18 August, 2022


The Covid Mask, An Emperor With No Cloths & Colonialism Redux? Whose ‘Free & Open Indo-Pacific’?

By Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake

Dr. Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake

The Covid-19 narrative has colonized the world, attacking and shutting down global and local economy and society, as well as, trade and transport systems with a face-mask as its telling symbol. 

In strategically located Sri Lanka more people have died of random elephant attacks, or in car accidents than from Covid-19, which has claimed a grand total of eighteen (18) lives in the past year in this island of 22 million people. However, livelihoods, education and good governance including the right to protest have been dealt a massive blow by the Covid 19 narrative that has whipped up fear-psychosis and resulted in lockdowns recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), and its partners in crime.

Beneath the Covid-19 mask, however, there are signs of a full-blown hybrid Cold War unfolding in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), as United States Secretary, Mike Pompeo pivots with all the pomp and circumstance of visiting royalty to South and Southeast Asia this week, seemingly to re-set and re-boot Euro-American colonialism. Secretary Pompeo, a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), accompanied by Mark Esper, Secretary for Defense was in New Delhi on the first leg of his four-day IOR trip that also includes visits to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, which recently refused to let US maritime surveillance, P8-Posidon spy planes, land and refuel in its territory. As Dino Patti Djalal, a former Indonesian ambassador to the US, said the “very aggressive anti-China policy” of the US had unnerved Indonesia and the region. 

Indeed, there are increasingly good arguments to suggest that a Third World War has commenced beneath the Covid-19 banner, and narrative to distract the global media and public, and recolonize the Global South, by rebooting a hollowed out and imploding Euro-American economic imperialism that is increasingly challenged by the rise of China: The Asian and Indian Ocean region has emerged as the economic and technology powerhouse and growth center of the world. Hence, there has been an increase in the number and intensity of proxy wars on going at this time in Asia and Africa – particularly along the borders of China, Iran, India, and Russia, and the Indian Ocean Region, which is considered the world’s trade and energy “superhighway”, where Sri Lanka commands a strategic perch.

 Sri Lanka is also located at an Undersea Data Cable (UDC), ‘choke point’, essential to control for strategic cyberwar and data tapping. Simultaneously in a classic colonial and hybrid war strategy, internal religious and ethnic identity politics have been increasingly weaponized by external parties in the highly multicultural and multi-religious Asian world – a tried and tested tactic in hybrid war. The Trump regime seems to be inciting violence and spoiling for a war between Asian giants, China and India, to make a debt-strapped and imploding Euro-American-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ‘Atlantic axis’ look “great again”.

Preparations for full on ‘hybrid war’ in the IOR had been on-going for a while: Strategically located Sri Lanka witness staged suicide attacks against coastal churches and sea-front luxury hotels at Easter Sunday last year. The attacks were mysteriously claimed by the Islamic State leader (ISIS), as the US and IS seemed to pivot in unison to the IOR on Easter Sunday to set up Caliphate bases. 

A recent book titled “IS is US’ may help explain the mysterious timing of events and US and IS movements in the IOR in recent times. After all, there was no prior history or motive for violence among Muslims and Christians, both minority communities in Buddhist and Hindu majority Sri Lanka. The April 2019 attacks on coastal churches and hotels, were directed at the country’s economy and society, a tried and tested tactic in colonial and hybrid wars whereby ethnic and religious identities are weaponized in order to divide, distract and rule colonized populations.  

The Easter attacks that killed 250 happened a month before US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan’s planned trip to Sri Lanka last year to sign the controversial Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCC), and to discuss the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Government of Sri Lanka, which would enable American boots on the ground to protect Sri Lanka from IS terrorists. That trip was aborted however, amidst protests against the MCC and SOFA agreements, as well as, Cardinal Malcom Ranjith’s statement that the Easter Sunday attacks that killed 256 people were caused by foreign actors and networks that profit from chaos and sell arms. 

Covid curfews clearly have other than health benefits for hapless natives in Indian Ocean colonies: This time around, citizens in strategically located Sri Lanka have been well prepared and placed in a Covid-19 curfew with the “Second Wave” narrative, to coincide with Mr. Pompeo’s visit. Behind his stars and stripes face mask Mr. Pompeo would certainly be talking about the MCC and SOFA agreements with the powers that be in Colombo unimpeded by noisy protestors or obdurate Buddhist monks. An initial partial lockdown of the citizens of Sri Lanka came into effect after a special US Air Force plane with a special delegation landed ahead of Pompeo’s visit, despite the country’s airports being sealed due to Covid-19 for months. Train services have been cancelled, and the parliament is being sanitized during Pompeo’s visit, while and a full country-wide curfew is threatened in the island.

The curfew does not make any policy sense if we follow the local and national data for Sri Lanka. According to World Health Organization seasonal flu kills more than 7000 people annually in Sri Lanka, so Covid-19 which has claimed 15 lives is far milder than seasonal flu, and Covid-19 PCR tests have recorded a very high incidence of false positives, suggesting that the data is being rigged. But Sri Lanka is increasingly in the cross-hairs of big power rivalry as a new great game unfolds in the Indian Ocean region and the island’s economy, society and democracy are once again battered by the much hyped Covid-19 second wave narrative, that has targeted global trade and transport systems. The democratic right to protest has been hardest hit by the Covid 19 narrative-infodemic and militarized response, 

But as Pompeo pivots to the Indian Ocean region, the world seems to be pirouetting away from a declining Euro-American-Atlantic axis towards the rising Asian and Indian Ocean Region (IOR) led by China, although Hindu nationalist, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, seems increasingly in lock step with the Christian fundamentalist Trump regime, as world religions are weaponized, amidst a propaganda infodemic against China and other emerging Asian economies (BRICS). 

