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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sri Lanka analysis: China emerges as key player in victory over Tamil Tigers

Realpolitik always triumphs, at least in the short term. Colombo Museum has a 1411 steale (in Chinese, Arabic and Tamil languages) left by Admiral Zhenghe, giving thanks to Buddha, Allah and Shiva. Chinese records also noted that Chinese fleet had interfered in a civil war and captured a local king that was "brought" to Nanjing... http://cf.hum.uva.nl/galle/galle/trilingual.html
 
 

Sri Lanka analysis: China emerges as key player in victory over Tamil Tigers

The pitiless success of Sri Lanka's military offensive delivers one salutary lesson: if you have China as an ally, you can afford to ignore pressure from anywhere else.

 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has won China's financial, military and diplomatic support – along with the confidence to brush off Western protests about its behaviour.

In the closing stages of the assault on the Tamil Tigers, the army surrounded about 50,000 civilians inside a tiny enclave. Other governments would have found it difficult to resist outside calls for a unilateral ceasefire, at least to allow the evacuation of wounded innocents. If the Security Council had thrown its weight behind these demands, backing them with a United Nations Resolution, they would have become still harder to ignore.

But Mr Rajapaksa dismissed all calls for restraint and Sri Lanka's army duly pressed on until final victory. His only gesture to outside opinion was a promise to refrain from turning heavy artillery on thousands of people trapped inside the enclave. Evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch, including satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts, suggests this pledge was quickly broken.

 

Less fortunate governments would have paid a diplomatic price for this behaviour. But China has consistently shielded Sri Lanka, notably by keeping the crisis off the agenda at the UN. Until last Wednesday, Beijing had managed to prevent the Security Council from even discussing the situation. When a debate was conceded, Chinese objections ensured there was no resolution and the Council took the minimalist option of releasing a statement of concern.

As well as invaluable diplomatic cover, China gave Sri Lanka about £660 million of aid last year. The country's air force has also benefited from a gift of six of Beijing's F-7 jet fighters, while the army received £25 million of Chinese ammunition and ordnance in 2007.

 

What has Sri Lanka given in return? The answer is that China has acquired a strategic ally near the crucial Indian Ocean shipping lanes that carry energy supplies from the Middle East. Beijing is building a port on Sri Lanka's southern coast which could serve as a future naval base.

 

Mr Rajapaksa has skilfully used this alliance to ward off international pressure. Whether his crushing military victory will be equally successful in calming Sri Lanka's domestic turmoil is, however, more doubtful.

Hardly any revolts by an ethnic minority have been settled by military means alone. The army's success cannot change the fact that some nine per cent of Sri Lanka's 21 million people are Tamils. Until a political agreement reconciles them to the Sri Lankan state, the tensions may abate, but they will not disappear.

 
 
 

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