China and Sri Lanka
The Positive and the Negative
by Victor Gunasekara
§ 1. Introduction.
There has recently been an upsurge of interest worldwide in China. China is seen as the next world power eclipsing the United States which had fulfilled this role at least since the Second World War. Sri Lanka has more than the others shared in this interest because it had developed a heavy dependence on China particularly since the end of the Civil War with the LTTE in 2009. The first opening to China begain in 1956 with the Hela Revolution bur until the present regime came to power the relationship while being cordial had not become crucial as it is now.
§ 2. The Regimes in China and Sri Lanka.
By the term 'China' I mean the 'Peoples Republic of China' (PRC). It should not be taken to mean Chinese in general, or the Chinese Diaspora outside the mainland of China. Many of them stick to the great Confucian ideals. Communism is alien to China and the PRC is the only major Communist regime still standing. They have added to the evils of Communism by combining it with two other evils: (1) unqualified Capitalism to a privileged few, and (2) Neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism towards dependent countries. This has made the PRC even worse than their close ally North Korea where purges have already begun. The recent change of leadership in the PRC to President Xi has added some confusion but its basic nature has not changed.
Sri Lanka has made a transition from democracy to a kind of feudal autocracy. The forms of democracy may be maintained but
they have been overrun by gross electoral abuses and a denial of freedom of speech and press to those who expose critical facts. Even though the civil conflict has ended nearly 5 years ago parts of the country have a strong military presence and in other areas gangs and criminals allegedly sponsored by the regime rule. LJ calls SL a "protectorate" of China thereby acknowledging its status as a vassal of China. In fact LJ has in one stroke undermined the sovereignty of Sri Lanka which it often claims for itself. This is one of the few correct statements made by LJ. But he is mistaken if he thinks that China will "protect" SL in all circumstances.
§ 3. Colonialism: Tibet and the South China Sea.
At a time when the Western colonial powers had laid down their colonial yoke and given independence to the the territories they once ruled China has embarked on an opposite course. The first victim of Chinese colonialism was Tibet. This country for centuries had maintained friendly relations with the Classical Chinese dynasties but no Chinese dynasty had captured it by military force. There were close cultural links between ancient China and Tibet and both had a Buddhist past. All this came to an end when the communist rulers of China invaded Tibet shortly after they captured power in the mainland. Many thousands of Tibetans were killed in the process. The main destruction of Tibetan culture came during the so-called Cultural Revolution. During this time hundreds of monasteries were destroyed and thousands of Buddhist monks slaughtered. Ancient Buddhist libraries were torched and the Dalai Lama forced to flee to India. The Potola became the residence of the Chinese Governor and the process of Chinese settlement of Tibet begun. Today the native Tibetans have been made a minority in their own country, probabaly the only example in the world of near total ethnic cleansing. While these horrors were taking place Tibet was closed to world attention. Its wealth and resources were systematically looted by the Chinese occupiers. No country in the world came to the aid of the Tibetan Buddhists, and even Buddhist countries like SL sided with the Chinese colonialists. Today many Tibetans are committing self-immolation in a futile protest against Chinese occupation.
With no other land areas available for easy occupation China has recently begun to claim wide swathes of the ocean along its costal belt. An area containing a number of uninhabited islands have been declared a Chinese maritime zone. This area is said to contain large amounts of underground oil and gas. But this area had been long occupied by other countries. In fact the area is claimed by Viet Nam, Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines and Japan. None of these countries have recognized the self-proclaimed Chinese maritime zone. They have defence arrangements with the United States; in fact the US base of Okinawa is close to the claimed zone. It is clear that this time China will not be able to get away with plunder as easily as it did with Tibet. China refuses to negotiate with the other claimants for a just division of any resources that could be harvested from this zone. Like Tibet this provides another example of the colonial actions of the PRC.
§ 4. Neo-Colonialism: The Developing World.
Unlike the US China is not rich in natural resources. It has adopted two strategies to remedy this deficiency. One is to buy these resources at commercial rates from developed countries, e.g. coal and iron ore from Australia. The other is to negotiate unequal terms with developing countries. LJ has mentioned China's trade links with Africa and Latin America. China uses this trade in a neo-colonial way which always results in a disadvantage to the supplier countries. The technique is give a few things free like show-case projects and then make loans at usurious rates to develop infrastructure in the recipient country (with the aim of resource extraction to be taken to China) or provide foreign exchange for cash-strapped countries extracting many concessions in the process.