An Emperor with no cloths? A Celebrity virus and a nightmare narrative

There is the virus, and then there is the (media) narrative: Or perhaps, it was the other way round? Which came first to the colonies and the Global South, where bio-political and medical ‘knowledge’ and information is consumed rather than produced? The fear psychosis inducing narrative or the virus? 

Significant differences in Covid-19 Data among countries; especially between countries in the Global South and northern hemisphere that indicate the need for country and region specific policy responses have been ignored: Countries like Sri Lanka with fewer than 20 deaths have been subject to socially, politically and economically devastating curfews on the instructions of the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO). 

Curiously, Covid-19 has infected more celebrities per capita than any other virus in human history – from Prince Charles, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, to Ronaldo, to Tom Hanks in Hollywood where it all began, and thence to Bollywood’s “Bachans in Covid Hospital” show – for the grand global “second wave” narrative. However, there is increasing evidence that while the world focusses on the vaccine that would enable big pharmaceutical giants hit the jackpot, PCR tests deliver very high false positives, as doctors in the Netherlands, Ireland and US have pointed out. In Tanzania a Papaw and Goat tested positive for Covid-19! All this raises a question about the data and the panicdemic epidemiology models generated by Johns Hopkins University which has known links to the CIA and was involved in the infamous Covid-19 Event 201 Pandemic simulation exercise with the Gates Foundation and WHO. 

The John’s Hopkins University data and epidemiology models have shut down economy, society, trade and transport systems in the world, but are highly contested. Rather than use the tried and tested metric that matters in determining the severity of a disease, called the “infection fatality rate (IFR),” which is the standard measure, the WHO and Johns Hopkins University data base uses the “case fatality rate (CFR)”. COVID-19 mortality based on the commonly used CFR ranges from 1% to as high as 5% while the IFR is much less by orders of magnitude because the latter is assessed on fatalities relative to estimates of total population infections.

Is the supposedly confounding behavior of the SARS 2-Corona virus, that continues to defy scientific truisms, such as, local context matters, and confounds reason and common sense, the data and facts, a result of the fact that the virus was engineered in a lab, while the narrative was crafted and trialed in Hollywood, and later run in Bollywood? 

The suffocating Covid mask reduces supply of oxygen to the human body, and healthy people have been quarantined diminishing their anti-bodies and resistance to infection. The Covid-19 narrative has turned science on its head in large swaths of the Global South – Asia and Africa – particularly, erstwhile colonies, where the current strand of the virus is milder than seasonal flu. Though the facts and science tell us that data and ‘context mattes’, that countries in the Global South need to make policy based on national context, and local data and evidence, rather than on global narratives of Celebrities contracting Covid-19, science appears to be in abeyance as this time of Covid 19 Hybrid Propaganda War that is destroying society and economy as we know it while green washing the truth about Covid-19, and presenting economic and trade shut downs and environmentally healing.

Given the deficit of reason and science that has characterized the Covid-19 policy response in much of South Asia,  historical and colonial precedent come to the fore as explanatory variables:  Pratik Chakrabarti. director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester has note.” The instances of pandemic control in South Asia in the colonial past illustrate the precedents of how political and social power operates in such times. Colonialism provided the first model of using scientific means of pandemic control for the large-scale and often coercive regulation of people’s lives and livelihoods. This model has been useful for states in the current crisis. In times of crisis, postcolonial governments, health officials, and privileged citizens keep returning to these familiar patterns of self-preservation, which often add to the suffering of the most vulnerable.

In imposing strict restrictions of the lockdown for Covid-19, heedless of the human suffering and death due to starvation as a result of lost livelihoods that a curfew with less than 4 hours, prior notice would cause, the Indian government invoked the very same Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, originally passed by the British government during plague outbreaks. This was a unique act, designed specifically to control an epidemic outbreak, giving special powers to the state, which is partly why it has appeared relevant for Covid-19. The Modi government’s Covid-19 policy response debacle has been since glossed by the Bachans in Bollywood show and Covid-19 data that fails to disaggregate co-morbidity factors under the eagle eyes of the Boston Consultancy Group and the Mckinsey Consultancy Raj, that collect and code Covid-19 data and models with Johns Hopkins University and the WHO.

Does not the Global Covid-19 panicdemic, whose symbol is the mask, increasingly mimic the story of the emperor with no cloths, whose bluff was called by a little boy? In other words, does the COVID-19 mask conceal the BIG LIE, also about the so-called free world and America’s “free and open Indo-Pacific”?

US and IS in the Indian Ocean

As the Covid-19 show unfolds, the US with its EU and QUAD partners has been talking up another narrative: a ‘rules based free and open Indo-Pacific”, having re-jigged and renamed the Indian Ocean as the Indo-Pacific with India’s willing consent, but we may well ask who would benefit from the rules that the US envisages for the IOR? 

After all, the US has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), which has been described as “the constitution of the oceans.” UNCLOS was finalized in 1982 with 320 articles and nine annexes and represents arguably the most holistic codification of international law in history. One hundred and fifty seven nations had signed on to the treaty and agreed to its wide-ranging provisions on topics such as coastal sovereignty, conservation and ocean resource management, and the freedom of the high seas. However, the United States of America has not signed UNCLOS but has been lecturing Sri Lanka on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) .As Secretary, Pompeo draws neigh Fisheries habours and fish markets within Sri Lanka have been closed at this time as Covid-19 continues is assault on economy and society with masks being the symbol of the assault on Science and truth, just as the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 that targeted coastal and fisheries communities. 

The US however, does not have a border in the Indian Ocean, hence it is pertinent to ask: Whose Rules are these and how would a US rules based order benefit Indian Ocean coastal communities, the great majority of whom are impoverished and living beneath the poverty line in Covid-19 lockdowns?  Over the years impoverished littoral communities of the Indian Ocean who have watched their fish stocks depleted by Distant Water Fishing States (DWFS) from Europe and East Asia, France and Spain being chief culprits for decades, and now in Covid-19 lockdown in fisheries harbours may well ask, whose rules based order is this anyway? 

