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Historical roots of diverse authoritarianisms

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China’s millennial centralised state; Donald Trump, America’s evil incubus

by Kumar David

The resilience of authoritarianism occupies much of political discourse today. Discussion spreads from Trump’s debasement of American electoral democracy, to Modi’s barefaced Hindutva intolerance, to a spate of dictators, most recently Belarus’s dictator-incumbent for life Lukashenko. The growing list is thrown into bold relief by the backdrop of Trump, Modi, Putin and Brazil’s Balsonaro. Despite common features every case is different and specifics are as enlightening as generalities. Today’s column features Chinese history, Lanka, and US developments. I will dwell on the strong centralised state across dynasties in China and the continuity of this into the Communist present. I have benefitted from the first three chapters of Lee Kwan Yew’s One Man’s View of the World, Strait Times Press, Singapore (2013). At times I have accepted and at times rejected his insights but it is not possible within the confines of this column to point out which is which. I urge readers to read the book because LKY’s grasp of the ‘big-picture’ is unequalled among post-WW2 leaders.

This quote, edited a little for length, gives LKY’s approach to the history of China. “For millennia the Chinese have believed that the country is safe only when the centre is strong. A weak centre leads to confusion and chaos, a strong one to peace and prosperity. Every Chinese knows this cardinal principle drawn from history and there will be no deviation from this. This mindset predates communism”. From this premise LKY concludes that a strong centralised state (called authoritarianism in modern discourse) is endemic to Chinese civilisation and psyche. He sees Western style democracy as unlikely to take root and expects the one-party PRC system to last for long. Participatory government may evolve sui generis but “China will evolve its institutions and systems in a distinctly Chinese way. Whatever their reforms one thing will not change; it will retain a strong centre”.

Let me pick two graphs from Ray Dalio’s chapter 9 of an online series “The Changing World Order” (https://www.principles.com/the-changing-world-order/). The graphs (not copyrighted) measure dynastic power in China. Fig.1 is “relative”, that is progress through time. Numerals 1 to 6 stand for stages in evolution. Stage 1 is the beginning of a new order, stage 2 consolidation, 3 is peace, prosperity and the dynasty forging ahead, followed by 4, profligacy, overreach in resource use and spending. Stage 5 is when the economy enters a tailspin and internal conflict begins. Finally stage 6 denotes civil strife and collapse. Every civilisation has its peculiarities and no two can be expected to replicate each other but in a rough way we can say that the USA today is between stages 4 and 5. I have referred to Trumpism as proto neo-fascism many times before. Well we can drop proto now; armed Trump instigated neo-fascists have starred attacking the homes of electoral officials.

 

Fig. 1 Progression of dynastic power in China

The more interesting illustration is Fig.2 which is an “absolute” scale relating the dynasties to global power. A word about the scales; in both graphs, presentation begins with the Tang Dynasty (618 to 900AD) called the Golden Age, well after the earliest dynasties and does not include Confucius (551-479 BC). RC stands for Republic of China after Sun Yat-sen’s 1911 democratic revolution which ended Dynastic rule. What is relevant to my discussion of Chinese authoritarianism are the peaks and troughs. The vertical scale is all-time rank. I presume that 1.0, the all-time max, would be the British Empire or US Imperialism at their global zenith. The USA, if sketched into the graph, would be at 1.0 from the end of WW2 to the mid-1970s, then it would slide down, with a pip-up from 1989 for five years after the end of Soviet and East European communism, and then resume its decline, ranking between 0.8 and 0.9 today.

 

Fig 2

underlines LKY’s point. The end of the Tang Dynasty due to war-lord uprisings and peasant revolts, wrecked the centralised state leading to a chaotic Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The calamity caused suffering, sorrow and hunger until, out of this chaos, Song Emperors fused a new dynasty half a century later. Yuan, the rule of the Mongols, began with Marco Polo’s fabled Great Khan, Kublai, grandson of legendary Genghis. Despite the achievements of the Mongols, Dalio rates it as bad because it was a foreign occupation and Kublai’s military exploits caused big losses of life and wealth. The downfall of the Qing (Manchurian) Dynasty is in part due to a weakening of the centre from about 1830, but also due to foreign (Western) invasions;

the Opium Wars (1839-42 and 1856-60) humbled China. This storyline underlines why hopes of prosperity and fear of chaos drive the desire for a strong centralised state. In conversations with Chinese in Hong Kong and the Mainland, I know of no one of any political hue, who wishes to see a weaker less cohesive China.

