RAMALLAH, Palestine (IDN | GIN) – Now that the media circus has moved on, a bronze statue of Nelson Mandela is a curious icon standing impressively tall in the well-to-do city of Ramallah, the economic capital of Palestine.

Weighing two metric tons and rising almost 6 metres towards the sky, the bronze likeness of Mandela stands straight, with his right arm raised and hand in a fist. Created by South African artists Christina Salvodi, Lungisa Khala and Tanya Lee‚ the project was funded by the City of Johannesburg.

The statue took seven months to produce and has been placed on high land for "all the people of Palestine to see," according to Sowetan Live.

- Photo: 2020

Global Superman’s Air-Dash to Colombo

Viewpoint by Sugeeswara Senadhira *

COLOMBO (IDN) – Clark Kent alias Kal-El of the fictitious planet Krypton, known popularly as Superman usually travels at lightning speed, makes flying visits or air-dashes to fight evil forces. Super Global cop’s Secretary of State or Foreign Minister air-dashes from place to place when he is on flying visits to other regions.

Former Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene, who earned the sobriquet ‘Yankee Dickey’ could have a dialogue directly with President Ronald Reagan, but ‘America did not even lift its little finger’ when Indian jets violated Sri Lanka airspace in June 1987.

J R’s not-so-fortunate nephew, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to deal with Deputy State Secretary Richard Armitage – a weight-lifting superman – who air-dashed to Sri Lanka in 2002. Later it was Secretary of State John Kerry’s turn whose albeit unsuccessful attempt to dictate terms to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 is legendary.

Now, another flying visit is lined up for this week. Surprisingly, with a week before the US Presidential Elections on November 3, Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo is scheduled to visit three South Asian countries, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Many Western and Indian political commentators link Pompeo’s Colombo visit to Sri Lanka-China relations and the recent visit to Colombo of a high-profile Chinese delegation led by Yang Jiechi, former China Foreign Minister, Communist Party Politburo member and head of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission. Following discussions with the delegation, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had said that the two sides would restart negotiations for a free trade agreement and aim to complete the Colombo Port City and other projects quickly. He also said he wanted a China-style development for Sri Lanka.

MCC deadlock

Analysts also refer to the deadlocked US$480 million grant for Sri Lanka, through Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an aid agency set up by the US Congress. The funding was meant for a transport project and an agricultural-land project but never got off the ground amid political opposition to the plan to renew a 1995 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US. The proposed draft included several unacceptable conditions including visa-free movement facility to US security and defence personnel to travel in and out of Sri Lanka. 

The essence of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is absolute neutrality and Colombo’s relationship with one country is absolutely independent of ties with another country. India is Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbour and bilateral ties with the regional power go back to ancient times. China is Sri Lanka’s top economic partner and the recent visit of Jang Jiechi resulted in further advancement of economic partnership.

Head butting

Prior to Yang’s visit, the US and Chinese Embassies in Colombo had traded barbs due to out of turn comments by US Ambassador Alaina B Teplitz, who said that while Sri Lanka should engage with China, it “should do so in ways that protect its sovereignty and generate real prosperity for everyone, not just elites”. The Chinese Embassy reacted angrily, saying it was shocked that “a foreign envoy from a third country openly played off China-Sri Lanka relations and severely violated the diplomatic protocol”. It accused the US of making a “despicable attempt to manipulate others’ diplomatic relations”.

In New Delhi, the talks will involve Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and their Indian counterparts, External Affairs Minister Subrahmaniam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Pompeo and Jaishankar are scheduled to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for intelligence-shar­ing and it will be under the anti-China Alliance between India, United States, Japan and Australia, known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad).

Political analysts are certain that Pompeo will raise the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the existing Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in Colombo talks. Indian Political commentator Prarthana Basu said, “Pompeo is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka with hope to rope the island country into its regional plans given the geostrategic importance of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean region.”

The United States believes Sri Lanka could prove to be important for its Indo-Pacific strategy.

The sea lanes of communication that run across the Indian Ocean are considered to be the busiest in the world, with more than 80 per cent of the global oil trade passing through them. The analyst pointed out that for the United States, its interests in Sri Lanka – and the aforementioned agreements – stem from the desire to gain an additional foothold in the Indian Ocean region, push back against Chinese influence there, as well as to use to keep a watch on China’s activities. It is likely the US will seek to partner with India in these efforts as well.

Balancing act

Sri Lanka is determined to keep a fine balance in its international affairs. Hence, it remains to be seen how Sri Lanka could be welcoming of the United States’ overtures and how it intends to negotiate its position while not hindering its relations with China. While the outcomes of the upcoming Pompeo visit are still being discussed, one could be rest assured from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s statements and the past actions of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa that Sri Lanka will not bend to the United States’ wishes on the issue of MCC or SOFA during the forthcoming talks with Secretary Pompeo.

MCC amendment

President Rajapaksa appointed the Lalithasiri Gunaruwan Committee to look into the MCC compact and it has suggested that it be negotiated to make it compatible with Sri Lankan constitution and law. It remains to be seen if the Americans agree to amend those clauses. Though a few-hour air-dash, Pompeo’s visit is keenly watched by many important capitals including New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, Islamabad and Seoul. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 October 2020]

* This article was originally published by Ceylon Today.

Image: The United States believes Sri Lanka could prove to be important for its Indo-Pacific strategy.US State Secretary Mike Pompeo on location map of Asia. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is Flagship Agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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