FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Can Sri Lanka be a hub – and haven – in the Indian Ocean?
Updated:Jul 1, 2012
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

In the context of shifts in the global balance of power and the new emphasis on the Indian Ocean as a region of strategic importance, there has been an urgent need for broader discourse in Sri Lanka on the impact of these developments, particularly in relation to foreign policy formulation.

The unfortunate consequences of the lack of such discussion have been keenly felt in recent times, with policy being shaped in an ad hoc manner, in reaction to situations rather than in anticipation of them.

The tilt towards India and China as emerging power centres in global politics, and how Sri Lanka adjusts to its ramifications, have not been a special focus of attention. This is in spite of the country having had links with both Asian powers going back to ancient times, and friendly relations strengthened by people-to-people contacts and other bonds of religion and culture down the ages.

In a new series of open-ended discussions launched on Friday, the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) has attempted to address this lacuna.

The first session was attended by a group of around 30 comprising mainly BCIS students, a few academics and even a few schoolchildren.  They engaged in a spirited discussion on the topic of the “Future of the Indian Ocean – Geopolitics and Sri Lanka.”  The informal monthly gatherings to discuss issues relating to international relations, or “IR evenings” as they are called, are open to the public.

There were no policymakers or diplomats present at this discussion. Policy makers especially stand to  benefit from the research-and-analysis related resources of institutions such as the Kadirgamar Institute and the BCIS. Prof. W.I Siriweera, BCIS Director, mentioned the hope of developing the BCIS as a main ‘think tank’ on international relations issues.

Dr Harinda Vidanage, former BCIS director who led Friday’s discussion, set the tone with his assertion that Sri Lanka is ‘at the centre of the Indian Ocean,’ but that ‘centres’ are not just geographical. Centres are made discursively and through connections that are made. Sri Lanka’s aspirations to be a ‘hub’ in the region could be ‘a little problematic’ if it was assumed that this would come about simply by virtue of geographic location, he suggested.

Sri Lanka would have to market itself as a hub, and show what it could offer that others (e.g. India) could not. We are competing with other hubs, such as Myanmar which is generating much interest .Hillary Clinton has flown to Myanmar more times than to any other state in the recent past he said. Myanmar was ‘not a democracy but everyone is supporting it’ he observed, with a hint of irony. He suggested that for Sri Lanka in the post-war context there was a need for a policy shift ‘more aligned with China, Russia and Latin America.’

On the concept of Sri Lanka as a hub, he argued that the idea of a ‘peace zone’ is something ‘embedded in us.’ “We should promote (the idea of) a hub as a haven.”  This would be in the context of a security policy that ensures co-existence in the Indian Ocean. Owing to its geographical location Sri Lanka has historically been a meeting place for all kinds of peoples, and their rivals.

Dr. Vidanage outlined the developments that made the Indian Ocean the ‘most active global space,’ sandwiched between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. There seemed to be echoes of Robert Kaplan (‘Monsoon – The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power’) in his references to the ‘choke points’ in the energy supply routes, located at the Strait of Hormuz through which 40 percent of global oil cargo passed, and the Strait of Malacca. A tremendous increase in naval and merchant sailing could be expected with the energy requirements of both India and China due to triple in the next 50 years, or less.

There was a major energy race taking place with both states scouring for oil all over the world. The Chinese, Indian and US navies were also competing for supremacy in the region Vidanage said. The US was deploying 60 per cent of its naval assets in the Asia Pacific, China was sending ships, India was re-fleeting.

These states were also engaging in surveillance operations in the region using cutting edge technology. In diplomacy there was a shift from ‘hard power’ to the concept of ‘smart’ or ‘soft power.’

The question of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy priorities repeatedly came up during the discussion that followed.  How realistic was the shift towards Russia and China, when there was trade dependency on the West?

How relevant was the concept of Non Alignment in the light of new developments? There were comments on the Western emphasis on reforms in governance etc for Sri Lanka, and the fact that this was not a priority for China, which was not concerned with other countries’ mechanisms of governance.