 

Fig.2 Power of Dynasties measured globally

Only fools extend the experiences of history to countries or periods to which they have no relevance. My aim is to illustrate the difference of China’s dynastic story from Lanka. From the end of the Polonnaruwa period, about 1300AD, our history is incomparably different – that is a difference spanning 700 years. From middle-late Anuradhapura period, through Chola rule and in the Polonnaruwa era there were similarities; a hydraulic civilisation, though on a far smaller scale – a quarter of Lanka’s landmass – and the similarity of a centralised sate. Colonisation changed it all, and Lanka after independence is a diametrically opposite political milieu from before. Our ethos of the last half-century has been liberal democracy. JR’s brief Bonapartism and Gotabaya’s effort to impose authoritarian rule are deviations within the big picture. The former failed, the latter will fall flat when the masses now toadying to racist and religious muck awake. Gota’s cack-handed attempt to dismantle the Public Utilities Commission and his Health Minister’s highhanded sacking of Medical Council members, undoubtedly in consultation with him, have caused outrage. He is now on the backfoot, attempting to force resignation of PUC members because he has no power to abolish it and his attempt is anti-democratic. I have had plenty of differences with PUC decisions but attempts to abolish it unconstitutionally and anti-democratically must be resisted. Gota’s authoritarianism is coming a cropper; the masses may be asses but past practice is missing

Given 70 years of liberal democracy, comparison with the time-honoured central state in China makes Gota’s authoritarian exertions seem like farting against thunder. Apples don’t flourish in ground prepared for oranges. Nonetheless it is not a cockeyed President throwing his weight around but livelihood issues that will finally agitate the masses. China’s economy is doing well and more than six hundred million have been pulled out of poverty. People see no reason to upset the applecart and endanger prosperity. China’s authoritarians and bureaucrats (Communist Mandarins) are smart, but Gota has surrounded himself with jackboots and blockheads. The outlook for Sri Lanka is grim. It’s very different tunnels that the two are peering into. The authoritarian cock won’t fight in this corner.

What could falsify my projections is a massive and catastrophic annulment of secularism and democracy in India if Hindutva fascism overruns the country. The chips are down, the gloves are off, the Modi-Amit Shah faction of the BJP and a cow-belt religious-opium besotted, Muslim-hating, secularism-spurning populist mass is mobilising. Unification and organisation of opposition to Hindutva neo-fascism is nowhere near what is needed. Therefore, external circumstances that could facilitate authoritarianism in Sri Lanka cannot be ruled out.

I have argued previously that “Trump is the last warning” meaning Trumpism augurs neo-fascism. He is an incubus who, with his Republi-can’t toadies (the party majority) and goons reminiscent of Hitler’s Brown Shirts (Sturmabteilung or Stormtroopers), is trashing electoral institutions, seeking to subvert polls and subjecting the country to an unending stream of Gobblesian lies. Is my last warning too late, is a fight to the finish already upon America? Yes and no. The final fight in on for sure; but a majority of people and constitutional institutions are probably strong enough to throw back the challenge. If the results of a bourgeois democratic presidential election are overthrown in America it would be mana from heaven for authoritarians and authoritarians-in-waiting in all continents. Institutions and courts have been resilient so far and stood up to the wrecking-ball, but damage is being done. Though the US seems to have weathered the storm so far, the bigger setback is not Trump who can be written off as bonkers, but tens of millions of Republi-can’ts who live in an alternative universe. They damn the very ideals they deem precious in the land of the brave and the home of the free. It is not Chinese dynasties but the grip of the incubus, tightening on the American throat and serving as an example to copycats elsewhere, in societies pledged to bourgeois-democracy and a liberal ethos, that is the peril.

