National Security think tank INSSSL holds conference on
Indo-Pacific geopolitics and connectivity
The Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) hosted a round table Discussion on “Indo Pacific: Security, Geopolitics and Connectivity” at the INSSSL auditorium last week.
The discussion, incorporated the Sri Lankan, Japanese and Australian perspectives on the emerging strategic environs of the Indo-Pacific region with regards to security, geopolitics and connectivity. It also analyzed the Indo-Pacific Strategic Report (IPSR) by the United States Department of Defense, which was released just a fortnight ago.
The discussion moderated by Dr. Ranga Jayasuriya, Senior Research Fellow at the INSSSL, and paneled by Prof. Asanga Abeygoonasekara, Director General of the INSSSL; Dr. Satoru Nagao, Visiting Fellow at Hudson Institute; Rear Admiral Noel Kalubowila; Ms. Lucy Stronach, Intern Research Assistant at INSSSL, and Ms. Ruwanthi Jayasekara, Research Assistant at INSSSL, was attended by distinguished officers form Embassies and High Commissions and officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Dr. Ranga Jayasuriya, the moderator of the panel, opened the discussion by illustrating the relationship between security, geopolitics and connectivity with regards the Indo-Pacific region, with a particular emphasis on the directives taken by China to enhance connectivity with the region. He observed that the contemporary great power competition is waged not so much through weapons, but through connectivity in the form of large foreign funded infrastructure projects. He noted that Chinese funded connectivity projects translates into geopolitical influence, effectively causing a classic security dilemma for other regional states, which in turn has led the regional states to act to increase their own security, thus leading to covert and overt means of balancing initiatives and regional alignments.
The first panelist, Dr. Satoru Nagao initiated the discussion by drawing attention to as to how Japan, India and Sri Lanka should respond to the US-China confrontation. Adopting a Japanese perspective, Dr Nagao traced Japan’s own tragic history of confrontation with the US. Juxtaposing technological, economic and defense superiority of US vis a vis China, he argued that the US will emerge the ‘victor’ in the US-China confrontation in the long-term, and concluded that therefore, it is ‘wise’ for Sri Lanka, Japan and India to support US attempts at re-balancing China in the Indo-Pacific region. He implored on the regional states to reduce economic dependence on China, while enhancing their own defense capabilities for the short term in cooperation with US and with each other.
Ms. Lucy Stronach analyzed the role of Australia in the Indo-Pacific under the four pillars of economic, environmental, educational and cultural, and security. Ms. Stronach drew on Australia’s various attempts at wielding soft power in the region, and pointed out its shortfalls due to Canberra’s policy on climate change and asylum seekers.
She commented on its recent attempts at cooperating on defense, regionally with Sri Lanka, and globally with US. She concluded that Australia has however, underestimated the influence of China in the region, and must invest more in the Indo-Pacific region and in countries like Sri Lanka.
Prof. Asanga Abeygoonasekara followed up the discussion with his remarks on China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and Indo-Pacific Region. Commenting on the first ever release of a report on the Indo-Pacific region by US, he noted that the IPSR contained explicit concerns of the US about the Chinese “revisionist” threat to US and to the global order as it attempts to re-arrange the power structure of the region.
He seconded Dr. Nagao’s view of the BRI as the “only game in town,” and remarked its importance in South Asia with poor infrastructure. He commented that India, critical of the Chinese measures is increasingly partnering with the US, while counter-balancing China also happens through “quadrilateral grouping” (US, India, Japan and Asutralia),. He also contended that the overly distrustful view on BRI by Japan, India, US, is at times merely based on speculation. Recognizing Sri Lanka as a multi-aligned nation, “a tight rope walker” he noted that Colombo should strike a balance between US and China, while advancing Sri Lanka’s own national interest.
Rear Admiral Noel Kalubowila spoke about maritime security of the Indo-Pacific region, and noted that the US-China confrontation has become the main security dynamic in the region. Analyzing the recent defense policy papers and security measures undertaken by the regional states, he observed that China’s investment to establish a maritime port network through its Silk Route project has triggered regional reactions such as Australia’s strategic interest in the region, Japanese interest in tightening maritime security through cooperation with US, and changing its longstanding no-war posture in the constitution. Remarking that the US was traditionally the extra-regional influence in the Indo-Pacific region, he pointed out that it is now being confronted by China, which has led to a heightened US maritime deployment. Underscoring the overarching importance of ensuring maritime security, he urged all regional states to resolve their competing territorial and maritime claims abiding by the maritime law and the Law of the Sea Convention
Delivering her presentation on ‘a global perspective on India’s stance on Indo-Pacific,’ Ms Ruwanthi Jayasekara noted that Indo-Pacific region is widely perceived as the core framework of India’s foreign policy, also considered as its extended Eastern neighbourhood. The Indian foreign policy has become more muscular under PM Modi, she noted.
Ms Jayasekara drew attention to India’s participation in multilateral forums in the Indo-Pacific, and its build-up of relations with the US, Japan and Australia. She however noted that such balancing initiatives are nonetheless of questionable value due to fragmentation and absence of a consensus in these state’s strategy and objectives vis a vis the rise of China.
Commenting on the geopolitical significance of the region to India in terms of security, economy and technology, she commended that how India has adopted a rational approach to court all the regional states as means of counter-balancing the rising China.