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The Chimerican Divorce:

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Is Sri Lanka truly ‘Non-Aligned’

by Kusum Wijetilleke
(kusumw@gmail.com)
and
Rienzie Wijetilleke
(rienzietwij@gmail.com)

Sino-Sri Lankan relations date back long before the much-acclaimed rubber rice pact of 1952. The Chinese Monk Faxian documented his visit to the island around the fourth century. King Alakeshvara, ruler of the Kingdom of Kotte, battled a Ming Dynasty fleet in the 1400s. His defeat and capture led to the ascension of King Parakramabahu VI, a known proponent for trade with the ancient Chinese empire. Chinese history has recorded that King Parakramabahu VI was nominated by the Yongle Emperor based on the advice of the Sinhalese present at the Ming Court and installed as King with the backing of Admiral Zheng He and his fleet.

The modern relationship gathered pace after Sri Lanka’s early recognition of the Peoples Republic of China, in 1957. Sri Lanka is also reliant on the United States, the world’s pre-eminent super power and recent comments made by the visiting Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, reveal the very public divorce and necessitates a delicate balancing act on the part of Sri Lanka.

China’s economic success has been largely facilitated by the United States and other liberal democracies through multinational corporations operating within a free trade environment. “Chimerica”, a term introduced by Economist Moritz Schularick and Historian Niall Ferguson in 2006, is a term that describes the symbiotic economic relationship between the United States and China. This period of historic economic expansion, amid the booms and busts, is also broadly considered to be the height of the neo-liberal economic project. Chimerica allowed many long established American multinationals to continue their growth stories in the Far East, leading to a mass exodus of American manufacturing to China. In return, the world’s pre-eminent consumerist mecca swallowed up cheaper goods imported from the East. This seemed like a win-win situation; China would lift literally hundreds of millions out of poverty while the US satiated its hunger for cheap products and kept its hyper-consumerist economy trudging along. Yet by the time the 2008 financial crisis struck, China seemed the clear winner. American multinationals were creating extreme levels of wealth but with very little ‘trickle down’ to ordinary US citizens. Wages of the American middle class stagnated, and entire regions of the US, once proud cities built by the manufacturing industry, began collapsing.

 

Sri Lanka on the String of Pearls

In the meantime, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with its centralised structure of economic planning, had begun its next phase of development. The Belt and Road Initiative, had already taken root in Sri Lanka, well before its official launch by Chairman Xi Jinping in 2013. Starting in the 1970s, China had provided grants for infrastructure development to Sri Lanka, the most famous being the BMICH. However since the early 2000s, Chinese investments in Sri Lanka took the form of interest bearing loans and FDI. The Norocholai Power Station in 2006, the Hambantota Port Project in 2007, the Matala Airport and the Colombo Port City investment in 2010 are just some examples.

Sri Lanka was clearly of strategic importance to China and while the global economy ticked along there was little concern, the CCP had become a reliable development partner. The Chimerican project on the other hand, was running into trouble. Schularick and Ferguson note that even in the lead up to 2008, China had been building up its currency reserves and using these to buy more and more US securities. Essentially, China was saving while the US was over-spending. American over-spending was only possible due to cheap debt and cheap debt was always likely to lead to those troublesome economic “bubbles”.

In 2008, demand in the US plummeted and China had to fortify its own economy through an economic stimulus plan around the same time that the US treasury launched the American Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The Chinese Central Bank, PBOC, lifted restrictions on commercial bank lending and the State Council invested somewhere in the region of 4 trillion Yuan, equivalent to USD 600 Bn, in infrastructure and welfare services between 2008 and 2010. A decade or so later and China has had to revisit a stimulus package by way of tax cuts and improving liquidity. China’s double digit GDP growth was always unlikely to last, the inevitable slow-down was managed by the CCP until the unforeseeable external headwinds of the Trump trade war and the pandemic. It is worth noting that the CCP did not publish an economic growth target for 2019, an unprecedented policy that continued through 2020. Despite a rebound in industrial output in the second half of 2020, official unemployment figures remain at around 6% while economists argue that the actual unemployment rate might be double this. Thus China, for all its incredible growth and financial might, is not infallible and must manage its risks and rewards like any other nation. Sri Lanka should take note, an endless Chinese appetite for Sri Lankan infrastructure lending is by no means guaranteed.