Unlike Western aid Chinese aid is rarely given for projects that benefit the country. Thus in Sri Lanka the BMCH was provided free but all projects like H'tota harbour or Mattala Airport was built with long term loans at high interest rates. This has resulted in an unsustainable debt to China which has to be paid with political favours. Compare this with the British gift of the Victoria Dam project which has enhanced the productivity of the country while the BMCH has remained a mere talk-shop. The H-tota harbour and Mattala Airport has become expensive while elephants for the country. In countries like Zambia China built railway lines to ports for the export of minerals to China at rates below commercial prices. Very often in the construction of these projects Chinese labour is used giving little employment to the developing country. Many other such stratagems are used to the detriment of the developing country. Western financed projects usually employ local labour giving employment to local people.
LJ claims that Chinese "aid" is without strings. There are very few examples that satisfy this claim. It is true that China had given aid to certain countries. But it is only a small proportion of global aid given by the rest of the world. It is also a small part of the total funds emanating from China. Most of these funds are in the nature of loans often with high interest attached. There use is also attended by "strings" like having to employ Chinese labour to carry out the projects. There are far more examples of aid without strings in assistance from countries like Japan or from international agencies. There are political demands too. For instance SL is not allowed to invite the Dalai Lama while there is no objection to invitations to the Pope. On balance Chinese economic intervention in developing countries is to the advantage of China and not the recipient country. Of course a few exceptions could be cited, but these are the exceptions which prove the rule.
§ 5. The Secret of Chinese Success.
At the current time China seems to be a country not beset by economic problems like a low growth rate, high unemployment and lack of foreign exchange or foreign assets. For many people, especially for those lacking these, China is a model of economic success. It has become the envy of many countries certainly of Sri Lanka. They are looking for the secret of China's success.
The Chinese economic "miracle" which consists of a massive industrialization with few precedents elsewhere, can be broken down into three separate steps. These are: (1) Finding the economic resources to run its industrial machine; (2) Combining these with its massive labour force, the largest in the world; and (3) Selling the goods produced worldwide. Let us consider each of these steps of tripod of economic success:
- Natural Resources. How China solved this crucial matter has already been shown in sections §2 and §3. Of these it is the neo-imperialist stranglehold that it has developed with resource-rich developing countries that is the most important. The technique employed is the same: Give a showcase inducement (often named about the country's Head) soon compensated by buying the resources cheap or getting some other advantages. No further comment on this is necessary.
- Labour. China has the largest labour force in the world and it is virtually a slave labour force. Workers have to work long hours often in dangerous or monotonous work with low compensation. They have absolutely no trade-union or worker rights, and are completely at the mercy of the State or the rich capitalists the State has franchised
to exploit the docile labour market.
- Selling the product. This is where the money comes in. While products are sold world-wide the bulk of the revenue generated is from the rich Western countries. These have large high income people and provide a rich selling ground for the Chinese manufacturers.
Thiese three steps can be repeated over and over, the revenue derived from the third step being used to buy more natural resource. At each cycle China gets moe and ore wealth. The technology used is Western in origin, either acquired lawfully from the patent holders or more usually pirated using industrial espionage techniques. The Western countries who have the necessary know-how to compete usually go along with the Chinese scheme. This is because of one over-riding factor. They do not want the industrial pollution that it will entail in their countries. As it is this pollution is left in China, which is one of the most polluted countries in the world and major contributor of green-house gases doing untold ecological damage.
It is well known that is anti-West after the "International Community" picked up the issue of human rights. In particular the ultimatum given by the UK PM David Cameron riles the Helas no end. They seem to think that China too anti-West and therefore they can make common cause with China on the anti-West ticket. This is a mistaken notion. The Chinese are not anti-West but see it a kind of goal they achieve and in the end hopefully surpass. As shown in the above analysis withut the West buying Chinese goods on the scale that it is now doing China would be in grave trouble in its money-making scheme. The Chinese know that all their technology too comes from the West. The Chinese lost their innovative advantage many centuries ago. A curious instance could be cited. When the Franciscan friars came to China they amazed the local Chinese with their mechanical clocks. But little did they (the Chinese) were the first to invent the mechanica, an art they had long lost until it was uneathed by Western investigators.
