Sri Lanka needs to choose its friends wisely

Sri Lanka should not go the way Pakistan has gone by almost reducing It to the status of extended territory of China

N S Venkataraman Jan 14, 2022
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Sri Lanka needs to choose its friends wisely (Photo: Wikipedia)

The historical and traditional glory of Sri Lanka have justifiably made millions of Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka and in other countries as well as the expatriates justifiably proud.  The fact that Sri Lanka has large followers of Buddhism, which advocates peace and nonviolence,  is another feather in its cap.

India and Sri Lanka have a traditionally strong relationship due to historical reasons and a large section of Indians have always wished that Sri Lanka should prosper and advance from strength to strength.

The fact that India tops Sri Lanka’s tourism list is not surprising, since many Indians want to visit Sri Lanka at least once in their lifetime to see the historical monuments and enjoy Sri Lankan hospitality and natural beauty.

In such circumstances, most  Indians too just like Sri Lankans feel sad that Sri Lanka is in the news for the wrong reasons these days.

Food emergency 

The recent declaration of” food emergency “ by the Sri Lankan government shocked Sri Lankans, and Indians alike, and   expatriates around the world, making them wonder as to whether any fundamentally disturbing development has taken place in Sri Lanka in recent times. Declaration of food emergency in any country would inevitably reflect poorly on the economic and social welfare status of the country.

It is said that food production in Sri Lanka has steeply gone down in recent times,  as the Sri Lankan government took a decision to resort to organic farming in an agricultural field in a massive way,  which mean the use of organic fertilisers and organic pesticides replacing synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. This decision to go for large-scale organic cultivation in Sri Lanka,  without adequate and long-term trials, was a calculated risk and certainly reflects poorly on the decision-making capability of the present  Sri Lankan government.

The concept of organic farming is still in the evolving stage all over the world and it is well known that the use of organic fertiliser instead of synthetic fertilizer like urea, diammonium phosphate etc. result in low crop yield in agricultural operations.  While organically produced agricultural products could be more ecologically friendly, the cost of organic cultivation is higher and consequently making organic products more expensive. Further, organic fertilisers are known to have a short shelf life and require proper handling, storage, packing and transportation techniques.  It is not clear whether the farmers in Sri Lanka were trained to handle and use organic fertilizer.  Obviously, Sri Lankan administrators have not taken these much-needed precautionary factors into consideration.

Fertiliser fiasco 

The Sri Lankan government has imported large quantities of organic fertilizer from China,  which were proved to be ineffective while applying to the agricultural field.  The Sri Lankan government was forced to pay a huge price to China for such ineffective organic fertilizer procured from China, though Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves were very low.

As the crop production has gone down due to use of organic fertilizer, the Sri Lankan government has made a knee-jerk reaction and has gone for import of nano urea in a big way from India. Nano urea is a recently introduced product as fertiliser and even in India, where nano urea has been developed, is not used on a large scale at present and can be considered as being in an introductory stage in India.

While there is no reason why nano urea would not be efficient, still it may require some application development efforts in evolving proper techniques for use.

Inherent strengths 

Over the years, Sri Lanka has slowly and steadily dipped into serious economic issues and now the foreign exchange reserves have reached precarious level.  Sri Lanka now needs huge loan and financial assistance from abroad to carry on.

There is no reason  as to why Sri Lankan economy should suffer to such an extent, considering the fact that Sri Lanka is a large exporter of tea, rubber etc. and is an important destination for global tourists bringing millions of dollars for Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa family governance 

While Sri Lanka somehow has got rid of the violent separatist movement by bravely fighting against the terrorist groups , it has not benefited by such victory so far.

Today, Sri Lanka has become a debt ridden country  with policy planners and administrators  in a blind  and not knowing the way out.

Mahinda Rajapaksa  who covered himself with glory by defeating the separatist movement and protecting the sovereignty of Sri Lanka is now responsible for leading Sri Lanka to such an economic distress conditions.

Today, Sri Lanka is under the governance of Rajapaksa family with one brother being the President, another brother being the Prime Minister and several members of the family holding crucial positions  in the government and they have a lot to explain.

Poor policies 

How can Sri Lankan government retrieve itself from such desperate conditions ?

One of the main reasons for Sri Lanka getting into debt trap is  that the past governments in  Sri Lanka have unwittingly placed Sri Lanka  at the mercy of China, which has definite ambitions to expand its influence around the world by fair or foul means and dominate the world fully and entirely.

The  Sri Lankan government has fallen into the trap by being tempted by China to avail huge loan  at attractive terms and   availing the project cooperation from China which would only meet the long term ambitions of global domination of China. Hambantota port is the ready example.

It is now absolutely essential that Sri Lanka has to extricate itself from the vice-like grip of China to get out of the present mess.

All said and done, Sri Lanka is a democratic country with free press and it has to align itself with similar democratic countries , where there would be common interest  and shared value system.

Unlikely friends

Sri Lanka and China are unlikely friends and Sri Lanka shares no values with the present  Chinese government.  It is well known that Chinese government is totalitarian in outlook and China is under the leadership of coterie of so called communist leaders , who do not respect freedom of speech and personal liberty of citizens.

Sri Lanka should not go in the way that the Pakistan government has gone by almost reducing Pakistan to the status of the extended territory of China.

Move away from China 

Sri Lanka has the potential to become a rich country like Singapore. For this to happen,  Sri Lanka has to choose its friends   and allies with care, caution, and pragmatism.  

Today, Sri Lanka has no alternative other than cooperating with democratic countries like the USA  and West European countries and India, who have no vested interests to dominate Sri Lanka.  Certainly,  they would have economic interests but it could be to mutual benefit.

Of course, the western countries and USA  and Canada have been highly critical of Sri Lanka for what they call “human rights violations” by Sri Lanka while fighting the LTTE. However, this irksome issue can be quickly sorted out across the table with mutual goodwill.

Moving away from China and moving towards democratic countries in fostering relationships will do a lot of good for Sri Lanka by facilitating technology cooperation and investments. Building up relationships with western countries that have no conflict of interest is the best strategy for Sri Lanka

The question is whether the present leadership of the Sri Lankan government has the strength of character and courage to reverse the present counterproductive relationship with China.

(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com)

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