13 January 2016

Sri Lanka: A Pawn in the Asian Theatre of the New Cold War

The recent story of Sri Lanka, its civil war and aftermath represent yet another tortured tale, a series of proxy battles resulting in devious schemes and dark betrayals.

It must be remembered that during the Cold War the United States harboured animosity toward India and cultivated a friendship with Pakistan. The status of these relationships and other factors moved America toward China. Both saw the relationship as a way to counter the USSR. Common enemies helped to forge a friendship. India under Nehru and later under Indira Gandhi charted a Non-Aligned course which earned its enmity from the United States. India attempted to deny both Superpowers influence within its borders and politics. In terms of military hardware and infrastructure it was just as likely to turn to the USSR. In the eyes of the United States, this marked India as an enemy.

With regard to the struggles in Sri Lanka, India at different times and in different ways supported the Tamils and probably played a role in the creation of the LTTE- the Tamil Tigers which warred against the dominant Sinhalese government. India of course has its own significant Tamil population and was concerned about the possibility of Tamil nationalism spilling over into India itself.

The Sinhalese being Buddhist were historically more inclined to look to China, even a China under Mao. History doesn't just go away because a new regime takes over. Countries like Russia, China and Vietnam which became communist in the twentieth century could not eliminate historical and cultural roots. In the end they all succumbed to nationalism.

Eventually the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and India came into conflict over the late 1980's peace deal in Sri Lanka. India played a key part in brokering this desperate to end the conflict and relieve the growing tensions among the Tamil population in India. The LTTE refused to go along and turned against India resulting in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and Sri Lankan president Premadasa in 1993.

In what could perhaps be described as an unusual move the US militarily supported the Sinhalese government until 2007. The conclusion of Cold War did not affect the struggle in Sri Lanka and US tensions with India that continued throughout the 1990's. But things began to change just a few years after 9/11. The new US course would alter the relationship with China.

The United States had moved toward establishing relations with China in the 1970's and 1980's. During the 1990's after Tiananmen, the Taiwan Crisis, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the Hainan Island incident in 2001, tensions grew between the countries and for a time the relationship waned.

By the 2000's the United States and China entered a period of outward friendship in terms of trade deals and membership in international organisations. Pledges of cooperation were given but at the same time tensions began to develop fomented by China's growing economic and regional strength, tensions in Africa and US intrusion into Central Asia. The United States views itself as an East Asian Power and resents China's ascendancy. And yet, the economic relationship has created a strange modus vivendi, rivals trapped in a symbiotic relationship. The rivalry grew more intense as the Chinese were desperate to acquire resources and markets and began to expand their economic footprint into other parts of Asia and Africa. The War on Terror began to be revealed as the US grasping for global hegemony and the control of resources.

When Rajapaksa came to power in 2005 and moved Sri Lanka toward an even closer relationship with China, the US in 2007 suspended military aid. By then the historic friendship between Sri Lanka and China had become a problem. The US wanted Sri Lanka firmly in its camp and did not want China to establish a firmer foothold in the Indian Ocean.

The New Asian Cold War was already underway. Though Bush remained outwardly friendly toward the PRC and relations outwardly improved after 9/11, the Neo-Conservative/PNAC crowd which would certainly comprise much of what is known as the Blue Team continued to push against China and make plans.

Barack Obama has largely implemented their agenda in the Middle East and East Asia. He's not done this in exactly the way they would want it and he's criticised for being less than robust, but Obama has demonstrated a startling degree of continuity with the PNAC programme. He either has become a fellow-traveler or a case could be made that he does not retain control over large swathes of his administration and policy. The jury is still out on that point.  

USAID came to Sri Lanka in 2008 and the US pushed for regional government in the Tamil zones. The US appeared moderate and conciliatory in trying to work toward a peaceful resolution of the Civil War.

And yet this was once more a case of American duplicity.

The US began working diligently to crush the LTTE financially and see their utter defeat.

Why the switch? The US seemed unhappy with Rajapaksa and was all but breaking ties with him. But then in a short period the US suddenly worked to help Rajapaksa defeat the Tamils and end the war. What was going on?

