Yahapalana and The United States Of America

USA emerged as a super power after World War II, with the Marshal Plan which created NATO in 1949 and the Korea war of 1950. [1] American power is based on alliances not colonies. [2] US has some 60 treaty allies. [3]It tops the list in number of embassies, consulates and missions as well. [4]  ‘Economist’ estimates that of the world’s 150 largest countries, nearly 100 lean toward the US while 21 lean against it. [5]

However, things are not looking good for USA at the moment. There is a   leadership problem. Donald Trump is a disappointment, but according to CNN, USA does not want Hillary Clinton back either.  The US economy is also in difficulties.[6] TIME says US system of market capitalism is to blame. USA made a magnificent advance from agriculture and manufacturing to finance. This was considered USA’s highest achievement. But now finance is not supporting business. The best stocks are owned by the wealthiest 10% and the money is concentrated there. Once a company goes public, in order to keep its stock price high, it stops innovating [7] and does not support job creation, concluded TIME. [8] Manufacturing jobs are disappearing because of robots and automation.[9]

TIME did a series of interviews with the American public, who said that the future for America is bleak, no chance of a good job and rising in life.[10] The country is going downhill, the rich and powerful have it good, but not the rest, they said.[11] There is rising inequality, stagnant incomes, shrinking middle class and stalled upward mobility.[12]The racial situation is also not improving. Ferguson city, Missouri has been charged with racial discrimination. Police routinely pull over African-American motorists on suspicion, and arrest them for no reason.[13

USA is not a global superpower anymore said TIME.[17] The US does not carry as much weight in the world economy as it used to.[18]Earlier it was the US which was the single largest contributor to world growth, not now.[19] The Chinese economy has overtaken it. [20]  The US share of the world economy will fall, and its ability to wield influence and organize action will become less, said analysts.[21]

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,  USA spends more on defense than the next several nations combined, with annual outlays of more than USD 600 billion, three times more than China and seven times more than Russia,.[22] But US defense spending has declined by USD 78 billion from 2011.[23] As a result, U.S. Army is ranked “weak” according to the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of U.S. Military Power.[24] American preeminence in military, economic and soft power terms will not look like it once did, said analysts. [25] US Air force consists of ‘old models’, in stark contrast to the aggressive programs of competitor states. Its delivery platforms such as the B-2 Spirit bomber are good, said the report. US Navy maintains a moderate global presence, but has little ability to meet wartime demands.  [26]

However, undaunted, USA   still continues to meddle in other countries. USA played a key role in promoting the South Sudan secessionist movement, using American evangelical groups.[27] In Russia, USA said it did not ‘interfere’, it only ‘funded pro-democracy organizations’.[28]   There were backroom deals with ‘neutral’ countries. [29]

Today there is a huge anti American sentiment sweeping the developing world mainly because of its activity in the Middle East. [33] US was the hidden force in every war that took place in the world during the recent times, said critics.[34]Wikileaks memos of American diplomats showed that the US was a ‘hypocritical super power’ which, spied on the UN and the countries which were its allies. US turned a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in ‘client states’. [35] As a result, USA is losing allies. Philippines is veering away from the USA, its long time ally. The President of the Philippines recently visited Russia.[36]

Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said in 2017 that America’s role as the steadying force in international relations was now under threat. [37] Since 1945, America has been the balancer in international relations. We are now facing a situation in which there is uncertainty about America’s ability to carry out this role. [38] But USA supporters said that the United States will not disappear from Asia altogether.  The United States can still play a significant role by supporting other alliances. U.S. can still do very interesting things in Asia. We don’t know yet what those will be, but the US is not dead and gone, they said.[39]

Stunned by the unexpected annihilation of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the US Senate Committee on Foreign relations sent 2 Senators to Sri Lanka in November 2009, to evaluate the situation and make recommendations. [40]Rajapakse is a threat to US, they reported, he is drifting towards China.[41]  However, US was advised to adopt a ‘less confrontational approach’ to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is too important a country to be isolated from the west, it said. [42]

