Lanka should gain from OBOR - Dr. Jayasuriya

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By 2017-08-14

By Umesh Moramudali and Rishini Jayarathna

Dr. Kanishka Jayasuriya, professor in politics and international studies at the Murdoch University of Australia, spoke to Ceylon Today regarding the recent evolutions in the global geo-economics scenario and how Sri Lanka can benefit from it. Following are excerpts from the interview:

? One of the major discussions in the world on international politics and economy is China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and Sri Lanka has been a part of it. How do you see the politics of these and the implications to Sri Lanka?

A: It is a very broad question. First of all I think that a lot of detail has to go into the OBOR. The rhetoric sometimes doesn't match up to the reality, but regardless I think that it is a very significant initiative. One of the interesting things that happen in Asia is that the region is being integrated on a wide scale in a way that has never happened before. There has been the East Asian Mafia and the East Asian community. Previously during the interwar period Japanese fascism tried to create a sense of being Asian. What I think is that it's actually creating a region wide economic space. But that's being created not for our values or kinds of things that usually associates us with it. And I think that OBOR is a reflection of that. So, for that reason I think one of the interesting side products of OBOR is that it links different parts of the region (Ex: Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia) together. For Sri Lanka that's going to be a really important political and economical challenge to relate to these strategic arrangements that are region wide. So I think OBOR is a political imperative for Sri Lanka. The other thing I think is that the sheer increasing economic impact of China on Sri Lanka. In the trade sector, Sri Lanka is very close to India, in terms of imports. That is reshaping the political economy of Sri Lanka.

So, OBOR is not a choice that you could say yes or no to, because it's been driven by structural imperatives, whether you like it or not Sri Lanka is being enmeshed in it. The question then is what is the best that you can get out of the OBOR?? So how can we get the best out of OBOR?

A: One of the things that have come true of OBOR is that, even Japan has said that they didn't go to the OBOR meeting, and that they will negotiate with China on conditions. I think one of the points that we need to make about the OBOR is that it's much more flexible. It is modularized. Different countries can get different things out of the OBOR. It's according to a different rigid architecture.

It's driven by China's capitalist transformation is that it creates a kind of modularized framework. What's important is that Sri Lanka acts to gain what it wants out of that. I think it's important that they understand what's driving OBOR and then try to get what's best out of that.

? What about the rival initiatives led by other super power states?

A: The second point I make is that regardless of the region wide initiatives have also emerged. It is clear that rival initiatives,

especially those led by the US such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). I suspect it will be revived in one form or another if not in the next couple of years. And interestingly the TPP also has a region wide initiative drive, because it is potentially open to countries like India to come into the TPP. And that clear economic contestation is going to be a really important part of what is happening across the region. Sri Lanka will have to be nimble to negotiate those competing initiatives. Those questions will be the most important foreign policy. Actually it is not just foreign policy, it is foreign policy reflected through domestic political struggles. You see this in Sri Lanka as well. Not only is it in Sri Lanka, it's happening in Philippines, Myanmar, Australia and many other countries.

? Could you elaborate on geo-economic consequences of this initiative, particularly given that India has not aligned with OBOR, and Pakistan has been playing a significant role in it? How do we balance this?

A: There could be a domestic debate in India as to whether they should join OBOR, because if you look at the Indian Chinese economic relationship, it has grown astronomically over the years. It has grown from nothing to a rather considerable trade involving Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). So, for example Foxconn which is a company that manufactures all Apple products is relocating some of their factories to India. So one of the things we need to be careful about is making generalizations about India or China, because there are forces within India that are tiding to the OBOR initiatives.

Apart from the TPP, the other American notion is the Indo- Pacific; another widely discussed region today. The Americans have been trying to bring India into the Indo- Pacific project but again for the Indian Government, this is quite complexed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the US recently. What Modi is concerned about is not so much about the Indo- Pacific but getting visas for highly skilled Indian technologists which US President Donald Trump had curtailed quite dramatically. These geo-economic factors are reshaping these contestations.

? At the moment we have good relations with India as with China. With the US it's to a certain extent. Is it necessary for us to choose between these super powers?

A: Sri Lanka is not exceptional. There is a big debate in Australia with regards to the Philippines onwards, on who to choose. I don't think it's a question about one or the other. It's more of a question of joining up with these initiatives and trying to get the best out of these scenarios. That's something that's happening across the region. It plays out in domestic politics. These exact same debates are happening in the East Asian countries with regard to China-US relationships. The point is that they are not mutually exclusive. It's not going to be easy. But also it's not going to be a binary choice either. Look at how the Indian political economy has been transformed; it's not a simple binary choice between China and the US.

There's a whole range of issues which these conflicts tend to occur. There's an entire basket of issues much like the Cold War period.

But the current situation is not based on an ideological battle but that doesn't mean that there is going to be conflicts and difficult choices.

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