I lived 65 years among the Sinhalese but I’m now saying Sinhalese cannot live in the North. He has also said that the Tamils should not remember the dead Tiger Terrorists publicly. Let me have my comments on that.

Why would I say Sinhalese cannot live in the North?  Every Citizen has the right to choose his residence in his or her Country in conformity with the Law.

But I have certainly said that neither the Government nor the Forces nor Buddhist Priests have any right to expropriate lands of our People illegally. Having chased the Tamils out of the Sinhala areas by pogroms and riots, now there is a move to illegally expropriate lands in the Tamil Homelands’ area and colonise them with Sinhala colonists. Now there are moves to drive wedges within the contiguous Tamil speaking areas to disturb their contiguity and continuity. I say illegally because in terms of International legal principles of land alienation the people from the area where lands are alienated should receive first preference when they are being settled thereon. Instead people from outside areas have been brought into Tamil speaking areas to change the demographic patterns in the area. In recent times, having come to realise that their illegal activities are being exposed to the outside World, the Government and others have started expropriating lands from Tamil speaking areas through the Mahaweli Authority and other Government Departments.Recently the Sinhala Governor of the Eastern Province  presided over a meeting to acquire areas in the Kuchchaweli Division to give lands to the Polonaruwa District, for the Sinhala people to get a foothold on  Eastern coastal lands. Clearly the idea is to divide the contiguity of the Tamil speaking areas.Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera must study what is happening in the North and East before making sweeping statements about me or any other person.

Tamils have not settled in any part of Sri Lanka in such a way as to endanger the identity or existence of the Sinhalese people or with the intention of endangering them.The settlement of Tamil people in Southern Sri Lanka during the British regime was an organic process. No settlement of Tamil people ever took place by force.Moreover, Tamil people did  not have the authority or power to establish settlements of Tamil people in Sinhalese areas. Hon’ Weerasekera must remember these facts. Moreover I lived in a Sinhala area (if Cosmopolitan Colombo could be called as such) in a house built by my parents. I  did not get planted in Colombo by the Government with its finances. .Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera must study what has and is happening in the North and East and elsewhere before making sweeping statements about me or any other person.

Well renowned researchers  such as Professor Yiftachel Oren, Professor of Political Geography, Ben Gurion University, Israel,  have studied the land occupation and Sinhalese settlements carried out by successive  Sinhalese governments in the Northern and Eastern areas, the traditional native places of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. They have compared Sri Lanka to countries like Israel and called the Government here as  an  “Ethnocratic Regime”.

Coming to the next matter if the Sinhalese could remember openly their dead soldiers, why cannot Tamils openly remember their youth who fought on their behalf  and died heroically? After all they kept the North and East of Sri Lanka for nearly thirty years under their control, despite all odds.

They are referred to as Terrorists!  Who identifies a person as a Terrorist?The Government? The Press?The Sinhalese People? Who identifies a person as a Patriot?The Press?The Government?The Sinhalese people?

Was Keppetipola who was executed by the British as a criminal, a patriot or a criminal?  If the Sinhalese call him a patriot and a hero why did the British call him a criminal? Were the British right or the Sinhalese are right?

You would realise there are no Terrorists born.They are called Terrorists as it suits the persons so calling. Infact the State Terrorism of the Sinhalese has been far more brutal and barbaric than any acts of war committed by the Tigers. Yet the Sinhalese remember their dead  openly. But to remember the members of a  disciplined set of youth who sacrificed their lives fighting against the State’s atrocities against the Tamils must according to Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera be confined to the backyards of individual houses? I am glad His Excellency the President did not conform to the views of Hon’ Weerasekera and allowed the Maaveerar’s Day to pass on relatively peacefully.

Let me now come back to me. I believe I am the only founder member of the original Congress of Religions incorporated in 1971 living today.We started functioning round 1965.Mr.SNB Wijeyekoon was Secretary.We took the then MahanayakeThero to the North on a visit so that he would meet the People there and visit Buddhist places of worship.We arranged such goodwill visits to bring better understanding among the various votaries of different religions.

