China: A country to emulate

There is no specific or urgent reason attributed to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s visit to China. But a visit to China by our prime minister which would result in rejuvenation and reinforcement of Sino-Sri Lanka ties is of tremendous national interest to us.

Since the emergence of the People’s Republic of China and Independent Sri Lanka half century ago, the two countries have had excellent relations with never a blemish. Sino-Sri Lanka relations continued to flourish even at times when world powers and regional powers were not favourable to one country or the other.

Perhaps the finest moment of Sri Lankan diplomacy came about in 1952 just four years after our Independence – the signing of the Rubber-Rice Pact. It is worth recalling in some detail how in 1952, just after Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake took office, Sri Lanka faced a grave economic crisis. At that time like oil was and is politics to the Middle East, rice was politics in Sri Lanka. We were not self sufficient in rice and there came about a world shortage of rice. The government was committed to provide two measures of rice per week for every adult person but rice was not available from the traditional suppliers of the Far East. The world market price had risen by 38 per cent from 1951 to 1952.

Sri Lanka was compelled to buy rice from the United States and Ecuador at very high prices and was unable to purchase all the rice needed because of limited foreign exchange resources. The end of the Korean War resulted in a drastic fall of commodity prices of tea, rubber and coconut in western markets while there was an upsurge of import prices. Sri Lanka’s attempts to negotiate a $ 50 million loan with the United States failed.

It was under such dire circumstances that Sri Lanka Commerce Minister R. G. Senanayake played the bold and masterly stroke of signing the Rubber Rice Pact. Communist China had been placed in the black list and under a UN resolution was not able to purchase rubber from rubber producing countries like Malaya. China was prepared to sell rice to Sri Lanka and this Rubber Rice pact was sealed despite heavy fire from America as well as within this country by pro-US interests.

The consequence was that the American government invoked the Battle Act that prevented America from giving aid to countries selling strategic materials to Communist countries and cut off aid to Sri Lanka in addition to selling sulphur needed by the Sri Lanka’s rubber industry.

But Sri Lanka, small and powerless as it was, stood firm by its decision.

Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake fully stood by his Commerce Minister R. G. Senanayake. He said: ‘Ceylon’s old trade pattern had been knocked out by changes of the world and we have to seek new markets for our needs of essential foodstuffs and exports’.

In fact Sri Lanka benefited from this deal which lasted till 1977, China selling rice at prices lower than in the world market, while paying higher prices than world market prices for rubber.

This is perhaps the best example for leaders of Third World nations of today – who bow and scrape before the mandarins of the IMF and World Bank and kowtow to western powers – to emulate.

What is notable about China is that despite the bogey of ‘Red China’ running over South Asia and establishing a communist empire, drummed continuously by western propagandists, China has never exhibited any desire of hegemonism. It did intervene in neighbouring Korea and North Vietnam but did not attempt to use its might and power for military conquests. The take over of Hong Kong was done in accordance to the letter of the law and on Taiwan which China claims is a part of China, negotiations are conducted sans use of force. The border disputes with India that flared up in the 1960s have since died down and now are on the backburner.

China is no doubt a world power – economic and military. However, it stands apart from other world powers in that it is not in the club of exclusive powers – the G-8. It is strong and independent enough to stand alone and resists interference in the internal affairs of China unlike most Third World countries of today. Numerous forays are now being attempted to be made into China in the name of human rights of varied forms. These so called human rights violations are held as the Sword of Damocles over free trade and international trade agreements. But be it Tibet, Taiwan or the latest form of religious cults the Chinese government has held firm and protected the sovereignty of independence of the people unlike very many Asian nations that have succumbed.

China’s independent foreign policy was well revealed in the case of Sri Lanka when western powers under the pressure of so called human rights groups refused to sell armaments to the Sri Lanka government to fight terrorism. China was one of two countries – other being Pakistan – that refused to be taken in by this western gobbledygook.

In this fast changing world, change in China, in the arts, culture and lifestyle too are discernible but they do not ape the west as most poor Third World countries do.

Mr. Wickremasinghe, we hope, will be enthused by the sturdy political and cultural independence of the Chinese people.

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