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31st night…Down Under

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The NYE scene at the Grand Reception Centre, in Melbourne

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the Voluntary Outreach Club (VOC) in Victoria, Australia, was able to hold a successful New Year’s Eve celebration, at The Grand Reception Centre, in Cathies Lane, Wantirna South.

In a venue that comfortably holds 800, the 200 guests (Covid restrictions), spanning three generations, had plenty of room to move around and dance to the array of fabulous music provided by the four bands – Replay 6, Ebony, Cloud 9 with Sonali, Redemption and All About That Brass. 

The drinks provided, they say, oiled the rusty feet of the guests, who were able to finally dress up and attend such an event after nine months of lockdown and restrictions. With plenty of room for dancing, the guests had a thoroughly enjoyable time. 

According to an insider, the sustenance of an antipasto platter, eastern and western smorgasbord, and the midnight milk rice and katta sambol, were simply delicious, not forgetting the fantastic service provided by Jude de Silva, AJ Senewiratne and The Grand staff.

The icing on the cake, I’m told, was the hugely generous sponsorship of the bands by Bert Ekenaike. This gesture boosted the coffers of the VOC, which helps 80 beneficiaries, in Sri Lanka, comprising singles and couples, by sending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 3,500, per month, to each of these beneficiaries, and augmenting this sum, twice a year, in July and December, with a bonus of the same amounts.

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Fall armyworm:

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Strategies for effective management

by Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

Emeritus Professor of Entomology University of Ruhuna and former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy

Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera; Noctuidae), a quarantine pest, has been identified as a very destructive insect pest of Maize/Corn. This insect originated in Americas and invaded the African region in 2016 and was detected in India the following year and perhaps would have naturally migrated to Sri Lanka last year from India. Now, it is reported that FAW is present in all districts of Sri Lanka except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. In winter in the USA the pest is found in Texas and Florida and subsequent summer when it gets warmed up, the pest migrates up to the Canadian border. The corn belt of China is also at a risk due to its migratory habit and the cost to Africa, due to this invasion, will exceed $ 6 billion. Maize is a staple food crop in Africa and millions depends on it for food. Hence in Africa and now in Asia it is a global food security issue for millions of people that could be at a risk if FAW is not controlled. The adult moth migrates very fast almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km, before laying 1,500 eggs on average. The entire life cycle lasts 30 days in tropical climate. There are six larval instars and mostly the destruction is caused by the last three instars and the growing moth pupates in the soil for 10-12 days and the nocturnal adults lay eggs on leaves for about 10 days The pest thrives on about 80 host plants but the most preferable host is Corn/Maize. In Sri Lanka the preferred hosts includes Kurakkan and Sugarcane in addition to Maize. The symptoms of damage- scrapping of leaves, pin holes, small to medium elongated holes. Loss of top portion of leaves fecal pellets in leaf whorl which are easily recognizable. The Comb is also attacked in later stages with a heavy infestation, but after removing the FAW affected portion of the comb the remaining portion is still suitable for consumption and there is no fear of any toxicity. There are two morphologically identical strains––maize strain that feeds on maize and sorghum, and rice strain that feeds on rice and pasture grasses. However, in Sri Lanka only the maize strain has been detected so far. FAW thrives in a climate where drought is followed by heavy rains on a similar way we have experienced last year.

Although new agricultural insect pests are found in Sri Lanka, from time to time a number of factors make FAW unique (FAO Publication 2018)

1

FAW consumes many different crops 2 FAW spreads quickly across large geographical areas 3.FAW can persists throughout the year. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to develop a coordinated evidence based effort to scout FAW for farming communities and effective monitoring by the research staff

 

