COLOMBO: China, which had a policy of turning a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s domestic issues, whether it was the ethnic issue or that of governance, has now shed its reserve and has started commenting on them.
The change has come about following the exit of the pro-China Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2015. While under Rajapaksa, China had a free run of the island nation, it has been facing competition from the West and India which have become the dominant players since the change of regime. Sino-Lankan agreements, signed and sealed during the Rajapaksa regime, have been reviewed and even stalled. The plight of the Chinese-funded projects prompted Chinese commentators to urge Beijing not to be oblivious to political currents in counties in which China had sunk billions of dollars.
“China too wants to play a political role in Lanka,” said CVK. Sivagnanam, Chairman of the Northern Provincial Council and a top leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) after Ambassador Yi Xianliang’s visit to Jaffna earlier this week. His visit to Delft Island, not far from Kachchativu, raised eyebrows.
Ambassador Yi Xianliang thus joined the ranks of Western and Indian diplomats and leaders who consider visits to the Tamil-majority Northern Province a must, given the fact that under Chief Minister Wigneswaran it is fighting for a federal Lankan constitution with substantial autonomy for the provinces.
But the Chinese envoy did not say what Western and Indian leaders and diplomats do. According to a report in Daily Mirror on the meeting with Wigneswaran on Wednesday, the envoy stressed the need for maintaining Lanka’s unitary constitution without any divisions, for the sake of rapid economic development. The constitution that is now being drafted through an elaborate consultative process should be realistic and based on the political and economic conditions prevailing in Lanka, the envoy said.
But the Chinese envoy’s stand did not go down well with Wigneswaran, who told him that peace and harmony cannot be achieved in the Tamil areas so long as the Tamils are denied their rights and 150,000 Lankan troops are stationed amidst them.
Critical Of Lankan Systems
Prior to his foray into Lanka’ Tamil North, the Chinese envoy had given a very forthright talk at the Regional Center for Strategic Studies (RCSS). He spoke about political and economic conditions in Lanka and where Lanka might be heading. He said that economic development should be given priority over ethnic reconciliation because the ultimate guarantee of peace and understanding comes from rapid and equitable economic development.
China is looking with skepticism the prospects of the multifaceted and controversial reconciliation process Lanka is engaged in at the prodding of the West and the UNHRC. Ambassador Yi Xianliang deprecated foreign intervention and said that it can delay the restoration of normalcy and development. In support he cited the case of the International Criminal Tribunal on Former Yugoslavia, which has been functioning without an end in sight since 1993. Yugoslavia continues to be in a shambles.
The envoy criticized the lack of policy stability in Lanka and the existence of a multiplicity of ministries and agencies with overlapping authority, and said that these stall development and FDIs. He even went to the extent of supporting the much reviled proposal for an Indo-Lanka Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) saying that Lanka needs to come out its cocoon and enter into regional and international agreements and supply chains. Such pacts are needed to spur development and usher in all round prosperity, which will eventually lead to ethnic reconciliation, he said.