 

Cold War 2.0: The End of an Affair

The inevitable eastward shift of manufacturing, accelerated by neo-liberal trade policies and the automation and technological revolution, altered the lives of millions of working Americans. Many in these towns and cities took note when candidate Trump oversimplified the complex case of US international trade with a view of trade tariffs not shared by many economists. President Trump was always likely to accelerate the eventual divorce or evolution of the Chimerican relationship. The US Treasury department, having taken the historic step of labeling China a currency manipulator in August 2019, changed course a mere 5 months later as part of its Phase One trade deal. The US, UK and a few other European countries have taken steps to ban technology from Chinese telco giant Huawei in their 5G roll-out. These are all facets of the emerging Cold War 2.0. During the original Cold War, two major powers engaged in proxy wars, an arms race and the space race, in a battle for technological superiority. Cold War 2.0 might seem to be all about trade imbalances and intellectual property theft, yet the technological race is critical. China and the US are vying for superiority in various tech fields including semiconductors, quantum computing, 5G, artificial intelligence and data science.

The symbiotic economic relationship is at risk. What remains to be seen is whether Chimerica complete their divorce or arrive at an amicable compromise; an evolution of the relationship. The latter seems less contentious and will moderate short-term shocks to the global economy. However, the current signs seem to suggest the former, and Sri Lanka may find itself in the midst of a rather messy divorce.

Twin Alignment and Anti-Americanism

Secretary Pompeo’s visit and comments, certainly caused a stir. Sri Lanka has always had a strong center-left/ leftist political tradition and anti-Americanism comes with the territory.

The JVP began the festivities on the front page of a daily by stating the obvious: “Sri Lanka doesn’t need Foreign Interventions” (suffice to say, we actually do, we are inviting it in some quarters). The LSSP cautioned the government not to “fall into a trap”, Prof. Tissa Vitharana warning that signing agreements like the SOFA will lead to thousands of US forces utilizing the whole of Sri Lanka as a base. He stated, rather confusingly, that “even staying neutral is tacit approval” and urged the Sri Lankan Government to “take a non-aligned stance and support China”. Note the contradictions.

As much as Sri Lanka would prefer to be “non-aligned”, it remains very much aligned with the East Asian super power through borrowings, agreements and investments whilst performing an intricate balancing act with its number one export destination: the United States. The truth is that Sri Lanka is far from non-aligned, in fact one could argue that Sri Lanka has a ‘twin alignment’ with the two major economic and military powers in the world.

The United States is our top single-nation export destination by a considerable distance, and has also provided some $2.5 Bn in aid over the past several decades through various programmes and institutions. It also funds and thus holds considerable sway in many multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the IMF. Beyond its economic cooperation, the US also assisted Sri Lanka in some key aspects during the war on terrorism. Naval floating armories were tracked and destroyed using US intelligence, US naval blockades reduced the illegal arms trade in the Indian Ocean and supported the belated proscription of the LTTE in the post 9/11 world.

On the flipside, the US has also sponsored multiple resolutions against Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council and even banned the current Army Commander. US backed INGOs and NGOs have long been perceived as assisting or being sympathetic towards the LTTE. Hand-wringing and fist shaking seem to have become the traditional Sri Lankan welcome for American officials visiting the country.

However, Sri Lankans should understand that regardless of the emotional reactions to western imperialism, the country’s economy cannot survive without its trading relationship with the United States.

A Belt around the Neck?

While the US has longstanding military and defense relationships with Sri Lanka, the escalation of hostilities with the LTTE led to restrictions in US military aid to Sri Lanka in 2007. China filled the gap providing direct military aid and equipment. China has since provided a range of modern armaments to the Sri Lankan military whilst also voting against the many US sponsored resolutions at the UNHRC. In return, Sri Lanka has steadfastly supported China at many diplomatic junctures including being one of 50 signatories defending its treatment of Uyghurs and Muslim Minorities in Xinjiang and most recently supporting China’s controversial National Security Law in Hong Kong.

Critics of Sri Lanka’s Sino-relations cite Chinese debt diplomacy and exhibit 1 is the Hambantota Port Debt/ Equity swap. Sri Lanka would appear to be a prime candidate for a potential Chinese debt trap, however the numbers on the surface do not support this claim. Analysts have shown that total debt to China is slightly above 10% of total debt and 60% of Chinese debt can be categorized as ‘concessionary’, though what constitutes ‘concessionary’ might be debated. Various commentators have stated that describing the deal as a debt/ equity swap is misleading. While Sri Lanka received just over USD 1 Bn from China for a 70% stake on a 99 year lease, the agreement did not involve the cancellation of loans from China. The Administration of the time used a small portion of this inflow to settle some short term debt unrelated to the construction of the Port and the remainder was used to bolster foreign exchange reserves.