By 2007 the situation with India and China had changed. Tensions had increased with China, the brief sunshine period after 9/11 had ended and the US had also scored a series of stunning diplomatic victories in the form of brokered agreements with India throughout 2004-2005. GW Bush had mended the fence with India and the relationship with Pakistan had grown more ambiguous. Planners began to see China as the future enemy and it seemed time to bring India in line with US goals. They would also prove a valuable ally in the Central Asian game that was beginning to pick up the pace.

Pakistan of course felt utterly betrayed and this reached its climax when in 2008 when the US-Indian Nuclear deal (123) was ratified by the IAEA and the US Congress. This deal signed by Bush in 2005 signifies that despite the outwardly friendly relations the US was moving against China, and this was several years before Obama came into office.

By 2007, the US had decided it was in its interests to end the Sri Lankan Civil war, drive out Rajapaksa and effectively attempt to start over with a clean slate.

Diplomatic pressure, financial intervention, military intelligence and the work of US allies all contributed to this effort.

Of course profits also play a significant but secondary role. It's hard not to be cynical but the power players seem to live by the mantra that if money can be made while objectives are being met, then so much the better.

Rajapaksa would score a stunning victory only to find the carpet being ripped out from under him.

Since the conclusion of Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009, the US moved to condemn Rajapaksa and drive him from power. Under the pretense of concern for human rights they gave Rajapaksa a lot of bad press and turned the international community against him. Of course the US and its allies had done all they could to aid him in prosecuting the war. This turn on Rajapaksa was in reality a move to block China's influence and pull Sri Lanka from completely falling under their sphere. It was a set-up for a soft-coup. For any who doubted, it would become quite clear this was the case.

A somewhat beleaguered but still very politically viable Rajapaksa faced re-election in early 2015. Many believe this election was orchestrated, in fact a soft coup. There are allegations that the RAW (India's CIA) worked to throw the election. The US had certainly established notable ties with opposition members through various foundations opening up channels of influence as well as ways to move money.   

Interestingly once Sirisena took power in January 2015 the US moved to drop the 'international' discussion regarding war crimes against the Tamils. The US supported an 'internal' investigation which basically allows Colombo to sweep it under the rug. The concerns for human rights and war crimes were little more than a tool to help smear Rajapaksa in the international community. The UN once again proved to be a convenient tool that was tossed aside when no longer needed.

A stunned Rajapaksa left the country mired in corruption and debt... a significant amount of it to China.

The new government in Sri Lanka earnestly pursued an IMF loan in an attempt to alleviate the situation. The IMF, long decried as a tool in the hands of Western Imperialism rejected the loan.

But why? Doesn't the IMF enslave nations in debt, dictate domestic policy, force privatisation, rigid budgeting and austerity?

Yes, it often does. These are tools that have often been employed since the IMF and World Bank were created at the end of WWII. Man y nations have been all but enslaved in this manner to Western finance. However, when specific geopolitical goals are in mind, taking the debt into the international scene can entangle the desired end. The IMF can be bad, but from the standpoint of some it's preferable to private and bilateral loans or aid packages. As bad as it can be, the IMF also provides a forum for appeal, while private loans if they provide any venue it will likely be some form of arbitration. The IMF is a tool in the hands of global capitalism but at the same time there are many devout capitalists who believe it to be too cluttered and cumbersome and despite its criticisms from the left, too concerned with human rights and social equity.

It is significant that with ascent of Narendra Modi in India there's a new capitalist spirit in the region. The new Sri Lankan government is pro-Capitalist and pro-USA in its policy. If the IMF won't finance the debt then India itself can be looked to as a means to alleviate Sri Lanka's crisis and 'establish closer ties'. This will also allow Sri Lanka to avoid IMF budgetary restrictions. Rather than become slaves to international banking interests, their obligation will be closely tied with India... and thus by proxy the United States.

It will be interesting to see if Sri Lanka balks on payments to China. In this case because the IMF and World Bank haven't been involved, China will be limited in their ability to seek international redress.