The US, UK and France have been upping the ante against China in the discourse about “Rules Based Indo-Pacific order”, even as they continue to loot the living and non-living mineral resources of the Indian Ocean, while India in full blown Covid-19 meltdown flexes its muscles against China following a script and plot crafted in for it Washinghton DC and implemented by the Euro-American Consultancy Raj. Thus the Indian Ocean has been re-named the Indo-Pacific without a murmur of protest by India, the only county in the world with an Ocean to its name, yet colonized to the hilt.

The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is the latest addition to the EU chorus on the free and open Indo-Pacific.: “It is already foreseeable today that, more than anywhere else, the shape of tomorrow’s international order will be decided in the Indo-Pacific. Germany should not be an observer and thus play an active role, a rules-based order should be the ethos of the German foreign policy on Indo-Pacific.” For the first time, the German government has released a 70-page strategic policy guideline for the Indo-Pacific. While Germany is not an Indo-Pacific nation, many European states are joining the Indo-Pacific axis for enormous trade potential in Asia, a departure from the Atlantic axis. Thus, the EU perceive China as a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.

The US recently has used military bases in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia to operate P-8 flights over the South China Sea, military analysts said. As China which has 1 foreign military base to 800 US military bases overseas, being surrounded by US bases, has ramped up military exercises this year,  the US has increased the tempo of naval freedom of navigation operations, submarine deployments and surveillance flights. The P-8, with its advanced radar, high definition cameras and acoustic sensors, has been mapping the islands, surface and underwater realms of the South China Sea for at least six years. When carrying sonobuoys and missiles, the planes can detect and attack ships and submarines from long range. It also has communications systems that allow it to control unmanned aircraft.

With the Covid narrative international media colonialism seems to holds sway, but are we not seeing attempts to re-set and re-boot US led colonialism in the IOR with Europe in tow in the global south even as a debt-strapped, crumbling US and NATO empire appears to implode?

De-colonizing the IOR: Chagos Islands and Diego Garcia Military Base

On February 25, 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ruled in one of the most important and long-awaited cases of its history: The United Nation’s highest court rejected the United Kingdom’s claim of sovereignty over the Indian Ocean, Chagos Islands, and determined that Britain must return the islands to its former colony, Mauritius, ‘as rapidly as possible’.  The ICJ ruling deemed UK’s occupation of the Indian Ocean archipelago that houses the United States, Diego Garcia military base illegal under international law. 

Not many Sri Lankans or Maldvians have heard of the Chagos Island, although it is not too far from the southern coast of Sri Lanka because the islands occupied by a huge US military base after the eviction of its inhabitants have been effectively blacked out of Indian Ocean maps. The ICJ ruling that effectively implies on-going human rights violations against Chagossians, who were forcibly displaced from their island home in the 1960s –by the United Kingdom.[1] In 2015 the US, UK and allies took the Govt. of Sri Lanka to the UNHRC and are holding it accountable for grave human rights violations during a 30 year armed conflict.

 Although the unravelling of European empires was one of the formative moments of the modern world system, including the birth of South Asian States, the ICJ ruling that UK should end control of what it terms ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’ (BIOT) in 2019, underlines the fact that the process of de-colonization of the IOR is far from complete. 


The UK took control of Chagos Islands from Mauritius 50 years ago. The British government then evicted the entire population before leasing its largest atoll to the United States to build a large military base– Diego Garcia. Mauritius was in the middle of negotiating its independence from the UK at the time and repeatedly condemned the deal. In February 2017 the UN General Assembly asked the ICJ to offer its opinion on whether the process had been concluded lawfully. Mauritius argued that it was forced to give up the islands in 1965 in exchange for independence. The ICJ ruled that the islands were not lawfully separated from the former colony of Mauritius: When UK broke off the islands from Mauritius in 1965, it violated UN Resolution 1514 (XV) on Decolonisation that argued against the break-up of colonies. The ruling puts the US naval base Diego Garcia in question and has implications for Sri Lanka and other small island nations in the IO. The Heritage Foundation in its recent report noted a US marine logistics Hub is in the works in Trincomalee, a deep-water natural harbour coveted by competing big powers in the Indian Ocean.


The United States has faced legal challenges to its Diego Garcia naval base for the past five decades. The bereft Chagossians took their case to British courts, hoping to exert pressure to return the islands to them. Subsequently, the attempt by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the United Nations to constitute the Indian Ocean as a ‘zone of peace’ posed a challenge to US operations on Chagos Islands. 

UK Foreign Office source of information, suggested that there was a strong possibility that nuclear weapons were stored in Diego Garcia with a great probability of nuclear testing and experimenting in the Indian Ocean seas in the future.

 In 1970, the Non-Aligned summit in Lusaka, Zambia, declared that the Indian Ocean must be a ‘zone of peace from which Great Power rivalries and competition, as well as bases’ must be excluded. The United States attacked this idea. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt told the US Congress in 1974 that the USSR stood atop the ‘central part of the West’s energy jugular down to the Persian Gulf.’ For that reason, the Indian Ocean – and Diego Garcia – has ‘become a focal point of US foreign and economic policies and has a growing impact on our security.’

For years, the Diego Garcia base has been vital to the US military, serving as a landing spot for bombers that fly missions across Asia, including the South China Sea. The ICJ ruling which is “advisory” raises questions about the base, as UK has a history of following ICJ rulings. CNN quoted Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, saying that the Indian Ocean base was “very important to US operations in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean” and its loss could have a major impact, forcing the US “to change logistics support” in the region. “It wouldn’t weaken (US military strength) necessarily but logistics are everything,” he added. Diego Garcia was used to guide tactical aircraft supporting US military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and featured remote satellite tracking stations, an Air Force Space Command and Pacific Air Force support and logistics teams. From a 

Today the joke is: “How do you white-wash a CIA black Site? Answer: You Green-wash it by declaring it a marine reserve”.  So too the Covid-19 crime, a frontal attack on society, economy, democracy and human communication systems and forms of community life is being green-washed at this time.