It is inaccurate to claim that a Chinese debt trap is engulfing Sri Lanka, however non-concessionary debt as a percentage of total debt has been steadily increasing. The more you borrow, the higher your risk profile, the less concessionary future debt becomes. This is simply a natural law of debt and Chinese or not, Sri Lanka is falling into a debt trap. Balance of Payment deficits, budget deficits, investments in major projects without adequate planning, leading to under-performing assets and political manipulations of government revenue generation leads to a weakening of the nation’s credit worthiness. Government officials and ministers as well as members of the business community turn their noses up at conditional borrowings from institutions such as the IMF and view these conditions as suspicious. It is worth considering that these conditions may be better for the country’s long term financial stability.

As is often the case, this requires a trade off against short-term spending which complicates the political sphere. The facts are straight forward, successive Sri Lankan administrations have taken the easy route by simply borrowing to cover budget deficits and to shore up foreign exchange reserves without taking the painful steps required to bring some measure of financial discipline to government spending.

Another aspect of Chinese debt diplomacy that merits discussion are the projects themselves. In 2019, Pakistan cancelled a USD 2 Bn Chinese coal plant project as well as reducing their exposure to loans from Chinese entities. Myanmar scaled down a deep water port project from USD 7.3 Bn to USD 1.3 Bn having decided that debt levels were too high. A proposed Sino-Omani Industrial City that was proposed to cost USD 10 Bn has stalled completely. The Khorgos Gateway in Kazakhstan, 49% owned by China and meant to be the central ‘jewel’ of the modern silk road is basically an under-performing dry port surrounded by an empty 500 hectare field that was slated to become a special economic zone. Some of these projects should sound oddly familiar to anyone with knowledge of the Hambantota port project.

Lending for infrastructure projects require detailed viability studies to ensure the project is not only necessary but able to generate adequate revenue to operate whilst repaying loans. It seems that for many of these projects funded by Chinese banks, viability and revenue generation were not primary concerns for the lending institutions, another suspicious aspect of the BRI.

As a concept, the BRI raises many questions around the motives of the Chinese Communist Party. Sri Lanka had seemingly limited alternatives but to engage China as post war Sri Lanka needed significant investment and dependable partners. The CCP was really the only player and it just so happened that China already had very specific designs on Sri Lanka.

Neo-Imperialism

Politicians and the media, especially those on the center-left, are extremely suspicious about the MCC grant and the security agreements (SOFA and ACSA), accusing the US of using these agreements as tools establish military bases and take control of land assets amongst other nefarious motives. The idea that the US needs a grant of USD 500 Mn to exert influence on Sri Lanka seems farfetched. As noted before the US already has significant influence over Sri Lanka through its trading relationship with exports averaging USD 2.0 Bn annually, a tariff of a few percent would diminish Sri Lanka’s export revenue significantly.

The ACSA and SOFA may have different implications. Sri Lanka first signed a SOFA with the US in 1995 and if certain clauses in the renewal agreement are undesirable, for example those relating to protections and privileges for visiting American troops, these must be negotiated. Everything in Foreign Relations can be bargaining chip. The question to be asked is not whether Sri Lanka should sign the SOFA and ACSA, but what the government should ask for in return. A Foreign ministry official, as per Asia.Nikkei.com, stated that Sri Lanka did not want to seem too closely aligned with any nation and that signing a SOFA would lead to complications. Is Sri Lanka not already too closely aligned with China judging by this benchmark? There are other costs to bear in mind, namely the relationship with Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbor: India. The US has been forging ever closer relations with New Delhi, as part of the ‘American Pivot to Asia’ and India is the perfect foil for the US in the Cold War 2.0.

The over-arching narrative, driven by the exploitative and extractive effects of colonialism, is that the Western establishment spent the better part of the last few centuries exploiting the developing world. Modern day military invasions and interventions across the globe, political interference through international organizations and pressure brought by multinationals prove that the suspicion is warranted. More concerning is that many appear to view massive Chinese investment as purely transactional and any consequent cloud of imperialism as benign.

To believe in a benign form of imperialism is akin to the acceptance of a dictator as benevolent. Even if we ignore the 1989 massacre of Tiananmen Square and the hundreds of deaths, we must still contend with the power wielded by the CCP in Hong Kong, with student protestors now under arrest in the mainland. The Tibetan uprising led to over 85,000 deaths as per the CCP, Tibetans in exile claim the toll was much higher. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam and disputes in the East China Sea with Japan still linger. China would also prefer that its support for the Khmer Rouge is forgotten while the media highlights with the plight of the Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region.

