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Midweek Review

US-China rivalry and the problem of ‘neutrality’ in foreign policy



By Ramindu Perera

The recent Sri Lankan visit of the former United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and events surrounding the tour have raised some important issues regarding the foreign policy orientation of Sri Lanka. Pompeo’s visit followed the much-publicized Sri Lankan tour of a high-ranking Chinese delegation led by the Director of foreign affairs of the Chinese Communist Party. During his visit, Pompeo criticized the role of China and declared their intention to see Sri Lanka subscribing to the vision of ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ – the catchphrase to the American geopolitical strategy in the region. Prior to his visit, the US foreign service bureaucracy also issued a warning; urging Sri Lanka to make ‘difficult but necessary’ choices in choosing allies.

In the context of Sri Lanka becoming a focus of attention in the increasing rivalry between the US and China, the official stance of the government has been declaring ‘neutrality’. For instance, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa introduced our foreign policy as a neutral foreign policy. The term ‘neutral’ is somewhat new to our foreign relations vocabulary. Historically, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was referred to as a nonaligned – not neutral. Further, joining a television interview, Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colambage recently opined that Sri Lanka should shift from international political diplomacy to economic diplomacy and must redefine its criterion and policies.

Whether this reference to neutrality indicates a shift in the way Sri Lanka handles foreign relations, or whether it is only a diplomatic ruse to avoid controversy is yet to be seen. However, if one considers the literal meaning of neutrality – it has to be highlighted that there is a conceptual difference between been neutral and the historic meaning of ‘nonaligned’. This difference has important implications especially in the context where the US has unleashed an offensive in the region to contain the rise of China. To understand these implications, first it is imperative to understand the nature of the China-US conflict.

The imperial order and the rise of China

Modern world history domination where powerful western nations subordinated the rest of the world – or ‘non-civilized people’ as they were known during the colonial times. This domination – first exercised in the form of direct foreign rule – brought immense economic fortunes to the west. However, old colonial domination was challenged in the mid-20th century due to two factors. On the one hand, the western hegemony was undermined by the rise of the socialist bloc. On the other, the wave of national liberation struggles spread throughout colonial empires following the second world war threatened the very existence of the old colonial system.

Most imperialist countries responded to this challenge by granting formal political independence to their colonies – but retaining control over the world economic order and denying economic independence to the newly independent countries. This condition was known as neo-colonialism. However, the presence of the Soviet bloc at the time offered decolonized states an alternative path to develop their economies without totally depending on the west. Many countries including Sri Lanka collaborated with the Eastern bloc in order to strengthen industrialization which was seen as vital to achieve economic self-determination.

However, the fall of the Soviet bloc in late 1980s reversed this situation and established a unipolar world order. Under the new conditions, there was no other option available for third world countries other than to submit to the globalization process administered by international financial institutions backed by western superpowers. It is within this historic context that China starts advancing – which is a peculiar example in our times. The Chinese advent can be explained as an exceptional event in which the rules of globalization established by western powers on behalf of their advantage was manipulated by a developing country for its own benefit under conditions of strict state intervention. In the recent few decades, China has well established its position as a regional economic power. It has strengthened economic relations with other countries. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) commenced in 2013 is a significant step forward in this trajectory.

The idea of Chinese ‘imperialism’

One of the questions that has been raised in relation to the Chinese advent is whether China should be treated as an imperialist power – similar to western superpowers. There are many ‘theories’, claiming that China is on its way of taking over the world by luring the developing world countries into a debt trap. This is a complex issue that cannot be dealt within the limits of a short article. But two points are worth mentioning. First, whether the Chinese economic expansion will result in the making of an international politico-military superpower in the future is an open question. The outcome is contingent; there is no definite answer. The important point in the present conjuncture is the absence of such political domination. Imperialism is the process of defending ones economic and commercial interests through making political interventions in other countries. Considering the nature of relations China is having with African, Asian and Latin American countries – academic-activist Walden Bello in his book ‘China: an imperial power in the image of the west?’ (2019) argues that the absence of political intervention is a significant factor that must be accounted in defining China’s role.

This fact becomes more evident when drawing a comparison with the United States. The US is well known for its political and military interventions; how it interferes in internal affairs of other nations through its embassies and intelligence agencies, how it sustains military bases throughout the globe – even in regions that has no proximity in a territorial sense and how it engages in changing regimes in the third world that it does not approve. As Walden Bello points out, the rationale behind initiatives such as the BRI is economic rather than political. The motivation behind the BRI is finding markets to export surpluses in order to overcome the overcapacity problem China is facing that has occurred due to the decentralization of economic decision making. Will China develop an international politico-military complex in the future to secure this economic expansion? We are yet to see. Whether China is capable of doing so will be another question.

Secondly, the rise of China has seriously challenged the unipolar orientation of international relations. Thus, transforming the world order in to a multipolar one defined by pluralist engagement has become a real possibility due to China’s success. The end of unipolarity opens up a new space for smaller countries seeking an independent economic trajectory and refusing to be dependent on the west. The manner how left wing and Centre-left governments elected in South America in the recent past handled their relations with China is illustrative of this new possibility. Countries like Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil under Lula De Silva successfully struck deals with China in order to finance their industrial and welfare schemes. These resources were of immense importance especially for countries like Venezuela and Bolivia that were under the sanctions of the United States.

This does not mean Chinese investments in foreign countries are flawless and perfect. Activists have raised issues regarding the impact Chinese investments on local environmental and labour conditions. However, instead of becoming Sino-phobic and siding with the west uncritically, what is preferable for third world countries is to use the space created by the collapse of unipolarity to their benefit – and to engage and bargain with China in a collective fashion regarding issues and lapses associated with Chinese overseas economic activities.

Imperialist aggression and neutrality

Prevailing tensions between the US and China should be correctly understood as the outcome of US aggression in the region. The aggression aims to encircle China in order to defend the decaying unipolar order that has benefited the west for decades. Therefore, this intervention is reactionary and imperialist to its core. In 2009, declaring the ‘Pivot to Asia’ initiative, the former US president Barack Obama identified Indo-Pacific as the Centre of its international security strategy. Since then, there has been a concerted offensive approach in economic, political and military fronts to contain China and to sustain US hegemony in the region. The so called ‘trade war’ launched by the Trump administration aims to damage Chinese economic activities. Meanwhile, the US has initiated discussions with Japan, India and Australia to establish a military bloc (QUAD) in the region against China. India, once a long-standing supporter of anti-imperialism has changed its allegiances by striking an alliance with the US.

In this context where western superpowers are encircling China under the guise of making Indo-Pacific a ‘free and open’ zone – what does ‘neutrality’ in foreign policy actually indicate? Historically, the term ‘nonaligned’ never implied remaining idle in the face of colonialism and imperialist aggression. Though the Nonaligned movement established in 1961 identified itself as independent of cold-war era rivalries – it always adopted a principled stance against imperialist interventions, wars and racism. Sri Lanka itself has a rich history of this tradition. For instance, when the Suez crisis erupted in 1956, the Bandaranaike government took a principled stance defending Egypt’s right to nationalize the canal. It refused to let Sri Lanka’s ports to be used by British forces invading Egypt. Sri Lanka actively participated in the formulation of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) initiative launched in 1960s that aimed to challenge neo colonial economic domination. Further, it condemned western intervention in countries like Cuba and Vietnam.

Thus, ‘nonaligned’ is never a synonym for been indolent. The problem is whether the term ‘neutral’ introduced to our foreign relations vocabulary by the new government entails the same anti-imperialist dimension that was inherent to the idea of nonalignment. What is the stance of Sri Lanka regarding the aggressive role the US is playing in the Indo-pacific region at the moment? What does it mean by shifting from international political diplomacy to economic diplomacy? Does it indicate the subordination of political principles such as anti-imperialism in exchange for economic benefits? Mr. Jayanath Colambage had further stated that in terms of security Sri Lanka follows a ‘India first’ policy. In the context India has militarily aligned with the US, what does ‘India first’ mean? Does that imply Sri Lanka – at the end of the day – would position itself in the western axis in case of a possible conflict? Though answers to these questions are not clear yet – these are issues that has to be raised by everyone who are interested in defending the historic nonaligned legacy of our foreign policy.

(The writer is an academic attached to the Department of Legal Studies, The Open University of Sri Lanka. He can be reached at

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Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’



It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.

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Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits



By Satyajith Andradi


Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.


Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.


Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.


Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).


Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.

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Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough



By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?

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