Diplomacy and economy

Saturday, 24 October 2020 00:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

High-level Chinese delegation with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa


Creation of diplomatic and economic space has been an important concern and a never-ending topic of discussion for nations. Through a policy of proactive and creative diplomacy a country will be able to initiate the formation of international groups, regional forums leading to commercial partnerships and trade agreements, etc. Diplomacy and economy thus are two closely-interrelated issues. 

Recently I had an accidental public hob-nob with an acclaimed personality in the field of foreign policy and diplomatic relations, Dr. Dayan J., in trying to express my own views about an article published in his name on the inclinations of the new GR Government towards international relations. 

His writing and my contrary views followed with another write up by him made me extend this dialogue with a view to open up an opportunity to create an open forum for more elaborate contributions. Not in the form of a contested debate but as a cruise in company towards safer shores for all of us. I chose this subject as an appropriate entry.

Non-aligned movement

To start with a word on the non-aligned movement we pondered on, I wish to reiterate that it is not a grouping with any binding ideologies. It is based on the desire of the individual countries in the conglomeration to pursue their own policies best suited for their own people. 

Many members who were in the group during its formative days have since undergone serious metamorphoses changing their structure and form from a backward small nation state to highly developed economies. Singapore can be the best example. 

Lee Kuan Yew who participated in the NAM summit held in Sri Lanka as a member, praised Madam Sirimavo referring to her as “the most eligible leader and there is no one to challenge this undisputed position”. But it did not take long for Singapore to adopt its own policy stand on their foreign policy and the preferred alignments in the international scenario. 

The success story of Singapore illustrates how a small nation can succeed to become relevant and influential in international affairs. We know how Singapore has turned into a well-recognised player in bilateral, regional and global affairs following her own policy lines.

I wish to quote Lee Kuan (not many are aware), from his last address to the nation as its PM, on the National Day of Singapore where I happened to be, returning from some other mission. Bit humorous but factual. He said: “I attended a summit conference held in a country sometime back in this region. The PM of the host country brought a resolution to that assembly, proposing that ‘Indian Ocean be made a peace zone’. Today that country is in pieces!”

Humour apart he referred to something serious going on in our country during that period. Early ’90s, height of terrorist attacks and the separatist demand at its peak. I think he felt at the back of his mind, with his own experience gained on the Singapore’s economic elevation since, the usefulness or otherwise of the non-alignment! 

To make a long story short I can invite DJ’s attention to his own translation of his late father’s book titled ‘From Bandung to Havana,’ ably assisted by Uyangoda and Seneviratne, reminding him about some references made therein to the NAM, during its early stages itself. ‘There have been allegations against NAM members on account of their heterogeneous alignments, some members with the West, and some with the powerful Eastern bloc while a small group remained neutral!’

Invasive policies of nations

History is full of lessons about the invasive policies of nations that ended up in massive plundering operations, causing major loss of life and human suffering. 

The spread of European naval and commercial power in the South East Asian area eating into the spice trade, Dutch East India Company expanding into the massive slave trade operations in the African continent are examples of resulting curtailing economic expansions that remained as huge potentials in those countries. 

Natural resources as well as agricultural produce which attracted high commercial values became the prime targets of the plunderers and they unscrupulously converted the potential self-economic growth in those countries into extractive economies. Eventually the land owners and farmers became slaves and labourers in their own lands. In short the West-oriented European colonialism impoverished large parts of the world. The world has seen the dreadfulness of two World Wars and their cost to the human race. They agreed to put an end to such wars particularly between nations. But a new war has emerged. The economic war for dominancy as economic powers.

US and China

It is no secret that there is a serious escalation of tensions growing over the past few years in this region between the two super powers US and China, very much beyond a simple trade dispute. Concerns are centred on security and geopolitics. Countries big and small, in the region will have to keep a vigilant watch on these developments. What we saw in history can reappear and repeat in different forms. 

The US can create situations to make the countries in the region feel unsecured in a climate of increasing terrorism risks. We have witnessed a terrorist attack recently. It is not clear as to what the actual background is. Some believe that it is an emergence associated with “self-radicalisation” while others think that it may be linked to an international terrorist group or even the ISIS. It is yet to be ascertained authentically. This is a threat spread over the entire region. Countries in the region will be worse off without a reliable counteracting force.

China is fast moving forward with its BRI and held the first BRI summit with the participation of 68 countries symbolising the launch of the biggest infrastructure investment project of the century. It is undoubtedly a milestone in the human history which on completion will link the highest population centres of the world and will pave the way for a massive commerce and cultural exchange among people exceeding two thirds of the total world population. Besides its size, commercial effects and the cohesive influence BRI will generate, the political ramifications associated with the project are of importance to us.

nIndian PM Narendra Modi boycotted the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing (2017) disputing China’s projects traversing Pakistan occupied Kashmir;

  • Japan contrary to prevailing pessimism is likely to throw its weight with the BRI under its ‘going global’ concept to improve the connectivity with the European continent through the Euro Asian land mass of the BRI
  • BRI negates the arbitrary administrative divisions between India and Pakistan introduced by Pentagon;
  • German business giants like Siemens and Manz are throwing their weight with the BRI 


China the ‘Treasure Land’ and US game plan

Cabraal who is at the centre of attraction these days for the much-concerned economic revival has highlighted China as the ‘Treasure Land’. He is right in this instance. It is a force to reckon with in the context of the fast developments taking place. I trust that Cabraal has taken note of the following in coming to this belated judgement:

At the launch of the BRI, Chinese President Xi Jinping claimed that the BRI “is not a soloist but a chorus”. He believed that even states that oppose China would invest in the BRI vision, realising that sideline criticisms look like petty jealousies only. 

The best example we can quote is that India is the second largest shareholder of the Chinese-based Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), which is now emerging as the Asia’s future hope as the source of financing their development projects. AIIB is now recognised by the World Bank and the ADB. The estimated $ 26 trillion for infrastructure investment by 2030 for Asia is to be jointly addressed as a common target by these bodies.

While all this is happening, the US is involved in a game plan to establish its hold in the Asian region. Many things are happening under the guise of grants, offerings, influenced envoys, changes of leaders, including plans and attempts to plant those with direct US allegiance to high places in countries identified as of strategic importance to them. Perhaps someone can see what is happening in Maldives currently. Australia, India and Japan backed by US are engaged in promoting an ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept overriding the BRI concept.

Diplomatic approach

So our diplomatic approaches need to be aggressive and freed from orthodoxy. Understanding the interwoven relationship between diplomacy and economic development is of extreme importance. While it is important for the diplomats to advise the political leaders, it is the latter who should set foreign policy. 

Diplomacy is only one instrument of foreign policy. The goals and strategies have to be prescribed by the political leaders with concerned tactics for the accomplishment of those. In the modern world diplomacy is the principal instrument in state craft. It is the envoys who have to play a key role in international dialogues and negotiations. 

With regard to policies embodying national integrity, security and economic development, policymakers have to be mindful of the historical and ongoing scenarios as a primary obligations.

All of us are concerned about the economy because it is our future. The political leaders should seriously address the question of adjusting national policies in relation to changes in external conditions in the national interest.


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