| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( November 5, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mahinda Rajapaksa built up a close friendship with South Korea when he was the Prime Minister in 2004. Former South Korean Foreign Minister and incumbent Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who arrived to provide aid to Sri Lanka in 2004 during the tsunami tragedy went to inspect the damages caused by the tidal waves accompanied by Mahinda, who was the then Prime Minister. During that visit, Mahinda assured Ban Ki-moon that he would convince President Chandrika Kumaratunga to withdraw Sri Lanka's nominee for the United Nations Secretary General contest, to which, Ban Ki-moon was an aspirant. Later, on the instructions of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, President Kumaratunga withdrew Sri Lanka's nominee to contest that post.

Low profile

Mahinda became the President in 2005 and he did not alter the decision taken by his predecessor, Chandrika. Hence, Sri Lanka was rewarded with aid and job opportunities for Sri Lankans in South Korea. During the final phase of the LTTE war, Ban Ki-moon maintained a low profile and several human rights bodies charged the UN Secretary General of extending indirect support to Mahinda. The relations between Sri Lanka and South Korea were firm as concrete. However, with the arrival of some Chinese submarines to Colombo, this relationship seems to be visibly shaken. South Korea appears to be confused over that development.

In a bid to face the Chinese submarine threat, not only South Korea butalso Japan and Philippines have purchased submarines over a period of time. All these three nations are friends of Sri Lanka. They even supported Sri Lanka from time to time when the UNHRC brought proposals against the island nation. When it was reported that a Chinese submarine was coming to Colombo, to coincide with the recent visit of Chinese President, the Japanese Prime Minister and his government looked excited. It was only after the Japanese Prime Minister visited Colombo, the Chinese President arrived here. Diplomatic circles revealed that the Japanese Prime Minister had felt that he and his government were undermined by accommodating Chinese submarines.

The first Chinese submarine arrived in Colombo last September. India says the submarine was berthed in Colombo during the visit of Indian President Pranab Mukerjee to Vietnam. It noted the second Chinese submarine had berthed in Colombo last week when the Vietnamese Prime Minister was on a State visit to India. At a time India was strengthening relations with Chinese neighbours, it was not clear whether China was sending submarines to India's neighbours as a threat. However, much the Government of Mahinda tells India not to fear about the presence of Chinese submarines, information coming from India reveals that the Sri Lankan Navy is not allowed to get near those Chinese submarines, which are berthed close to Colombo. That had led to the increased Indian fears.

Battleground for maritime

The accommodation of Chinese submarines in the Sri Lankan seas would lead to anger among all Asian neighbours who support Sri Lanka at most international problems the island nation encounters. The Americans are viewing this humorous dragon drama in the Indian Ocean with suspicion. When anti-Sri Lankan resolutions were moved at the UNHRC, most of these nations supported Sri Lanka. When the Switzerland brought a resolution against Sri Lanka after the terrorist war ended in 2009, all Asian nations joined hands to oppose it.

Former Pakistani diplomat, Robert D. Kaplan, described the resolution brought against Sri Lanka in 2009 by Western countries and the pro-Sri Lankan Afro-Asian counter resolution as; "UN becomes battleground for Maritime Great Game." The following is an extract of a letter published by Kaplan: "The strange line-up of the member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for or against Sri Lanka at the special session of the body scheduled to take place in Geneva on Tuesday underscores the maritime Great Game unfolding in the Indian Ocean," says former Pakistani diplomat in the Tuesday edition of Deccan Herald, referring to the support by India, China, Russia, and Pakistan among others to a self-congratulatory resolution put forward by the Sri Lanka Government, and the competing resolution advanced by the Swiss Government.

"The special session is being convened at the request of 17 of the 47 members of the HRC, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Britain. Hovering in the background is the United States. It aims at forcing Sri Lanka to face charges of gross human rights violations in its war against the Tamil insurgents. An HRC recommendation to set up an international commission of inquiry would put Colombo in the docks," the column says. But Sri Lanka has tabled a counter resolution commending Colombo for its victory over terrorism and soliciting funds for reconstruction, the author notes. "India finds itself in the strange company but is justified in estimating that the HRC move against Sri Lanka is a non-starter. "China and Russia will anyhow ensure that the 'international community' doesn't torment Colombo. They have invited Sri Lanka to come close to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. "In essence, Sri Lanka is the theatre where Russia and China are frontally challenging the US's incremental global strategy to establish NATO presence in the Indian Ocean region," the author says.

China factor at UNHRC

Thanks to the untiring efforts of our then UN representative, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka managed to overcome that resolution. Mahinda has not managed that victory gained to his country by the Asian nations. Since he forged ahead to carry China on his shoulders, the United States has got an opportunity to net in those countries which supported Sri Lanka. When the UNHRC motion against Sri Lanka was moved in 2014, Japan, Philippines and India abstained from voting. The Colombo Government was at crossroads to understand as to why South Korea supported that motion. That was lesson taught to Mahinda for carrying China on his shoulders.

However, Mahinda's Government seems not to have learnt such lessons. Those countries which abstained during that 2014 UNHRC resolution will not follow a path to support South Korea. The day is not far that the Pearl of the Indian Ocean (Sri Lanka) now trapped between the Chinese 'String of Pearls' would end up in shatters losing the longstanding relations established with her Asian neighbours since independence.