I belong to a different vintage to that of Hon’ Weerasekera. In our youthful days we acted in unison whether we were Sinhalese or Tamils or Burghers or Muslims or even Malays or Chinese.The English language bound us. Even after the foolish, thoughtless Sinhala Only Act was passed the earlier friendship, camaraderie and mutual respect for each other among our diversified coterie of friends continued for some time.  But soon the thought that Ceylon belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists took charge of our Sinhala Buddhist brethren.

This is an absolutely false notion.

The Sinhala Buddhists are the majority in the Island if taken as a whole. But Hindu Tamils are the majority in the North and East from pre historic times. Never have the Tamil speaking not been the majority in the North and East.In1833 the British unified the Island administratively. But the areas of residence of the Tamil speaking  continued to be the North and East of the Island. Now there is a move to drive out the Tamils from those areas of residence of the Tamil speaking people and transform them into Sinhala speaking areas. A clear act of genocide! Hon’ Weerasekera wants me not to be perturbed about this daylight robbery taking place in the areas of the Tamil speaking simply because I have lived 65 years (according to him ) in the Sinhala speaking areas.

What does being majority got to do with ownership? Lots of students attend Tutories. They are the majority while classes go on. Owner is a single individual. Could the Students say “We are the majority. So the Tutory building belongs to us?” Numbers have nothing to do with ownership or possession.  If it does, the Tamil speaking are the majority in the North and East. The Tamils had separate areas, separate language, separate arts and crafts, separate medicinal systems, separate culture, separate topography, separate climatic conditions, separate geological foundation and so on. Of course before the Sinhala language was born the Tamil language was the lingua franca of the Island.

This Country therefore does not belong to the Sinhala Buddhists. It belongs to each and every citizen of this Island. Of course such citizens have individual and collective rights. The Tamils having occupied the North and East continuously for over 3000 years they have the collective right of internal self determination in terms of the International Covenants.

Will Hon’ Sarath Weerasekera accept that right of the Tamils? The right of Internal Self Determination! Would he admit that the Tamils were the original inhabitants of this Island? Would he admit that the Sinhala language is of recent origin? The Sinhalese language came into being in the 6th and 7th Century AD. There was no Sinhala language before 1400 years ago from now.Their Grammar Sidath Sangarawa came out only in the 13th Century AD. The first Sinhala inscription belongs to a period subsequent to the Seventh Century AD. These are all historical facts. Cleverly the Sinhalese intelectuals have been referring to Pali which is one of the parent languages of Sinhala, as the early form of Sinhala. The Sinhala language was not even born then but they refer to Pali and Prakrit as early Sinhala.This is like saying  I came from my grandfather and therefore I lived during my grandfather’s time.Surely I am different and my grandfather was a different person altogether.  Simply because I came from him I cannot claim to have lived during my grandfather’s time! In fact my grandfather was no more when I was born.

Will Hon’ Weerasekera and his Sinhalese accolytes accept that their language is of very recent origin and that there were no Sinhalese living before their language came into being. In fact Dutu Gemunu never spoke the Sinhala language nor had he heard of the Sinhalese race.He was a Buddhist Tamil Prince from the South and Ellalan was a Hindu Tamil King ruling from Anuradhapura.

Will Hon’ Weerasekera accept the DNA results which have referred to the geneology of the Sinhalese to be traceable to the South Indians.

Hon’ Weerasekera some days ago said that he would not allow power sharing with others in this Country.The reason he gives is that the Country is already one and indivisible.He said the Thirteenth Amendment was forced upon the Sinhalese.

