As the world watches, unable to pressure the Sri Lankan government to agree to a ceasefire with rebel Tamil forces, a humanitarian crisis is underway with nearly 170,000 civilians displaced and 50,000 trapped in the war zone.
It has become common for rampaging armed forces, those in cahoots with terrorists that the world is battling, despots and dictators to be dismissive of the United Nations. Much of this cockiness lies in the covert moral and logistic support lent by China in regions marred by conflicts. China is hungry for resources to widen its reach for major slices of business and to make its presence felt globally.
The Sri Lankan offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is not at fault, as the LTTE, a terrorist organization, has used all possible means of violence over the years to foment terror in the beautiful island resembling a teardrop in the Indian Ocean. Lots of blood, sweat, and tears have flowed in the quest for a separate Tamil homeland, in protest against the marginalization of Sri Lanka’s Tamil people. But the process of terror has always been condemnable and has encouraged terror groups like al-Qaida to emulate their suicide attack techniques.
But what happened so suddenly that the Sri Lankan armed forces finally managed to decimate the formidable LTTE?
We can look to China for an answer. Having supported despots in Africa and Myanmar for the sake of resources to feed a surging Chinese economy, Sri Lanka was a natural choice to complete China’s string of pearls in the Indian Ocean.
China has started building and ramping up ports in Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which can be used for docking and refueling its navy. In addition, it is constructing a US$1 billion port in the fishing village of Hambantota in Sri Lanka’s southern corner. This port could double up as the Chinese Navy’s stopover point, during patrols, to guard against the piracy of oil imports from the Middle East and act as a base in the Indian Ocean.
It is no wonder that the Sri Lankan armed forces are fighting their last battle to crush the LTTE with an urgency never seen before. When Sri Lanka sought arms for its civil war, governments the world over shunned it, including India.
But China did not, and has been chipping in arms over the past two decades. Chinese arms supplies increased further when the United States suspended all military aid to Sri Lanka, citing human rights violations. Chinese aid to Sri Lanka jumped to US$1billion last year, leaving other nations lagging behind.
Likewise, China beefed up Myanmar’s armed forces and supported that country when it was accused of human rights violations in 2007, when monks and civilians protested against rampant corruption, price rises and food shortages.
Pakistan can deny that it harbors terrorists and yet fuel terror acts in neighboring countries on the strength of Chinese military aid and support. Meanwhile the United States and Western powers take Pakistan’s words at face value even as the terror situation steadily worsens.
According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, Sri Lanka has bought US$37.6 million worth of arms and supplies for its army and navy. China gave the country six F-7 fighter jets for free in 2007, according to reports of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. According to media reports, Lanka Logistics and Technologies – in which Sri Lanka’s defense secretary and brother of the president has a majority stake – handled the bulk of arms shipments from China.
These arms ultimately resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. At least 378 of those still trapped in the battle zone reportedly died in shelling of the area over the weekend. U.N. reports peg civilian casualties at 6,500 since January this year, which the Sri Lankan government vehemently denies. It has kept the war zone out of bounds for journalists and aid workers.
Sri Lanka is acting with the same nonchalance toward global criticism and pressure as Myanmar’s armed forces did last year, on the strength of counterweight China. Calls for evacuating the civilians have fallen on deaf years.
U.S. Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher J. Pehrson of the Pentagon’s air staff warned of China’s desperate need for the Hambantota port in a 2006 paper, a warning echoed by the U.S. Joint Forces Command last November.
With a trail of blood on its hands from volatile Africa, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, China is a threat to global good and reticent about human rights violations and human catastrophes, all in a bid to preserve its own commercial and national interests.
The United States has also been accused of partying with despots and affecting civilian casualties, but at least democracy allows a groundswell of dissent as was evident in the last U.S. presidential elections. China has stifled a moral counterweight, which makes it more dangerous.