Zone of Peace? IO Coastal Communities, poverty and military bases

Like the Chagossians who were forcibly displaced to Mauritius, Seychelles, and UK Sri Lankan and other Indian Ocean Rim coastal communities tend to experience high rates of poverty, debt and socio-economic hardship. Fisheries are one of the most significant renewable resources that Indian Ocean countries possess to secure food supplies, maintain livelihoods and assist economic growth, in addition to the IO’s non-living resources that include hydrocarbon, LNG, and valuable minerals. The ICJ ruling that Britain needs to vacate Chagos Islands may shine a light and facilitate a long overdue process of de-colonization of the IO, and enable education, knowledge, and technology transfer to ensure policy and legal frameworks that enable Indian Ocean rim countries and their often impoverished and debt-trapped, coastal communities to benefit from their rich marine resources, both living and non-living. 

Indian Ocean fisheries which is worth over $3 billion according to the World Wild Life Fund produce around a third of the world‘s tuna and include the valuable southern bluefin tuna (SBT) fishery, as the IO contains the spawning grounds for this species: Yet much of this is fished by distant water fleets from France, Spain, EU, as well as, industrialized Asian states such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, who sit on the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), where that have been complaints that fishing quotas benefit distant water States. Indian Ocean littoral states have been primarily engaged in near water and artisanal fishing due to lack of technology, information and knowledge transfer, as well as, poor governance structures in the Fisheries Sector to up-scale and industrialize fisheries, and or compete with distant water fishing states that currently trawl the IO deep seas where they have sometimes acquired fishery quotas of small island states.

Indian Ocean littoral states have been engaged in near water and artisanal fishing due to lack of technology, information and knowledge transfer to up-scale and industrialized fisheries sectors. Sri Lankan and Indian marine fish harvest is mainly around coastal waters up to 100 meters depth and about 90 per cent of the catch comes from up to 50 m. While overcrowding of many existing fisheries habours with small scale vessles has been indicated, there has been little attempt to up-scale and industrialize fisheries sector for deep sea fishing in the Southern seas of Lanka which are adjacent to large Tuna areas and were relatively unaffected during the 30 years of war.

Where tuna live and how much is caught in each RFMO by metric tonne. 


The IO Tuna fishery industry is worth between $ 2-3 billion the WWF estimates. Although Sri Lanka as an island nation has extensive Indian Ocean marine and fisheries resources the country’s fisheries sector accounts for only about 1.8 % of the national GDP. Sri Lanka has exclusive fishing and economic rights for an ocean area of 500,000 square kilometres and a coastal line of 1700 km in addition to inland water bodies, which makes fishery to be one of the promising industries in the country. Fisheries provides direct or indirect employment for about 540 000 people (7 % of the labour force). The annual production of the sector is about 550 000 tonnes of fish and 85 % of this comes from marine fisheries of which 60 % is landed in fishing ports. 

For decades succeeding fisheries ministers and the Fisheries Ministry of the Government of Sri Lanka has found it easier to sign over Sri Lanka’s fishing rights, ironically to so-called development “aid” donors to the sector, ironically, rather than ensure the transfer of knowledge, and technology to actually enable Sri Lankan Fisheries to up-scale, industrialize into deep water fishing to benefit the local fisheries communities and businesses. What is needed is good governance forward thinking to up-scale and industrialize Sri Lanka’s southern fisheries sector to enable sustainable deep sea fishing with a masterplan, road map and achievement targets.

The country continues to spend valuable foreign exchange on importing fish. According to the statistics of the Fisheries Department, the quantity of fish imported from 2018 has been 84,463 metric tons. A sum of 32,726 million rupees has been spent for this purpose. Dried fish, sprats, Maldive fish, canned fish and live fish (ornamental fish) have been imported. “Such a large amount of money flowing out of the country is a serious situation. Recently, on request of the fisher community, State Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development recently decided to take steps to reduce fish imports[2]. The Minister said that such a decision has to be taken with the objective of safeguarding the local fishermen and fisheries industry and it has been decided to strictly enforce the import restriction during the period from September to when fish harvest is high. By empowering the fishermen to protect the local fisher folk and raise fish harvest and by providing the necessary facilities to make the maximum contribution to meet the fishery needs of the country, a large amount of money can be retained within the country,” the State Minister said. 

Despite the existence of rich Bluefin tuna fisheries grounds in the Indian Ocean where Sri Lanka enjoys a prime location, the island has been unable to industrialize and up-scale the fisheries sector and develop it as a leading export and foreign exchange generating industry; this despite arguably because of decades of international development “aid” projects to the fisheries sector and Ministry of Fisheries, from the very same distant ocean countries whose fleets harvest in and off Sri Lanka’s Exclusive economic Zone (EEZ), France, Spain, Japan and Korea, Taiwan and more recently China.  It would appear that reliance on foreign aid and experts has contributed to under-development of Sri Lanka’s Fisheries and Marine resources.

“Zone of Peace? Ocean Grabbing and Distant Water Fishing States 

Chagos Island’s case may be seen as the tip of an ice berg in a long overdue process of decolonization of the Indian Ocean so that local communities may benefit from their rich ocean resources, living and non-living. The growing global demand for natural resources has triggered a “race” to their exploitation and possession, especially in developing countries. Most desired are water, land, forests, raw materials (oil, gas, mineral and precious stones), fisheries and genetic resources. Emerging economies, Western states, multinational corporations and international financial institutions have become the biggest “buyers” in a race that on one hand strengthens economies and creates investment opportunities and on the other threatens local communities and environmental protection[3]. 