Management

Since the pest has already arrived in Sri Lanka, the Government/ Ministry of Agriculture should formulate short, mid and long term strategies for its effective management with all stakeholders. Also it has to be clear that a single strategy ex pesticides will not help in effective control but a proper combination of tactics, such as integrated pest management should be employed in the long term. In the short term, the recommended pesticides by the Department of Agriculture should be employed along with cultural and sanitary control strategies. These strategies have now been formulated and what is required to enlighten the farmers and people by utilizing the trained staff. The country should be placed on a war footing and an emergency should be declared in the affected areas to coordinate the control strategies. The integrated control tactics, such as cultural control, should be integrated with pesticides based on the recommendation of the research staff. The residues should be destroyed after harvest and avoid late planting and staggered planting. The Ministry of Agriculture should create awareness among the farmers and train the farmers on early detection of egg masses found on leaves and destroy them by hand. The pesticides for FAW control is recommended by the Department of Agriculture (Please contact Registrar of Pesticides of the Department of Agriculture for the recommended list of Pesticides) and they have to make it available at subsidized rates or given free with technical information considering the emergency. When the larvae are small early detection and proper timing of pesticides are critical for elimination of the pest. With this outbreak some farmers and the private sector is engaged using highly hazardous pesticides which should be avoided to make way for sustainable alternatives. The Department Entomologists should train the farmers for early detection of egg masses when present on 5% of the plants and when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are present on war footing. The economic threshold has been calculated as 2-3 live larvae per plant and the control strategies should commence as soon as this threshold is detected by visual observation. The majority of development officers, agriculture and science graduates working in Divisional Secretariats, are already trained on pest control and their participation on training the farmers for early detection and pesticide selection and application warrants the strategy. Some of the recommended pesticides are follows: Chlorantraniliprole 200g/1SC: Trade name Corogen, Emamectin benzoate 5%SG: Trade name Proclaim,, Flubendiamide 24% WG : Trade name Belt. The Principle Entomologist of the Dry Zone Research Station of the Department of Agriculture ( Mrs KNC Gunawardena) has prepared an effective online presentation on FAW control and this has to be shared by all. The African country Ghana has declared a state of emergency in response to this invasion as Maize is a staple crop which should be followed by us in Sri Lanka.

The long term strategies include early detection. Stopping its spread and initiation of a long term research programme to identify tolerant varieties and granting permission to import such varieties as seeds. The country should ear mark on a Biological control strategy by breeding and releasing FAW parasitoids regularly. In USA larval parasitoids such as Apanteles marginiventris, Chelonus insularis and Microplitis manilae have contributed to keep the pest population down along with egg parasitoids Trichrogramma spp and a similar program should be initiated in the affected districts. Finally the best option is to establish a task force with the involvement of entomologists, extension personnel along with the administrators and scientists working in the universities to ensure the country are safe with regards to food security

 

 

The author has read for a PhD at University of Florida Gainesville in the USA in 1985 and his PhD thesis exclusively deals on Fall armyworm parasitoids and its ecology

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President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest

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by Jehan Perera

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced that the government will be entering into an agreement with the Adani Group, based in India, to offer them 49 percent of the shares in a joint venture company. This joint venture will include Japanese government financing and will manage one of the terminals in the Colombo port. The entry of Adani Group, into the Colombo port, has been opposed by a wide coalition of organisations, ranging from port workers, and left political parties, to nationalists and civil society groups. These groups have little in common with each other but on this particular issue they have made common cause and even held joint protests together. The main thrust of their objections is that control over the East Terminal of the Colombo port will pass into foreign hands and result in an erosion of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

The cause for alarm, among the protesting groups, may be fueled by the observation that one by one, the ports of Sri Lanka are being utilized by foreign powers. In particular, China has entered into Sri Lanka in a big way, obtaining a 99-year lease in the Hambantota port that it constructed. The Hambantota port, in its early period, showed it was economically unviable in the absence of Chinese cooperation. The burden of debt repayment induced the previous government to enter into this agreement which may become unfavorable in terms of national sovereignty. There were protests at the time of the signing of that lease agreement, too, though not as effective as the present protests regarding the change of management in the Colombo port, which is led by the very forces that helped to bring the present government into power.

