Connect with us





(Excerpted from the Memoirs of Senior DIG (Rtd.) Edward Gunawardene)

His visit to my residence: About two weeks after I had shifted residence and with only a week to pass for election day, I was to experience one of the most pleasant and rewarding days of my life.

About 6 O’clock one evening the telephone rang. The caller was Alex Dedigama. He said he was with Mr. Dudley Senanayake at the resthouse and the latter would be pleased to meet me. I very politely told Alex to explain to Mr. Senanayake that it would not look nice for me to meet him at the resthouse and that he was most welcome in my humble home. I also told him that several other candidates including Kalugalle and Ratne Deshapriya Senanayake have seen me at home as this is my official residence. Alex promised to convey my wish to Mr. Senanayake.

As a precaution I telephoned Salgado’s and requested the manager to prepare two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. Chandradasa (my servant) brought this in a thermos flask. No sooner Chandradasa arrived, the telephone rang again. It was the great man himself. He said that he would be at my residence in five minutes. I instructed Chandradasa to be  ready to open the gate. When a car arrived at the gate I prepared myself to meet the special visitor.

As the car entered the premises I recognized the 4 Sri Series Triumph Herald. It was driven by Dudley Senanayake himself. Seated beside him was Alex Dedigama, a cousin who resembled Dudley very much. After Dudley and Alex sat down Dudley, as if to put me at ease, started filling his pipe saying, “I hope you don’t mind me smoking.” “I too smoke, Sir, Peacock is my brand”, was my response.

Apparently he had heard of my Peradeniya days. I was surprised when he told me that he had skimmed The Students Council Magazine edited by me. Joe Karunaratne who was his private secretary had briefed him about me and even given him a copy of the 1956 Union Magazine.

When Chandradasa served the orange juice, Dudley looked at me and asked what the drink was. When I told him that it was fresh orange juice and he smiled saying “good”. I told him that his brother, Robert, had been a regular visitor and fresh orange juice was his preferred drink too. He then told me that Robert had briefed him about the meetings he had with me; and how my servant too had been courteous and accommodating when I was not at home.

It was only after about 15 minutes that Dudley asked me about what was happening. “Mr.Gunawardena, what is this talk that you are going to be transferred?” Without batting an eyelid I replied, ” I am ready to go anywhere Sir,  be it Jaffna or Moneragala. I have to just  pack my suitcase and go.” He laughed. Alex Dedigama who was silent all the while butted in, “They know it Dudley. Even Kalugalla admires this man’s guts. Edward has a good word among the lawyers too.”

He had been well briefed about the goings on in Kegalle; and he appeared to be particularly pleased about the impartial role of the police. He had even heard of the incident where two children flying a green kite had been assaulted and the manner in which I had dealt with Tissa Wijeyaratne. Apparently Alex Dedigama had related the incident to him.

This first meeting of mine with Dudley Senanayake which was to lead to a close relationship with not only him but also his brother Robert and the latter’s children. This remains remarkably fresh in my memory. As I write this 45 years later I can visualize Dudley dressed in a green casual shirt, smoking a large curved pipe seated close to me. “Don’t be discouraged by threats. Don’t be intimidated. Just do your duty,” his parting words that evening still ring in my ears.

Meeting Dudley on Election Day

The day of the elections was relatively quiet. By the time the polls began in the morning apart from police presence at every polling station in the district all the mobile police patrols were operating smoothly. Apart from visiting a few polling stations in the Dedigama, Kegalle and Rambukkana, electorates most of my time was spent in the Operations Room that I had set up in the office of the HQI Kegalle.

The reports received at the Ops. Room by noon indicated that most of the candidates had been seen visiting polling booths. Only a few minor incidents had been reported by this time. A drunk had been arrested by IP Pilapitiya, OIC Bulathkohupitiya, and locked up in a cell. Being busy with the election duties he had not been able to produce this man before a doctor. Dr. N.M. Perera had casually dropped in at the station as he had received information that one of his supporters was in custody. When he saw the true position he had been more than satisfied with the action taken by the OIC.

When I visited the Warakapola Police Station IP Shanton Abeygoonawardena was there. He had been posted to this station by Police Headquarters because the OIC, IP Wijetilleke had been the OIC of Nittambuwa and had been very close to Prime Minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. 

