All bets were off as Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and second in line to the United States Presidency pivoted to Asia, August 1st. As Ms. Pelosi tottered off a US Air Force plane at Singapore’s Changi Airport in her signature stilettos South East Asia tripped into high tension as a collective shudder seemed to reverberate through the region.
China’s President Xi had warned President Biden ahead of Pelosi’s proposed Taiwan trip: “play with Fire and you will get burned!” This is a time when relations between the two Superpowers, one rising and the other fading, are at an historic low as the world recalibrates and reorients to the emergence of China, Asia and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as its growth hub.
As China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and part of its history and geography, Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan seemed provocative to say the least.
The same day Sri Lanka, perpetually in the cross-hairs of geopolitical rivalry due to its strategic location at the Center of the Indian Ocean and roiled by anti- government and International Monetary Fund (IMF) protestors calling for Debt Cancellation as the Washington Consensus fishes in its troubled waters, woke to stormy monsoon seas and the news that a Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) Naval vessel with satellite tracking capability was headed to the Hambantota Port, which the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deems part of the ‘String of Pearls”. Indian authorities claimed that they were tracking its progress.
This movement followed a US Department of Defense ‘Sea Vision’ training exercise in the months of June-July when the island at the center of the Indian Ocean was effectively under a fuel embargo. As US Marines instructed the Sri Lankan Navy, the country was starved of Russian oil and gas that may have saved its US Dollar debt-trapped-economy from further freefall and IMF inroads.
Although the Dragon had been missing in action recently in the strategic island, a key port of call on China’s maritime Silk Route Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), for global connectivity and infrastructure development, clearly geopolitical competition for power and influence is unfolding with islands– Taiwan, Sri Lanka, the Solomon Islands- as targets.
Pelosi as Human Rights Defender and Dragon Slayer
Ms. Pelosi seemed to be playing feminist defender of global Human Rights and dragon slayer talking up a previous visit to Tiananmen Square. Meanwhile the CIA assassinated Mr. Al-Zaharwi in Kabul, Afghanistan in a drone strike claiming that the elderly man on television heads Al Qaida.
Following the drone strike that violated Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and Mr. Zawahari’s human right to fair trial President Biden announced that justice had been done, and this demonstrated America’s capability to defend its interests anywhere in the word! Biden justified the strike in Kabul by claiming that history was repeating itself, and Afghanistan had again become a base for “terrorists” with the Taliban back in power just as it was when Osama Bin Laden launched his legendary 9/11 attack on the Twin towers and other US targets.
Pelosi’s pivot to Asia is a bit déjà vu, indeed a surreal courtship of disaster in the wake of the Ukraine debacle. After all, Mr. Putin had clearly demarcated Russia’s Red Lines vis-à-vis any expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to include Ukraine at Russia’s Western border, well before proxy war broke out in Ukraine with Mr. Zelinski playing arch defender of “western values”; Never mind Ukraine’s democracy deficit and corruption rates.
China’s claims on Taiwan are internationally recognized. Still, Pelosi seemed to relish her role as an agent provocateur of the slumbering dragon at this time of high tension in the world. Was it to keep up the guessing game and prolong Asia’s shudder that the US also took out Egyptian born Al-Zahawari in an Over the Horizon (OTH) operation that the CIA had promised on the eve of the disastrous US exit from that country last year?
These operations seemed designed to tell the world that the American Eagle still has landing capacity with all guns blazing– another attempt to pay Superpower although the sun has long set on the imploding Empire now teaming up with another expired empire to reboot colonialism and Cold War 2.0 via their South Asian and Afro Diasporas amid the Covid-19 and ‘Climate Catastrophe’ Great Reset? Rishi Sunak, front-runner in UK’s Prime Ministerial battle increasingly looks like the Canary in the British Coal mine as he promotes corporate interests, Debt for Nature Swaps, and greenwash in former colonies!
