What's going on in Sri Lanka? - ABDULLAH MURADOĞLU

What's going on in Sri Lanka?

Nearly three hundred people died in Sri Lanka after bomb attacks on three churches and some hotels were simultaneously carried out. It is difficult to make a definite conclusion on the causes of the attacks, as there is no organization that has claimed them. However, it can be ascertained that the terrorists aimed to spread fear and panic with these attacks.

The country, which has been known as Ceylon until the year 1972, won its independence from Britain in 1948. Twenty-two million people live on the island and the “Sinhale-Buddhist” ethnic group constitutes the majority of them. About 12 percent of the population consist of Hindu-Tamils, while 9.7 percent of them are Muslims. The remaining 7.6 percent are Christians, among which Catholics are the majority. From 1983 to 2009,the country was under the cloud of a civil war between the Tamils and Hindus. It finally came to an end with the dissolution of the organization called Tamil Tigers. However, there still remains tension between the two ethnic groups.

In recent years, attacks on Christians and Muslims have been intensified by so-called civil groups, which are led by extreme right-wing Buddhist monks. On the other hand, the country became a part of the influence struggle between China and India. Sri Lanka is an important crossroad in China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative. Sri Lanka was forced to hand over the Hambantota Port, which was built on a Chinese loan, to China for 99 years as they were not able to pay the debt.

Hambantota is a part of China’s “string of pearls” plans on the sea line stretching from China to the Persian Gulf. Americans consider China's focus on the Port of Hambantota as part of its plan to build strategic strongholds in South Asia. The transfer of the port to a state-controlled Chinese company is considered as undesirable by both India and the U.S. The rumors that China is going to build a military base in the port raised eyebrows in the United States. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 4, 2018, at the “Hudson Institute”, clarified the Chinese policy of the Trump administration. In his speech, Pence warned that China is using debt diplomacy to expand its global influence and that the Port of Hambantota could become a military base for Beijing's growing fleet. Although the government of Sri Lanka denied the rumors, it failed to convince the Americans. Pence's speech was interpreted as a declaration of a new Cold War between China and the United States. On the other hand, evangelical Christian organizations are trying to make the protection of Christians living in Africa and Asia the primary policy of the Trump administration. Evangelicals, including Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are highly influential in the Trump administration. The Evangelicals have been active in Sri Lanka, which has a population of nearly 2 million Christians, since the 1950s. Recently the “National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL)” has been pointing out to the attacks targeting Christians.

We should remember that the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), which was originally established during the Cold War against the “Soviet Union,” was reestablished by the anti-Chinese “Neocon” hawks. Since then, it has been renamed as the Committee on the Present Danger-China (CPD-C). Among the founders of the committee are Trump’s former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy. The committee hosts events and initiatives to reduce threats created by the Chinese Communist Party. The “Committee on the Present Danger-China” which sees China as an existential and ideological threat against the U.S. held its last event on April 9.

As we mentioned at the beginning of the column, the context of the attacks has not yet been fully discovered. However, it is necessary to emphasize that Sri Lanka occupies an important place in the geopolitical competition between regional and global powers.

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