Abeygoonawardena told me that Mr. Dudley Senanayake and his brother Robert were touring the electorate together. After visiting the Warakapola station I drove to the thalaguli shop of Jinadasa, a man with a Groucho moustache who was well known to many. I wanted to eat a thalaguli and drink a ginger tea. There was a jeep halted outside. When my car was stopped behind this jeep, Themis the driver got down from the jeep. He recognized me and told me, “Sir, Hamu athule innawa”. This man whom I addressed as Themis aiya as a child was from my village, Battaramulla. I waited outside until Dudley came out.

As he came out with his brother followed by Jinadasa I saluted and greeted him. Robert who was quite friendly with me having met me often at my residence smiled broadly and tried to introduce me to his brother saying, “Dudley you must meet Eddie”. “I met him only a few days ago”, was Dudley’s response. I chatted with them briefly. They were quite pleased with the police arrangements. Whilst parting Robert told me that they were operating from the Ambepussa Resthouse. 

Cellular telephones had not come into existence at that time. After a thalaguli, vadai and a cup of ginger tea at Jinadasa’s I was able to skip lunch and leisurely tour the district. At about four in the afternoon I was able to get to my residence, change into a sarong and relax. All reports indicated that voting had virtually ended. The percentage poll was appreciably high in all the electorates. I telephoned the Kegalle Ops Room and told the duty officer to inform me when the ballot boxes started coming into the Technical College, the counting centre for the district. 

After a shower and a cup of tea I went to sleep having instructed Chandradasa to put me up if there was anything urgent. When I contacted the Ops. Room I was told that all arrangements were in place at the counting centre; and the counting proper is likely to begin after 10 p.m. A call from my friend Leel Gunasekera, the Returning Officer confirmed this.

Feeling completely relaxed, I told Chandradasa to prepare a freshly laundered light uniform — shirt and slacks; and a light dinner, before leaving for the Planters Club for a game of billiards. The few of my friends who were there were surprised to see me in such a relaxed mood. Sipping a fresh lime juice I played a few frames of snooker with Dr. Clarence Muttiah. At about 9 p.m. I received a call on my Walkie Talkie that the postal vote count had begun; and I decided to leave the club. Whilst leaving I instructed the Ops Room to keep me informed of the arrival of Messrs Kalugalle, Dudley Senanayake and Dr. N.M. Perera at the counting Centre.

After I had dinner and got into uniform I received a call from the Ops. Room to say that Mr. Ratne Deshapriya Senanayake had arrived at the Dedigama counting centre with several people. I immediately telephoned the Returning Officer, Leel Gunasekera, and he told me that only the accredited counting agents and the candidate could be present. Accordingly I instructed HQI Kegalle to evict all unauthorized persons from the counting rooms. No sooner I entered the Technical College premises the HQI told me that the rule enabling only authorized persons from entering the counting rooms was being strictly enforced. He also told me that Mr. Dudley Senanayake and his brother Robert were also accompanied by two or three unauthorized persons and they had not been allowed in.

I did a brisk tour of all the rooms where the counting was taking place. With the minimum of people allowed there was plenty of breathing space in the rooms. The candidates too appeared to be happy that unwanted persons had been kept out. With even the police on duty at the counting centres debarred from moving in and out, even I felt somewhat embarrassed to be entering and exiting the counting rooms. 

When I entered the Dedigama electorate counting centre Dudley and Robert were having a chat with Dharmasiri Senanayake, the brother of Deshapriya. “Good thing Eddie that you have restricted entry”, said Robert. “You can be assured Edda will always do the right thing”, added Dharmasiri who was a Peradeniya buddy of mine. He was undoubtedly one of the most efficient and honest Cabinet Ministers of the seventies. I called him Dharme and he called me Edda. That was our relationship, With his early demise the country lost a honourable politician.

Having driven round the Kegalle town and having dropped in at home for a cup of tea I returned to the counting centre at about 1.00 a.m. With the results coming in and the indications being a defeat for Mrs. Bandaranaike’s  Government the crowd outside the counting centre had thinned out. I walked straight upstairs. On the corridor outside the Dedigama counting room, seated on the balustrade and leaning against a pillar, to my utter surprise was Dudley Senanayake. 

Casually dressed, with a muffler round his neck he was smoking a pipe. Apparently he had just come out of the counting room. I saluted him. “Hullo, is everything peaceful?” Just then Robert who was his counting agent walked out of the room. After greeting me, a somewhat worried looking man turned to his brother and said, “Dudley it doesn’t look too good”. By this time I was seated on the balustrade beside Dudley.