Is the Honourable  Member of Parliament aware that the Kandyan Sinhalese requested a federal constitution from the British? In fact if the Tamils also asked for Federalism it would have been granted. Unfortunately we had a famous and successful Lawyer as our Leader at that time whose criminal clientele hailed mostly from the South. Hence he asked for 50:50 (50% seats in Parliament to Sinhalese and the balance 50% to the Opposition jointly) to make sure he could continue to practice in the South.  The British rejected it. But Lord Soulbury who saw what happened in the 1950s and early 60s bemoaned as the former Chairman of the Committee  which saw through the transfer of power from Great Britain to Ceylon and as the First Governor General of Ceylon that if they had known the historic background of the North Eastern Tamils and their individuality they would have included a Bill of Rights into the First Constitution. In other words he regretted granting a Unitary Constitution with no proper safeguards. I hope Hon’ Weerasekera is aware that despite there being no Bill of Rights, the Original District Court Judge de Kretser found the Sinhala Only Act to be contrary to the provisions of the  Constitution. The Unitary status given to the Country was a legacy left by the British to the Sinhalese due to certain conspiracies articulated by D.S.Senanayake and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke. They went to England specially to stop the Commissioners considering Federalism as an option.(Vide OEG- A biography of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke by Charles Jeffries).

Therefore let not Hon’ Weerasekera try to make out that the Unitary status of this Country is inviolable. On the other hand those akin to the Honourable Member of Parliament are fighting hard to keep the undue benefit the Sinhalese received from the British due to deals effected by their then Senior Politicians!

Views expressed are personal

Lalith: A Beacon of Nation-building

9 mins read

Following article is based on the keynote speech by the author as the President of Sri Lanka at the late Lalith Athulathmudali commemoration held recently in Colombo.

I was thinking about when I first met with Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali when he was a lawyer and a lecturer at the Law College and I was an apprentice under Mr. H. W. Jayawardena, before I took oath. The day I took oath I also invited Lalith to come to my oath party, another person I invited was another young lawyer older than me and a member of Parliament Gamini Dissanayake. I had two other members of Parliament I invited since I knew them. One was the Chief Opposition Whip, Mr. R. Premadasa and finally, the Leader of the Opposition Mr. J. R. Jayawardene.

I think the destiny of the country and the UNP was to a large extent tied to the interaction between all these members. Lalith, like me and Gamini, was eager to see a modernized UNP. Now, why did I join? My family has been UNP from the start.

But what attracted me as a modern UNPer was what was called the Kalutara Declaration of the 1963 UNP Convention which was a draft done by Dudley Senanayake and J. R. Jayawardena which laid the ground for social democracy.

We had envisaged as a party from the time of Mr. D. S Senanayake for a capitalist economy and the fact that we wanted to do away with hunger, illiteracy, and disease. That was in 1947.

The next most important part was trading. The trade was given over to Lalith. Later on, shipping was added that the other major project, which is to be the impetus for the development was one was going to be the greater Colombo Economic Zone with the President kept for himself and the other one was the Mahaweli program which had given to Gamini Dissanayake. that is how we started. Lalith’s job was trade.

It didn’t have the flash of the other jobs, but nevertheless, it was important. And he opened up the trade the Greater Colombo Economics. At that time we were a socialist economy, everything was controlled and President Jayawardena wants to go decided to proceed cautiously. And what did he do? He took seven electorates in the Gampaha District starting from Negombo and ending with Biyagama where the normal laws of an open market economy, were applied and special concessions were given in the two investment zones of Katunayake and Biyagama.

But Lalith realized that we can’t get export only from those areas. We need to have the rest of the country. Therefore, he started the Export Development Board to promote exports outside the economic zone.

So he undertook the development of Sri Lanka’s main port, the Colombo port. So you are getting into that two big areas of development around Colombo. On one side was Colombo, the trading hub, and Colombo, the port connected to Colombo was on the other side, the Greater Colombo Economic Zone then into the rural areas came this massive development program which really developed the north central province, parts of east and the whole of the Kandy district.

