24 September 2014

Sri Lanka in the Asian Century

In his classic work of historical sociology, ‘The long twentieth century,’ Giovanni Arrighi uses the term ‘long century’ to connote eras of domination, tracing the unfolding of capitalism through the fortunes of Florence, Venice, Genoa, the Dutch, English and finally the USA.  The twentieth century, the last of the 7 centuries long relationship between capital accumulation and state formation, belonged to the USA, there’s no argument there. 

Today that at one time seemingly unstoppable super power has been reduced to a third rate thug, considering the fact that its strategy of domination amounts to creating monsters which it then chances to the ends of the earth in a classic pretext to conquer territory, annex control over resources and markets.  It’s ending, that’s the writing on the walls. 

Enter Asia.  You could call it ‘The long 21st Century’ if you like.  Twenty years ago, there was talk of an East Asian Miracle.  Then there was a brief moment when Japan was No 1.  How quickly, people observed, the great expectations of one-country dominance following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc evaporated.  Sure there was the ‘Coalition of the Willing’, the numerous occasions where the UN was arm-twisted into sanctioning ‘punitive’ action against this country or that, the gumption to re-name Winter as Spring in the Arab world, and the open shameless complicity in crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israel.  But Syria was not bulldozed and moves against Russia appear half-hearted.  Indeed come that winter, Europe might be forced to eat humble pie if Russia offers the ‘tit’ of gas for the ‘tat’ of sanctions. 

Asia, on the other hand, is surging ahead.  Old animosities have been replaced by a pragmatism that recognizes the mutual benefits of cooperation.  A flurry of diplomatic activity across the continent which included visits, discussions and agreement-signing among the more powerful heads of state have given rise to serious consideration of a Commonwealth of Asia, an idea that had little or no currency a few years ago. 

So where does Sri Lanka stand in all these developments and processes?  The short answer is, ‘where it always was, strategically located in the Indian Ocean.’  If, for argument’s sake, Sri Lanka was located somewhere west of the Maldives and still had the same ethnic composition, India would not be trying to force its ‘solution’ down Sri Lanka’s political throat.  That ‘issue’ is issue because it provides leverage.  The same goes for US machinations.  The same goes for Chinese ‘largesse’.  

This advantage has to be exploited taking into account the political and economic importance of the Indian Ocean.  Everyone would love to control it and therefore everyone wants Sri Lanka to play a game called ‘Stay with us but not anyone else’.  This is also why Sri Lanka would be ill advised to pick one global (or regional) power over others for preferential treatment. 

In the emerging ‘Long 21st Century’ with concerted efforts by many to stamp ‘Asia’ on it, Sri Lanka has to play its strategic advantage to perfection.  While China, India, the USA, Russia or anyone else would love to turn Sri Lanka into a direct or de facto ‘Protectorate’, in the event of failure Plan B would most certainly be to ensure that ‘No one gets Sri Lanka’.  That’s the key to asserting independence and political relevance.

The message is simple.

‘We will keep this part of the world safe for you.  Remember, though, that we will keep it safe for everyone else as well.  If we are forced to submission by any country it will destabilize the region.  It is in your interest to ensure this does not happen.  The only way you can ensure peace in the Indian Ocean is to strengthen Sri Lanka on all counts.  So, ladies and gentlemen, take your pick.  Who wants to help us build ports and who will take the ‘Airports’ card?  Who will train us in the field of military intelligence and who will help us set up facilities to research nanotechnology?  You can destabilize us, but that would be a lose-lose scenario for everyone.’ 

A lot more can be added to this. 

The balance has shifted to this part of the globe and Russia is closer than the USA whichever direction you look.  That needs to be remembered too.  That century is about to begin if it hasn’t already.  It is a train that still can be boarded. 



Anonymous said...

Excellent article. All what happens here in Sinhale (SriLanka) , is to gain control of the endless mighty Indian Ocean. From "String of Pearls" the counter strategy, of Historic trade route 'The Silk Road' where USA and EU try to pray on Asian Continent.

Maritime Silk route was a natural trade route of the established by Asians. With the rise of Tiger Economies of Asia Silk Route is again resurrecting with combining affection of Historic Nation in Asia.