Chinese roles | Sunday Observer

Chinese roles

At the time the Hambantota development deals were made, the country engaged to undertake this ‘development’, China, was dubbed by the deal-signing politicians – principally the former President and his coterie of family politicians – as the country’s best friend and saviour who deserved the choicest parts of the island for its ventures. Indeed, the Sri Lanka Army was hustled out of its historic headquarters site in the heart of Colombo to make way for Chinese investments in hotels and commercial complexes.

Now, the very political leaders who championed China while they were in power during the last regime, are campaigning against China’s helping hand today. As these columns pointed out last week, China is a great power legitimately seeking influence along its vital sea lanes just as all other regional and global powers do. Whether a great power obtains such influence by friendly deals with countries on these routes or, by guile and even pressures, is up to the world and especially the people of those countries to decide. If cunning governing politicians in those countries think fit to line their pockets in the process, it is up to their citizens to deal with that corruption.

In Sri Lanka, the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime clearly made hay while the Chinese sun shone on them. But today the former President and his closest political associates are busy ‘warning’ Sri Lankans about China and, the Chinese about Sri Lankans!

Chinese firms agreed earlier this month to take on the burden of risk in operating the reconfigured airport and harbour complexes in Hambantota. Even as the ink on those agreements were drying, the former President and his political family quickly seized on the immediate predicament of the harbour workers to stir up union agitation that almost sabotaged future prospects for the port.

The employment status of these workers, which are a secondary issue arising from the new venture agreements, has now been resolved by the Government – as it probably would have been, anyway, given time, without agitation by politicians and their followers.

But it is not so much the interests of the people of Hambantota or, of the country as a whole, that is the priority for the former President who, while waging war in a part of his own country, assiduously cultivated the image of a national ‘hero’ for himself and his brothers.

The former President, having just last week warned Sri Lankans in his home district, Hambantota, against further Chinese roles in the district, is now seemingly warning potential Chinese investors about hostility by Sri Lankans to any investments here! That is the import of his threat to annul Chinese investment agreements recently negotiated by the Government.

This rigmarole can only be seen as continued attempts by the former President and his political associates to undermine the determined efforts by the new Government to salvage a modicum of sustainable operationality for the Hambantota’s deep sea port and international airport.

The Chinese, whose heroism in defeating successive imperial forces and reviving their great civilisation is acknowledged the world over, must be wondering at this ‘heroism’ by a national leader who is decrying his own country people. Certainly, Beijing will begin to realise the degree of ‘sustainability’ of this kind of politics and the usefulness of diplomacy with such politicians.

The people of Hambantota are also learning the value of international aid and solidarity by China irrespective of the government or personalities in power.

Christmas and trees

The Christian festival of ‘Christmas’ is also the religious festival that is marked by the greatest commercial activity for any religious event by the country’s commercial sector. Irrespective of their own religion or, non-religion, many, if not most, commercial ventures, especially in regions with a Christian population, deck their shops and establishments with Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, included.

Much of the décor of Christmas derives not so much from the doctrine itself but from the festive traditions of many different cultures which have absorbed Christianity as a religion of their populations. After all, the date of Christmas is derived from ancient traditions of Sun worship in tribal Europe when the missionaries sought to consolidate the faith in those societies. Likewise, the use of the fir tree – not native to this country – derives from similar non-Christian origins.

Common symbols are certainly useful as markers of community and help unite people in positive ways necessary to sustain the dynamic of community and social cohesion, that, itself, is essential for human survival. But such symbols need not be strict definers of faith and religious loyalties. That is left to the believers themselves and their interpretation of doctrine rather than ephemeral cultural practices.

Hence, the Christmas Tree which has come in for some public discussion these past weeks, must be seen not so much as a definer of religion but as a mere symbol of festivity – festivities being the right of all people irrespective of religion. Thus, if a large workers’ union wants to erect a giant Christmas tree on Galle Face Green for festive purposes using private funds, all that should worry concerned citizens (irrespective of their religion) is the question of a clean and safe environment at the site and also the danger of deforestation.

Ideally the Christian community could lead the way in protecting our dwindling forests by ending the use of natural fir trees for festive purposes. And, if costly festivities offend in the face of continued poverty and social deprivation, then, again, the Christian community can be an example of rigorous piety in which the joy of Christmas is not so much in the parties and wining and dining but, in the celebration of a hallowed re-commitment of faith in service to the Other as preached by Lord Jesus and fore grounded by the Prophets.