By the IMF refusing the loan, the West, India and the new government in Sri Lanka are basically defying the Chinese. But by relying on private capital from India, the EU and likely the USA, Sirisena's hand is weakened domestically and his nation will find itself directly under the influence of New Delhi and Washington.

Even seeking loans in the private sector, Sri Lanka will be driven into further debt and unfavourable lending schemes. It's still bondage in the end. The terms might be different and in some senses more favourable but in another sense Sri Lanka will be opened wide to foreign influence. The IMF wasn't the tool of choice for Sri Lanka. The United States has an extensive toolbox. In this case Modi will prove more useful than the IMF and what little transparency was available will now be further obscured.

Sri Lanka will be all but compelled to become a satellite member of the US-India Axis and part of the larger US extension of power into the region. European influence so important in the struggle with Russia will be marginalised in the Asian Theatre and specifically in Sri Lanka. The Asian Cold War will be exclusively an Anglo-American project.

We shouldn't be surprised if eventually the US looks to place forces in Sri Lanka. China's docking of submarines under Rajapaksa alarmed both New Delhi and Washington. A US base in Sri Lanka will humiliate Beijing and expand US power in the region.

Rajapaksa began making moves to return to power, hoping to become prime minister under Sirisena by securing enough seats in the August 2015 parliamentary elections. Few doubt he's backed by Chinese money and interests. There's a real danger of Sri Lanka turning into another South Sudan.

Rajapaksa sought to utilize Sinhalese nationalism and destabilize the country, a desperate but dangerous move for a country having just come out of a multi-decade civil war. And yet for Rajapaksa and the Chinese the situation was becoming desperate.

Rajapaksa lost his bid but has become MP for Kurunegala. He's still in the government but significantly degraded. This story and its context were all but unreported in the Western media. The United States has scored a fairly stunning victory and did so largely under the radar. Sri Lanka has been ripped out of China's sphere and China has been left with the bill.

Who is the regional aggressor? China or the United States? While China indeed has regional aspirations and is seeking to counter US power in the region... power that seeks to restrict Chinese access to resources and goods... China does not pretend to stand for democracy or freedom. It's a nation with interests that wants to do business. I don't mean that to sound innocent. It's sinister enough but it's not hypocritical.

The United States is an aggressive and violent imperialist power that has exercised massive sway over East Asia for decades. In light of China's rise, the United States has elected to extend its power and break China. Like a dark sorcerer out of a fantasy or science fiction film the United States manipulates finance, diplomacy, manufactures news and interferes in politics. It starts wars and crafts their narrative. It schemes and murders.

China is a wicked nation to be sure, but nothing is more offensive to Americans than to treat them as morally equivalent. It must be said that in many aspects the United States is worse.

As Christians we understand the evil nature of power in a fallen world and the effects of man's depravity. We know the world is full of lies and murder. But how many Christians in this land will sign on to the American narrative, invest in and profit from its projects? How many Christian parents send their children off to be either corporate warriors or just as bad, members of the US military that threaten the world with violence and in the end risk death for profits and empire, not the truth or freedom of the multifaceted propaganda campaign that dominates our culture and churches.

And what of the Christians in Sri Lanka? Christianity has suffered enough as a result of colonial influence under the Portuguese and Dutch. It already has a bad name. Yet, there are still many Christians there. What will US scheming lead to in terms of their testimony? How do they feel about Modi's influence and the US endorsement of him when Christians are suffering under his hand?

The Christian religion in the United States isn't Christianity but Christo-Americanism a hybrid of Christian doctrine with political and economic power. In the end Biblical doctrine takes a backseat. What is paramount is allegiance to the American system and its goals. Christians in this country will happily see their brethren bleed, suffer and die if it means the enhancement of the United States. The American Church is largely apostate, an unfaithful bride, a great whore.

The United States is marching the world toward war and the Christian Right in this country will have a significant amount of blood on its already polluted hands. They have done all they can to support the means and scenario that will lead to it.

Someday Tamils or Sinhalese will attack the United States and the people here will ask... why do they hate us? What did we ever do to them? From lower Manhattan, to the Pentagon, to the White House and Langley, the United States reaches out and spreads it great lie while hiding a knife behind its back. Murder begets murder.