South Asia’s emerging dilemmas


The Lankan Navy Commander went on to make some references to the issue of some Indian fishermen allegedly poaching in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters and this subject ought to alert the countries of South Asia in particular to the need to positively re-fashion their ties with ‘regional giant’ India.

Very rightly, international fora on South and South West Asia are focusing on the Indian Ocean and issues growing out of it and this trend must be hugely welcomed by commentators the world over. When speaking in terms of ‘commentators’ one also has in mind the so-called ordinary people who take a lively interest in International Relations although they are generally ignored and not addressed by the ‘intelligentsias’ of the world. But many of these ‘ordinary mortals’ are as articulate as the ‘authorities’ on international issues.

It would not be irrelevant to point out, prior to getting down to the subject of this column, that ‘commentators’ should consider it obligatory on their part to present their analyses on world affairs in the simplest of language and in the most reader-friendly fashion possible, because there are countless ‘ordinary persons’ among their readership who are hungering for new insights into International Relations. These readers should not be ignored or forgotten by ‘experts’.

‘Commentators’ would do well to avoid abstract jargon in their analyses for the sake of these ‘ordinary readers’ who are, after all, ‘king-makers’, since they vote governments into office, who, in turn, at least theoretically, conduct foreign policy in the name of their publics. These ‘ordinary citizens’, therefore, need to be always kept informed.

A local public figure of prominence to comment on Indian Ocean affairs in the recent past was Lankan Navy Commander Vice Admiral Jayanath Colombage and he made the valid point - in lucid, jargonless English - at a forum in Colombo, among other things, that ‘Economic giants are sailing the India Ocean currently, in a repetition of history’. History is seen as repeating itself primarily on account of the multiple appeal Sri Lanka has had for the international community from ancient times.

In fact, a substantial part of Asia featured in a relatively globalized world, in an economic sense, from pre-modern times and this has been a burden of research of that pioneering economist of contemporary times, Andre Gunder Frank, to mention just one authority on economic globalization. One of his works of recent years to deal with this subject is ‘ReOrient’ (published by SAGE Publications India, Pvt. Ltd.), which elaborately lays bare the intra-Asian vibrant economic links of those times. These steps helped in bringing prosperity to a considerable number of Asian countries, which opted for liberalized trade and other measures which are promotive of close international economic contact and interaction.

The Lankan Navy Commander went on to make some references to the issue of some Indian fishermen allegedly poaching in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters and this subject ought to alert the countries of South Asia in particular to the need to positively re-fashion their ties with ‘regional giant’ India. Currently, the poaching issue is proving a somewhat divisive problem in Indo-Lanka relations. Likewise, the majority of India’s neighbours have differences with her on matters, such as, ‘cross-border terror’, geographical and territorial boundaries, sharing of river waters, perceived interference in domestic politics and imbalances in bilateral trade.

Considering the economic and material difficulties India is likely to be saddled with in the future, it could be said that the onus is more on India’s neighbours to relate on cordial terms with her, rather than for India to go the extra mile to forge increasingly cooperative links with her neighbours. To be sure, such sentiments are unlikely to be seen as ‘politically correct’ in Sri Lanka in particular, but facts need to be faced squarely. However, India is obliged to establish mutually beneficial links with her neighbours if her legitimate needs are to be met and regional cordiality is to be fostered.

An important fact that should be faced is that India’s stature as a regional economic power would only increase steadily in the future. She could be expected to be in a great hurry to strengthen her productive capability because her increasing population, among other factors, would impose severe strains on her resources and on her existing capacity to meet their needs. For instance, she would be hard pressed to further consolidate her industrial capability. But an enhancement of the latter would need to be based on India increasingly accessing, among other things, vast amounts of energy resources.

For that matter, power and energy are urgently required by many of South East Asia’s dominant economic powers, such as, China, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, to name a few. This is one of the reasons why the world has been witnessing some tensions over the past few months between China and some of her neighbours in the South and East China Seas, on territorial and related issues. These powers are in a scramble to secure what is seen as energy resources-rich territory and one would not be off-target if he claims that South-East Asia is currently one of the hottest beds of international tensions.

But on the question of dynamic economic growth, it is India which is proving a match for China at present. It is estimated by some authorities that India’s demand for ‘primary energy’, such as, coal, crude oil and natural gas, will grow by around 3.2 percent annually from 2009 to 2020. This is believed to be double the world average of 1.8 percent yearly growth for the relevant period. India is expected to be very soon ahead of the US, China and Brazil in this respect and South Asia needs to work out the implications of these predictions for India’s energy needs. At present, however, India is the third biggest energy consumer behind China and the US.

Accordingly, the pressures on the Indian state, resulting from her mounting developmental and material considerations need to be appreciated by her neighbours. If, for instance, India decides to enhance her military presence in the Indian Ocean, this must be seen as an indication that India is beginning to be extra protective of what are seen as her possessions and assets in the region.

It does not follow from this that India could act overbearingly and intolerantly towards her neighbours, but what it does mean is that both parties would need to be extra- constructive in forging their emerging relations. It should be their endeavour to never cease from trying to put their ties on a constructive, mutually-beneficial footing on the basis of an appreciation of their respective needs.

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