| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( November 28, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) China`s recent advice to Sri Lanka that she should improve on her human rights record, had apparently caused shockwaves to reverberate within the higher echelons of government, sources revealed. The magnitude of government`s angst in relation to the statement issued by Chinese Foreign Ministry is easily conceivable, when the subsequent clarification by the Chinese Embassy, is looked at in its proper perspective.

The Chinese Embassy did not deny the statement of its Foreign Ministry, which advised the Sri Lankan Government to improve on its human rights record. The clarification by the Embassy merely states that the local media had twisted the statement issue by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Those in the know of backroom manoeuvrings in such matters, may well surmise that the Embassy`s statement could have been inspired by the government so as to dispel any doubts in the minds of the common masses who are somewhat conditioned to think that China will act as a safety net when the country is faced with hostile forces in the UNHRC.

A notable fact in this issue is that the Chinese statement on human rights in Sri Lanka comes right after it was admitted as a member of the UNHRC. Before it was elected to the UN body as a member, and when any motion was brought in condemnation of Sri Lanka`s human rights record, China sprang to its defence without any hesitancy. This apparent change of tact by China in relation to the human rights position of the country is rather enigmatic, at least in so far as the government is concerned.

Heavily dependent on China

It is no secret that the Rajapaksa Government depends heavily on Chinese goodwill to help it get out of trouble when serious human rights and war crimes allegations are brought against the country in the UNHRC. In fact, the government has been able to plant it in the minds of its supporters, purely by dint of repetition

Mahinda plays the China card internally or externally, exclusively for political advantage. Internally, it keeps his government strong as his supporters assume that he has the fullest backing from China. Externally, he uses it to chaste India when he deems it necessary to do so.

In light of the foregoing, it may not be too far from the truth if one were to think the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry was a body blow to the Rajapaksa Government. Ipso facto, India cannot be more comfortable when quietly savouring the developing scenario. So far, the mandarins of the Indian foreign office were in a quandary as to the possible outcome of India`s tight squeeze on Sri Lanka, by voting for the UNHRC resolution at Geneva.

But now that China has also taken up the call for the protection of human rights as an issue in Sri Lanka, India must feel vindicated. It is not irrelevant here to consider what made China issue a statement which could in all probability rattle the Rajapaksa Government. It reminds one of a parallel situation which arose during the presidency of J.R. Jayewardene. When the war was raging in the North during his tenure, India made an all out effort to sabotage Sri Lanka`s war against the terrorists. What JR did then was to send his Finance Minister, Ronnie de Mel, to America, to get help for the country`s war effort. Quite interestingly, when Ronnie met the then American Secretary of State, he did a rather unusual thing. He led Ronnie to a map hanging on the wall of his office and showed him the distances between Sri Lanka, America and India. He advised him to tell his government to settle their contentious issues by mutual agreement.

Even though all of these concerned US interests in the region, US policy which is based on long-term strategic interests was to ignore and establish a strategic alliance with India. This explained the US reaction to the Indo-Lanka conflict and the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.

India important to the US

At this time, America should have helped Sri Lanka, especially in view of the fact that it had agreed to provide certain requests made by America, namely facilitation of setting up of a VOA relay station in the country, and granting Trincomalee oil tanks leasing facilities to an American company. Due to Indian influence, America might have decided to withhold its support to Sri Lanka as India was more important to it. In like manner, if by any chance China was to be asked by India who would be more important to it from the two sides, there would be little wonder if it did not choose India over Sri Lanka. If India conveys to China directly, or indirectly through America, that it has no complaint against China having investment projects in Sri Lanka as long as it goes along with them in the matter of human right issues pertaining to the country, they would naturally prefer to work with India and the international community. This will be to China`s advantage as it could then hold up its own human rights record in better light.

China`s true commitment to human rights issues will be brought under the spotlight when the Sri Lankan case is brought to the UNHRC next March.