It was indeed a tense and closely contested election. The comment that Robert made was after having observed how the count was going. At that moment I was the nearest person to the two brothers. The immediate response of Dudley to Robert’s apprehensions was certainly not a studied statement for political gain. It was a soft, low voiced conversation between two brothers and I happened to be a listener. The words that came out of Dudley spontaneously were, “Robert, if that is the wish of the people, we have to accept it.” 

These were great words from a great man. They are greater still because they were not made to the public but out of his heart to his only brother; and I was the only other man who heard this! They were indeed words that brought out the true democrat in Dudley.

Celebrations at Woodlands 

The Dedigama result was officially announced at about 2 a.m. Dudley had won convincingly. Not only had he won his seat, the results that had come in indicated that the UNP had won the largest number of seats as a single party. Although the UNP did not have an absolute majority it was clear that only Dudley could have formed a coalition government.

As I escorted him out of the counting centre the crowd had thinned out. The supporters of the ruling party that had formed the bulk of the crowd had naturally left dejected. The lead picture in the Lake House papers on the following day was Dudley leaving the counting centre with the ASP Kegalle.

From the counting centre Dudley and Robert went to the residence of Winston Wickremasinghe, a prominent Kegalle lawyer who was a friend of the Senanayake family. I too followed in my Peugeot 203 driven by my orderly PC Dharmasena. Robert who was looking jubilant came up to me and thanked me for being with them. I told him that my responsibility was not over and that an escort would be provided. I also told him that I myself would be travelling in the lead police jeep to Woodlands. 

“Eddie, you must join us at Kiribath. We will follow the police jeep”, were the softly spoken words of a tired but spirited Robert. Whilst waiting for the jeep with a Sub-Inspector and a Sergeant and constable, Winston came up to my car and insisted that I have a coffee before leaving for Woodlands. Being a local lawyer he was especially courteous when he spoke to me. At that time an Assistant Superintendent of Police commanded much respect among lawyers and Judges.

With the roads almost empty the journey to Woodlands was smooth and fast. At 5 a.m. we reached our destination. At the gate was a police jeep with several policemen inside. On seeing the signal lights of the jeep I was in, an officer got down from the jeep that was at the entrance. I recognized him as ASP Gamini Jayasinghe who was the ASP Colombo Traffic. The few people who were gathered on the road opposite Woodlands lit crackers and shouted ‘Jayawewa’.

Robert’s wife, Neela, and  their children, Devinda, Ranjani, Ranjit, Lala and Rukman were in the verandah near the porch. Carolis, the faithful valet of Dudley dressed in a white shirt and white sarong, was beaming with smiles. Ranjit Wijewardene the Chairman of Lake House was also there.

After the initial greetings and hugs they all moved into the sitting room. By that time Gamini Jayasinghe also had moved towards the porch with an Inspector. I started chatting with them, enjoying a smoke. According to Gamini the victory of the UNP had not been anticipated by Police Headquarters. Before I could finish my cigarette, Carolis walked up to the two of us and said, “Gunawardena mahattayata hamu kathakaranawa”. I fetched my cap from the jeep and walked in.

The entire family was round the oval  dining table laughing, chatting and eating kiribath. No chairs were to be seen near the table. They were all standing. The few pieces of furniture were untidy and in disarray. Indeed it was typical of a bachelor home.

As soon as Robert saw me he turned to Dudley and for all to hear exclaimed, “Dudley, here comes Eddie. The man who had to bear the brunt of the problems”.

The children also surrounded me whilst Dudley himself gave me a plate with a piece of kiribath and some katta sambol. Rukman was a small boy who was a silent observer.

Devinda spoke to me quite freely. He even told me how his father used to mention the long evenings he spent seated in the verandah of my Kegalle residence. He had not failed to mention that I had a servant who always served him an orange juice! At 6 O’clock I walked up to the Prime Minister-designate and sought his permission to leave as I had to get back to station. His reaction was a visibly emotional ‘Thank you’. As I came out to the porch I met Gamini and told him that I was getting back to Kegalle.

It was nearly nine in the morning when I reached Kegalle. After a quick bath and a cup of tea I went straight to the Ops. Room. The HQI was there with Sub-Inspector Cumaranatunga. Not a single incident or election offence had been reported. I instructed HQI to send an ‘Incident Nil’ report to Police Headquarters and disband the Ops. Room. 

