Lakshman Gunasekara … with highlights being the intrusion of The Editor, Thuppahi
I recall reading both these articles, or at least parts of these articles just a few weeks ago sent by you.
1) China:- I am an admirer of China (just as much as I am an even bigger admirer of India, simply because of cultural and geographical affinity) and I am specifically an admirer of China’s role in the world today as a relatively civilised and certainly civilisational (in terms of Difference) counter to the old, beginning-to-fade Western imperialism. This is not to say that I do not have problems with China’s internal, unnecessarily repressive, political system. While I am a long-time Communist and I continue to watch with interest the successes and failure of the single-party system (the Communist Party is not at all the typical western-liberal-style ‘political party’), I am surprised at the lack of more dedicated practice of electoral politics within that one-party system, especially at the higher levels of national structures. Theoretically, I prefer the Communist one-party state than the bourgeois-liberal multiparty competitive electoral system as the best way toward greater democracy and consolidating social democracy.
I see this in practice to varying degrees of success and failure in, at least, China, Vietnam, Cuba and the DPRK. I have not updated myself on Angola, Eritrea and Tanzania. All three also originally had one-party systems. China has been a very good international friend of Sri Lanka since Fa Hsien, possibly, but certainly since the Rubber-Rice Pact. Our bilateral relationship initially was mostly consistent (and laudable) diplomatic support for Beijing in return for some generously (given China’s impoverished condition) free gifting – the BMICH but also other things. All public gifting for public benefit – originally, that is.
2) Hambantota:- Hambantota port, in the massive scale it has been constructed today, is a total waste of resources and a dangerous destruction of the natural environment. I do not have the time to expand. The ancillary massive, ‘city-type’ edifices, like the “international conference hall” (a nose-thumbing at the upper caste Bandaranaika-Rattvatthes), the cricket stadium and, the grandiose Pradeshiya Sabha administrative complex (possibly ten times the size and scale of our Sri Jayavardhanapura political capital’s Pradeshiya Sabha, and more than double the size of Colombo Municipal Town Hall) are all simply additional wastage and grotesque in the light of their proportionality of scale to the actual needs they are supposed to meet. And all the inter-connecting express-way style roads are also a grotesque waste of cash and a ridiculous disproportionality in relation to the real scale of rural transport and communications needs of the district. Indeed, the highway style raised and broad road system is actually an obstacle to local rural society’s transport and communication needs! Even now, after years of their construction, these broad roads are used to spread and dry rice grains and to drive herds of cattle and buffalo! I have had foreign photographers repeatedly stopping their vehicles to take pix of these bizarre scenes. Note that I have not yet referred to the “international” airport. Need I say more than just “ditto” to ALL of the above – totally disproportionate to even medium-term needs, waste of funds, waste of airport infrastructure and skilled personnel, obstruction of existing rural life and destruction of natural environment and also wild life.
3) That ‘marriage’:- That happy marriage between the Rajapaksa clan and China is indeed a very happy conjunction of stars – to read it the superstitious Rajapaksa way. As I have said before, the debt trap that Sri Lanka is certainly in, is not the fault of China at all but the entirely the doing of the GoSL. For decades, successive governments of different parties have done deals favourable to their foreign backers. Past experience has demonstrated that such foreign ‘backing’ is not just diplomatic and ideological, but also to do with personalised ‘backing’ of various kinds to specific individuals and clans in power. From everything I have heard as a professional, successful, journalist since 1978 (this included some years of semi-academic media studies), this personalised foreign ‘backing’ began relatively small but has grown into an enormous scale, even surpassing some of the big inter-state grants and loans that this country has received. I cannot prove any of this. But I have heard of personal gains by politicians that funded their foreign private investments from apple orchards in Australia in the 1970-80s to majority holdings in five-star hotels in the Persian Gulf region. And this ‘backing’ has inevitably percolated and proliferated throughout the state system and into society as well. So, the debt trap is entirely the GoSL’s doing. The repercussions of such slavishness towards a foreign power, however, has brought some imperialistic impertinence. In Colombo today, we have road nameboards in the city centre that includes the Chinese language and, worse, MINUS one national language (Thamil, of course, a la ‘Reconciliation’). We also have shopfronts with all nameboards and other information solely in Chinese characters. I can imagine the uproar if that was done in the Thamil language. We do not see it happening in the Sinhala language because (seriously) the Sinhalese are rapidly converting to English script and Singlish, such is their patriotism.
No time for more. Thanks.
 Lakshman is referring here to the articles by Jonathan Hillman and Mick Moore presented in Thuppahi: viz.
- Jonathan Hillmann: “The Story Behind the Rise of Hambantota Port: An American Twist,” 7 September 2021,
- Mick Moore: “Spats about Ports in Sri Lanka: The Bigger Picture,” 10 September 2011, https://thuppahis.com/2021/09/10/spats-about-ports-in-sri-lanka-the-bigger-picture/#more-54894