Marine resources in particular present opportunities and risks associated with their potential exploitation given knowledge and information asymmetries and lack of technology transfer to developing countries whose people may know relatively little about the resources found in their or the world’s oceans[5]. Their exploration and production pose immense technical challenges on the one hand, while there is insufficient public awareness and debate about these resources and their utilization on the other. Oil, gas, minerals and methane hydrates lie in the lightless depths of the oceans, and their extraction is hidden from sight. Even the products manufactured from them are not always obvious or tangible in our daily lives. 

The term “ocean grabbing” has been used to describe actions, policies or initiatives that deprive small-scale fishers of resources, dispossess vulnerable populations of coastal lands, and/or undermine historical access to areas of the sea. Rights and access to marine resources and spaces are frequently reallocated through government including inter-governmental or private sector initiatives to achieve conservation, management or development objectives with a variety of outcomes for different sectors of society. 

Sri Lanka with other IO rim states is richly endowed with abundant marine resources, living and non-living, fisheries and aquaculture resources, as well as, yet to be exploited liquid natural gas (LNG), possibly with oil in the Mannar Basin while being mineral rich in the Bay of Bengal, including the valuable Pullmodai mineral sands deposit that keeps replenishing itself. Under the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Sri Lanka may claim almost 15 times more ocean area than land extent because of the peculiarities of its Continental Shelf, for an extended Exclusive Economic Zone (EEC)[5].  


During the negotiations leading up to adoption of UNCLOS Sri Lanka established the limits of the basic maritime areas over which it would have the right to make laws and regulations, and to enforce them: the Territorial Sea (12 miles from the “baseline”, (essentially the coast) over which it would have rights similar to those exercised over its land territory; the Contiguous Zone, 12 miles beyond the Territorial Sea in which it would have certain rights to prevent breach of its customs, fiscal, immigration and sanitary laws); the Exclusive Economic Zone, 200 miles from the baseline, in which it would have sovereign rights and jurisdiction for the purpose of exploring and exploiting natural resources both living (fish, seaweeds) and non-living (minerals, energy), while allowing other States to exercise the freedoms given by the Convention to use the area; the Continental Shelf comprising the sea-bed and sub-soil of the submarine areas that extend beyond the territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of the land territory up to the outer edge of the continental margin, subject to constraints provided for in the Convention, up to a maximum distance of 350 miles from the baseline.

As the maps show Sri Lanka’s expected territorial seas and ocean area particularly with the claimed extended EEZ are about 20 times more than its land mass and there are no countries in proximity south of the island almost to the South Pole, except Maldives and Chagos Islands attols. Assessments reveal extensive mineral assets in the eastern seas in the Bay of Bengal and known LNG stocks with possible oil deposits in the Mannar Basin. 

Today we are witnessing a major process of enclosure of the world’s oceans and fisheries resources, including marine, coastal and inland fisheries. Ocean grabbing is occurring mainly through policies, laws, and practices that are (re)defining and (re)allocating access, use and control of fisheries resources away from small-scale fishers and their communities, and often with little concern for the adverse environmental consequences. Existing customary and communal fisheries’ tenure rights systems and use and management practices are being ignored and ultimately lost in the process. Ocean grabbing thus means the capturing of control by powerful economic actors of crucial decision-making around fisheries, including the power to decide how and for what purposes marine resources are used, conserved and managed now and in the future. As a result, these powerful actors, whose main concern is making profit, are steadily gaining control of both the fisheries’ resources and the benefits of their use[6].

As Mads Barbesgaard notes; “Increasingly, under the rubric of ‘Blue Growth’, global policy processes that purportedly align the needs of the poor with profit interests and environmental concerns are being pushed forward by burgeoning alliances of environmental NGOs, the private sector and international institutions. These blue growth policy proposals, drawing on market-based mechanisms, effectively open up for widespread commodification, yet are being advocated as the only ‘sustainable’ response to the increasingly dire straits of the ocean’s ‘health’. Coupled with this broader process of ‘selling nature to save it’, valuation efforts that also take the carbon storage and capture abilities of coastal ecosystems into account are increasingly being pushed as a crucial tool to fight the climate crisis. While proponents guarantee sustainable outcomes, similar market-based conservation efforts on land have had huge socio-ecological consequences for communities on the ground. Will blue growth projects have similar consequences for coastal communities?

Blue Growth: Conservation sans local communities and Southern Voices?

Increasingly environmental discourses are also used to deny local communities access to marine resources, including inter-governmental negotiations on marine resources, that lack consultation with southern fisheries communities. Again the Chagos Islands case is instructive. In April 2010, the British Foreign Office said that 640,000 square kilometres of the archipelago would now be a ‘marine reserve,’ which should remain uninhabited. The British government told the US government – in a secret cable – that the ‘former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos were a marine reserve.’ This was environmental conservation for military purposes. No statement was made to remove the US base from Diego Garcia, which would be at the heart of the marine reserve. In 2015, Mauritius went to the court of arbitration at The Hague, where they won a ruling that the British declaration of the marine reserve was illegal. The UK had not consulted either Mauritius or the Chagossians. Britain eventually said that the Chagossians would not be able to exercise their right to return because of the objections of the US military.

There is a need for southern voices, particularly, south Asian and African voices from IO rim states to inform debates on frameworks for evaluating whether marine conservation, management or development may amount to ocean grabbing and proposes an agenda for future research and action[7]. Increasingly environmental discourses are also used to limit local Indian Ocean communities access to marine resources, including some aspects of the CITES negotiations, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention, on marine resources, given lack of awareness and technical expertise and strong institutions among Indian Ocean rim States in the negotiation process. 