In addition to the Hambantota port, control over the South Terminal in the Colombo port, and a section of the harbour, has been given to China through one of its companies on a 35-year lease. In both cases, large Chinese investments have helped to upgrade Sri Lanka’s capacity to attract international shipping lines to make use of the port facilities. The Hambantota port, in particular, could benefit enormously from Chinese ships that traverse the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. Instead of making refuelling stops elsewhere along the way, such as Singapore, they could now come to Hambantota. However, with these investments would also come a Chinese presence that could cause concerns among international actors that have geopolitics in mind. It may be that these concerns are finding expression in the opposition to the Indian entry into the Colombo port.

 

RATIONAL ANALYSIS

It will not only be Sri Lankans who are concerned about the Chinese presence in the country’s ports. As Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbour, India, too, would have concerns, which are mirrored by other international powers, such as Japan. It might be remembered that when Japan’s prime minister visited Sri Lanka, in 2014, there was a diplomatic furor that a Chinese submarine entered the Colombo port, unannounced, even to the Sri Lankan government, and docked there. With its excellent relations with China, that go back to the 1950s, when the two countries signed a barter agreement, exchanging rice for rubber, most Sri Lankans would tend to see such Chinese actions in a benign light. In recent years, China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest donor and its assistance is much appreciated. However, India’s relations with China are more complex.

The two countries have massive trade links, but they have also gone to war with each other due to territorial disputes. Even at the present time Indian and Chinese troops are in a stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border. In this context, India would be concerned that the Chinese presence in Sri Lankan ports could eventually take the form of an overall strategy to encircle it and use this leverage to India’s disadvantage. Sri Lanka’s location at the bottom of the Asian continent gives it a strategic importance in the Indian Ocean that goes beyond any possible India-China rivalry. The recent visit of US Secretary of State to Sri Lanka included an acerbic exchange of words between the US and Chinese representatives on that occasion and an open call to Sri Lanka to take sides, or not to take sides. As a small actor in itself, Sri Lanka would have no interest in getting involved in international geopolitics and has a longstanding policy of non-alignment and friendship with all.

More than anyone else, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be aware of these geopolitical issues. As Defence Secretary, during the years of war with the LTTE, he was a key member of the government team that obtained wide ranging international support for prosecuting the war. Today, the President’s key advisers include those with military backgrounds who have special expertise in geopolitical analysis and who have spent time in leading military academies in different parts of the world, including the US, China and India. This contrasts with the more parochial thinking of political, nationalist and even civil society groups who have come out in opposition to the agreement that the government has entered into with the Indian company to manage the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port.

 

GEOPOLITICAL IMPERATIVE

President Rajapaksa was elected to the presidency in the context of the security debacle of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks and with the expectation that he would provide clear-cut leadership in protecting the country’s national security without permitting partisan interests from becoming obstacles. In his meeting with the representatives of the trade unions, opposing the handing of management of the Eastern Terminal to foreign hands, the President is reported to have said that geopolitics had also to be taken into account. As many as 23 trade unions, representing the Ports Authority, the National Organisations collective, and a number of civil organizations, have joined the formation of a new national movement named the ‘Movement to protect the East Container Terminal’.

One of those political representatives at the meeting, leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), Pubudu Jayagoda, is reported to have said, “When trade unions met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (13), he told them about the broad geopolitical factors in play. This is reminiscent when the unions met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a few years back. The unions told Wickremesinghe what they told Rajapaksa––the ECT could be operated by Sri Lanka in a profitable manner. Wickremesinghe told the union representatives, ‘You are talking about the port, I am talking about geopolitics’.” However, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may not have had the necessary political power to ensure that his vision prevailed and failed to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

Entering into the agreement with the Indian company will serve Sri Lanka’s national interests in several ways. By ensuring that India is given a presence in Sri Lanka’s most important port, it will reassure our closest neighbour, as well as Japan, which has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent international donor, that our national security interests and theirs are not in opposition to each other. Second, it takes cognizance of the reality that about two-thirds of the Colombo port’s shipping is due to transshipment with India, and thereby ensures that this profitable business continues. Third, it will give Sri Lanka more leverage to negotiate with India regarding key concerns, which includes Indian support to Sri Lanka at international forums and in providing guarantees for the unity of the country in the face of possible future threats and the need to ensure devolution of power to satisfy ethnic minority aspirations.

 

 

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