It seems rational to turn a suspicious eye towards Chinese investment and deeper entanglement in view of the ever closer alignment. Sri Lankans will notice the increased numbers of Chinese workers in Sri Lanka and their effect on the local job market. There are multiple large scale government contracts being carried out by Chinese companies using Chinese labour and machinery that dilute the benefits to Sri Lanka. Why is there so much overt anti-Americanism when it is China that was able to maneuver itself in to a position from which to negotiate a long term lease of a port, a port that was funded by Chinese bank loans? There is already much speculation that the Colombo Port City will eventually become a Chinese addendum to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has been a developing country for several decades since independence. The slow march towards the Sri Lankan promise continues. At this crucial juncture, with our economy in peril in the midst of global challenges and intrigue, can Sri Lanka afford anti-Americanism? Should the west not at least serve as a counterbalance to be used against the Chinese at the negotiating table? Certainly, Sri Lanka will have to continue to negotiate with the CCP, and must quickly become more effective at this negotiation to ensure the best possible bargain is struck, one that neither antagonizes the West nor betrays the East. The twin alignment remains in the balance.



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What’s in a Suit? That which is substantive can be delivered in a Bush Shirt!

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Anura Kumara Dissanayake meeting Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar in New Delhi. (File Photo)

by Rajan Philips

Never mind what Anura Kumara Dissanayake wore in Delhi. Never mind what Ranil Wickremesinghe wears daily. What the people want is not the word salads of sartorial politics by Sunday pundits, but the proffering of substantive politics by contenders for political office. As the pre-election dust takes its own time to settle, two figures are emerging as the primary contenders.

On the right, where he has always been, is Ranil Wickremesinghe. On the left, where he seems inspired to be, is Anura Kumara Dissanayake. If there was any chance of someone racing up the middle, that chance and the politics of that candidate are fast withering. The political house of Sajith Premadasa is a house divided according to insiders and outsiders. Mr. Premadasa will have to put his own house in order before he can be a serious contender for public office.

The impending contest between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake will be a very different one when compared to past presidential elections. First to be noted is the organizational disarray of the mainstream political parties and their electorally opportunistic alliances. The disarray is obvious and needs no elaboration.

It also explains why President Wickremesinghe, the nearly 50-year veteran of a 77 year old party, is still looking for a political launcher for his presidential candidacy. Officially, he will be a UNP candidate with the elephant symbol, but he is looking to be acclaimed as the candidate of a grand alliance. Media columnists are writing about such an alliance, but there are no signs yet of any alliance, let alone a grand one.

The support for President Wickremesinghe is mainly based on his successful stabilization of the economy from where his predecessor left and ran away. Those who are genuinely and perhaps exclusively concerned about the economy do think that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be elected as President to continue managing the economy. But this premise has at least two limitations.

A tentative candidate

One, while it is fair to give Mr. Wickremesinghe credit for what he has done, it would be a stretch to claim that what he has done is something miraculous and that he should contest and be elected President for a new term to continue performing economic miracles. The economy cannot be restored by magic or miracles, and no one should lose sight of the fact that the current stability is primarily due to the moratorium on debt payment. What happens when debt repayment is restarted?

The second limitation to the Wickremesinghe candidacy is that the support for Mr. Wickremesinghe is neither broad nor deep. Otherwise, he should be the one who is topping opinion polls and creating the buzz that Ranil is the man to beat. Mr. Wickremesinghe himself is quite coy about his candidacy. Either he is keeping everyone guessing, or he is guessing himself.

It may be that the President is looking for a broad appeal imploring him to contest the presidential election to keep saving the economy. Similar to the circumstance in which he acceded to the desperate request of Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a helping hand. But there is nothing like that happening now. No appeal by any credible alliance for Ranil to be a candidate. The whole tentativeness of the situation is a symptom of the disarray of the political establishment.

That brings me to the second unique aspect of the upcoming presidential election. That is the emergence of the JVP/NPP as real contender for winning power democratically, and whose unity of purpose and organizational discipline stand in stirring contrast to the opportunism and disarray of the mainstream parties. The JVP’s emergence as a viable contender is as much due to its own maturity as it is due to resonating objective conditions.

The aragalaya that drove Gota away may have turned the tide for the JVP. But it goes beyond that, and it shows the people’s real hunger for an alternative political leadership. And it shows that the people are not warming up to Ranil Wickremesinghe in spite of all the learned views about his capabilities as an economic manager.