So these were the driving forces of growth that went along .then as it went on., I was then the Minister of Education Lalith came up with this idea of scholarships for those who want to go to the university. So you had the Mahapola scholarship. It is the first time that we funded individuals for free education and not the institutes.

Unfortunately, we didn’t carry it through with our institutes. And you have, the universities which are today taking money directly from the government and which have not developed, unfortunately, structured around the UGC. I think we have to rethink all mechanisms rather than the countries which funded the student who funded universities and therefore the courses had to be employment oriented.

But in addition, the universities run their external courses so they are external students and every year we had to take in about additional 10,000 people which contributes to the 500,000 excess in the government service.

So anyway, he started the Mahapola scheme to go ahead. So these are what we have to learn of the changes that we have to do now, keeping free education and making it more meaningful. Then came Lalith’s next stint as the Minister of Agriculture where he started modernizing the villages and looking at modernizing agriculture and looking at exports and then his stint as the Minister of Education.

Another one in the picture is Lalith as the Minister of National Security. Much had been said of this, so I will not cover that. I will look at the contribution he made both to the economy and to the development of Sri Lanka. It was then in 1991 that we all parted ways. Lalith decided he will leave the UNP and I thought that I will stay with the UNP.

That the party mattered and the party had to be strengthened. He felt there had to be changed and that he had to go out. And then the politics of Sri Lanka took a different, state altogether. By 1993, Lalith was assassinated. That was a great loss to the country. Within a week, President Premadasa was assassinated. And by the end of next year, Gamini was no more.

So the drivers of the development, the people who were to shape the country were no longer there. And then we had to look at a new phase. By that time, the world was also changing. The whole concept of social democracy had gone further forward. And it was known then as what we call today a social market economy.

When I became president, it was partly because we didn’t follow Lalith’s advice. He said you export or perish. We didn’t export, so the economy perished. Now, the whole issue was how do you restart it again? What is the type of economic model? Are we going in with a completely open new liberal model or something else? So I thought we should stay on with the social market economy and define it should be vibrant. It has to be vibrant.

It cannot be otherwise. And we developed what was relevant for today, a highly competitive economy with social protection. So the economy has to be highly competitive, highly competitive globally. Then it had to be an export-oriented economy. We’ve included in that for the first time what Lalith said, export or perish. And we brought in an issue which was not important that the time Lalith was living or the others. But today, climate change and environmentally friendly, green and blue economy, the green and blue economy, a word that was given to us by the late Mangala Samaraweera at that time, And finally, what Lalith again laid the ground for and what I also work for and what we did to the digital economy So it’s a highly competitive economy, which is export-oriented, which has social protection which is environmentally friendly, and the characteristics is a blue-green economy.

It doesn’t apply to the government of today, and a digital economy. This is what we have. Now we have to go ahead. We can’t be begging anymore. We can’t be going to countries and asking for loans anymore. We have to learn to stand on our own feet. When India fell in 1991, I was the Minister of Industries at that time, they decided to come up by themselves. Deng Xiaoping in China decided that he’ll bring the country up. Japan destroyed by war with the atomic bomb decided to come up by itself. Now, what the hell we are doing; Getting aid all the time?

I certainly don’t like to recreate a beggar nation. We must now in our own effort get back. There is no other way. We can’t aim low. We are looking at a 25-year programme. Many of us won’t be there when it ends. But we, as a nation, are going to complete 100 in 2048. I was born in 49, then we were second to Japan. Today we are just above Afghanistan. Now, where are we going? Let us make up our minds that we are going to build this economy and we can do it.

It’s an open market economy, highly competitive. It won’t come overnight. Gradually over a period of five years will build up our competition. We must aim for five years to sustain a growth of 7%. Easier said than done, but it can be done and international trade as a percentage of GDP must equal 100 or more. We are not doing it overnight, but certainly, over 5- 6 years, which we have to do.

