By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
Tension and feeling of insecurity is fast mounting among the common people living in fear of another War in the offing amidst the battles for economic dominance by the big powers. The deceptive façade chosen by those big powers is ‘national security’ and the other expressed concerns are ‘peace and sovereignty’. The inevitable precipitation this leads to is, the priority it generates for revamping and upgrading of strategic defense plans of countries costing huge sums to their National budgets. What has been taking shape so far behind the screen is now beginning to appear on stage. What the world witnessed as a cold war has now assumed bigger proportions signalling signs of open conflicts.
I wish to deal with this issue with particular reference to the developments taking place in our own region. It is in a way, relevant in the current context of the controversy that is building up around the Colombo Port City Project. If we take a look at the historical events, we come across many predictions and forecasts going back to periods of nearly a century ago, about the dawning of a “Pacific Age”. Such perceptions encompass a large area in this part of the world stretching from the Red Seas (now a part of the Middle East) across 53 countries to Japan and China in the Far East around the Pacific Ocean. Many of these countries, from time-to-time paid attention to the high potential of the region in the Global economy and have come together and formed smaller conglomerates to the extent possible, according to their political affinities .
Several internationally recognized groupings emerged as a result among the Asian Nations, such as;
ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nations (1967) 11 Countries
GCC Gulf Cooperation Council (1981) Six countries in the Gulf area (Middle East)
CEPA Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (2003) Macau, Hongkong and China
APTA Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (2009) Thailand Kore and China
APEC Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation 2014) Pacific Rim Countries
There were other developments like, SAARC and BIMSTEC as trade co-operations between countries and many other FTAs as Bilateral and Multilateral Trade Agreements.
The corner-stone of these developments was the initiative taken by China in 2017 paving the way for a New Asian World order with their BELT & ROAD INITIATIVE. Sixty-Eight countries participated in the inaugural (BRI) Summit held in Beijing making it a Historic gathering of the Asian Countries with some European and African counterparts. This was the re-birth of the Silk-Road era to bring together a massive cultural and commercial system linking the worlds’ largest population centers. To put things in a nutshell this initiative has paved the way leading to the formation of the largest international collaboration beating even the funding equivalents of both UN and Marshall Plans, of the twentieth century. This being a totally Asian Born and Asian controlled affair the rest of the World Powers remain watchful about its direction, effects and its future role in the Global Economy. Today it has become a thorn in the eye for the big economic powers.
Asians have been the most exploited on earth. From about the sixteenth Century Asia became a play- ground for the plunderers from the West. Beginning with the Portuguese, who monopolized in the trading of our spice production, many other European nations joined the fray capturing countries, kingdoms, killing hundreds of thousands in the process, in their hunt for treasure from the Asian Region. Portuguese who were trying to establish their dominance in the Indian Ocean were soon ousted and replaced by the Dutch. They managed to capture the Spice Trade and took control of the entire region after eliminating the influence of their European Competitors. Later with an ostensible reconciliatory approach, which appeared to be more commercial than colonial, they established the Dutch East India Company in 1602. Soon after they were defeated and overtaken by the English sea-farers who established their presence in the region setting up the English East India Company which they continued till after the second world war period.
The competition among the exploiters turned the Asian region into a battle ground of the Western Powers. Innocent inhabitants who were peacefully engaged in their living patterns EITHER, became victims of circumstances soon, being driven to take sides with the intruders and die in battle OR get killed by the invaders for not obeying to join their ruthless exploits. Unfortunately, there were no Human Rights Organizations or Internationals to defend the victims then! Let me quote, from a famous book, “WHY NATIONS FAIL” often referred to by my friend Dr W.A. Wijewardena, who highly recommended its reading, just to elaborate a little of what I have stated.
“In 1621 a Dutch Warrior, sailed to Banda with a fleet and proceeded to massacre almost the entire population of the islands, probably about fifteen thousand people. All their leaders were executed along with the rest, and only a few were left alive, enough to preserve the know-how necessary for mace and nutmeg production. After this genocide was complete, they proceeded to create the political and economic structure necessary for this plan; a plantation society!”
Coming back to the present, let me trace some of the more recent acts and events by the Western Political powers in their interest in pursuing the not so altruistic Economic aims! Ironically there are many similarities between the historical episodes and what we witness today, which I leave the readers to assimilate.
Focus and attention of the West has always remained highly centered on the Asian Region. They had not forgotten the forecasts of our forefathers about the future of Asia. They recognized ‘the Asian Region as a potential area for reshaping the entire planet and setting a new template for the collective future of humanity’. Therefore, irrespective of the changes in policies and political outlook of every succeeding regime the West advocated a common perception in dealing with matters of the Asian Region.
Let us take a look at the recent happenings to understand this better.
George Bush advocated a policy of ‘re-orienting Diplomacy in East Asia’ under which a renewed focus in the region was attained.
Barack Obama pronounced the “Asia -Pacific rebalance”
Donald Trump carried it further in a different direction introducing his “Indo-Pacific Vision”. What was embodied in Trump’s approach was a new thinking to nullify the broad Asian inbuilt culture by calling it “Indo -Pacific”. What he anticipated was a defense centered presence of a modernized US relationship in the Asia-pacific region.
Finally Joe Biden, the current US President, has started to re-orient the US relationships in the Indo-Pacific region by modifying the political legacy he inherited from Obama Administration’ in the direction of Trump policy. His agenda appears to be to address the ‘Indo-Pacific’ affairs as a strategic priority.
