Sunday, July 7, 2013


China fuels Sri Lankan war

by Brahma Chellaney

Sri Lanka, the once self-trumpeted “island of paradise,” turned into the island of bloodshed more than a quarter-century ago. But even by its long, gory record, the bloodletting since last year is unprecedented. The United Nations estimates that some 1,200 noncombatants are getting killed each month in a civil war that continues to evoke a muted international response even as hundreds of thousands of minority Tamils have fled their homes or remain trapped behind the front line.
With the world preoccupied by pressing challenges, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a naturalized U.S. citizen, press on with their brutal military campaign with impunity. The offensive bears a distinct family imprint, with another brother the president’s top adviser.
Chinese military and financial support — as in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Burma and elsewhere — has directly aided government excesses and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. But with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly emphasizing that the global financial, climate and security crises are more pressing priorities for U.S. policy than China’s human rights record, which by her own department’s recent admission has “remained poor and worsened in some areas,” Beijing has little reason to stop facilitating overseas what it practices at home — repression.
Still, the more China insists that it doesn’t mix business with politics in its foreign relations, the more evidence it provides of cynically contributing to violence and repression in internally torn states. Sri Lanka is just the latest case demonstrating Beijing’s blindness to the consequences of its aggressive pursuit of strategic interests.
No sooner had the United States ended direct military aid to Sri Lanka last year over its deteriorating human rights record than China blithely stepped in to fill the breach — a breach widened by India’s hands-off approach toward Sri Lanka since a disastrous 1987-90 peacekeeping operation in that island-nation.
Beijing began selling larger quantities of arms, and dramatically boosted its aid fivefold in the past year to almost $1 billion to emerge as Sri Lanka’s largest donor. Chinese Jian-7 fighter jets, antiaircraft guns, JY-11 3D air surveillance radars and other supplied weapons have played a central role in the Sri Lankan military successes against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or “Tamil Tigers”), seeking to carve out an independent homeland for the ethnic Tamils in the island’s north and east.
Beijing even got its ally Pakistan actively involved in Sri Lanka. With Chinese encouragement, Pakistan — despite its own faltering economy and rising Islamist challenge — has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly $100 million while supplying Chinese-origin small arms and training Sri Lankan air force personnel in precision guided attacks.
China has become an enabler of repression in a number of developing nations as it seeks to gain access to oil and mineral resources, to market its goods and to step up investment. Still officially a communist state, its support for brutal regimes is driven by capitalist considerations. But while exploiting commercial opportunities, it also tries to make strategic inroads. Little surprise thus that China’s best friends are pariah or other states that abuse human rights.
Indeed, with its ability to provide political protection through its U.N. Security Council veto power, Beijing has signed tens of billions of dollars worth of energy and arms contracts in recent years with such problem states — from Burma and Iran to Sudan and Venezuela.
In the case of Sri Lanka, China has been particularly attracted by that country’s vantage location in the center of the Indian Ocean — a crucial international passageway for trade and oil. Hambantota — the billion-dollar port Chinese engineers are now building on Sri Lanka’s southeast — is the latest “pearl” in China’s strategy to control vital sea-lanes of communication between the Indian and Pacific Oceans by assembling a “string of pearls” in the form of listening posts, special naval arrangements and access to ports.
China indeed has aggressively moved in recent years to build ports in the Indian Ocean rim, including in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. Besides eyeing Pakistan’s Chinese-built port-cum-naval base of Gwadar as a possible anchor for its navy, Beijing has sought naval and commercial links with the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar. However, none of the port-building projects it has bagged in recent years can match the strategic value of Hambantota, which sits astride the great trade arteries.
China’s generous military aid to Sri Lanka has tilted the military balance in favor of government forces, enabling them in recent months to unravel the de facto state the Tamil Tigers had run for years. After losing more than 5,594 square km of territory, the Tigers now are boxed into a 85-square-km sliver of wooded land in the northeast.
But despite the government’s battlefield triumphs, Asia’s longest civil war triggered by the bloody 1983 anti-Tamil riots is unlikely to end anytime soon. Not only is the government unable to define peace or outline a political solution to the Tamils’ long-standing cultural and political grievances, the rebels are gearing up to return to their roots and become guerrilla fighters again after being routed in the conventional war.
While unable to buy peace, Chinese aid has helped weaken and scar civil society. Emboldened by the unstinted Chinese support, the government has set in motion the militarization of society and employed control of information as an instrument of war, illustrated by the muzzling of the media and murders of several independent-minded journalists. It has been frenetically swelling the ranks of the military by one-fifth a year through large-scale recruitment, even as it establishes village-level civilian militias, especially in conflict-hit areas.
With an ever-larger, Chinese-aided war machine, the conflict is set to grind on, making civil society the main loser. That is why international diplomatic intervention has become imperative. India, with its geostrategic advantage and trade and investment clout over a war-hemorrhagic Sri Lankan economy that is in search of an international bailout package, must use its leverage deftly to promote political and ethnic reconciliation rooted in federalism and genuine interethnic equality. More broadly, the U.S., European Union, Japan and other important players need to exert leverage to stop the Rajapaksa brothers from rebuffing ceasefire calls and press Beijing to moderate its unsettling role.
Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.