A recent report by the Transnational Institute, Masifundise and Afrika Kontakt on Ocean Grabbing shows how the rise of market-based fishing policies that favour large-scale aqua-industries is systematically dispossessing fishers of the means to livelihood. The report cites examples of luxury beach-resorts in Sri Lanka where fishermen can no longer get to the coast, the destruction of mangrove areas in Ecuador to promote export-oriented shrimp aquaculture that has destroyed fishing habitats, and the dramatic rise of Rights Based Fishery (RBF) policies that have handed over large tracts of ocean to industrial fishing companies in Europe, Canada and elsewhere. 

The common denominator in all of these cases is the exclusion of small-scale fishers from access to fisheries. In nearly every case, the grabs are technically ‘legal’, hidden inside policy documents, trade agreements, conservation mandates and fishing policies. What is left out of these documents is the impact of these decisions on our natural heritage and the livelihoods and food sovereignty of over half a billion people around the world who depend on small-scale fishing. The World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans (GPO) is one-such legal framework for ‘grabbing’. Bringing together a set of powerful actors – from USAID to the Walton Family Foundation (the family behind Walmart) to big environmental NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund, GPO’s goal is to spread private property rights over the ocean’s fish resources. Its premise is that the lack of economic and environmental ‘sustainability’ in fisheries around the world is due to a lack of property rights, rather than an issue of equity or justice. The effect of this one-size-fits-all solution is that it strengthens powerful political actors at the expense of the majority and leads to a market for the new owners to trade away these rights as they please.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), also known as the Washington Convention, is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. Washington however, with is not a signatory of UNCLOS. The May 2019 CITES convention is targeting ocean and marine resources at this time, and what is termed illegal, unreported and un-regulated (IUU) fisheries practices, and trade in fishery more often than not by less technologically advanced fishers, particularly of small island nation states. 

However, the US, NATO and global war machine is arguable the most polluting and carbon intensive industry on the plant, but the elephant in the room of UN environmental discussions. The question remains: would CITES billed as the largest ever conference of its kind held in Sri Lanka, be yet another attempt, indeed the next generation in legalese, technology and ‘innovation’ to limit access to and trade in IO ocean resources by less technologically advanced IO rim countries and  small island nation states, while legitimizing Indian Ocean resource grabbing by distant water fishing States and colonial powers that continue to dominate the Indian Ocean resource extraction process? Local fisheries communities and organizations were not consulted in the CITES process in Sri Lanka – the host state of the convention which this time round is targeted ocean resources

Whereas the priority should be: 1) enabling local, often impoverished, IO fisher communities that mainly engage is near shore and artisanal fishing to scale up and harvest their ocean resources, which are currently also over- exploited by distant water, former colonial powers that trawl the deep seas, 2)  limiting if or out-right banning fleets from distant water fishing States  harvesting in the Indian Ocean, and 3) reviewing if not out-right overturning the current quota allocation system to enable fish Stocks to recover form over-fishing by large distant ocean trawlers and  local Indian Ocean  rim communities to harvest IO resources.

CITES which may herald the next generation in ocean grabbing would identify lists of ‘endangered species’, the trade in which have to be highly monitored with expensive and sophisticated tracking and information technology, and various trade conditionalities that would benefit and enable States that have such technology and multinational corporations given Technology dominance.

Various other proposals were on the table to make local IO communities pay for DWFS over-fishing in IO. For instance, an organization called Oceans 5 supports a questionable ‘innovative’ project to develop a “debt for nature swap” that will establish large marine protected areas and a permanent trust fund for the people of the Seychelles. Sri Lanka, currently in a Washington Consensus a debt trap and may well be compelled to do debt for nature’ swaps with IO fisheries grounds in its EEZ in the context of ongoing CITES conference negotiations. Such a scenario is unfolding with the valuable Pullmodai mineral sands, in the East Coast of Sri Lanka that is earmarked for sale without value addition at this time. In the context it would be important for Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry negotiators to raise these issues with Secretary Pompeo, and seek assistance to develop the fisheries and ocean minerals sectors. It would also be important for GOSL to develop an Indian Ocean small island nation’s and rim states position in consultation with other Indian Ocean rim states vis-a-vis CITES to benefit local fisheries communities and emphasize the need for:

1. limiting access and/or out-right banning of distant water States fisheries vessels and fleets that have over fished in the Indian Ocean to enable fish Stocks to recover and local Indian Ocean fisheries communities to harvest IO resources.

2. Green taxing all military and trade vessels that traverse the Seas of Sri Lanka, as pollution by shipping traffic impacts the ocean and island

3. There should be transfer of technology, knowledge and info to small island nations to help them harvest IO resources, living and non-living.

4. Up-scaling Sri Lankan Fisheries to go into the deep seas as near shore fishing grounds is over crowded with a lot of small fishing vessels.

5. Sri Lanka navy to protect Southern EEZ and fisheries and valuable rare earth minerals of the coastal zones and EEZ, as well as valuable Tuna and other fish stock.


The Non-Aligned Movement and South-South cooperation appears to have suffered a setback as the Covid-19 global media narrative remains controlled by powerful business tycoons and Euro-American and QUAD allied political interests. However, to understand and counter the current global Covid-19 mask and dis-ease we may look at the history of the Cold War in the Global South. Aside from weaponization of ethnic and religious identity politics to divide, rule and loot valuable natural resources from Africa and Asia,  Cold War hybrid war tactics included mysterious assassinations of leaders of de-colonization movements, nationalist or socialist leaders and coups as with the mysterious, contested assassinations of  India’s Mahatma, Burma’s Aung San and Sri Lanka’s SWRD Bandaranaike, the coup against Iran’s democratically elected Dr. Mossadeg in 1950, the ouster of Suharto and the decimation of the Communist Party of Indonesia, the assassinations of Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic republic of Congo, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and many other third world leaders who set the stage for and/or led the Non-Aligned movement and struggles to de-colonize national assets during the Cold War which saw CIA, British, French and Belgians engaged in proxy wars in the global south against post-colonial liberation movements. There is a hidden history of Cold War proxy war in Asia and Africa yet to written in order to understand the present global crisis and dis-ease.