Locked up in a cell was a solitary elderly man. Coming out of a polling station in Hettimulla he had been arrested by a mobile patrol for the possession of a knife. I questioned the man and he said he always carried that knife to cut arecanut for his chew of betel. His betel stained mouth and teeth, showed that he was an inveterate ‘bulath hapaya’. I ordered his release and returned the knife with the advice to file the point off. I casually remarked to the HQI that the police should not act foolishly chasing after such trivialities!

The only unpleasant thing that happened after nearly 36 hours of smooth going where all the police arrangements of Kegalle district worked out without a hitch was that two days after the polls, even before a government had been formed, my explanation was called for by Police Headquarters for leaving station and accompanying Dudley Senanayake to Woodlands. I ignored this; and that was it!


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

A forest is much more than a group of trees. Clearing of forests for agriculture has been an age-old practice. We accepted chena cultivation as a traditional livelihood of the rural poor. Secondly, we had ample forestlands throughout the country. Another cause of deforestation is development activities, besides logging and gem mining in some cases. Because of these acts, either legal or illegal, our forest cover has fast dwindled posing many serious environmental issues.

According to the World Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), by 2015, the estimated forest area in the world equaled 31 per cent of the earth’s surface area, most of which was located in tropical areas such as Africa, South America, and Indonesia. Today, according to experts, we have only 17 per cent of the forest cover left in this country.

People are the ultimate managers of forests and the higher their level of knowledge and awareness, the better their ability to conserve forests. It is unfortunate that recent incidents prove that people are not serious about the environment.

We are living in an era where climate change has become a major challenge. Ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere, mainly by the burning of fossil fuels has caused global warming, which renders myriads of bitter consequences. In the meantime, deforestation has been identified as the second major driver of climate change. It is forests which can help us reduce the excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere playing a leading role in the fight against global warming. Forests act as a carbon sink and probably the only entity that is capable of carbon regulation. On average, the amount of oxygen produced annually by an acre of trees is about 2,500 kg while the annual oxygen consumption of a person is 750 kg.

Trees relieve people from stress and make them more comfortable while enhancing their well-being. Without trees, the world would not be beautiful and appealing. The earth has millions of different varieties of trees. Many trees do not remain the same throughout the year. When we plant a tree, we are emotionally attached to it and keen to observe its growth day by day. Sometimes we plant a tree to mark a special event and it may be our birthday, the day of marriage, or the demise of a close relative. Bhutan introduced the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, which is used to measure happiness and well-being of its people. One of the four pillars of GNH is environmental conservation.

Even our tourism industry, which is one of the main sectors that bring us foreign exchange, vastly depends on the natural beauty of this country. If we fail to maintain its unique natural beauty, the country will cease to be a tourist attraction, jeopardising the industry.

The contribution of trees to the ecosystem is massive. Trees improve air quality by trapping solid particles, retard rainfall-runoff and thereby mitigate floods, increase groundwater recharge, and preserve soil by preventing erosion. The sustenance of our river system largely depends on the central forest area being the source of water. Not only forests but even green areas such as shrubs and turfs inside forests also contribute to the ecosystem immensely. Although they receive less attention, they can filter air by removing dust and absorb many pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

Forests are home to wildlife. The same is true of humans and the survival of humans is also dependent on forest conservation.


The way forward

If the concept of vertical development is followed, not only in major cities but also in other areas, the acquisition of forest areas for human settlements can be significantly minimised as high rise buildings will obviate the need for many acres of land. Modern technology has to be used in agriculture together with methods that could contribute to high water use efficiencies to increase productivity rather than expanding agricultural land areas. Human settlements in less developed rural areas should be discouraged. There are large amounts of barren lands, including abandoned paddy lands, that could be used for afforestation if a proper mechanism is put in place to compensate landowners. These are several effective strategies which should be implemented sooner than later as policy interventions on all fronts are required to protect our existing forests. If the country’s forest cover shrinks further, we will all have to face bitter consequences sooner than expected.


(Eng. Thushara Dissanayake is a Chartered Engineer specialising in water resources engineering with over 20 years of experience)

Continue Reading





By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Irrespective of what happens at the UNHRC, there is one thing we should never forget; the arrogance and hypocrisy of our colonial master! The behaviour of the British Government is despicable. The UK has taken from the ‘nouveau-evil empire’––the US––the task of pressuring member nations of the UNHRC to vote against Sri Lanka! All this for the crime of defeating terrorism! Is this what is expected of the so-called leader of the Commonwealth?