War crimes heat on, Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa goes back to China

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa landed in China Tuesday in search of support against an aggressive Western push for a probe into war crimes allegations and tighter economic ties in a stormy financial world.
Rajapaksa was due to attend the Universiade sporting event in Shenzhen and will later meet President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing. The Sri Lankan leader Monday said economic cooperation was his focus.
China is Sri Lanka's largest bilateral donor and in June committed $1.5 billion to Sri Lanka's $6 billion post-war rebuilding plan, having already financed a power plant and new port in Rajapaksa's southern Hambantota electorate.
"They want to make sure the same magnitude of money flows in, in times of insecurity," said a Colombo-based diplomat on condition of anonymity, referring to the global debt turmoil that has hit world markets.
That, however, is not likely to be at the top of his list.
"The fact is he is awfully disturbed by the pressures he is getting from the Western hemisphere on the war crimes issue," said Kusal Perera, a political analyst at The Center for Social Democracy.
Sri Lanka is now in its third year of peace after destroying the Tamil Tiger separatists, listed by more than 30 nations as a terrorist organization.
But ethno-political reconciliation is still distant and the island nation is facing an aggressive campaign to probe civilian deaths at the end of the quarter-century conflict in May 2009, when China, Russia and neighboring India stood by Rajapaksa's prosecution of the war to a bloody finish.
Now Rajapaksa, whose victory brought him immense popularity at home, is up against a coordinated push from the West, rights advocates and a well-financed global network of former Tiger supporters for a probe into war crimes allegations.
"The heat is on and they feel it very much and I think he is trying to see whether he could get China to mobilize support at the September U.N. Human Rights Council session," Perera said.
Washington has told Colombo it wants the findings of Sri Lanka's internal probe, the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, to be submitted to U.N. Human Rights Council session after they are given to the government on November 15.
That would open up a host of material critical of Sri Lanka's handling of the war that could end up before the rights council at its March session, and give momentum to calls for an external probe to which Sri Lanka has refused to submit.
A U.N.-sponsored report found "credible evidence" that Sri Lankan forces and the Tigers committed war crimes including killing possibly thousands of civilians, but the separatists' elimination means only Sri Lanka can be held to account.
Sri Lanka has acknowledged some civilian deaths but says the allegations in the U.N. report first emanated from Tamil Tiger propaganda operations, and lack any real proof.
Chinese support appears likely. Both China and Russia usually oppose foreign intervention in domestic conflicts, and both held off U.S.-British attempts at the U.N. Security Council to get a ceasefire at the end of the war.
China faces ethnic unrest in its western regions, where Tibetans and Uighurs have resisted Beijing's control, and Russia has battled Chechen separatists. Both conflicts on the surface mirror Sri Lanka's civil war with ethnic minority Tamils.
"For China, it's a two-for-one. They like to annoy India, and (separatism) is a core issue for them," said a former Western diplomat involved with Sri Lanka.
India is wary of China's influence with the Rajapaksa administration, as it considers Sri Lanka in its sphere of influence and is concerned Sri Lanka's Chinese-financed Hambantota port is part of a Beijing strategy to encircle it.
Further, India's central government must reckon with the state government of Tamil Nadu, home to about 60 million Tamils who are sympathetic to their Sri Lankan cousins.
That has produced a consistent message from New Delhi that Rajapaksa must reach political reconciliation with Tamils, which hit a roadblock last week with a threatened walkout from talks.
Given India's historic intervention in Sri Lanka's civil war to suit its own domestic political needs, Delhi's admonitions have often unsettled Colombo, despite close and warm ties.
"China is the only all that doesn't talk about these things. China is the only safe haven for this regime. India is not so sure for them as it is right now," Perera said.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)