§ 6. Sri Lanka: Protectorate or Vassal ?
The claim by people like LJ that SL is a protectorate of China cannot be seriously entertained. Protectorates are kind of colony with the protected country having some degree of autonomy and dependent on the protecting power for defence, foreign affairs and the like. Historically SL has had little connection with China. SL has always been an offshoot of Indian civilization. Many of its critical attributes like religion, language, culture, and even cuisine are offshoots of Indian civilization. In fact without India SL has very little that is indigenous to the country. On the other hand SL has had no worthwhile contact with China. Yet India it is India that is considered an enemy what as an enemy while China is looked upon as a benefactor.
sLEven in a social role the Chinese are more pro-West that is currently the
position in SL. Even if we look at the attire of Chinese politicians they are
outfitted in Western dress Ã¢â‚¬â€œ coat, tie and trousers. When they come across
foreign politicians attired in their cloth (රෙද්ද) and shawl (සාඨකය) they consider them to be barbarians (even though for diplomatic reasons they may not say so). But the irony is that these "babarains" think that their host is their protector !
§7. Is Chinese Dominance assured in the long run?
While China now enojoys many advantages (except in the military field where the US dominates) the question could be posed how long can they retain this advantage. A careful look at the current success of China (see §4) willl
show that China faces several vulnerabilities that it cannot easily overcome.
Some of these factors may be briefly stated as follows:
§ 8. China Poodles: Why and the Wherefore.
No consideration of the China problem is complete without a look at the China poodle syndrome. The origin of "poodling" comes from the country's feudal heritage. It was customary for the serfs to prostrate themselves before the Master of the Manor (වලව්වෙ හාමුදුරුවො). This was soon extended to the political sphere and the most ardent supporters of the ruling political leader became his poodles. But extending this phenomenon to non-Sri Lankans is new. It started with Gaddafi who was seen as a financial protector of SL and Gaddafi poodles became common. But Gaddafi ended up six feet under the dessert sands
in an undisclosed place. So a new candidate was needed. And who better than China, the Protector. Hence China poodles began praising
the PRC and it leader at the time, ignoring or denying the very things that have been raised in this post.
The primary reason for this is that China has the veto power in the Security Council. On this account the China poodles think that the China is the ruler of the UN. While this may stop SC resolutions others powers in the UN have several ways around this. The Syrian crisis has shown that UNSC could not act because of the Russian veto. But this has not made the position of Azad the Syrian dictator any the secure. This issue has certainly not come to an end. Besides SC authorization might be needed only for direct military action. But no one says that military is needed or warranted for matters relating to SL. Even Apartheid was overthrown without a SC resolution purely by sanctions. The Chinese veto does not extend the UNHRC resolutions and that is the route which foreign powers have used on the SL Human Rights (HR) issues. Here China cannot cast a veto, and so will not be able to "protect" SL. This matter does not seem to have sunk in as far as the China poodles are concerned.
Some China poodles are suggesting that Sri Lanka should organize a group of like-minded countries to bring a UNHRC resolution against alleged HR violations by the US, UK and other
Western countries. However it is unlikely that any such
manoeuvre will succeed given the present make-up of the UNHRC. Let alone organising a group of countries these poodles will not be able to get even GOSL to underwrite such a venture.
In fact they are also clamouring that the Foreign Minister H. L. Peris be
sacked! They are only good at writing such charge sheets to each other through Internet emails.
In fact some of these poodles have asked for the SL Foreign Minister to be
§ 9. Final Comments.
The above does not exhaust all that can be said about the
subject of China. Chinese largesse does not come without a price. When all is
taken into account maybe the long-run disabilities of a link with China may
prove to be more important than the temprary benefit.
- "A small country like Sri Lanka can never stand up alone and say we are neutral in an environment full of western predators. We are fortunate to have China and Russia. We will remain as protectorates of China while Russia will also help us against the predators.". L. Jayasooriya in an interpolated comment to an email of mine. RETURN
- This is the text of Note 2.