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Sajin Vass reflects Kerry-Lugar opinion in 2009 Senate report on Sri Lanka

By Daya Gamage –

Sri Lanka parliamentarian and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s coordinating Secretary Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, in a Washington interview with Bloomberg Media Network, conveyed Sri Lanka’s current sentiments very clearly to Washington policymakers and lawmakers: The United States is fast losing Sri Lanka to China.

Sri Lanka lawmaker Sajin de Vass Gunawardena

No political pundit who associated with Sri Lanka’s foreign relations ever told this truth to the Americans; and Mr. de Vass Gunawardena told this not far away in South Asia but on the American soil.

This young and emerging political activist who closely works with Sri Lanka’s head of state and the ‘councils’ associated with the presidency, had the guts to tell “That (human rights) should not be the yardstick by which you base your relationship, especially bilaterally in a geopolitical situation as what we face globally today and that’s where, fundamentally, the U.S. is falling behind and where China is gaining.”

No Sri Lankan official ever made such a statement for the Washingtonians to loudly hear that they have lost their senses when it comes to Sri Lankan issues. Sri Lanka parliamentarian de Vass Gunawardena told another truth most of those who are handling Sri Lanka’s external affairs would never say: “A common myth that exists is that we haven’t addressed accountability,” de Vass Gunawardena said, adding that Sri Lanka is studying South Africa’s reconciliation effort. “We have gone on a process that is good for the people of Sri Lanka that is good for the country. It may not be with the agenda of the LTTE diaspora, with the expats living outside of Sri Lanka, but it is good for the people of Sri Lanka.”

This writer has often said with credible knowledge of the mind-set of American foreign service officers in the State Department that the United States never wanted a divided Sri Lanka, but since the war ended in May 2009, Washington got succumbed to professional activists within the Tamil Diaspora – activists who were once working very closely with LTTE’s separatist agenda – to harass Sri Lanka in international forums.

In his interview in Washington on 15 July Mr. de Vass Gunawardene touched on those two vital points; US losing Sri Lanka to China and the activist-agenda using the Tamil Diaspora.

Gunawardena brought forward what the then chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry in association with the committee’s ranking member Richard Lugar highlighted in their December 2009 report “Sri Lanka: Re-charting U.S. Strategy After the War” that “the United States cannot afford to ‘‘lose’’ Sri Lanka. It does mean, however, considering a new approach that increases U.S. leverage vis-a-vis Sri Lanka by expanding the number of tools at our disposal. A more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship.”

This was the salient point Sri Lanka parliamentarian de Vass Gunawardena stressed in Washington, a point the foreign policy handlers in Sri Lanka should have been stressing over and over again on the American soil.

The December 2009 Kerry-Lugar report said:

(Begin Quote) With the end of the war, the United States needs to re-evaluate its relationship with Sri Lanka to reflect new political and economic realities. While humanitarian concerns remain important, U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka cannot be dominated by a single agenda. It is not effective at delivering real reform, and it shortchanges U.S. geostrategic interests in the region.

“The United States does have influence in Sri Lanka. The challenge today is how to creatively leverage political and humanitarian reform with economic, trade, and security incentives so as to link an expanded partnership with better governance and a strengthened democracy. To be effective, the United States should better understand what is important to the Sri Lankan Government and people and retool its strategy accordingly (End Quote)

The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee cautioned:

(Begin Quote) As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West.

“This strategic drift will have consequences for U.S. interests in the region. Along with our legitimate humanitarian and political concerns, U.S. policymakers have tended to underestimate Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance for American interests. Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.”(End Quote)

The report recommends the United States to move away from the position it has taken regarding Sri Lanka in this manner: “Sri Lanka’s strategic importance to the United States, China, and India is viewed by some as a key piece in a larger geopolitical dynamic, what has been referred to as a new ‘‘Great Game.’’ While all three countries share an interest in securing maritime trade routes, the United States has invested relatively few economic and security resources in Sri Lanka, preferring to focus instead on the political environment. Sri Lanka’s geo-strategic importance to American interests has been neglected as a result.”

The Asia Society report ‘The United States and South Asia after Afghanistan released in December 2012 makes this recommendation at a time Senator John Kerry was mentioned as the next secretary of state in the second Obama administration.

“A second Obama administration provides an opportunity to forge a better-integrated South Asia strategy. The approach should not be a focus on a single country alone. This is not about an India strategy, with neighbors attached”

Then it opines: “A holistic approach is essential. Many, if not all, functional challenges cross the traditional South and Central Asia/East Asia divide. Asian states see Asia as a geopolitical and economic space. U.S. policy makers on South Asia need to do likewise. China is a South Asian foreign and economic policy actor; a close political ally of Pakistan; and deeply engaged with Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. U.S. policy makers need to stretch their vision beyond the boundaries of geographic bureaus at the State Department.”

What the Asia Society December 2012 report cited Kerry Foreign relations Committee report envisaged in December 2009. Asia Society said:“For China, South Asia is the near abroad. The country shares direct land borders with Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan and a close interest in Sri Lanka and the Maldives given that so much of China’s energy needs are shipped via the Indian Ocean. Just as U.S. policy toward China will have consequences for U.S. relations with South Asian states, China’s policy toward South Asia will have consequences for Washington’s interests.”

Sri Lanka has two fronts to fight internationally: to re-cast the mind-set of the West and defeat the LTTE which has taken in the form of ‘diplomatic offensive’ which may create a ‘Kosovo’ atmosphere.

Looks as if Sri Lanka president’s coordinating secretary de Vass Gunawardena has taken that task for himself to address both these issues.

(Courtesy of Asian Tribune)

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