Gonna be a long war in the mythical ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’
It’s gonna be a long war in the rapidly militarizing “Free and Open Indo-Pacific!” Indeed, it promises to be an endless war as the geographic reconfiguration of two Oceans into a construct called ‘Indo-Pacific’ indicates.
The “Indo-Pacific” is an American neologism which splits and partitions the historical, cultural, and civilizational unity of the Indian Ocean World in two. It connotes the re-jigging of our Oceans’ geographical imagination to serve US perspectives with a long-term horizon, and the Quadrilateral Group (QUAD) and AUKUS in tow!
Way back in Grade school we learned that there were three great oceans in the world: The Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic. At the north and south poles there were two seemingly lesser oceans– the Arctic and Antarctic. There was no such thing as the Indo-Pacific in our geography class!
The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has been recently partitioned and re-christened an extension of America’s recently invented “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” which connotes a de facto partitioning of the Indian Ocean World. This fluid boundary between an imaginary Eastern and Western Indian Ocean is roughly where Sri Lanka sits longitudinally at its center.
Has the US engineered a split in our imaginary geography of the Indian Ocean world right down the middle with Sri Lanka as a magic marker?!
The island due to its location was always a prized possession for those wishing to control Indian Ocean Sea Lanes of Communication and trade.
The Undersea Data Cables (UDC), that lie in Sri Lanka’s maritime Exclusive Economic Zone if properly taxed would render the country which is currently caught in a US and EU-based International Sovereign Bond (ISB) Debt trap super rich overnight! BlackRock, which got huge US Government Covid-19 “bailout” funds, tops the list of Sri Lanka’s Odious Debt holders!
With the current focus on China, the Western Indian Ocean has almost ceased to exist in geopolitical and media discourse, but for France’s Imperial ambition and fisheries empire which landed Somali fishermen to piracy after their fishing grounds were over-fished and livelihood destroyed by French fleets stationed in Seychelles. The Government of France has claimed a huge of extent of the Indian Ocean although France is an Atlantic state, fronting it Colonial Island territories like Reunion and Mayotte.
Debt for Nature Swaps, Militarization and Greenwash
Islands and their marine resources both living and non-living are being targeted in the new Cold War for Washington’s dollar debt-trap diplomacy, also promoted by various United Nations agencies fronting the Anthropocene ‘Climate Catastrophe’ narrative’ heedless of the fact that it is Industrialized countries that are overwhelmingly responsible for and should bear the cos for global warming.
the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has proposed a Debt-for-Nature Swap (DFNS) as part of a medium-term strategy for Sri Lanka’s economic crisis in IMF discussion it was reported recently in the Sunday Times, although Sri Lankan civil society groups have called for Outright Cancellation of all International Sovereign Bond (ISB) Debt, which amounts to almost 45 percent of the county’s external debt of USD 26 billion.
Civil society organizations in Sri Lanka have also challenged the very premise of IMF debt re-structuring processes whereby impoverished citizens are forced to pay debt accumulated by corrupt political leaders to reckless ISB lenders.
In such a context the monetization of nature via Debt for Nature Swaps (DFNS), that the UNDP is promoting at the IMF talks with the Government of Sri Lanka may be both morally hazardous and odious, like the debt sought to be imposed on innocent citizens who are not accountable either for climate change or the debt traps and Defaults generated by corrupt politicians and reckless Vulture Funds like Blackrock, Ashmore, J.P Morgan, Allianz, HSBC, UBS, Amundi, Prudential who are the creditors responsible for the debt crisis in the island and many other Global South countries burdened with Covid-19 lockdown debt traps.
DFNS advance the monetization of nature. In the case of strategically located Sri Lanka and other small islands the question arises: why does not the UN focus its experts on a plan for Taxing of the UDC cable companies and their Corporate Clients particularly GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), and refrain from monetizing nature via Debt for Nature Swaps (DFNS), which the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is pursuing in tandem with the IMF?
