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China using Lanka’s indebtedness to show military muscle

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By Saibal Dasgupta

China has dispatched a military ship to Sri Lanka’s port city of Hambantota in the midst of the rapidly changing political situation in the island nation. The move has raised questions about whether China is trying to establish a strong military presence on Sri Lanka’s Indian Ocean coast.China’s People’s Liberation Army describes the vessel, Yuan Wang 5, as a survey ship, meant to conduct research in the Indian Ocean. But analysts are asking whether the ship, due to arrive in Hambantota on Aug. 11 and packed with sophisticated electronics for space and satellite tracking, is meant to serve a strategic purpose.

“China’s goal is to put the Hambantota port to dual use, commercial and military. It is trying to build the capability to move and maneuver ships at the port with a military purpose,” Dayan Jayatilleka, a former Sri Lankan diplomat, told VOA.

China has some say about using the port because the Sri Lankan government handed it over to Chinese companies on a 99-year lease in 2017. Colombo was forced to give up control of the port after it failed to repay Chinese loans used to build it.

Sri Lanka’s recently ousted president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is believed to have given his consent to berthing the vessel at the Sri Lankan port. The new government that replaced him after a massive protest movement is unlikely to revoke the decision and stop the vessel from using the port.

“Sri Lanka needs financial assistance, and it would not want to displease China by revoking the permission,” Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, told VOA.

“China’s purpose is to make sure its military ships have easy access to the Sri Lankan port. As long as this goal is met, it has no need to actually build a military base,” said K.P. Fabian, a former deputy high commissioner of India to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is seeking a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). IMF rules stipulate that a loan-seeking country should reschedule the payment timetable of past debt in order to qualify.

China has refused Sri Lanka’s request to reschedule project loans amounting to nearly $10 billion that have fallen due. Without China’s cooperation, Colombo would be unable to obtain IMF financing and sink deeper into a financial mire.

“[The] Sri Lankan government is hopeful Beijing will come around and accept the request. It also wants a currency swap arrangement to buy Chinese goods,” Perera said.

Sri Lanka is almost without foreign exchange reserves and facing higher world oil prices, which has resulted in a serious energy shortage. The country is also facing a food crisis with millions of people without jobs.

It is possible that China might try to use its influence as a lender to pressure Sri Lanka to allow the creation of Chinese military facilities, which could be used to target China’s rival, India.

“For India, it is a matter that is causing serious concern. China has been trying to create military challenges for India, and this is one such effort,” said Fabian.

A move to establish a Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka will cause concern not only in India but also in other parts of the world because Indian Ocean sea routes connect Asia and Europe.Sri Lanka’s economic crisis was caused by heavy foreign borrowing, which has left it with a huge burden of debt. Sri Lanka’s foreign debt as a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) jumped from 80% in 2015 to 101% in 2020, according to government estimates. The total foreign debt now stands at $51 billion.

China launched a series of infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka under its Belt and Road Initiative, including the port and an airport that were bankrolled by Chinese banks.The island nation soon found itself unable to service the Chinese debt. Beijing used the opportunity to force Sri Lanka in 2017 to give the Hambantota port on a lease of 99 years to Chinese companies that built and financed it.

“The U.S. government is correct when it says that Chinese projects and loans are very non-transparent and overpriced,” Perera said. “Chinese forays in Sri Lanka had a corrupting influence because they encouraged local politicians and officials to pilfer funds.”

Earlier, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said that China has financed infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka that often served little practical purpose.

“Indeed, over the past two decades, China became one of Sri Lanka’s biggest creditors, offering often opaque loan deals at higher interest rates than other lenders, and financing a raft of headline-grabbing infrastructure projects with often questionable practical use for Sri Lankans,” Power said. (VoA)



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United Republic Front presents ‘A united step for the country’ to the President

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Leader of the United Republic Front Member of Parliament Patali Champika Ranawaka, presented the proposal titled “A United Step for the Country” to President Ranil Wickremesinghe , at ‘Srikota’, the United National Party headquarters in Colombo this morning (24).

Speaking at the event President Ranil Wickremesinghe, highlighted the government’s concerted efforts over the past two years to stabilize the country’s economy, which had faced significant challenges. Stressing the government’s commitment to steering the economy towards recovery through strategic reforms, the President expressed his determination to continue these initiatives with the collective support of everyone.

Recalling his open invitation to all political parties to unite under a common agenda for the country, regardless of political differences, the President reiterated his willingness to embrace constructive proposals from all political parties as part of the nation-building efforts.