It was observed by one participant that the concept of the Indian Ocean as a Peace Zone was originally proposed by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, but that ‘others hijacked it.’ “We did not define it properly’ he noted. Other points commented on were, the need to ‘identify our friends,’ the need to understand the changes in and around the Indian Ocean, the need to understand how the West functions, and that alliances are never stable. India’s focus on projects in the North and East of the country and the government’s decision to turn down India’s offer to develop the Palali airport were also touched on.

It was observed that there was no single centre of power now, but that the traditional hegemon is ‘still there.’ The waning of western power is not happening as fast as we think. Vidanage noted that the US finds India the ‘last line of defence’ for democracy, in the matter of containing China and also the spread of fundamentalism. A participant observed that there was a need to establish diplomatic relations with many more countries – in Africa and Latin America for instance – if Sri Lanka was to market itself as a true hub.  Sri Lanka could not ‘fight’ with any.

The Sri Lankan Guardian, 1 July 2012

 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
In his first public address after the terror strike on the Uri army camp that left 18 soldiers dead and 20 injured, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon Pakistan to compete and fight not in war but in a  common battle to end poverty and illiteracy. Although he said "we will not forget Uri", Modi seemed to advise w...

 
read-more

The Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) signed between India and France on Friday (September 23, 2016) for the induction of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft is a long-awaited and important decision. For a variety of reasons, writes C.Uday Bhaskar.

 
read-more
Denial of NSG membership to India at the Seoul meeting earlier this year is by all accounts an unacceptable loss of face for us, hardly behoving a country which is asserting to find its rightful place on the big table at the global stage.

 
read-more
A vast spectrum of the American electorate are simply too ignorant and uninformed to critically evaluate the manipulative messages emanating from demagogues like Donald Trump and his admixture of devious supporters, writes Harold A. Gould for South Asia Monitor.

 
read-more
A conference organised in Singapore on the challenges and opportunities for countries in the Indian Ocean Region, underlined the crucial role of IOR players globally in economic, cultural and political spheres.

 
read-more

In a way, all of us are migrants for one reason or the other. Our Indian civilization has witnessed ebb and flow which has been built on successive waves of migration throughout history. Indian traders and missionaries have also settled on distant shores along the spice routes. In more recent times, Indian migrants, including a broad cross section of professionals, small entrepreneurs, skilled and less skilled workers have migrated to various countries around the world and offered a positive contribution to the diaspora.

 
read-more
We’ve seen this movie before — this very scene, featuring this very cast of characters, mouthing more or less the very same lines. On February 11, speaking from a rostrum in Munich, American secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced the imminent ...

 
read-more
Apart  from the justified national anger over Pakistan-sponsored Uri attack, any rational and appropriate answer to the new atrocity must be guided by breaking the problem into its various strands. Each strand has its own dimensions.  

 
read-more
Column-image

The book ‘Pakistan at crossroads: Domestic Dynamics and External Pressures’ (Publisher's name???) is one of the few books in recent years which fixes spotlight on various aspects of Pakistan; the internal flummoxing situation an...

 
Column-image

In a region which is unexplored as an asset class, performance will be the kingmaker. This book includes the author’s CDCF Portfolio basket for the SAARC asset class, which selects the best fundamental-p...

 
Column-image

Sri Lanka has to be the most beautiful country I have ever seen, says John Gimlette, an accomplished travel writer who journeys to the island nation at the end of a long and brutal civil war. Anyone who has se...

 
Column-image

"Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the politics of chaos" is an insider's account and interpretation of the West's  "desire for geopolitical domination" which ha...

 
Column-image

Ambassador Abdali argues that Pakistan’s nurture of intolerant and violent religious fundamentalists not only effectuates the destruction of Afghanistan but inevitably blows back at Pakistan itself, equally harming, killing and swallowing...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive