Interviews

Forget India, China is our friend: Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa

By Skandha Gunasekara

Pointing out that Sri Lanka could learn much from China’s economic and foreign policies, JVP Parliamentarian Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa said that Sri Lanka must develop its human resources as it is the country’s most valuable asset.
Below are excerpts from his interview with The Sunday Morning:

Q: Does the JVP leadership see a trend in the handing over of Sri Lanka’s economic nerve centres and assets to foreign powers?

A: Yes, clearly the economic policy followed by this UNP-led Government is to sell our national assets and burden the common man with unfair taxes. They do not have any other policies other than this formula.

There was a perception among the masses that a government with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister could revitalise and strengthen our economy. This is a myth. On no occasions has a government of a Ranil Wickremesinghe-led UNP rebuilt the economy.

Despite having such hopes, even on 14 August, the last four years have shown the masses that Ranil Wickremesinghe is not some genius who can strengthen the economy. This lie has been clearly revealed. This Government, similar to the former one, has increased taxes to fill the State coffers, increased fuel prices – which are usually increased only once or twice a year – each month.

The fuel prices are not increased according to the prices in the global market as this Government claims. According to their fuel pricing formula we can see that the Government imposes a 40% tax on a litre of petrol. The increase in taxes is the cause of the increase in the prices of goods.

Even though he made various statements when forming this Government – that they would reduce indirect taxes and increase direct taxes – even now, 90% of Government tax revenue is from indirect taxes.

So on one hand they are taxing the people and on the other hand they are employing the only other economic strategy they know – which is to sell all assets the nation has. They sold the Hambantota Port to China, the Mattala Airport is to be sold to India, a part of the oil tank farm in Trincomalee is going to be sold to India, and now the latest proposal is to sell the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port to India.

These are not unusual tactics of the UNP. These are the policies initiated by the UNP and then continued by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as well.

Q: Does the JVP support the policy of handing over national assets to foreign powers?

A: Not in anyway. There is really no point asking such a question from the JVP, as we have always stood for safeguarding our nation and its people. To that end, our party suffered immensely, where our leadership was killed as well as our members but we never let go of the love and patriotism we have for Sri Lanka.

Each time a government tried to sell our national assets, the JVP used all its powers and more in protest. We rallied the people against such moves. Recent examples would be when the agreement was signed to sell the Hambantota Port, the attempts to sell the Trincomalee oil tank farm and the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port – the JVP was the first to object and talk with trade unions. We will carry out our patriotic duties no matter what government is in power.

Q: Taking into consideration the intense geopolitical rivalry between China and India, is it safe to hand over our national assets to foreign powers? Can Sri Lanka safeguard itself from the influence of these regional powers and their various agendas?

A: We must have a good understanding of balance of power in global politics. It is not the same as during the end of the 1990s. At that time, the Soviet Union was still powerful and India was aligned with the Soviet Union. Pakistan and China were aligned with the US.

However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the politics of the global stage changed and now India is with the US while China has become a fast rising superpower. China has risen so much so that it has been locked in a trade war with the US for the last six months. Both countries have imposed high tariffs on each other’s exports.

China has initiated its One Belt One Road policy to spread its influence further around the globe. These are China’s economic and geopolitical strategies. We must observe and examine these strategies and determine how Sri Lanka can remain non-aligned when entering the world stage which would simultaneously benefit the country.

When it comes to China, the JVP has a unique view. China is a superpower that is led by the Communist Party – a state that follows socialist principals. China can greatly help us revitalise and strengthen our economy. Sri Lanka can emulate many of China’s economic policies for our benefit.

However, India is a country that has been working against Sri Lanka’s national and economic interests. India will never allow Sri Lanka to develop and prosper. We must realise this – the influence India has on us and their political interference in our affairs. Because of our geographical location, we may not be able to change much when it comes to India, but dealing with such countries in strategic ways is what is called Governance.

There are enough examples of how to do this if you look at our history – particularly the foreign policies of late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Through policies, Sri Lanka had a significant standing on the world stage despite being a small nation; but recent foreign policies are a far cry from the policies of late Prime Minister Bandaranaike.