And the annual growth rate from net exports should be $3 billion. Investment annually must be $3 billion and we have to create an internationally competitive workforce, highly educated and highly skilled. It has to be employable skills, not otherwise. So all this is what we have to aim at and we have to go for it. Then what is it? Before that, we have to stabilize the economy.

So we started that process in 2023 our fiscal stabilization program envisages, the government revenue increasing to around 15% of GDP by 2025 and from the present 8.3% at the end of 2023. If you look at an economy with social protection, I think our revenue will have to go beyond that to about 18% of the GDP.

But that can take another five years. We need that. We have to do it. Then we are looking at a primary surplus of more than 2% in 2025.

We are to improve thereafter we have to reduce the public sector debt from 110% of the GDP to 100% of the GDP in the medium term. We have to bring inflation under control and a single-digit and interest rates I presume have peaked and will gradually come down to a moderate and single-digit level.

And the exchange rate in this will become stable and strong with this has to come the growth-enhancing structural reforms. So we are not looking at the four years for the stabilization program and the modernization afterwards is running to get there. It’s supposed to start next year but we’ve already started getting the stabilization program and starting the structural reforms also at the same time.

So this is where we are and one wish on the structural reforms because my friend honourable Charitha Herath had raised it in the debate. Unfortunately, I was not in the chamber to reply. Yes as the policy, we accept that the government should not be running businesses at full stop. Except for one which is an exception, we will stay in the financial sector, we will build the banks we own and make them stronger, but it will be run like any good commercial bank and we don’t mind giving a part to the minorities shares to the deposit holders, amongst others.

File photo of young Lalith with beloved mother and father at Oxford [ Special Arrangement ]

It will bring some discipline in. So the financial sector. Yes, well, you control it with the financial sector. Not with the water’s edge or the Hilton Hotel. That is secondary. So we will keep building on our financial sectors we don’t mind helping out in the technology sectors. The digital economy will have to have some investments there. But the rest, yes, we have tried everything.

We tried state ownership. We have tried mixed economies. We tried to run it with corporations, that trillion of rupees that we have lost and we made us poorer than we were in 2019. So that is what we are going to do. And when you look at the future, one of the biggest new areas of development in Sri Lanka is as a logistics centre. Sri Lanka can be a feeder to most Asian countries, a transhipment hub first is the Colombo port.

Now we have got the south port very soon. We will have investment for the east terminal. And when that is full, the next project we are working on will be the north port, which will take all the way up to Ja-Ela making it the largest port. And from Ja-Ela only five miles away from the airport, you get an Air-sea hub naturally.

Then Hambantota another port, which can we reach out to Africa and Trincomalee on the eastern side of the Indian Ocean. So here we are. This is what we have and we have we are starting at that. Now that is what Lalith started. Secondly, large-scale modernization of agriculture small or big we have to modernize agriculture.

Which will aid the largely rural areas to increase our paddy production. We have a big market for export. The Middle East requires food. Singapore requires food and many other growing markets. There would be at least 500 million more people from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia by 2050 not counting the hundreds of millions in East Africa and South Africa. That’s the area we are looking at highly automated manufacturing because Lower-Wage economies will be in Bangladesh, Myanmar and even in India. We have to jump ahead. Our tourist industry has to now reorient itself to high-level tourism. We can’t have 10 million tourists coming in paying $100 to $150 a night. It’s better to have 2 million tourists at $ 500 to 1,000 a night.

So let’s see how we can build this society. Last time when Lalith, Gamini, Premadasa, Jayawardene, and all of us started, it was derailed by a war. I don’t think there is going to be a war in the country but the consequent, after-effects has to be actually rectified. And we decided after the budget debate is over in the following week that the party leader and the Speaker will meet and the Government to discuss how we can resolve the outstanding issues.

So that one thing we can all work together if you remember a large number of people who have graduated, thanks to what Lalith has done, so let’s work together both for the University and for a better Lanka, where those who graduate, those who post-graduate degrees from that university can exist.

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