“Geographic facts do not change, but their meaning for foreign policy will.” -Nicholas J. Spykman
A new world order has begun with roles interchanging. The US, as the leader of the free world and the architect of globalization, is advocating nationalism in a close of its borders, while China, which earlier spoke about national values, is now praising globalization. President Xi during his visit to Davos clearly gave leadership toward the case of globalization.
According to Xi, “There was a time when China also had doubts about economic globalization and was not sure whether it should join the World Trade Organisation. But we came to the conclusion that integration into the global economy is a historical trend. To grow its economy, China must have the courage to swim in the vast ocean of the global market.
If one is always afraid of bracing the storm and exploring the new world, he will sooner or later get drowned in the ocean. Therefore, China took a brave step to embrace the global market. We have had our fair share of choking in the water and encountered whirlpools and choppy waves but we have learned how to swim in this process. It has proved to be a right strategic choice.”
Back in the 60s, the US’ position on boundaries was explained clearly by President Kennedy in Berlin in his remarkable oration ‘ich bin ein Berliner’ – there should be one Berlin, the iron curtain that divided nations will fall one day and it did fall in 1989. It took 30 years for the US to change its position to build a wall and confine to its boundary.
Back in ancient history, China exercised its power and developed a wall – ‘Great Wall’ – to secure the country from outside invaders. Today, the US is revisiting what China did several thousand years ago and China has evolved as a nation in this regard
In geopolitics, it is vital to understand the politics of borders and frontiers. According to Robert Kaplan, “The ability of states to control events will be diluted, in some cases destroyed. Artificial borders will crumble and become more fissiparous, leaving only rivers, deserts, mountains and other enduring facts of geography. Indeed, the physical features of the landscape may be the only reliable guides left to understanding the shape of future conflict.”
Yale Professor Nicholas Spykman explained in his Rimland theory the arc surrounding the heartland of Halford J. Mackinder is where tectonic shifts will occur and nations will use their military power in this important crescent. In the 20th century, most wars, from Korean war, Vietnam, India-Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Balkan wars were fought on this Rimland. The next possible war could also trigger from South China Sea, an area of the Rimland.
It was the capture of the Greater Caribbean by the US Navy after the Indian wars that unlocked the power of the US from Panama Canal, the most significant strategic project. The two oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific, were controlled with the US military strength and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was the platform to take forward the liberal democratic values as a coalition.
In the same manner, one could examine the case of China, which is seeking a historical claim of the South China Sea to unlock its power in the Indian Ocean. Like in the past, in the Greater Caribbean region, the US held Panama. Today China has OBOR (One Belt One Road) with a US $ 890 billion investment with 900 projects along the belt and road, a revival of what China had during the past.
The North Atlantic power Axis is clearly turning towards the East. While the newly elected President Trump, who has mentioned “NATO is obsolete”, challenges its values. China will gain a better control and win more allies in the East. Liberal democracy will be seen by Asians as a model that does not deliver efficient results. Asia could drift towards a technocracy, a model operated by technical experts and expert government servants, which delivers quick results. China has proven clearly that more than the 100 liberal democracies around the world, 625 million people were taken out of poverty from this model.
Singapore has proven as an East Asian miracle performing through a meritocracy at its highest value delivering results to the public. Public health, water safety, education, infrastructure and all economic indicators are at the highest level. The Corruption Perception Index, which was release a few weeks ago, indicates Singapore at the seventh place while Sri Lanka is at the 95th place, worse than last year.
The concept of a technocracy will be something to look at to improve on many sectors of the nation. Senior Research Fellow Parag Khanna from LKY school says, “Increasingly, Asians favour pragmatic, outcome-oriented governance and prefer to be ruled by civil servants rather than politicians,” a prediction that Asia could turn to technocrats and depart western democracy.
A significant factor in erupting the course of glory of the western empire was duality and double standards. It happens within the nation and not from outside. The double standards on human rights, democratic values and much more are clear indicators that people have lost trust with their own systems. “Waterboarding is not torture; it’s one step below torture,” says Trump, who wishes to be the core member of the NATO, which is against torture.
A nation like Sri Lanka is accused by a group (ICTJP) Executive Director Yasmin Sooka for abduction and torture. UK’s Sir John Chilcot report, which created much noise about British soldiers committing war crimes in Iraq accusing the prime minister at that time, has gone completely silent. Certain western experts accuse the Sri Lankan military and suggest foreign judges in a hybrid court.
Stratfor Global Intelligence, one of the leading US security think tanks in the world, recently published an article about Sri Lanka which explained, “Despite its small size Sri Lanka holds a substantial strategic value by virtue of its geographic position: it is at the centre of Asia’s busiest maritime routes and has a wealth of natural deep harbours.”
It further points out Sri Lankan government owes Beijing US $ 8 billion, more than 12 percent of its US $ 64.9 billion debt.
Upon celebrating Sri Lanka’s 69th year of independence, it is important to clearly identify our internal and external geopolitical threats as a nation, with the hope of charting our path towards a developed nation.
(Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is a visiting lecturer in international political economy (IPE) and Director General of INSSSL, the national security think tank of Sri Lanka)