So Washington’s envoy here thinks the media is faking news. The other day Ambassador Alaina Teplitz did an imitation of her president, the irascible Donald Trump who thinks media commentaries that trash him constitute “fake news” and only he is capable of truth.
If Trump’s ambassador to Colombo is intent on following in her president’s footsteps, it is her business. But if she is as uninformed and ready to criticise the media as purveyors of “blatant misinformation” then she should be ready to defend her position and prove her vituperative remarks.
Hopefully, she is referring only to one media report and is not castigating the Sri Lankan media in general.
Had I but space enough and time, I might have recalled at length the contretemps that the US ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra found himself in and had to apologise two years after the event for having described some remarks attributed to him as “fake news”.
“The new US ambassador to the Netherlands apologised Saturday after denying he once said the country was in “chaos” because of Muslims and accusing an interviewer of peddling ‘fake news,’ only to be caught out by Dutch television in a bizarre exchange,” reported AFP on December 23, 2017 in a dispatch from Washington.
Now Trump could make such utterly unsubstantiated remarks as he often does because he seems to believe that checking the truth of what he says is an unnecessary burden cast on him. He expects Fox News to drag him out of the verbal morass he keeps falling into like some other presidents Sri Lankans are more acquainted with.
Presidents can often get away with loose talk because they are but passers-by on the political landscape. Diplomats, on the other hand, are more permanent and so should guard their tongues.
So while Ambassador Teplitz ponders over the public embarrassment of Ambassador Hoekstra, the Sri Lankan public would contemplate some terminological inexactitudes that Teplitz has employed — no doubt to lessen the impact of what the US is trying to involve
Sri Lanka in.
Briefing the media after an audience with some Mahanayake Theras in Kandy, Ambassador Teplitz is reported (not fake news one hopes) to have said the US is negotiating with Sri Lanka a “Visiting Forces Agreement” and US troops will be touring the country.
Now all that seems tickety-boo. US troops will play tourist, possibly to boost the flagging hospitality industry after the Easter Sunday bombings that frightened the tourists away.
The US troops will leave their guns aside and reach for the wallets filled with greenbacks now that dear Donald has given the US economy a turbo boost and tried to cripple other economies, including that of our neighbour India, with tariffs and other barriers.
When the US aircraft carrier Nimitz and a strike group paid a port call in Colombo in October 2017, a US embassy release said thus: “It is estimated that the carrier strike group will add approximately 1.54 billion rupees ($10 million USD) to the Sri Lankan economy as the ships purchase supplies and thousands of U.S. sailors come ashore and support local businesses.”
All these attempts to shore up Sri Lankan business interests as thousands of sailors poured out and toured the capital and elsewhere turned out to be not only a hollow boast but fake news.
As a colleague wrote, nothing of the kind happened. The sailors did not rush out like the hordes of Genghis Khan. They were not allowed shore leave and that was that.
Now if Mr Trump wants to know what “fake news” is, he should read the US embassy’s media release.
To start with, this is not Trump land, and Teplitz is not standing on terra firma that the United States has acquired through gunboat or dollar diplomacy. Sri Lanka is still a free country, though there are persons in the Sri Lanka government and its diplomatic service who will help turn it into a vassal state by bowing to the diktats of Washington.
Dismissing widespread Sri Lankan concerns over the military ‘pacts’ that Washington is trying to thrust down our throats, Ambassador Teplitz would want us to believe that the US has “no plan or intention to establish a base in Sri Lanka.”
Of course, one must believe Ambassador Teplitz even though somebody once said that diplomats are sent abroad to lie for the good of their country. I suppose if one of those politicians, propped up by the hidden hands of diplomutts who serve US interests, were to say to the US, you could establish a base in Sri Lanka, the US would reply with a firm ‘no’. Yes and pigs will fly!
If I remember correctly, this issue of SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) was raised in parliament as far back as January this year, and it was referred to as SOFA. But neither the US embassy nor those great thinkers in our Foreign Ministry sought –and I am open to correction here — to correct it and use the term that Ambassador Teplitz now employs – the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
It is meant to make Sri Lankans feel easier and less suspicious of what the US is up to. After all they are only visiting soldiers, not intending to hang around for long. Ah, but that is where we are being misled. This is fake news.
To begin with, one would have expected the US embassy to promptly correct the title of the agreement that was being negotiated. Secondly, if these agreements already signed or being discussed are such innocuous bilateral pacts, why on earth does the government not release them to allay the fears and anxieties entertained by the public?
Thankfully, the media have done what the partners to these agreements would not do. The Political Editor of this newspaper has written several informative pieces that expose what has been going on behind the backs of the public. So there is no need to go over the issues that have been discussed and probably agreed to.
But there is an issue that raises serious concerns. There have been confidential discussions between the US embassy and our Foreign Ministry. If one reads the contents of that confidential diplomatic note that the US embassy has sent to the Foreign Ministry in August last year saying that the ministry’s response would suffice as acceptance of the provisions in the text, one needs to ask who in the ministry negotiated this on behalf of Sri Lanka.
Was the government aware of what was being agreed to in the SOFA? Was the Defence Ministry consulted on the various sectors that were being agreed to? Why was a senior foreign service officer who had been seconded to the Defence Ministry withdrawn? Was it because she might prove an obstacle at some stage when the contents of the negotiations come to be known?
There is of course the other agreement the government signed two years ago – the Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA). Are those who promoted that 83-page agreement which President Sirisena as defence minister steered through cabinet, the same officers who had a hand in trying to push through SOFA before time runs out for the pro-US lobbyists who will probably strike even a Faustian deal?