It is a shame that the British representatives have not read Mathias Keittle’s excellent, well-reasoned piece “A German Analyst’s View on the Eelam War in Sri Lanka” which appeared in The Island on 28 February.

Considering there are allegations that some friends of high-ranking politicians of the British government made a mint from Covid-19 epidemic, one begins to wonder whether the Tiger-rump has helped some of them line their pockets. After all, it cannot simply be for a few votes. It will be interesting to see if the British government can counter what Matias Keittle so emphatically stated:

“Sri Lanka eliminated a dreaded terrorist group, with intricate global links, but receives little credit for it. Unlike elsewhere in the world, Sri Lanka has succeeded in resettling 300,000 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). There are no starving children for the NGOs to feed but this gets ignored. Sri Lanka has avoided mass misery, epidemics and starvation but the West takes no notice of this. Sri Lanka has attained enviable socio-economic standards for a developing country while eliminating terrorism but gets no acknowledgement. The government of Sri Lanka and its President continue to enjoy unprecedented popular approval through democratic elections but this is dismissed. The economy is functional, but remains not encouraged by the West.”

My concerns perhaps are confirmed by what Lord Naseby, a government peer sitting in the British House of Lords, has stated. The following from the statement by Lord Naseby published in The Island of 5 March under the title, ‘Lord Naseby asks why Adele not prosecuted in the UK for child recruitment’, surely, is an indictment on the British government:

“I am astounded how the UK or any other Member of the Core Group can possibly welcome the High Commissioner’s so called ‘detailed and most comprehensive report on Sri Lanka’ when it is riddled with totally unsubstantiated allegations and statements completely ignoring the huge effort to restore infrastructure and rehouse displaced Tamils and Muslims, who lost their homes due to the Tamil Tigers.

“Furthermore, I question how the UK government knowingly and apparently consciously withheld vital evidence from the despatches of the UK military attaché Col. Gash. Evidence I obtained from a Freedom of Information request, resisted by the Foreign Office at every stage for over two years. These dispatches from an experienced and dedicated senior British officer in the field makes it clear that the Sri Lankan armed forces at every level acted and behaved appropriately, trying hard not to harm any Tamil civilians who were held by the Tamil Tigers as hostages in a human shield.

“This conscious decision totally undermines the UK‘s standing as an objective Leader of the Core Group; made even worse by the impunity for not prosecuting the LTTE leader living in the UK, largely responsible for recruiting, training and deploying over 5,000 Child Soldiers – a real War Crime. It is time that the UK Government acknowledges and respects the recommendations of the Paranagama Commission, which involved several international expert advisers, including from the UK – Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dixon QC and Major General John Holmes.”

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has strived so hard to strengthen the Commonwealth of Nations so that the UK could successfully transform itself from a colonial master to a friend of the past colonies but Her Majesty’s Government seems to be behaving in a manner to undermine Her efforts. Her Majesty’s vision of friendship and cooperation seems to be countered by the bully-boy tactics of politicians.

The excellent editorial “Should SL follow UK?” in The Island on 24 February concluded with the following:

“Anything Westminster goes here. It is the considered opinion of the defenders of democracy that Sri Lanka should emulate the UK in protecting human rights. What if Sri Lanka takes a leaf out of the UK’s book in handling alleged war crimes? In November 2020, the British Parliament passed a bill to prevent ‘vexatious’ prosecutions of military personnel and veterans over war crimes allegations. This law seeks to grant the British military personnel, who have committed war crimes, an amnesty to all intents and purposes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ascertained evidence of a pattern of war crimes perpetrated by British soldiers against Iraqi detainees, some of whom were even raped and beaten to death. Curiously, the ICC said in December 2020, it would not take action against the perpetrators! Too big to be caught?”

the UK may argue that it has to protect military personnel against vexatious prosecutions. If so, they should understand the position of Sri Lanka. We know that the US administrations, be it under Obama, Trump or Biden, run more on brawn than brain but we expect better from the UK. Why or why do they have to behave like a poodle of the US.

Is this not hypocrisy of the highest order? Shame on you, the British government!




Continue Reading





The US was always a selective supporter of democracy, and now it is a diminished one. 