AKD’s leadership

The consolidation of the JVP and the emergence of the NPP as its electoral front also owe a great deal to the seemingly collegial leadership of Anura Kumara Dissanayake. He is unique in Sri Lankan politics as the one political leader who has filtered up through the social layers among the Sinhalese without being part of a mainstream political party – the UNP, the SLFP, and later the SLPP. The devolution of political leadership in Sri Lanka – i.e., the transitioning of political leadership from the decadent upper strata of society to the emerging generations – could be a study in itself.

The fact of the matter is that such a transitioning has not been as common in Sri Lanka as it has been in India. There is a long trace of leadership transitioning in India – from the rise of K. Kamaraj as Chief Minister of Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) in 1954, to the ascent of Narendra Modi first as Chief Minister of Gujarat and now the soon to be ‘threepeat’ Prime Minister of India. There is nothing common about their politics, but they represent the shifting of leadership from the upper echelons to the lower strata of India’s hugely stratified society. The example of President Premadasa could be cited as an exception, but it was an exception that could not become a trend.

The JVP and the LTTE interventions could be seen as violent and misplaced efforts to force a transitioning of leadership. Both efforts ended in failure, but the reality now is that even the traditional leadership formations have now imploded. There was a much touted recent transitioning in Tamil political leadership, but that seems to have got mired in legal battles in district courts.

The saving grace here is in the recourse to court battles instead of gun battles. There have been shifts in leadership among the Muslims and estate Tamils, but even the new organizations representing the two communities have become mere appendages to mainstream alliances. They too are suffering from the organizational disarray of their mainstream principals.

In this scheme of unfolding disarray, it is fair to acknowledge the leadership and organizational achievements of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP and the NPP. This is not to say that they are going to win the upcoming elections and that they are going to provide a pathbreaking new government for Sri Lanka. Those proofs will come in whatever puddings they make.

For now, as a point of political observation, what AKD has done so far needs to be acknowledged. India seems to have done that, and it is irrelevant to the current argument why India may have chosen to do that. More to the point, there has been no Indian invitation yet, not even a hint of it, to the newly elected leader of the ITAK.

The gripe over AKD’s Indian visit is really a symptom of the uneasiness in political circles that are unable to come to grips with the disarray among the mainstream political parties and their alliances. Not to mention that for a host of good and bad reasons, the arrival of the JVP/NPP as a palpable parliamentary force is not palatable to many in the commentating business. It is again a symptom of the mainstream disarray that criticisms of JVP/NPP are emanating almost exclusively outside of parliament and from outside formal political organizations. Conversely, it is this vacuum that the JVP/NPP is filling up much to the irritation of its socio-genital opponents.

Their politics and ours

The task for Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the JVP/NPP is to respond to the sartorial politics of their critics with substantive politics of their own. “Their Politics and Ours,” the title of an old pamphlet that Dr. Colvin R de Silva wrote in the early 1950s, takes a different meaning in the new context in which the JVP/NPP is emerging as a real parliamentary contender.

Dr Colvin was intervening in the perennial debates within the left movement in the heady days of the Old Left. That was then. Now, Anura Kumara Dissanayake does not have to get into polemic battles with anyone on the Left. He is in fact the only one on the Left, electorally speaking. He has to differentiate his politics from that of his media critics.

There is another difference between the heady days of the Old Left and Sri Lanka’s desperate times after the Rajapaksa yugaya. The challenge today is not to advance the cause of socialism but to salvage the economy from the pits that it has fallen into. Sri Lanka’s economic irony cannot be any stalker, in that Sri Lanka and Pakistan are two economic laggards in South Asia that is now seen as the principal growth region for an unevenly sputtering world economy.

India is virtually the sole economic engine of the South Asian region, and the challenge facing Sri Lanka is to get in stride with ongoing regional growth instead of lagging behind it.

The challenge facing JVP/NPP is to generate confidence about its abilities for managing the economy the same way it is demonstrating its abilities for political mobilization. As a political organization it does not have to rely on its leaders to read economic textbooks the way Che Guvera read them after the Cuban revolution.

There are enough economists and economic thinktanks in Sri Lanka and the JVP/NPP should not feel shy about tapping them for ideas and as resources. There should be reaching out to professional resources in a very public way to enhance public confidence at the national level, the same way retired military and police officers are reportedly being enlisted at the electoral district levels.