China declares support for Sri Lanka’s war

Tamil Guardian 29 April 2009 Print ArticleE-mail ArticleFeedback On Article
Despite Sri Lanka’s indifference to international calls to not fire at civilians and mounting civilian casualties, China has publicly declared its support for the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to wipe out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

China supports the efforts of the Sri Lankan government to safeguard national integrity while ensuring security and political stability, said Jian Yu, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry at a press briefing on Tuesday April 21, in Beijing.

She was responding to a question about the end of the24-hour deadline for surrender given to Pirapaharan by the Sri Lankan government, the Hindustan Times reported April 22.

According to Hindustan Times, China's declaration of support for the Sri Lankan government against the LTTE and in the process, extending its influence in the Indian Ocean, has further fuelled India’s mortal distrust of its largest and most powerful neighbour.

According to Indian government sources, Beijing's support to Colombo cannot be viewed in isolation because it follows a series of initiatives aimed at influencing the Sri Lankan government. These include selling huge quantities of arms to Colombo last year and boosting aid almost five times to $1 billion. In fact, China is now the largest donor to Lanka. Its Jian-7 fighter jets, anti-aircraft guns and JY-11 3D air surveillance radars played a key role in the Sri Lankan military successes, said the Hindustan times.

China came to rescue of Colombo after the US stopped direct aid to Sri Lanka because of its dismal human rights record. What's worse, said strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney, Beijing has also roped in its ally Pakistan for providing military assistance to Sri Lanka. Pakistan's own economy is in tatters, but it has increased its annual military assistance to Sri Lanka to $100 million at Beijing’s behest. It is also well known that its air force trained its Sri Lankan counterpart in precision-guided attacks, add the Hindustan Times.

"The Chinese are courting Sri Lanka because of its location in the Indian Ocean -- a crucial international passageway for trade and oil. Chinese engineers are currently building a billion-dollar port in the country's southeast, Hambantota, and this is the latest `pearl' in China's strategy to control vital sea-lanes of communication between the Indian and Pacific Oceans by assembling a `string of pearls' in the form of listening posts, special naval arrangements and access to ports,'' Chellaney told the Hindustan Times.

The Chinese are building a highway, developing two power plants and putting up a new port in the hometown of President Mahinda Rajapakse. Delhi is also feeling hard done-by by Beijing's support to Colombo over the issue of LTTE because it believes China is driving home an unfair advantage it has over India in the crisis.

"Unlike in our case, there is no moral dimension to the crisis for China. We have to think about the humanitarian situation and conditions after the offensive is over. There is no domestic compulsion for China but our involvement is much more intricate,'' Hindustan Times said quoting an unnamed source.

China, in fact, continues to aggressively pursue its strategic interests by building ports in the Indian Ocean rim, including in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. According to Chellaney, Beijing has sought naval and commercial links with the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar. "However, none of the port-building projects it has bagged in recent years can match the strategic value of Hambantota,'' Chellaney further told the Hindustan Times.