The escalating political crisis in Sri Lanka which, amidst a catastrophic economic crisis has seen the forced resignations of the President and Prime Minister, is causing growing concern among the ruling classes around the world about the dangers of the struggle of emerging world class.
A mass movement of the Sri Lankan working class and rural poor has erupted against the devastating social and economic collapse in the living conditions of the masses. The explosion of popular anger over the past three months has seen more than a million people descend on the capital, Colombo, on July 9, in defiance of government emergency orders and threats of mass repression.
In response to the crisis, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta sounded the alarm in a recent television interview amid rising geopolitical tensions over high debt levels and potential unrest in the Pacific.
The interview aired on TVNZ’s “Q+A” program on July 17, shortly after Mahuta returned from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Fiji. At the forum, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced an escalation of US involvement in the region, aimed at intensifying China’s strategic, economic and military encirclement.
Mahuta’s “concerns” about how Pacific development has been funded have pointed the finger at China for criticism. “I would say there is a level of indebtedness across the Pacific to financial institutions, including how China has financed certain countries,” she said. The minister described Pacific debt as a “key area of vulnerability that should be addressed”.
Asked about the “lessons” of Sri Lanka, Mahuta said that “the point at which Sri Lanka has reached its political turmoil due to economic vulnerability is something we should be concerned about and can be seen against the level of vulnerability across the Pacific.
Mahuta said the New Zealand government hoped to find “a peaceful way to resolve the [Sri Lankan] situation”, through the election of a new President and a new Prime Minister, and that “the constitutional provisions will provide guidance in this regard”.
The 1978 constitution, however, is fundamentally undemocratic, giving the president broad autocratic powers. Parliament has now installed the much despised Ranil Wickremesinghe to ruthlessly enforce the International Monetary Fund’s austerity dictates and strangle the popular uprising.
Mahuta stressed that the New Zealand military “stands ready and willing to respond very quickly to natural disasters [and] civil unrest” should it break out in the Pacific as it did in Sri Lanka. She highlighted how New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) reacted “with a degree of urgency” to last year’s deadly anti-government riots in the Solomon Islands .
New Zealand’s Labour-Green government has ordered police and troops to join an Australian-led intervention in the Solomons. Days of rioting in November left three dead and left much of Honiara, the capital, in ruins. These events were not a true mass uprising, but had been planned in advance by US-backed opposition forces and aimed to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and rescind his diplomatic recognition of China.
New Zealand troops joined an Australian-led force of more than 200 men, allegedly to “maintain peace and security”. After Sogovare then invited a contingent of Chinese police to form the local force, Canberra and Wellington maintained their own military presence in Honiara. The New Zealand government has announced that it will extend its deployment there until next May.
For many years, the New Zealand Army has openly trained for interventions aimed at “restoring order” in Pacific nations, including through its biannual multinational exercise Southern Katipo.
In his interview, Mahuta spoke about the defense and security relationship New Zealand currently has with Pacific countries, suggesting that military capabilities could be increased. “When it comes to maritime surveillance, we talk a lot… [about] how to do more and an integrated approach to maritime surveillance due to illegal and unreported fishing activities,” she said.
Mahuta also added, “It could mean drones. It could also mean additional sea support, as well as air support. The so-called “illegal fishing” invariably refers to the Chinese fishing fleet.
Defense Minister Peeni Henare said last week that with “what is happening in the Pacific”, investment in military equipment must continue, as well as support for exercises such as the current one. US-led Rimpac off Hawaii. Labor has dramatically increased defense spending from 1.15 to 1.59% of GDP and committed another $20 billion over the next decade.
Mahuta cited the Biketawa Declaration as an alleged example of “regional cooperation”. Signed in 2000 following pressure from Australia and New Zealand, the document abandoned a long-standing principle of non-interference in the affairs of PIF member countries. He established that “in times of crisis”, including when countries face “threats to their security, broadly defined”, this can trigger diplomatic, economic and military intervention anywhere in the region, at the request of the great powers.
Mahuta’s comments further expose the fraud that New Zealand represents a “kinder” and more “independent” foreign policy approach to the Pacific, compared to Australia and the United States. Speaking to the Lowy Institute this month, Prime Minister Ardern hypocritically said her government was opposed to the militarization of the region, saying “diplomacy must become the most powerful tool and de-escalation the most powerful tool.” loudest call”.
New Zealand has been a colonial power in the region for over a century. While pursuing its own interests, it has always relied on one of the main imperialist powers – first Britain, then the United States – to maintain its strategic position. Involvement in wars, including support for the US-NATO war against Russia in Ukraine, is the quid pro quo for supporting New Zealand operations in its own ‘backyard’.
Mahuta, who is Maori, was promoted on the basis of racial identity politics, so that the Labor government could present itself as “family” to the indigenous people of the Pacific. In a speech to a Maori and Pacific audience earlier this month, Mahuta cited “values unique to us”, which she said reflect a “relevant Maori perspective beyond our shores”. The list included virtues such as ‘kindness’, ‘caring’, ‘reciprocity’ and ‘common humanity’, i.e. ‘human rights’ buzzwords that the US exploits to justify their wars and regime change operations around the world.
Mahuta’s allegations of “debt-trap diplomacy” replicate Washington’s propaganda amid its diplomatic offensive against China. At a Pacific Leaders Conference in Hawaii in June 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken angrily said China was breaking “international norms” and using “economic coercion” in its aid and concessional loans. .
The allegations are false. In 2019, 67% of Chinese aid to the Pacific was given in the form of loans, mainly for infrastructure projects, compared to 41% the previous year. Pacific leaders, however, often prefer funding from China to that from Australia and New Zealand, saying it comes with fewer strings attached.
According to a recent report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) based on World Bank data, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu are the countries most indebted to China. However, the majority of the Pacific’s external debt is contracted with multilateral organizations.
The Asian Development Bank is the main creditor of Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, holding around 38% of all external debt, followed by China (22%), the World Bank (13%), Australia and Japan (6 percent). Chinese loans represent less than half of the total in Fiji, PNG, Vanuatu and Samoa.
The ABC report warns that trade deficits and high debt levels may lead Pacific governments, without dramatically increased financial assistance, to adopt deeper austerity measures “likely to deepen poverty and inequality in the region and undermine economic recovery”. Far from tackling the looming social disaster, the local imperialist powers, Australia and New Zealand, are preparing to intervene and quell the inevitable popular discontent.