Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Yi Xianliang threw cautious diplomacy to the wind last week when he, addressing the media, countered a well-publicised allegation that his country had provided loans to Sri Lanka at extremely high interest rates. He may not have taken up that issue without the blessings of Beijing. Having defended his country passionately he bowled a Chinaman, which hit the government’s middle stump, so to speak; he rhetorically asked why Colombo should ask for Chinese loans if they were so expensive! Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake sought to pooh-pooh the Chinese envoy’s contention the other day; it was all rhetoric and he did not sound convincing at all.
Some government worthies have taken umbrage at the Chinese ambassador’s comments. They are reported to have demanded that the Foreign Ministry summon him forthwith. Their contention is that he should have taken up those issues with the government without going public. But, Xianliang, being a keen Sri Lanka watcher, may have thought that since the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government did not utter a word in protest when its western counterparts overstepped their diplomatic limits to comment on human rights situation here and accountability issues he should be able to defend his country vis-à-vis serious allegations. He, unlike other diplomats, confined his comments to the Chinese loans Sri Lanka had drawn and other such matters concerning the two countries. Therefore. before summoning him to the Foreign Ministry let the government be urged to tell the public whether it has asked for or already obtained Chinese loans at the same interest rates as the Rajapaksa administration. Has it drawn loans from non-Chinese sources at higher interest rates as claimed in some quarters? How much has it got from the countries which were supportive of the 2015 regime change and are full of praise for its leaders?
Some of those currently in power were members of the JRJ regime when the late Indian High Commissioner J. N. Dixit rode roughshod over the Old Fox and blatantly interfered in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. He enjoyed unbridled freedom to act like a viceroy and was instrumental in foisting the 13th Amendment on this country, having gone so far as to defend the LTTE and facilitate the rescue of Prabhakaran in 1987. Even today some western diplomats are critical of Sri Lanka’s human rights situation etc. None of the ruling party grandees take exception to their remarks which are oftentimes snide.
Far be it from us to tell the government whether to summon the Chinese envoy or not. But, if it does, it ought to mete out the same treatment to all diplomats who comment on internal affairs of this country. The ambassador of a friendly nation which has always stood by this country should not be singled out for bashing.
The government which goes out of its way to appease some foreign powers had better desist from antagonising this country’s traditional allies. It should not repeat the blunders the UNP-led UNF administration made way back in the early 2000s. Hard pressed for cash, that regime naively pinned its hopes on a collective of countries –the US, the EU, Norway and Japan—which banded together as the Tokyo Co-Chairs to control the then ‘peace process’ by offering a USD 4.5 bn aid package, which was tied to progress to be made in talks between the government and the LTTE. The UNF administration compromised national security, appeased the LTTE and reduced itself to a slave of the western bloc in the hope that it would be given enough aid to tide it over. It waited for Godot!
The UNF government blundered on military, economic and political fronts and, as a result, lost elections for 11 years consecutively thereafter until 2015. The current administration, too, won’t get anything tangible by way of aid from its western masters and, therefore. should be wary of antagonising China.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had better stop harassing China, which deserves to be treated with respect as a longstanding, trustworthy friend of Sri Lanka.