Joe Biden hosted a Quad Summit on 12th March. The Quad represents a strong Unity among 3 big powers from the Asian region, Japan, India and Australia with the Super Power U.S., based on shared values and mutual assistance. Members of the Quad have taken a decision to manufacture U.S. Covid-19 vaccines in INDIA with U.S., Japan and Australia providing financial support. This is indeed a welcome option according to the prevailing disastrous health calamity countries like India are facing today. It is also encouraging to note that these vaccines will be made available to other countries in the ASEAN beyond the area of jurisdiction of the QUAD.
Reportedly Quad is also considering to readjust the preamble about the “Spirit of the QUAD”. The amendment is to include a new section reading as, “we strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy and anchored by Democratic values and unconstrained by coercion”.
Attention has also been focused on general issues such as Climate, Vaccine, de-nuclearization, as matters of prime importance.
While the world can endorse and support such humanitarian moves, there are others that cause concern as matters endangering peace and harmony. The recent summit of QUAD has reiterated its declaration which stands for:
A Free and Open Indo-Pacific, Freedom of navigation, Territorial integrity, and
Stronger regional architecture through the Quad.
The affirmation of such objectives is an indication of a commitment to continue the ‘TRUMP’ administration policy on the Asian region through the Biden administration.
The National Security Adviser to U.S.(Sullivan) has stated that one of the prime objectives of Quad is, “to build substantial American Policy in the Indo- Pacific region”. It has also been stressed that ‘deepening military ties to counter China’s growing power, and ultimately to restore the U.S. leadership throughout the region’ is another priority.
Can the independent world disregard this hegemony?
Quad summit is meeting at a time when several disputes are manifesting in the region. China is trying to come to an understanding with India for a commitment towards bi-lateral ties between the two countries with no progress of a success. India has openly supported a demand to institute an International Inquiry to investigate into the Origin of Covid in China. There is also a controversy building around a border dispute between India and China in the East Ladakh area. China-Pakistan relationships have become a worrying factor for India. The continuing dialogue India had with China (Wuhan-Chennai dialogue) has come to a halt.
Australia is seriously switching on to an open unfriendly mode with China following several events of friction between the two countries. The government of Australia has terminated two Belt and Road Agreements between Victoria State and China. Lately, Australia has taken the public stance of tightening defense and security in particular the Northern Territory as a preparation against an imaginary militarization initiated by China in the region. To rationalize the Country’s Stand to allocate $ 747 million to upgrade defense facilities announced by PM Scott Morrison highly inflammatory statements such as “ War with China over TAIWAN should not be discounted” (Defense Minister, Peter Dutton), have been made. Home Secretary in one of his messages warned that the “drums of war” were growing louder. Friction is on the rise in the economic spheres too. Morrison is also seriously reconsidering a previous 99 year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese Company, attributing Security Implications.
In retaliation to Australia’s public call for a global Covid-19 inquiry, China has slowed their import volumes. Any other drastic steps will naturally lead to stronger reactions from China. Australia is accusing that China is engaged in Provocative actions undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits and that China is asserting its military interests in the South China Sea region. It is in such a context [alleged] of a growing aggression by China that Australia is committing an unprecedented budget allocation of $270 billion for Defense Capability Upgrades.
The International attention focused on Taiwan Straits situation is causing serious concern to the QUAD members accusing that China is aggressively engaged in a move increasing the risk of war against Taiwan.
China’s economic influence over the QUAD members is an important factor which hinders the influence to precipitate a hegemonic intervention in the Indo-Pacific region. China seems to have established strong economic linkages with almost all the countries in the Asian Region.
Japan’s economy is deeply integrated with China with a high volume of Exports of Electronics c and machine tools. Australia too is depending on trade with China for their commodity exports as well as the inflows of students and tourists. Despite the serious straining of diplomatic ties due to border clashes India has had with China, it will be extremely difficult for India to reduce trading with China. For the first half of 2021, China was India’s biggest trading partner. The second largest share-holder of Chinese based Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) is India among many other countries and India is the biggest borrower of the AIIB. The economic alignments among Asian Countries are much closer and stronger with China than with U.S. Even for the U.S., economically China is an indispensable trading partner due to the two countries sharing between them an enormous volume of imports and exports.
When it was first mooted by Japan’s PM Abe in 2007, as QUADRILATERAL SECURITY DIALOGUE it was basically perceived as a movement to contain China to which the Chinese government reacted with a formal diplomatic protest resulting in Australia and India pulling out. Therefore, the QUAD should not develop into a US tool to merely bolster its interests in the region against China.
Asians have to take their bearings recalling the historical interventions they have experienced and the huge potential they have collectively at their disposal. AS the unique region of the planet blessed with several diversities to their advantage, ethnically, linguistically and culturally, Asia should be regarded as the future of this planet. If the Asians decide to take things forward collectively the world can put a stop to wanton aggression perpetrated by intruders. We need free thinking, dynamic and steadfastly committed strong leaders from the Asian region to propagate the way forward for a better Asia.
Time is ripe for Asian Leaders to take the leadership and collectively address the security of the region. The initiative has to originate from within the Asian region. Moving forward with dynamic neutralism in a true sense of fostering peace and harmony it can give birth to a new Asia and perhaps another Internationally recognized movement for the betterment of humanity.
To conclude let me quote a section extracted from a foreign policy statement of Sri Lanka made several decades ago:
“Dynamic neutralism is not the kind of neutralism of just remaining on a side, of sitting on the fence, trying to get what you can from here and there. It is not so. It is something much more positive. In that sense it amounts to a positive commitment to promote peaceful settlement of international disputes, to arrest polarization, which was the primary source of tension by refraining from joining power blocs and spreading good will and understanding between nations, so that in the course of time perhaps world will find some stable state of society that will banish this ever constant and ever present danger of war.”