Last week saw a dramatic turn of events replete with irony. Some Joint Opposition (JO) big guns let out a howl of protest and even called for a black flag protest against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, which, they claimed, would set the seal on some controversial trade and economic pacts between India and Sri Lanka. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also declared that he would not attend any functions graced by PM Modi unless they were related to the Vesak festival. But, he made an about-turn and had a nocturnal meeting with the visiting Indian leader.
Whoever would have thought Rajapaksa, who accuses India of having engineered his downfall in 2015, would seek an appointment to see Modi? They did not obviously discuss anything related to Vesak or exchange pleasantries at night. What the two leaders discussed has not been revealed, but their powwow may have been aimed at bringing about some kind of rapprochement. The JO has apparently realised that if its political project is to reach fruition it has to win over India, which is capable of throwing a monkey wrench in the works.
Theme cartoon added by TW
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was seen holding hands with the Indian PM last Friday and the following day he flew to Beijing, where he praised China’s One Belt One Road initiative, which India looks askance at. India will not take kindly to Sri Lanka’s backing for the Chinese project. The yahapalana government knows which side its bread is buttered. That is why it is making a desperate a bid to propitiate China, which alone can provide it with loans.
The yahapalana leaders declared before the 2015 presidential polls that they would scrap the Chinese-funded Port City Project immediately after coming to power. But, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, they have agreed to give the Chinese more land to be reclaimed from the sea in addition to the Hambantota Port and 15,000 of acres around it. China, which got what it needed from the Rajapaksa government, has received much more from the present administration! Whoever would have thought the yahapalana leaders would be so embarrassingly obsequious to the Chinese?
China now has both main parties, the UNP and the SLFP, in its pocket!
The JO leaders have opposed the government efforts to lease out the Trincomalee oil tank farm to India. They are also opposed to the ETCA (Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement). But, with a history of signalling left and turning right, they are likely to go ahead with the deals the present administration has struck with India if they succeed in capturing power. Like China, India may also get much more, in such an eventuality.
The yahapalana leaders and their rivals in the JO are in this predicament, having to appease both China and India in this shameful manner, owing to foreign policy blunders on their part. The Rajapaksa government duped itself into believing that with China and Russia on its side it did not have to care two hoots about the other powerful nations such as the US and India. That turned out to be a costly mistake. Its international enemies ganged up against it and deprived it of trade concessions besides launching a human rights offensive against it and backing the 2015 regime change here. Its successor thought it would be safe so long as it was in the good books of India, the US and Europe. Today, it is without sufficient funds, having unnecessarily antagonised China to please India and its western allies.