[1] Cf. Minority Rights Group International 2016 Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared%20Documents/GBR/INT_CERD_IFN_GBR_24489_E.pdf

[2] Sri Lanka considers restricting fish imports to protect fisher community http://www.colombopage.com/archive_19A/Feb24_1550982818CH.php

[3] Editors: Francesca Romanin Jacur, Angelica Bonfanti and Francesco Seatzu Natural Resources Grabbing: An International Law Perspective Legal Studies on Access and Benefit-sharing, Volume: 4

[4] World Ocean Review 3 Marine Resources, Opportunities and Risks https://worldoceanreview.com/wp-content/downloads/wor3/WOR3_english.pdf  

[5] under UNCLOS Article 76.  This area covers a large extent of the southern part of the Bay of Bengal with a thick sediment cover having a high potential of hydrocarbon accumulation.UNCLOS Article 76, enabling a special method of establishing maritime boundaries for countries south of the Bay of Bengal was formulated during the Third United Nations Conference of the Law of the Sea held in 1982. 

[6] The Gobal Ocean Grab. TNI https://www.tni.org/files/download/the_global_ocean_grab.pdf

[7] Nathan James Bennettan, Hugh Govanb, Terre Satterfield “Ocean grabbing” Marine Policy 27, 2015.


*The author of this article, Dr. Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake, is a social and medical anthropologist. Her Bachelor’s Degree is from Brandeis University and MA and Ph.D are from Princeton University.

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Latest comments

  • 12

    You are back following a long period of self quarantine (hiding), with your conspiracy theories. Didnt you claim it was all a hoax , when more than 200,000 died in your own country. How are your party ‘QAnon” prospects this election. Even Trump seems to have discarded you as trash.

    • 10

      Wow, what a rambling “narrative”! This is not fair, CT. You cap comments at 200 words, but allow writers unlimited zillions, forcing readers to wade through incoherent conspiracy theories, the geography of the Chagos islands, ISIS plots, US spy planes, fisheries, undersea cables and God knows what else , to see if this Brandeis and Princeton alumnus actually makes a point with her horrendous tirade.
      Too much education is not a good thing.

      • 4

        Old Codger,
        For some people ‘Truth is a Bitter Pill to Swallow’.

        • 3

          I never suspected you were that educated !

      • 1

        If it is any consolation, it is still a free country, you do not pay to read CT, and you are free to keep off without penalty.
        Enjoy life while it lasts.
        BTW, how do you measure education?

        • 0

          In Eagle’s case, I doubt the government’s method of measuring coconuts would work.

      • 1

        Hey Old C, there is no such a thing called too much of education, however lack of it can be a problem.

  • 9

    Too late . Pompeo on his way to Lanka has signed all kind of pacts with India , so that they will stand by India in protecting its borders. If you dont like the free and open Indo Pacific route, you may consider the Silk route to get to the US.

    • 0

      Yes, India has shown her true character of being subservient. She has forgotten that she belongs to Asia and, most importantly relationship with neighbours like China and Pakistan can bring better benefits. I m so sad for her and the region. 😢😢😢

  • 6

    Thank you for the map. None of us knew where Sri Lanka was until today.

    • 0

      I bet you didn’t know the virus was hiding in the Chagos Islands either.

      • 4

        I hope this article is translated into Sinhala and Tamil. The hungry man in the street needs to know the truth. Why does this article remind me of DJ on steroids?

  • 0

    How does it fit in with Trump’s no-mask policy?

  • 4

    I fail to see any connection between the Covid19 pandemic and ‘cold war’ among western/eastern nations.
    The virus affects all nations equally.
    Chinese scientists accidentally let it out of their laboratories, from all accounts.
    China should be charged in the International Court of Justice and be made to pay reparation to all affected nations.

  • 6

    This girl doesn’t give up, does she? She used her doctorate to research web trash and promote the notion that Covid19 wouldn’t affect Sri Lanka because of favorable geographic coordinates. As if that wasn’t enough, she then submitted a second idea that Sri Lankans were safe from the virus because they had received the BCG vaccine. Now she impatiently claps her hands because only 19 persons have died of Covid19. Then she forwards a new theory: we will suffocate our resistance to disease by wearing face masks! Was her doctorate presented by the School of Fools?

  • 2

    Dr. Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake
    What have you explained under “Zone of Peace? Ocean Grabbing and Distant Water Fishing States” in your great article reminds me of one of my comments posted on Colombo Telegraph somewhere in April 2019. I sincerely apologize to readers in advance for my “Yahapalanaya language.” This is what I said:-
    “Why is the US so keen to take over Sri Lanka’s border patrolling?
    I thought and thought. It may be because of Sri Lanka’s claim for continental shelf beyond 200 NM. If it is approved, we will acquire 75,000 sq.km of more sea area!!!!
    Holy sh…..
    Yako Sinhalese, wake up.
    Oi Moda Prime Minister, don’t sign any of these deals, including MCC. Take time and postpone any final decision. Also start wearing a bulletproof jacket, for an unidentified gunman might target you, most probably a foreigner.
    I am telling the US to stop interfering in Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence. Trump is trying to use Sri Lanka to boost his image as his other attempts such as; Mexican border-fence and North Korea matter failed to bring desired results.
    SOFA negotiations with the US should be abandoned.”
    (Published in April, 2019.)

  • 8

    Are you another paid Troll of the Chinese Govt? Do you really believe that Sri Lanka can give extraordinary support to US Military in case of a war with China more than a Aircraft Carrier in the Indian Ocean with support from India and Maldives? What a crap you have written!

    In the recent past China has been paying unemployed educated “international pundits” like you and Tamara Gunanayagam who have strong communist views to bombard the South Asian countries. Unfortunately you are there to serve yourselves and not any country.