The President responded positively to the request made by Member of Parliament Patali Champika Ranawaka to allow other political parties to participate in the upcoming negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) next month concerning the restructuring of foreign debt.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, responding queries about the scheduling of elections, affirmed that the Presidential Election will proceed as scheduled, with the General Election anticipated to take place early next year.

 

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Opp. fears govt. discarding SC recommendations on ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill

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Prof. G. L. Peiris

Prof. Peiris highlights need for ex post facto judicial review

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, MP, said that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s refusal to accept that Supreme Court recommendations hadn’t been accommodated in ‘Online Safety Act No 09 of 2024’, would undermine their faith in the committee stage of a particular Bill.

The dissident SLPP MP said so when The Island sought his opinion on the SC determination on the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill.

Against the backdrop of the continuing controversy over the circumstances under which the Parliament enacted the ‘Online Safety Bill’, the Opposition was seriously concerned about the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government adopting the same strategy in passing the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill.

Prof. Peiris emphasised that the Speaker even ignored the Human Rights Commission advice that SC’s recommendations hadn’t been accommodated. The academic, who recently aligned himself with the SJB, said that the genuine Opposition shared his concerns.

Several parties challenged the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill in the SC in terms of Article 121(1) of the Constitution. The determination of the SC as to the Constitutionality of the Bill concluded as—

(a) Clause 3, Clause 42, Clause 53, and Clause 70 of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 12(1) of the Constitution and required a special majority to be passed by Parliament.

(b) However, the SC stated that the said inconsistencies can be ceased if the said Clauses are amended as per the Determination of the Court.

(b) Clause 4 has to be suitably amended as per the Supreme Court Determination. Clause 72 (1) is unconstitutional and needs to be passed by a Special Majority and a Referendum. The unconstitutionality will cease if this Clause is amended as per the Determination of the Supreme Court.

(c) Correspondingly, Clause 72(2) must be amended in accordance with the Determination.

(d) Clause 75 (3) infringed the Article 4 (c) read with Article 3 of the Constitution and required 2/3 majority and a Referendum. The invalidity will cease 7 upon the amendments suggested in the Determination.

(f) Clause 83 (7) requires a special majority to be passed into law. It has to be suitably amended as per the Supreme Court Determination.

Further, the Supreme Court has determined that subject to the amendments that have adumbrated to the provisions of the Bill by the Supreme Court, the Bill could be enacted into law with a Simple Majority only if the amendments determined by the Supreme Court are introduced to the provisions.

Prof Peiris said that the crisis highlighted the need for ex post facto judicial review, for which there is at present no provision in Sri Lanka. The position is otherwise in countries like the USA and India where an Act of Parliament can be impugned, even after completion of the legislative process, on the ground of conflict with imperative provisions of the Constitution. Such provision existed in Sri Lanka prior to the First Republican Constitution of 1972.

The former minister said that in the draft Constitution Bill which he presented to Parliament on 3 August 2000 on behalf of the Government of President CBK, appropriate provision in this regard was included. “Unfortunately, the Constitution was burnt in the Chamber of Parliament. This gap in our law should be filled, in my view, when a comprehensive exercise in constitutional reform is undertaken by a new Administration after the conduct of national elections this year.”

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US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma visits Sri Lanka

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Deputy Secretary of State of the United States of America Richard Verma visited Sri Lanka from last Thursday to yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release.

The visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and delegation had extensive discussions with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on further strengthening bilateral cooperation. The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State also paid a courtesy call on President Ranil Wickremesinghe following the discussions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, while appreciating the humanitarian and emergency assistance granted by the U.S. to overcome the economic challenges encountered by Sri Lanka, welcomed the recent US$ 553 million development assistance extended by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to the Colombo West International Terminal Private Limited. He also appreciated the U.S. assistance in securing the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) from the IMF.

Foreign Minister Sabry briefed Deputy Secretary of State Verma on Sri Lanka’s priorities as Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the opportunities to foster collaboration in blue economy and maritime security in the region to promote freedom of navigation for all and for the facilitation of trade and commerce. He also apprised the Deputy Secretary of State of the Government’s efforts to further strengthen governance, democracy, and rule of law, as well as to combat corruption.

Deputy Secretary of State Verma while noting the encouraging progress in Sri Lanka following the economic downturn in the last two years, assured continuous U.S. assistance to the country towards economic prosperity.

The Deputy Secretary of State was accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung, senior officials from the White House National Security Council, U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Department of Defence. Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Jauhar and senior officials of the Foreign Ministry were associated with the Foreign Minister at the meeting.

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