EU Pushing Sri Lanka Toward China
Image Credit: Indi Samarajiva

EU Pushing Sri Lanka Toward China


That old habits die hard is clear from the way in which the European Union has been seeking to corner Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for daring to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, rather than heeding their advice to call a ceasefire when the army had overrun the last sliver of territory controlled by the LTTE.

With each advance the army made in early 2009, the demands for a ceasefire grew more strident. Once it became clear that Rajapaksa wouldn’t bow to Washington and Brussels, punitive measures were imposed on Colombo that continue today, the most recent being the US-EU withdrawal of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences for Sri Lankan textiles in August.

It’s clear Sri Lanka is becoming another Burma—to be subjected to isolation and sanctions—all in the name of human rights and democracy. And, as in the case of Burma, the major beneficiary of the Western boycott will be the same—China.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

China has already displaced India as the country of consequence for Sri Lanka. The distancing of Colombo from Delhi began in 1999, when the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led government refused urgent requests for military assistance. The LTTE had been inflicting defeats on a demoralised Sri Lankan army, which was running out of ammunition and weapons. When it became clear that India would refuse assistance because of its own political compulsions (the BJP was being supported by the DMK, a Tamil party that has backed an independent ‘Tamil Eelam’ homeland carved out of Sri Lanka), the Pakistanis stepped in, providing generous dollops of military assistance that enabled the Sri Lankan army to fend off the LTTE.

Ten years later, history repeated itself. This time around, the DMK was a partner of the Congress Party, and was therefore able to ensure that no help was forthcoming from Delhi in the war against the LTTE. Once again, Pakistan stepped in, joining the Chinese in pumping weapons into Sri Lanka. In early 2009, when India’s parliamentary election was to take place, the Manmohan Singh government demanded Rajapaksa call a halt to the offensive—just a week before the capture and killing of LTTE Velupillai Prabhakaran. Since then, it has been the China-Pakistan duo that have become the partners of choice for Sri Lanka (although some care is still taken to avoid making this too obvious lest it provoke an Indian reaction).

But apart from pandering to the political demands of the DMK, another factor that would have weighed on the minds of the Singh government would have been the fact that the EU has in essence been a de facto protector of the LTTE. Led by Norway, a country whose propensity for aggressively backing lost causes seems to rise in proportion to its oil income, Europe enforced a ceasefire in 2002 between then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the LTTE. This gave the latter effective control over the north and east of the country, and helped ensure the eventual defeat of Wickremesinghe and his United National Front at the polls.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief