Dr Farah Naz
THE economic and political crisis seems to be one of the worst seasons in South Asia. Where regime change is getting in fashion where Sri Lanka is grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil while Pakistan with both economic and political upheaval plays a pivotal role.
But what went wrong? The crisis in both countries is the outcome of standing along with China in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which does not resemble the US interest.
Hence, regime change in both countries seems to be in the best interest of the US but a threat to China.
But how? Let’s reflect on some details. Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa collapsed with its external debt worth around $51 billion.
The 22 million people are facing crippling 12-hour power cuts, and an extreme scarcity of food, fuel and other essential items such as medicines.
Half of Sri Lanka’s debt is market borrowings through international sovereign bonds. Estimates showed Sri Lanka needed $7 billion to service its debt load this year.
Why collapse in its economy because Sri Lanka is dependent on tourism income. With the pandemic, they were unable to entertain tourism and the flow of dollars was affected.
They tried to find debt relief but failed. Finally, they decided to go to the IMF and that means their economy will be controlled by the US State Treasury (Washington Consensus).
Sri Lanka had sought debt relief from India and China, but both countries instead offered more credit lines to buy commodities from them.
They were expecting that China would come forward to bail Sri Lanka but China did not help.
Why look towards China? Rajapaksa was the one who took the plunge into the development of an international airport, a cricket stadium and a deep seaport at Hambantota and sought assistance from China, which agreed to advance loans on soft terms in return for using the port as part of its maritime route.
Now the question is how are Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s crises linked? The common enemy between both countries abstained in the UN to vote against Russia and therefore they became targets of regime change.
Regime change has taken place in Pakistan and is about to happen in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has been pushed into a debt trap while Pakistan is into political chaos as its economy is already in the grip of the US (via the IMF Program).
Resultantly, all the Chinese project-based infrastructure built there which is a massive investment will fail to generate the desired profits.
Unlike Hambantota, the CPEC project is spread all over Pakistan and the Gwadar Port (Pakistan) provides an ideal outlet for the landlocked countries of Central Asia which have expressed their willingness to use this port.
Through BRI China proposes to economically link Europe to China through countries across Eurasia and the Indian Ocean.
The BRI initiative also links Africa and Oceania. Russia has also evinced interest in reaching out to the world through the BRI project port.
The world superpower kept watching all these moves by powerful (China and Russia), less powerful but geographically significant countries (Sri Lanka and Pakistan).
To fail China’s BRI plan, it came up with a two-pronged strategic plan: 1) puzzle the political jigsaws and opt for US-friendly leaders in the countries significant to the BRI project; 2) isolate Russia.
Now the question is what Russia has to do here? Russia has shown interest in the project that will bring it closer to China.
Which is an ultimate threat to the US. But how? Russia, economy wise, is ranked at number eleven.
If we look at the world top fifteen economies by 2022, United States with $20.89 trillion is ranked as number one followed by, China: $14.72 trillion; Japan: $5.06 trillion; Germany: $3.85 trillion; United Kingdom: $2.67 trillion; India: $2.66 trillion; France: $2.63 trillion; Italy: $1.89 trillion; Canada: $1.64 trillion; South Korea: $1.63 trillion; Russia: $1.48 trillion.
In the top fifteen economies, except for China and Russia, the rest of the countries are all on the right side of the US.
So the US enemy seems to be China as number one followed by Russia. Hence, the US came up with a strategic design to bleed Russia with a crippling economy by imposing hard sanctions and isolating Moscow internationally through global condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Ultimately, Russia will not be in a position to extend help and support to other countries, especially China.
I know it sounds cliche at this stage but this seems to be the ultimate strategic plan of the world’s superpower.
To catch the big fish (China) the US attacked Russia via Ukraine. The Ukraine-Russia crisis is a sort of signalling China to keep its hands off Taiwan.
But ultimately, the US will push China to invade Taiwan the way it pressured Russia to invade Ukraine.
That will provide legit ground to invade China. In that scenario, who will come forward to help China?
The Ukraine-Russia crisis is a US experiment on a trial basis to see the impact of US strategic design/policy to prey on China.
China has more than one trillion assets in the US which is one-third of its reserves. The day the US decides to bleed China will freeze its assets and assets of all of the Chinese oligarchs in the US and its friendly states.
Hence, China should forget about the BRI project and become a superpower in this international environment that is shaping with lightning speed.
If China thinks that by non-interfering in other countries’ affairs China will remain at peace, I think that it is like living in a utopian world.
China should have come forward to bail out Sri Lanka and should have pulled Pakistan out of the IMF program to decrease US influence in the region and secure its neighbourhood.
With a passive approach, the message has been passed on to all other states involved in the BRI project that China is not a reliable partner and if they dare to stand with China against the US they will be crushed like Sri Lanka and Pakistan and in that situation, China will not come forward to support them.
War has reached China’s corridor. Whatever America is doing is in its supreme national interest that justifies its actions.
With China’s passive attitude, the US is the superpower of today and remains so. Unfortunately, China wants to achieve big but is too timid to build its power. Wake up China before it’s too late!
—The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Government and Public Policy, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, National University of Sciences and Technology.
(Courtesy Pakistan Observer)