At one point, we are aligned with the US, then we are aligned with India, and then again we aligned ourselves with China. As a result, we have become known as a nation that has no real foreign policy, which can be easily influenced by any global power.

Q: If the JVP still follows Maoist principals, do you view a closer relationship with China as a benefit?

A: The JVP never followed Maoist principles. The Dharmasekara clan, after breaking away from the JVP in 1971, were the only ones who identified themselves as the Maoist Youth Front. That was after they left the JVP. The JVP does not follow Maoism. We follow principles of Marxism and Leninism.

However, our relationship with China is not through Maoism but because of China’s socialist government and its Communist Party leadership. We have ties with China’s Communist Party while our youth wing has ties with the Chinese Communist Party youth wing. The Communist Party has certain understandings of the activities of the JVP.

Q: If having close relations with foreign powers is undesirable, what alternative does the JVP have to develop our country’s economy?

A: Developing a nation’s economy cannot be done in isolation. Today, the world economy has become completely globalised. We must accept this reality. Our goal should not be to manufacture all we can while having a closed economy. We must take hold of a share of the global economy.

For this purpose, we must take into consideration the changes that can occur in the global market in the next five to six years. To that end, we must develop our human resources and our expertise in various fields. We must bring in the necessary technology needed to uplift our industries and various sectors; but all this must be done according to our best interests.
This is not about opening up the economy to the world. No country can maintain a closed economy; even North Korea has opened up their economy. In 1978, both Sri Lanka and China opened its economies. In 1983, Vietnam opened its economy. This was all done according to the individual needs of each country.

Vietnam, which opened its economy five years after us and faced a 30-year war with the US, now has an economy with a GDP of $ 250 billion. Sri Lanka has a GDP of $ 80 billion. The mistake we made was not opening up our economy but forfeiting our national interests when opening up our economy.

So our economic policies should be according to an economic plan that will benefit us and not one that is dictated by foreign powers for their own benefit.

Q: If our economic activities are carried out by foreign powers, will it not cause a weakening in our local talents and capabilities?

A: Yes of course. The current path we are on, particularly after 1978 when we opted for a more liberal economy, has resulted in local capabilities, talents, and skills being dulled. We have become one of the weakest nations in the world.
For example, we used to have one of the best agricultural sectors in the world, but now we are importing most of what we used to grow ourselves. Our nation had one of the most advanced irrigation systems in the world but now we seek international assistance even to build the smallest reservoir. In addition, we, the country that built the Sigirya rock kingdom and the Lowamahapaya, have now resorted to looking to foreign countries for expertise to build a four-storey building.
In the last 40 years, our national capabilities have been allowed to degrade so that we can buy the services from foreign nations. The most valuable asset we have is our human resource. We have excelled in numerous fields including technology, medicine, and sport. We must develop our human resource. This can be done through education, higher education, health, sports, and science. This should be a key factor in our economic policy.

Q: Several leaders of political parties have been travelling to New Delhi. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa went recently and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to make a visit soon as well. How does the JVP see this? Do you see India as a friend or China?

A: When it comes to India, we don’t have a positive outlook as a result of the adverse way India has treated us throughout history.

Apart from bringing Buddhism to Sri Lanka, India has not given us much in the way of culture. In recent times, India’s foreign policy has been to keep us subdued and under their control. They supported the LTTE; provided them with weapons.
The issue we are currently facing regarding provincial councils was forced on us by India. In 1987, they invaded our maritime and aerial boundaries. Even during the Rajapaksa Government, India took control of our northern railway line, the Sampur power plant, the reconstruction of the Kankasanthurai Harbour, the Palaly Airport, and Mannar oil basin. They didn’t attempt to develop them. Their strategy was to take control of valuable assets and keep them undeveloped.
The ETCA will not benefit Sri Lanka in anyway. No matter what agreements we sign with India, we will not get exemptions from the taxes they impose on our goods at their harbour. Therefore, India is not a country we can rely on for genuine support or assistance, but because of our geographical location, we have to figure out a way to deal with India.

However, we can learn much from China. The way China provided basic rights to a one billion-plus population. When it comes to our economy, we must look to China and not India.