The report stressed the strategic importance of Sri Lanka to the US, particularly in its geopolitical location. [43]Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.[44] China and Japan’s energy resource from the Persian Gulf transits Sri Lanka and the island has the potential to control or impede the free flow these resources to China and Japan. Half the world’s container traffic passes through Sri Lanka and the island has the potential to block this as well.  The US has a competing interest with India and China in securing this maritime route, the report said. [45]

Sri Lanka   became   ‘a top geopolitical priority’ for US policy makers and military planners [46]Sri Lanka is the key piece, in a larger geopolitical dynamic described as the Great game’, they said. [47]  White House and Pentagon are trying urgently to figure out how ‘not to lose Sri Lanka ‘. And also how we can use Sri Lanka to further US national security interest in the Indian Ocean, said Stanton.’[48]

A leading Washington based think tank, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said in 2010 that the US cannot afford to disengage with Sri Lanka. It needs to follow a subtle and a sophisticated approach to rethink the partnership, recognising that the political game has changed in Sri Lanka. It is time to recognise that the formulas which were used in the past were now dead.[49] ‘If we have this same stability for the next five years  in Sri Lanka , then it will be difficult to achieve  control , but a weaker Sri Lanka is easier to dominate’ said analysts in 2014. [50]

Inside Sri Lanka, former ambassador, K Godage noted in 2010 that USA has now realized that with China coming in, it is best not to antagonize Sri Lanka.  We have acquired a new importance.  We could not be ignored or antagonized. [51]Our close relation with Iran and Russia in addition to China and our defense related agreements have also contributed to a change in America’s Sri Lanka policy, he concluded. [52]

Rajapaksa’s tilt to China gravely undermined the US position, so Rajapaksa had to go.[53] This time regime change had better succeed. [54] Therefore US and India worked closely to engineer the regime change. US President Barak Obama had publicly referred to the Indian role in Sri Lanka. [55] Once regime change was achieved, the Yahapalana government needed to be propped up. USAID gave US 3.4 million to Yahapalana for its 100 days administration. [56] This came from the US Complex Crises Fund (CCF),[57] which had allocated USD 585 million for ‘democracy projects’ in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Burma.[58]

With Rajapaksa out of the way, America bounced in very confidently, ready to openly show its power over Sri Lanka. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was the first to visit, in May 2015.Then came US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, in August 2016. [59] Nisha Biswal,  Assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs,  had  visited  Sri Lanka six times by July 2016. [60] Samantha Power.US ambassador to the UN, Thomas Shannon, US under secretary and Tom Malinowski ,US assistant Secretary for democracy and Human rights also visited. Sri Lanka .  [61]  There is a photograph of Mangala Samaraweera, then Foreign Minister with Biswal and Malinowski on either side, each holding one of his hands.[62]

Within months of Yahapalana coming in, the application form for a fixed deposit in a particular   state bank added a new question. It asked  ‘are you a US person and are you politically exposed person.’[63] A ‘Politically Exposed Person’ , it explained,  includes  an individual in Sri Lanka or abroad who is or have been entrusted with prominent public function such as a Head of State, or  Government senior politicians, senior government , judicial or military officials, senior executive of state owned  corporations,  and important political party officials, but  excluding middle ranking or more junior officials in the foregoing categories.[64]

Yahapalana government is   a ‘fully pro-Washington regime’ said Tamara Kunanayagam in 2016.[65] Tissa Vitarana said that Ranil Wickremesinghe was going to make Sri Lanka a puppet of the USA like the Philippines. [66]  This made US change its strategy. In July 2017, it was announced that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, would meet with two officials from the White House, who would represent President Donald Trump, since Wickremesinghe happened to be in New York. Wickremesinghe will also attend the UN Ocean Conference in New York.[67]These two activities were presented as incidental. The Prime Minister was in New York primarily, we are told, for a medical checkup. He had been earlier checked up and fully cleared in Singapore. [68]   He was declared fit by the New York medical panel too. [69] Usually when Sri Lanka’s   Prime Minister goes on a visit abroad, there is much publicity, including television and photos.  This time there was none.