By Ian Buruma

One month ago, in Myanmar, protesters against the military coup gathered around the United States Embassy in Yangon. They called on President Joe Biden to make the generals go back to their barracks and free Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won a big victory in the 2020 general election, which is why the generals, afraid of losing their privileges, seized power.

But is the US Embassy the best place to protest? Can the US President do anything substantial apart from expressing disapproval of the coup? The protesters’ hope for a US intervention shows that America’s image as the champion of global freedom is not yet dead, even after four years of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ isolationism.

Demonstrators in Hong Kong last year, protesting against China’s harsh crackdown on the territory’s autonomy, even regarded Trump as an ally. He was erratically hostile to China, so the protesters waved the stars and stripes, hoping that America would help to keep them free from Chinese communist authoritarianism.

America’s self-appointed mission to spread freedom around the world has a long history. Many foolish wars were fought as a result. But US democratic idealism has been an inspiration to many as well. America long saw itself, in John F Kennedy’s words, as a country ‘engaged in a world-wide struggle in which we bear a heavy burden to preserve and promote the ideals that we share with all mankind.’

As Hungarians found out when they rose up against the Soviet Union in 1956, words often prove to be empty. The Hungarian Revolution, encouraged by the US, was crushed after 17 days; the US did nothing to help those it had egged on.

Sometimes, however, freedom has been gained with American help, and not just against Hitler’s tyranny in Western Europe. During the 1980s, people in the Philippines and South Korea rebelled against dictatorships in huge demonstrations, not unlike those in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Myanmar in the last two years. So, of course, did people in the People’s Republic of China, where a 10-meter tall ‘Goddess of Democracy,’ modelled on the Statue of Liberty, was erected on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Chinese demonstrations ended in a bloody disaster, but pro-democracy forces toppled Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship in the Philippines and South Korea’s military regime. Support from the US was an important factor. In Taiwan, too, authoritarianism was replaced by democracy, again with some US assistance.

But what worked in the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan is unlikely to work in Thailand, Hong Kong, or Myanmar. The main reason is that the former three countries were what leftists called ‘client states’ during the Cold War. Their dictators were ‘our dictators,’ protected by the US as anti-communist allies.

Propped up by American money and military largesse, they could continue to oppress their people, so long as the US saw communism as a global threat. Once China opened for business and Soviet power waned, they suddenly became vulnerable. Marcos was pressed on American TV to promise to hold a free and fair election. When he tried to steal the result, a US senator told him to ‘cut and cut cleanly.’ Marcos duly ran for his helicopter and ended up in exile in Hawaii.

Similarly, when South Korean students, supported by much of the middle-class, poured into the streets, angry not only with their military government, but with its US backer, America finally came down on the side of democracy. Dependent on American military protection, the generals had to listen when the US urged them to step aside.

The generals in Thailand and Myanmar have no reason to do likewise. Biden can threaten sanctions and voice his outrage. But with China willing to step in as Myanmar’s patron, the junta has no reason to worry very much (though the military has been wary of China up to now).

Thailand’s rulers, too, benefit from Chinese influence, and the country has a long history of playing one great power against another. And because Hong Kong is officially part of China, there is little any outside power can do to protect its freedoms, no matter how many American flags people wave in the streets.

Dependence on the US in Europe and Asia, and the clout that Americans held as a result, was sustained by the Cold War. Now, a new cold war is looming, this time with China. But US power has been greatly diminished since its zenith in the 20th century. Trust in American democracy has been eroded by the election of an ignorant narcissist who bullied traditional allies, and China is a more formidable power than the Soviet Union ever was. It is also vastly richer.

Countries in East and Southeast Asia still need US support for their security. As long as Japan is hindered from playing a leading military role, because of a tainted past and a pacifist constitution, the US will continue to be the main counterweight to China’s increasing dominance. But as Thailand’s deft balancing of powers demonstrates, US allies are unlikely to become ‘client states’ in the way some were before. Even the South Koreans are careful not to upset their relations with China. The US is far; China is near.

This pattern is to be expected. US dominance can’t last forever, and Asian countries, as well as Europeans, should wean themselves from total dependence on a not-always-dependable power to protect them. Being a ‘client state’ can be humiliating. Yet, the day may come when some people, somewhere, might miss Pax Americana, when the US was powerful enough to push out the unwanted rascals.


(Buruma is the author, most recently, of The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, from Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit.)

Continue Reading