Besides the economy, the JVP/NPP leadership will have to deal with the question of constitutional reform and clarify its position on what could still be called the island’s national question. On the question of abolishing the executive presidency, Mr. Dissanayake has provided a convincing response: there is no time to do it before the presidential election.

President Wickremesinghe has said the same thing, but the difference between the two is that while Mr. Dissanayake is committed to abolishing the presidency, Mr. Wickremesinghe is not. That is a big difference, and one on which Mr. Dissanayake could and should publicly challenge the interim President.

 

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Leading Restoration: WNPS at the Forefront of Conserving Mangrove Ecosystems

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Awareness creating among school children at a mangrove restoration site

One of Sri Lanka’s six RAMSAR wetlands, the Anawilundawa sanctuary is surrounded by a colorful coastline, enhanced by the lush mangroves that shield it, and supported by freshwater sources that are essential to life. Numerous plant and animal species can be found within the confines of this sanctuary, in addition to neighbouring communities whose survival depends on the health of this ecosystem for their survival.

The intricate root systems of mangrove forests bridge both land and sea, serving as a powerful ecosystem that supports life and growth. Mangroves are vital towards building the resilience of a nation, by safeguarding our coasts from natural disasters, while enabling livelihoods and empowering communities. Their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide in greater quantities than other non-coastal ecosystems position them as an important source of blue carbon that is crucial to the fight against climate change.

Unfortunately, unsustainable shrimp farming and other human activities had taken a toll on the environment. This now-abandoned landscape was altered by the use of dangerous chemicals, and until 2019, about 45 hectares of what was once a lush forest were dead and bare. Restoration was the need of the hour, yet many challenges lay in store.

Firstly, no formal mechanism for mangrove restoration had been established. Accordingly, the Department of Wildlife, the Forest Department, and the Ministry of Environment partnered with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka as its principal science partner. With more than 129 years of experience advancing conservation and research throughout the island, the WNPS was ideally positioned capitalize on the strength of teamwork, the rigor of science, and the tireless dedication of its people and partners to develop a sustainable solution.

“The WNPS has long established science as the core foundation of all of its work. The Society also served as the catalyst to bring together diverse stakeholders under the mantle of restoration by bringing in government entities, NGOs, academia, the private sector, surrounding communities and the youth to actively participate in these efforts. In doing so, they ensured that the right science is implemented in this restoration site, while demonstrating the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to achieve lasting, viable results,” said Professor Sevvandi Jayakody, Science Lead of the Project.

A veritable force of diverse people and organizations transformed a once deserted habitat into a hive of research and activity. Under the direction of the technical team, on-site nurseries were established, experiments were carried out, and natural processes were replicated. A topographical map of the area was created with the help of the Sri Lanka Navy to construct canals that would channel water effectively into arid land. Research labs were constructed on the premises and modern equipment was procured with the collective support of the public sector, business community, and non-governmental organizations. Community members and leaders were mobilized to strengthen these efforts further.

“An intriguing feature of this project is that research is not merely being applied to regenerate these mangrove forests. The science also flows into sustainably enhancing and uplifting the neighbouring community’s livelihoods, while nurturing future youth restoration leaders, with the goal of maintaining these vulnerable environments in the long run,” stated Graham Marshall, Chair of the WNPS Marine Subcommittee

Soil core sampling below ground biomass

The WNPS was further instrumental in shifting from traditional one-time interventions towards long-term partnerships, particularly with respect to obtaining essential private sector funding.

To date, a diverse and growing team of partners have joined hands with WNPS in the journey to restore this vital ecosystem, comprising the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), the Department of Forests, the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, the Hydrography Unit of the Sri Lanka Navy, Lanka Environment Fund, Hayleys Advantis, CEFAS (UK), CSIRO (Aus), Hemas Consumer Brands, Biodiversity Sri Lanka, Star Garments, US Forest Service, and CMA CGM Shipping. Thanks to this coalition for conservation, a previously desolate region has begun to demonstrate signs of life once more. Studies on specific species are yielding encouraging results, and habitats are being progressively restored.

The WNPS and its partners are heartened to note that its trailblazing approach towards the restoration of mangrove ecosystems have contributed towards Sri Lanka being awarded as a UN World Restoration Flagship in 2024, and look forward to advancing the future of sustainable ecosystem restoration in the years to come.

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THE BILLIONAIRE SHOE SALESMAN

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

February is Black History month, celebrated for over a century to focus attention on the history of the origins, the cruelty, the travails, the sacrifices, and achievements of the enslaved people brought from Africa to the Land of the Free White Supremacists in the early 17th century.