After all, it was the ‘Climate Catastrophe’ narrative and miss-placed expert advice to the Colombo regime that caused the Organic Fertilizer and Energy policy debacle, including the sale of the Yugadanavi Power plant to a little known US company New Fortress that resulted in the food and fuel shortages in the country deepening the Debt trap.
There are better and worse ways to do environmental conservation. The current UN sponsored push for DFNS fronting Anthropocene Climate Catastrophe discourse to capitalize monetize and financialize nature is philosophically and morally repugnant, akin to the other widespread practice of Humanitarian Disaster Capitalism and reeks of neocolonialism.
Debt for nature swaps elsewhere have denied local communities, agricultural and fisheries workers access to their own forests, lands and marine resources in the name of ‘conservation.’ And promote neocolonial modes of global Environmental Governance.
Critiques of the Anthropocene discourse have long challenged the push towards forest and marine “reservations” in remote regions and islands of the world in the name of environmental conservation while corporations and NGOs hold the “credits’ and benefit from the greenwash. They argue that these communities should not have to bear the burden of environmental pollution caused by Industrialized countries. Conversely, small under-industrialize countries should not have to carry the burden of climate debt. More disturbingly these forest and marine reservations end up in the control of external actors and benefit corporations who invest in so called green bonds and organizations seeking to greenwash themselves from dirty oil to clean energy giants like Shell is doing as noted in a study on ‘Ocean Grabbing’ by the Transnational Institute.
Perhaps the most egregious case of Ocean Grabbing and Greenwash, a marketing strategy to conveying false information for a Corporate, organization, NGO, or government to appear environmentally friendly is the case of the Chagos Islands which was named a Marine Protected Area (MPA), by the British Government in 2010, to legitimize its Military Occupation of the Chagos and blue-wash the US military base at Diego Garcia – not too far from Sri Lanka.
This occupation, ocean grabbing and greenwash continues despite the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice 2019 landmark ruling that the British Occupation of the Chagos Islands is “illegal under international law”.
Indeed, the elephant in the room of the CoP 26 ‘Climate catastrophe” narrative and propsed DFNS is Militarization and the Global Military Business Industrial Complex amid lots of Blue- Greenwash!
Wither the Dragon in Sri Lanka?
Amid Pelosi’s pivot to Asia to reaffirm historic ties with East Asian Satellites Japan, Korea and Singapore, with a whistle stop in Malaysia, a Chinese research vessel — the Yuan Wang 5 headed west to Sri Lanka. The island’s Defense Ministry confirmed that the ship would dock at Hambantota port between 11 and 17 August.
Reportedly involved in space and satellite tracking, the Yuan Wang 5 is one of China’s latest generation space-tracking ships, also used to monitor rocket and intercontinental ballistic missile launches”. Built at the state-owned Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. Indian sources explained that such vessels start their movement when China or any other country is carrying out missile tests.
Still, according to David Vine, Professor at American University in Washington DC and author of the award-winning book “The United States of War”, the US has 750 overseas military bases in 80 Countries, while China has just one overseas base in Djibouti!
China had been missing in action in Sri Lanka since the new Cold War proxy war in Ukraine started and Mr. Wang Yi’s visited to Delhi. There was speculation that the Dragon has conceded ground in the strategic isle to the Washington Consensus (IMF and WB), after a Staged a Default in April this year, when Sri Lanka was targeted for debt-trap diplomacy, and became the first Domino to succumb to the geopolitical standoff.
As Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan stirs the Dragon, Sri Lankans long islanded and schooled in Cold War historical geography and Area Studies silos are waking up to geopolitical realities at the Center of the Indian Ocean as the Washington Consensus makes a bid for the island’s economic, trade, energy, transport infrastructure and cyber security though Dollar Debt Diplomacy and Re-structuring. Indeed, Sri Lanka which Defaulted in April seems to be the first domino to have fallen to Covid-19 lockdown induced Odious Debt as Cold War and colonialism escalate.