US has not hesitated to intervene in politically sensitive matters. US plans to provide USD one million for two projects. The first project is  for the media. US  want to strengthen the independent media in the area of investigative journalism. It will include journalists in Sinhala, Tamil and English and journalists from all parts of the country, not just Colombo. The second project is for facilitating reconciliation in the country. For this, they will  identify leaders, including youth and women for reconciliation. And would support action in ‘pilot communities’.[70] Gotabhaya Rajapaksa  said that this was a Trojan horse. It could be a  project to help US long term objectives in Sri Lanka.  [71]

Trimble Navigation Ltd, a US company, has forwarded a proposal for ‘Title/Tenure Regularisation and Cadastral Registry Modernisation’ in Sri Lanka. A high level committee headed by Prime Minister’s senior advisor R. Paskeralingam had recommended this  proposal and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) had approved it. [72]  The Minister for Lands told the Surveyors Association that the government has decided to implement the proposal and the Association must support the project. Trimble would work with the Ministry of Lands to identify 2.5 million state-owned lands and help to give permanent titles to the persons currently occupying these lands. Bim Saviya programme launched during the previous Rajapaksa regime has become a white elephant. [73] Only 405,000 title deeds were issued from 2005[74].

The surveyors observed that the main functions of the Sri Lanka Survey Department, as well as its Land Information System (LIS) and Aerial Survey Operations would be vested in Trimble for 15 years. [75] Survey Department staff and resources will also go to Trimble. 400 public surveyors and 200 additional private surveyors with crews will serve under Trimble, conducting pre-survey, survey and data collection. [76] If Trimble is given the management of Sri Lanka Survey Department, then Trimble will take control of Sri Lanka’s electronic land register and details of lands. This will be a threat to country’s national security, said the surveyors.[77].

National Labor Advisory Committee (NLAC) was told in July 2017, that the Government has decided to appoint a Working Group on Labor Law Reforms. The initiative had come from Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade in collaboration with USAID.  Trade unions  strongly objected to  this. Neither the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade nor USAID has any right to intervene in reforming labour laws in Sri Lanka, they said.[78] Labor reform came under the Labour Department and the Ministry of Labor. [79]  There is a well tested tripartite mechanism including trade unions and employer representation for this purpose. [80] What was the actual intention behind this urge to reform labour laws of the country, the trade unions asked. [81]

In January 2016, it was announced that  a  3 year  economic plan for Sri Lanka  would be drawn up by the American economist Haussmann. George Soros will fund it. He will set up an office here as well since[82] he was also looking for investment in Sri Lanka. [83] Soros  presence will boost foreign investment, said Yahapalana, enthusiastically.[84]  Soros is a financial speculator who has made his money by manipulating currency markets.   He is the last person we need here   said critics. [85]

Sri Lanka was selected as a beneficiary of U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC),in December 2016. [86] MCC is a five-year grant program, to reduce poverty and promote economic opportunity.[87] The goal is to develop a high-quality, evidence-based and sustainable compact aimed at addressing economic challenges in a way that drives growth and reduces poverty. [88]

MCC holds partner countries accountable through rigorous oversight, monitoring and evaluation. [89] Therefore a unit called Sri Lanka Compact Development Team  was  set up in the Prime Minister’s office to work with MCC. [90]This team was to consult with a wide group of stakeholders to collect input, including potential beneficiaries, civil society, the private sector, other donors and relevant government entities.[91] Sri Lanka will need to be re-selected by MCC’s Board in December for the project to continue  and a team visited Colombo to look at progress in July 2017.[92]

US quickly gained access to Sri Lanka ‘s military sector. In February  2016 Admiral H.B. Harris, head of the US Pacific Command  told the US Senate Armed Services Committee ,[93] we have an opportunity to expand US interest in Sri Lanka. [94] Given Sri Lanka strategic location it is in America’s interest to increase military collaboration and cooperation. [95] US will expand military leadership discussions, increase naval engagement and focus on defense institution building. [96]