However, February has brought nothing but grief to The Donald. Trump was ranked, on February 20, by 154 scholars connected to the distinguished American Political Science Association, as the “45th and rock bottom” of US presidents in history. Even more humiliating was President Biden’s ranking at no. 14, with his most important achievement listed that he “rescued the presidency from Trump”!

The month of February also saw the courts shattering Trump’s dreams of presidential immunity, that he was above the law and therefore immune from the 91 felonies committed during his presidency.

Trump has already been hit with penalties from two civil trials in New York – $83 million for the rape and defamation of E. Jean Carroll and $355 million for inflating the value of his assets and defrauding the US government. Of course he will appeal these judgments. The problem is that any such appeals have to be accompanied by full or at least a substantial percentage of the damages awarded, in cash or bond. Unfortunately, no issuer of bonds will trust Trump with any such transaction.

Many may think that Trump had hit rock bottom when he was, at a campaign rally last week, making a fevered pitch to sell “beautiful” gold painted pairs of sneakers at a “bargain” price of $399 a pop, presumably to help raise the money due as damages on the above judgments.

The price of a high-end pair of Nike sneakers runs at around $100; but, according to Trump, his brand name increases the price of any commodity exponentially. Like the many properties he has illegally overvalued, which is the reason this former president and billionaire has been reduced in status to a Footlocker shoe salesman. A comparison which will likely be resented by those salesmen.

No doubt he’ll raise the necessary funds from his Russian and Saudi Arabian buddies who will be happy to pay millions of dollars for some of the top-secret documents he still has stashed away in one of his Mar a Lago toilets.

I will never forget a statement Trump made in one of his pre-2016 campaign rallies:

“I am really rich. I will be using my own money. I won’t need any contributions from anyone for my campaign or any other reason. I built a very small loan into a company that’s worth many billions of dollars, with some of the greatest assets in the world”.

Only Trump can squeeze in so many lies into a few sentences. The “very small loan” referred to was an inheritance of over $300 million from his father in the late 1990s. His election campaigns have been funded almost entirely by donations from his supporters. After his electoral defeat in 2020, he has been milking his supporters every time he was indicted on felonies, with lies that the crooked Biden administration was persecuting him, on a perennial witch hunt. With all the evidence of his criminal, even treasonous, behavior staring them in the face, members of his cult, even so-called moderate Republicans, continue to humor and fund him.

Trump has long been threatening, if he wins re-election, that the USA will resign from NATO, the most durable and powerful military alliance since World War II. He alleges that fellow NATO members were not paying the minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for their common defense. In fact, last week he said that he would encourage Russia to “to do whatever the hell they want”, even invade any NATO allies who were delinquent in the payment of their dues.

Trump’s love affairs with the despots of the world, right-wing dictators like Russia’s Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban have been an open secret, his admiration and envy of these murderers boundless.

When the tragic news of the death of Putin’s nemesis, Alexei Navalny, was announced last week by the authorities of an Arctic penal colony, the leaders of the United States and most nations of the world condemned Putin for the murder of the leader of the largest anti-Putin movement in Russia. President Biden called Putin a “crazy son of a bitch, a killer, a butcher and a war criminal”, and promised to impose stringent sanctions on Russia as a result of this murder.

In spite of demands from his family that his body be released for humane and private burial, Russian authorities refuse to do so, probably awaiting the disappearance of traces of the poison used to kill him.

And Trump? He was speechless for a week, reluctant to criticize his mentor. When he finally found his tongue, he mentioned not a word against Putin, but predictably made a statement short on grief and sympathy, and long about himself and his mythical grievances. He described himself, with not an ounce of irony, as “the Navalny of the United States”, the victim of oppression, battling the persecution of the ruthless dictatorship of Crooked Joe! Hardly surprising, this is the narcissistic maniac who had previously compared himself to Nelson Mandela, and most famously, to Jesus Christ.

Actually, the analogy couldn’t be more antithetical. Alexei Navalny was prepared to sacrifice his life for democracy. Trump, on the other hand, was prepared to sacrifice the life of his Vice-President Mike Pence to destroy democracy.

It never ceases to amaze me that a felon already convicted of rape and fraud, indicted in four jurisdictions and on conditional bail for a world record of 91 felonies, has the gall to call Joe Biden CROOKED, as he described “Crooked Joe” in a tweet after Navalny’s murder. It’s like the Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial murderer who made a delicious meal of his victims, describing a vegetarian as a monster!

