Sri Lanka denies Chinese help defeated Tamil Tigers | Connect Asia

Sri Lanka denies Chinese help defeated Tamil Tigers

Sri Lanka denies Chinese help defeated Tamil Tigers

Posted 29 May 2009, 11:42 AEST

Sri Lanka had a diplomatic victory this week, avoiding a United Nations probe into human rights concerns over the final stages of the war with the Tamil Tigers.

Egypt and Cuba, as well as India -- and China helped deliver the outcome, which comes amid closer examination of how the victory was possible after more than a quarter of a century of war.

Presenter: Linda Mottram

Doctor Rajat Ganguly, senior lecturer in international politics at Australia's Murdoch University, Perth; Doctor Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director, The Centre for Policy Alternatives, Colombo; Doctor Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary

MOTTRAM: Sri Lanka and China have a history of good relations, and after India washed its hands of Sri Lanka in the '80s, and the west refused to sell it arms in the '90s, China's hand was strengthened. But it was with the election of the current Sri Lankan government in 2005 that analysts noted an important shift. Doctor Rajat Ganguly is a senior lecturer in international politics at Australia's Murdoch University.

GANGULY: In 2005 the total volume of Chinese aid to Sri Lanka was only a few million dollars. But in 2008 that had jumped to almost a Billion dollars.

MOTTRAM: And there was more .. big arms sales handled by a company headed by the Sri Lankan President's brother.

GANGULY: And in April 2007 Sri Lanka signed almost a 38-Million dollar deal to buy Chinese ammunition and ordinance for its army and navy and this was reported by Janes Defence Weekly. It also presumably bought radar equipment in a separate deal and it was also reported by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that the Chinese gave Sri Lanka six F-7 jet fighters in 2008.

MOTTRAM: Doctor Ganguly says it was a critical element in Sri Lanka's victory this month, after more than a quarter of a century of war, against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam .. the Tamil Tigers.

Doctor Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo. He agrees its been one of the most muscular displays by China .. and its on India's doorstep.

SARAVANAMUTTU: Without that Chinese support in military terms, the pace with which the government succeeded in defeating the Tigers in conventional military terms would have been slowed down considerably.

MOTTRAM: Doctor Saravanamuttu says there's been another important dimension to the rise of China's influence in Sri Lanka over that of the West.

SARAVANAMUTTU: The current government of Sri Lanka I think has recognised that a western defined international community would have reservations and criticisms when it came to the humanitarian and human rights dimensions whereas the Chinese and the Russians would not necessarily have that.

MOTTRAM: The view from Colombo is more coy. Doctor Palitha Kohona is Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary.

KOHONA: China has been a friend and continues to be a very close friend of Sri Lanka. We will maintain that relationship, we will expand that relationship. China has assisted us yes.

MOTTRAM: And was it critical in the defeat of the Tamils that you had China's weaponry available to you?

KOHONA: We received equipment from a range of countries, countries in the west as well as in the east. I wouldn't say the contribution of China was critical but it was very helpful.

MOTTRAM: Doctor Kohona stresses that Sri Lanka's current government made a concerted effort to negotiate an end to the conflict ... the LTTE walked out on negotiations and refused to return. The LTTE believed they could win on the battlefield. But the Sri Lankan government had gained a technological edge, Doctor Kohona says.

But what is Sri Lanka's view of China's differences with the west on human rights? Doctor Kohona again.

KOHONA: I think we all respect human rights. Sri Lanka above all has a very close attachment to human rights. Unfortunately some of the countries who do tend to point fingers at us may have three of those fingers in each hand pointing back at them.

MOTTRAM: He describes as totally misplaced suggestions that Sri Lanka let human rights considerations slip in the war against the LTTE because of Chinese influence.

It all points observers say to a wider story in the region .. China's string of pearls strategy, as U-S officials have called it. China's strengthening relationships and building port facilities in countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan, ensuring it has a foothold and important access to sea lanes that transport vital energy supplies.

Western observers have a wary eye on just how much control China can establish in the region, concerned that the Indian Ocean could quickly become very crowded and hotly contested.

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