A contingent of 33 US Army Cadets, from US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AROTC) came to Sri Lanka in June 2017, on a familiarization tour. They were  given an initial training in weapon handling, field practices, physical training, by the Sri Lanka Army. The Cadets  visited the Sri Lanka Military Academy , Security Force Headquarters, Sri Lanka Light Infantry Headquarters, Regimental Headquarters of the Sri Lanka Engineers and the Army School of Artillery at Minneriya.[97]

The U.S. Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Program trained 18 Customs and Coast Guard Officials from Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, and Bangladesh in seaport interdiction in 2017. The training was conducted in Colombo. Participants learned cutting-edge inspection and detection techniques for all types of contraband and gained new skills to manage security for inbound and outbound cargo operations, assess cargo targeting and risk management, and handle hazardous cargo and materials. The training also highlighted port security awareness related to cargo containing potential Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and improvised explosive devices and materials.[98]

US navy ship USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the US 7th fleet, [99]arrived in Colombo in March 2016 on a goodwill visit. President Sirisena visited the ship and was received with a US navy military guard.[100] In March 2017, the US Pacific Fleet’s transport ship USNS Fall River visited Hambantota on a Pacific Partnership goodwill mission. It held joint exercises with the navies of Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia. [101]

Officers of the US 7th Fleet and Sri Lanka  Navy met for the     second time  at the Naval Headquarters  in May 2017 for  discussions. Such dialogues were important for furthering mutual cooperation between the two navies. [102] US Captain Brian Anderson ‘expressed his contentment over  a range of matters including bilateral cooperation, training and ports of call made over the past years’.[103]

US is working towards establishing a base in Trincomalee for its Seventh fleet, reported Island in September 2015.   It was making Sri Lanka’s military vacate strategically important locations.[104] US has not hidden its interest in getting Trincomalee and hopes to partner with Sri Lanka to encircle China, agreed others.[105]Plans are afoot to set up a US base in Trincomalee harbor, said Tissa Vitarana in February 2016.[106] Yahapalana  government was planning to hand over Trincomalee port to US and   very soon US 7th fleet will be in our waters, he warned.[107] A bilateral agreement in this regard has been signed  secretly between Sri Lanka and America. [108] The growing military ties to the US are a threat to Sri Lanka concluded Vitarana. [109]  If military cooperation of this nature continued, Sri Lanka would become a puppet country like  the Philippines. [110]

US has tried to placate the Sri Lanka public by several good works. In 2016 it was reported that US plans to provide aid to University of Sri Jayewardenepura to document the historical buildings within the Galle fort.[111]Cheryl Edison, American innovation expert, came in 2017 to work with, inter alia, Sri Lanka’s IT entrepreneurs,   Information and Communications Technology Agency (ICTA) representatives [112]and   Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Companies (SLASSCOM) . She held free virtual classes and individual counseling for participants in ICTA’s Tech Startup Support Program. Edison led seminars for business and engineering students at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and University of Jaffna at Kilinochchi. She helped inspire Jaffna’s aspiring entrepreneurs, said a member of the Yarl IT Hub community. [113]

The US government    offered humanitarian assistance worth USD 2.3 million to help victims of flooding and landslides. [114]The aid will be used to provide safe drinking water, hygiene kits, emergency shelter materials, home repair kits, and critical health care services to stave off diseases. [115] Disaster experts from USAID/OFDA and the Civil-Military Support Element (CMSE) attached to the U.S Embassy are also helping. The U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps  cadets and the U.S. Embassy’s Pacific Command Augmentation Team are cleaning and repairing flood damage at schools in the Kalutara district. Families of the U.S. Embassy community have also provided personal donations to Sri Lanka Unites, a youth-led organization, said a US media release.[116] However, it is now reported that Sri Lanka will receive only US$ 3.38 million for its USAID programmes in 2018, a drop of 92% percent from 2016. [117] (CONCLUDED)

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