February also brought a confession by Alexander Smirnov, former FBI informant, on whose information Republicans based their allegations for impeachment of President Biden and his son, Hunter. Smirnov had previously stated that the Bidens had received millions of dirty dollars from the Ukrainian company, Burisma. He has now confessed to the FBI that his story about the Bidens was a complete fabrication, an invention of Putin’s Russian intelligence. He has since been exposed by the FBI as a “Disinformation Agent” of this Russian spy machine.

Many prominent Republican Congressmen still shamelessly lie that they have complete confidence in Smirnov’s credibility, in spite of the fact that FBI Director, Christopher Wray had warned them two years ago that Smirnov’s credentials were highly suspect. Smirnov is now under indictment for lying and providing falsified documents to the FBI. His testimony has completely undercut the Republicans’ case, and their desperate attempts to impeach President Biden have finally blown up in their faces.

There is no doubt that Hunter Biden was a flawed human being, who acted unethically in accepting money from an Ukrainian company, taking advantage of his father’s position as the Vice-President. Hunter has also admitted there was a period in his life when he was guilty of substance abuse and tax evasion, crimes for which he is in the process of paying his debt to society.

There is absolutely no evidence that President Biden was involved in any way with the activities of his son, a private citizen, during his two terms as Vice-President.

Interestingly, Republicans turned a blind eye when Trump’s children were defrauding the government for billions of dollars, when his daughter, Ivanka and husband, Jared Kushner, were senior employees in the Trump administration.

This complicity of Russian intelligence with Trump’s Republican cult leads to the terrifying conclusion that the Russians are, yet again, attempting to interfere in American elections. The stakes for Putin could not be higher. The re-election of Trump, his lap-dog, to the US presidency in November will open the doors to his ultimate dream of the re-emergence of the Superpower glory of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). And Trump will attain his dreams of dictatorial power, and use that power to rival Putin as the richest man in the world.

Alexei Navalny’s simple message to his supporters, as shown in the 2022 Oscar-winning documentary, was as ominous as it was inspirational.

“You are not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to use this power”. He ended his message with a maxim often attributed to Edmund Burke, widely known as the philosophical founder of British conservatism: “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”. A message that has guided Navalny’s life, and may prove to be even more powerful in his death, if it inspires the good people in Russia to continue the struggle against Putin’s evil regime and build a better future for Russia.

The good people of Germany ignored the evils of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s. They did nothing although they saw – and smelled – the smoke of burning human flesh billowing from the ovens of Germany’s many concentration camps. This gruesome evil was finally vanquished, though with international, including American, intervention. But not before the extermination of six million Jews.

Today, the good people of the world, even in Israel, are watching in horror but doing nothing as Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu and his right-wing cabinet intent on a one-state solution in Israel, are continuing to wreak vengeance on innocent Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza (29,000 killed as of date, and counting) for that one day on October 7, 2023. A day when Hamas, a terrorist organization, tortured and killed 1,200 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, kidnapping 140 hostages of various nationalities.

Revenge in the form of indiscriminate air and ground onslaughts by the Israeli Defense Force are beginning to metaphorically smell awfully like the noisome smoke that emanated from the ovens of Auschwitz. And who knows? Netanyahu might succeed in his ambition to wipe out all the Palestinians where Hitler failed in his ambition to exterminate all the Jews. A genocidal parallel, brimming with irony, that will not be lost in the history books of the future.

The tragedy is that this very same scenario exists in the greatest democracy in the world today. The good people of the United States of America are looking on in apathy, doing nothing, as Trump and the American equivalent of the Nazi Brownshirts harass, threaten and attack, not only Jews, but all brown skinned immigrants from “shithole countries”. They listen with enthusiastic anticipation to Trump listing all the Hitler-like measures he will implement to “preserve the pure white blood” of European Americans when he wins re-election.

These domestic terrorists will not surrender the white privileges they have enjoyed for centuries without using every means, domestic and Russian, politically deceptive and criminally violent, to perpetuate their illusion of white superiority.

The good people of America have eight months to wake up to what could well mean the end of their democracy and the position of their leadership of the free nations of the world. And the sad fact is that most people who read this will think I am being alarmingly fear-mongering and hyperbolic. Let me assure you, I am not. Trump’s “movement” presents the greatest danger the United States has faced since the Civil War, basically, for the same reason – preservation of the dominance of White Supremacy. This time around, however, the modern version of the soldiers of the Confederacy will be armed not with muskets but with military style killing machines. And led by an ignorant psychopath.

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