Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • November 2010
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Our friends the Chinese and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

Posted by harimpeiris on November 4, 2010

President Mahinda Rajapakse is, as this article is penned, in China on an official working visit, participating in a trade fair, an investor fair and also bi lateral discussions with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.  China is Sri Lanka’s new best friend, rapidly beating out giant neighbor India. President Rajapakse personally manages these two key relationships for Sri Lanka, with his Commonwealth games closing ceremony diplomacy with India and investment promotion and working visits to China, being the most recent.

Data released recently by the Central Bank showed that Sri Lanka had received about two billion dollars (USD$2 billion) in foreign assistance in 2009, more than half that being from the Chinese in terms of supplier credits, export guarantees and soft loans for the massive infrastructure projects of the Hambanthota port, roads, associated facilities, power plants and energy projects. Every other donors combine to make up the balance.

China recently surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy, assisted by its phenomenal growth rate of over eight percent (8%) for the past decade compared with the anemic economic growth of Japan during the same period. A lesser known factor was also that for the first time earlier this year, more cars were sold in a monthly period in China, than was sold in the United States. Moreover the Chinese have a much more fundamentally sound economy with huge export surpluses and foreign exchange reserves. Its sovereign wealth funds will soon have strategic stakes in many global industries, the mining, quarrying and natural resource extraction industries being a preferred choice. China is an emerging global power and they lead their friendship with Sri Lanka with their pocket books. The historic ties goes back to an earlier Bandaranaike SLFP era, the Rubber – Rice pact in the 1960’s and the gifting of the BMICH, a precursor of the massive infrastructure we will soon have in Sri Lanka, thanks to the Chinese.

China also received another honor recently, one that it chose not to welcome. The Nobel Prize Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to jailed Chinese dissident and former Tiananmen Square protest leader, Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China on the premise that there is a close connection between human rights and peace.

The Nobel Committee’s award press release gives the rational for the award as follows. “Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world’s second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty.  Scope for political participation has also broadened.

China’s new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China’s constitution lays down that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens.

For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China.  He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights. The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China”.

The Chinese experience has some interesting lessons for Sri Lanka. Rapid economic progress should also coincide with greater political and democratic freedoms. Sri Lanka also at the start of President Rajapakse’s second term has all the promise of infrastructure investment led rapid economic growth. The corresponding challenge would be to ensure that democratic freedoms and human rights also flourish and grow alongside economic growth.

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