Sri Lanka’s Disraeli may use the China – India bond for Nation building – By Prof. Samitha Hettige

May, 18, 2022

The late H.D. Sugathapala, Ex Principal of Royal Junior School, Colombo 07 (founder of the “Navarangahala” theatre) at an informal discussion (in mid 1990s) with the late Justice Chris Weeramanthri and few others mentioned the name of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli while analyzing his former students who were in politics (Lalith A, Ranil W, Dinesh G and Anura B etc.). Benjamin Disraeli who served Britain twice as the Prime Minister is a one of the most respected politicians in British history. He is also remembered as the first and only Jewish individual to serve Britain as its PM. Disraeli was also a political scholar who earned credit for constructing the frame which developed to the powerful Conservative Party. He first became a member of the House of Commons in 1837 and later served as its leader before becoming the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. Most notable of his political career which spanned about 45 years is that Disraeli has spent more than two thirds of the period in the opposition (Ref. British sources). PM Disraeli as per records has considered external affairs as the most critical and important part of statesmanship. Ensuring British interests after the construction of the Suez Canal, taking over Egypt and Afghanistan, and gaining more control over India and Africa is credited to the Disraeli government in political history.

SL is now being referred to as a failed state in most international and national forums. PM Ranil W addressing the nation was optimistic that SL will get support from friendly nations. Therefore, SL foreign policy will be the key to win the world. Among them China and India are crucial. Their bilateral trading volumes are very high and are key players in the 21st century global trade and politics. They are the world’s largest developing countries with a combined population of nearly 3 billion (nearly 40% of global population and 60% of Asia's population Ref. World Bank).  Should Sri Lanka gain by being a trading platform for the two giants? Does SL have any other way out? Though strained by the border issues, economic and geopolitical conflicts it is well known that both would never harm each other and value respective mega markets to promote bilateral trade.

China – India Relations

In March Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and they agreed on multilateralism and the need to respect the UN Charter and international law to prevent and settle disputes in non violent ways through dialogue. They were also concerned about the impact on global economy and the supply chain security due to unilateral sanctions by the USA especially on Russia. The global supply chains that mostly run on the Belt and Road platform (BRI) practically saved the world during the pandemic. According to analysts India being a close ally of the USA took a significant risk by aligning with China and Russia and distancing from the western center of gravity. PM Nehru was a pioneer of the non-alignment movement and historically China and India were keeping its distance from the west promoting the non-aligned principles. President JR once said that only USA and USSR can be non aligned and all others will have to aligned to someone due to economic dependency but  China and India have both managed to be comparatively more non aligned than most in the NAM.

Despite western bonds developed over the years, India still has strong relations with its old friends Russia and China. In recent times China India trade surpassed USD 100 billion. Despite threats from the USA for its stance on Ukraine and buying Russian oil and military hardware, India seems to be more focused on strengthening its economy as an Asian super power working with Russia and China. Chinese and Indian civilisations have traded with each other and SL for thousands of years. That development among Asian super powers (which aligns with Minister Wang Yi’s view on promoting a “Multi-polar Asia”) is an opportunity for SL to be a service provider and facilitator to promote China – India trade in the coming decades. SL’s friends in the western world commenting about the opportunity SL has to utilize the Chinese investments such as the Port City to recover from the crisis gives a non negligible signal. Therefore the opportunity should not be missed. Immediate action should be taken. PM Ranil in his address to the nation reminded the population. Still the population should be constantly reminded about the present crisis, how to recover and the few options available.

"Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action."

- Benjamin Disraeli.

(The writer is an Academic and a Broadcaster. Views expressed are personal and may not necessarily be the views of his affiliations.)

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