Ranking Member Eni Faleomavaega of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific announced that at today’s hearing entitled “The Rebalance to Asia: Why South Asia Matters (Part I)”, he called upon the United States to re-chart its strategy in Sri Lanka. Faleomavaega’s full statement was made part of the historical record and the text pertinent to Sri Lanka is included below. The Honourable Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and Mr. Joseph Y. Yun, Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, testified before the Subcommittee on behalf of the Obama Administration.
“As I have said for many, many years, the United States has neglected Asia and the Pacific at the expense of Europe and the Middle East and consequently we have placed our strategic, economic and political interests in jeopardy,” Faleomavaega said.
“Today, we are playing catch-up in a region that accounts for more than 60% of the world’s population. In 2011, the Asia-Pacific region surpassed Europe to become the top exporter of merchandise. In 2010, 20 of the world’s top container ports were in the Asia-Pacific region, including the top five.”
“The U.S. has a vital interest in making sure there is a free flow of global trade and commerce through the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean. The Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. Thousands of vessels pass through the strait per year, carrying about one-quarter of the world’s traded goods, including oil. About a quarter of all oil carried by sea passes through the strait.”
“For the first time since 1979, Iran Naval forces just crossed the Strait of Malacca and will dock in China, India or Sri Lanka,” the Congressman continued. “Regarding Sri Lanka, I agree with the Kerry-Lugar Congressional report which declares the need to ‘re-chart’ U.S. strategy in Sri Lanka beyond humanitarian and political concerns. The U.S. simply cannot afford to lose Sri Lanka due to its strategic importance.”
“Last week,” Faleomavaega said, “I visited Sri Lanka and met with President Rajapakse for more than 2 hours. I also met with the Governor of the Northern Province and personally visited Jaffna because I wanted to see for myself post-conflict developments since 2009 when Sri Lanka became the first country to eradicate terrorism on its own soil by defeating the Tamil Tigers which remains listed as a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including the United States, India, Canada and member nations of the European Union, and dubbed by the FBI as one of the most ruthless in the world.”
“After a 30-year terrorist conflict, the challenges the Sri Lankan government faces are enormous but the strides the government has made to rebuild in a way that establishes lasting peace and equality for all citizens should be firmly acknowledged. The United States should join Australia in praising the work the Sri Lankan government has done in the North and East of the island in such a short period since the war, as Australian Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop and the parliamentary delegation that she led recently stated upon their visit.”
“Regrettably, in the UN resolution it intends to submit again to the UN Human Rights Council, the U.S. fails to mention one positive development in Sri Lanka. Such failure suggests that the United States is not being even-handed when it comes to dealing with sensitive human rights issues across the globe and I am deeply concerned that our inconsistent policies will lead to a loss of credibility for the United States which will negatively impact our relations in the Asia Pacific region for years to come.”
“So I call upon the U.S. to find a better way forward rather than using UN resolutions to de-stabilize developing nations like Sri Lanka while ignoring human rights abuses in nations like Indonesia where our geopolitical interests supersede our human rights agenda. The U.S.-led UN resolution also should be withdrawn for focusing only on the last few months of the war and failing to acknowledge that for almost 30 years the Tamil Tigers hacked to death innocent men, women and children – Sinhalese and Tamils alike – and carried out over 378 suicide attacks – more than any other such organization in the world.”
“We also do not need to criticize Sri Lanka for borrowing money from China to build its port,” Faleomavaega said. “If the U.S. or India had stepped up to assist, Sri Lanka would have accepted the assistance. As President Rajapakse said during a July 2009 interview with TIME Magazine when asked about China’s strategic interest in the port, ‘I asked for it. China didn’t propose it. It was not a Chinese proposal. The proposal was from us; they gave the money. If India said, ‘Yes, we’ll give you a port’, I will gladly accept it. If America says, ‘We will give you a fully equipped airport’ – yes, why not? Unfortunately, they are not offering to us.’”
“After visiting Sri Lanka and also meeting with Minister of External Affairs Professor G.L. Peiris, Major General G.A. Chandrasiri, the Leader of the TNA, R. Sambandan, and in conversations with random citizens whose thoughts about the country I also sought, I have hope for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka, like the U.S. is committed to sustainable peace and promoting and protecting human rights.”
“As a matter of record, parallel with demining efforts in the North, the Sri Lanka government has re-settled over 290,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The Sri Lanka army has de-mined about 99% of the areas identified for de-mining and from 2002 to 2012 has cleared nearly 2,000 km of land. Since 2002, the Sri Lanka government has also recovered nearly 100,000 anti-personnel landmines and UXOs.”
“I might note that the United States, some 40 years after the Vietnam War, still has not cleaned up the UXO mess it left behind in Southeast Asia, particularly in Laos, a country which was not at war with the U.S. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has expended considerable resources to address related issues.”
“With regards to reconstruction, over 78,000 new houses in the North and East have been built, and more are underway. The Sri Lankan government is also promoting investment to generate employment in the region. Military presence is being reduced and ex-combatants are being rehabilitated and resettled.”
“While there is still much work left to do, I believe the people of Sri Lanka deserve our support as they work to rebuild after having lived through almost three decades of terrorist attacks. This is why I acknowledge the progress of the government and why I am committed to doing all I can to promote lasting peace and equality for all citizens – especially the Sinhalese and Tamils who have suffered long enough,” Faleomavaega concluded.