Notes to the People: The Quad Trap
By Sumanasiri Liyanage
The coalition Government headed by the SLPP plans a 180 degree turn from its announced position prior to the Presidential Election in November 2019 on the signing of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCC). Although many critics of the 20th Amendment have raised issues of importance with respect to internal governance, they have so far failed to understand or have wittingly or unwittingly neglected its possible link to the MCC agreement. One of the central objectives of the 20A is eliminating the obstacles in the way of signing the MCC. 20A would strengthen the authoritarian trajectory using Constitutional means. This has been a long process that was revealed by many commentators including the late
Dr. N.M. Perera. The authoritarian path was justified by arguing the process of development required such a strong regime. I do not intend to add more arguments or evidence to support this widely held notion. Nonetheless, I argue the aim of 20A is more than that.
Quad vs China
It is imperative to analyse and understand the recent and emerging trends in the architecture of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) by positioning the nexus between the 20A and the MCC in perspective. Robert Kaplan, in ‘Monsoon – the Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power’ opined: “The Greater Indian Ocean region stretching eastward from the Horn of Africa past the Arabian Peninsula, the Iranian plateau and the Indian subcontinent, all the way to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, will be the centre of global conflicts, because most international business supply will be conducted through this route. Most important of all, it is in this region the interests and influence of India, China and the United States are beginning to overlap and intersect.
It is here the 21st century’s global power dynamics will be revealed... two key players in this region are India and China- India moving east and west while China to the South.” However, the IOR is not of importance only to those three powers, most of the raw materials used in European Union countries emanate from the IOR. Having anticipated the importance of the IOR and the possible conflicts that could arise, Sirimavo Bandaranaike proposed to the international community the Indian Ocean be made a zone of peace. The region has now sparked interest and powerful Nations are vying for a foothold with the impact falling significantly on smaller Nations in the region.
IOR contending powers
One of the contending powers in the IOR is India, so the powers eyeing for a grip in the IOR should engage with India in whatever form it might take. The second important factor is that emerging superpower China has engaged with countries in the IOR for development resources and this interest was painted as a regional power threat to India. It has some justification as India and China have a long unresolved border dispute. One of the well-known explanations is woven around the ‘string of pearls strategy’ allegedly adopted by the Chinese Government. This phrase in relation to China’s strategy in the IOR was first used by U.S. defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. “The String of Pearls theory is a geopolitical theory regarding potential Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean region. It refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication, which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port of Sudan.”
I personally believe that India has a genuine interest to know what is happening in her neighborhood. I also think that India has a right to intervene if its security is threatened. Hence, India and Sri Lanka should have mutual understanding that the two countries would not be allowed to use their territory by alien powers to jeopardise their mutual security.
What is happening now is different. The US forms a new alliance with India, Japan and Australia to counter the alleged threat from China. This quadrilateral alliance invented a new space called Asia-Pacific giving the impression that India has a role to play in south pacific conflicts and Japan has a role in the Indian Ocean. This quadrilateral alliance wants Sri Lanka to support it. Hence the US has designed MCC, ACSA and SOFA for Sri Lanka, the outcome of which would be disastrous to Sri Lanka. This would be a dangerous trap.
We are gradually moving away from the non-aligned foreign policy allowing Quad alliances to set up their power centres either in the form of economic ventures or as a direct intervention of military personnel carrying arms. This aspect of the 20A has not been taken seriously because of the fact that some parties who campaign against it are in favour of the MCC.
(The writer is a retired teacher of Political Economy at the University of Peradeniya)