    Reading your article is honestly very boring. May be this was clipped from part of your Uni thesis.

    • 0

      China, communist?
      Be serious!

  • 3

    This lady has crazy ideas and conspiracy theories. Are these theories and ideas backed up with rigorous research with data from reputable sources? This article does not reflect her education in Princeton!

    It is all well and good to talk about neutrality and non-aligned concepts. Now the world is polarized with China and its few allies on one side and the anti-China on the other.

    Remember India, Sri Lanka’s huge neighbor is in the second group. Do you think Sri Lanka will be a Cuba on India’s doorstep. I doubt, Russia will go for it this time. If it stays neutral even China wouldn’t care and will be left to the mercy of the anti-China forces.

    In geopolitical matters might is right. The world knows that China as a bridgehead in Sri Lanka. China aggressively built artificial island bases in South China to against the protest of less powerful neighbors. China is encroaching into India and Nepal too. The probability of survival for Sri Lanka is high if it sides with India and the anti-China forces. If Sri Lanka is internally united staying neutral may make some sense but that is not the case – Sinhalese Buddhist supremacy is at the helm. Divided houses usually fall!

    • 0

      What newspaper do you read?
      Who has an encroachment problem with Nepal?
      In a world polarized between the US alliance and the Soviet Bloc, the NAM was most relevant.
      After the collapse of the USSR there was not much of a case, but to protect against US imperialism.
      If the world is polarized, non-alignment will again be the best policy.

  • 6

    The author is spot on with the Chagos Islands matter. The hypocrisy of the western media who dominate the narrative on most international matters to stay silent on the Chagos Islands ruling is predictable.

  • 3

    Dear Darini

    Thank you for a holistic look at our “Developing Countries State if Affairs” put on hold on”development” mode for ever and your final statement sums up the discussions just perfect

    “There is a hidden history of Cold War proxy war in Asia and Africa yet to written in order to understand the present global crisis and dis-ease”.

    I hope CT will start a serious ion educational material of your articles Nature in the future will allow all the CT users to empower ourselves for a better tomorrow for not just for SL but for the entire humanity too.

    My Father organically worked/grass root level all his life for such understanding/action to make those paradium changes

    Book 1 – The Economic Development of Ceylon (with special reference to Industrialization) written in 1966 by Mr Thiagarajah

    Book 2 – Sri lanka and Asian Economic Cooperation – A conceptual and Institutional Framework for Accelerated Development written in 1981 by Mr Thiagarajah just before he was assassinated during the District Development Council elections.

    • 4

      I have family members teach at SOAS in the UK and will share your writings with them too. I also urge we share your article in Sinhalese and Tamil in our National papers with details diagrams and also the Diaspora will share this with their children too around the world …as is critical to their understanding so they can contribute that change living around the world to make this planet a better place.

      I also hope our education system will have special topics on all the subjects you have touched in your writings/also hope the Diaspora will encourage their children to do further education/research work related to the topics of this Nature (specific/tailor made to each Nations needs) will become very useful for developing nations governments too.

      • 4

        Having been brought up in Mr Thaigarajah household I watched our GOSL deliver all kinds of projects translating all you said into local actions…..education/fisheries/agriculture/small industries/environmental for a sustainable development over time.

        As you have correctly stated that we as people participated in proxy activities that has eliminated our own leaderships in the name of various causes undermined and sabotaged our own survival/right to lead a dignified life…….that still goes on unabated……..but we could change that by uniting our people Nationally/Regionally/Internationally to shape a better world through education/information that is useful for all humans endovers.

        Thank you

      • 5

        “have family members teach at SOAS in the UK and will share your writings with them too. I also urge we share your article in Sinhalese and Tamil in our National papers with details diagrams … “
        Chee , how can you be so sarcastic to a nice young lady, TV ?

        • 3

          Whom has TV not thanked for saying very nearly anything?
          He has a compulsive urge to be nice.
          But keeping mum is often the nicest thing to do.

          • 0

            Thank you OC and SJ.

            Should we not encourage our local news papers to have daily education section/articles that teach them science and technology as well as world maps showing various facts just as shown in this article so all age group can follow and learn/ask questions about their own environment/resources etc??

            If we already have such websites/news media kindly share with me please.

            I also want to know Do we have a National GOSL websites we can enrol as citizens using IC details etc?? for various functions of the admin etc?

            • 1

              “Should we not encourage our local news papers to have daily education section/articles that teach them science and technology”
              TV, do you think SL newspapers and education should be in the same sentence?

  • 6

    CT, am I allowed to take some material for my next BOND 000 movie ???? As payment I will include the author, in the title. The movie will have plots and sub plots so much so that it will keep them on the edge through out their travel,around the world.

  • 2

    “The Non-Aligned Movement and South-South cooperation appears to have suffered a setback as the Covid-19 global media narrative remains controlled by powerful business tycoons and Euro-American and QUAD allied political interests” – Darini
    Covid -19 is the product of China and its impact is much affected the Euro-American than NAM or SSC as you claimed. The virus is fully controlled by China. Only country in the Indian Ocean is India, it is not a secret that China put a military war with India in addition to Covid-19. Do Srilanka have a NAM policy which killed over 200000 citizens? Have you ever worried about it. Do you know Easter Bombing is an internal political bombing with the purpose of the coming of not Pompeo but another American dual bomber.

  • 0

    CHivy- Ozzy and everyone commenting here should check out the book by a panel of experts:
    “Isis Is Us: The Shocking Truth: Behind the Army of Terror”

    Authors Jean-Paul Leonard, Wayne Madsen, Washington’s Blog, Syrian Girl Partisan

    The truth about the Special Operations Forces (SOFA) will be evident who was behind the Easter Sunday attacks.

    • 1

      Dinuk dear,
      Do you really have to promote your own rants using so many aliases. My compliments to Kaz, Don Stanley, and the rest.

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