Dr Ashik Bonofer talks about the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka, those responsible, and what the situation in Sri Lanka means for the future of stability in the region. Dr Bonofer is an Assistant Professor at Madras Christian College in Chennai, India. Dr Bonofer specializes in International Relations, Foreign Policy, South Asia, Asia- Pacific, Human Rights, Refugees and Mixed Migration.
In this session, Dr Bonofer discusses the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, the multiple actors in the crisis, the resulting conflict and the necessary reforms that the Sri Lankan government will have to roll out in response to this conflict.
In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Manochehr Dorraj addresses and analyzes the gradual development of bilateral relations between Iran and China. The interview focuses on the importance of Iran to China, how both countries try to optimize their gain and influence through this bilateral relation, and how this relation is affected by and may affect regional bilateral relations with China.
Manochehr Dorraj is a Professor at Texas Christian University where his areas of focus cover International Affairs, Comparative politics, Political Theory and Middle East politics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author, coauthor, editor or coeditor of 7 books and more than 80 refereed articles and book chapters.
Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.
World order dynamics and world order itself have changed substantially in the last thirty years. The evolution of it derives from those dynamics that determine the way it works. This article will discuss the specific case of China.
Nowadays, military conflicts are mostly concentrated in least-developed areas, whilst western and eastern major countries exited the logic of the Cold War - when balance and peace were possible mainly thanks to military deterrence. From those times, conflicts have been substituted by other means of states’ competition. From the ‘90s onwards, commerce has displaced war - as pioneer Edward N. Luttwak states -, with economic and financial capital in place of firepower, civilian innovation instead of military technological progress, and economic incursion rather than military bases building. These are the new tools employed by states to grow their power and spread their influence, and of course, the elements that can explain the relationships among international actors. The logic of war has to be read through the grammar of commerce, but do these new means serve the same interests as artillery pieces used to before?
Especially among the theorists of interdependence, many believe that the growing importance of industrial and financial entities and economics as the lens through which to understand international relations would imply a shift from “world politics” to “world business”, thus reducing warlike escalations. However, they are still the states that can extract and regulate economic resources; and they are still territorial authorities. In these terms, we can understand geoeconomics: an evolution, and not a revolution, of geopolitics.
To better conceive this evolution, definitions are of some help. Geoeconomics can be considered applied research, and it can be understood as both an analysis and practice by states and businesses. It is an interdisciplinary subject including geopolitical features, strategic analysis and foresight, and economic intelligence. Saying geoeconomics is an evolution of geopolitics does not mean that the latter disappeared. The relationship between economics and power ever existed throughout history indeed. As an example, starting from the XI century, Venice became a powerful geoeconomics actor. It built its considerable power not flexing muscles, but presenting itself as a strong diplomatic and trading power, mastering advanced naval technologies and using economic espionage.
More precisely, Soilen defines geoeconomics as “the study of spatial, cultural, and strategic aspects of resources, with the aim of gaining a sustainable competitive advantage”. It is different from geopolitics under two aspects: for the topic, since it focuses on economic means and not military or political; and for the actors, because it does not look only to individuals representing the state, its institutions, or the state as a whole, but to individuals who conduct relevant economic activities, corporations and other national and non-national institutions operating in the economic field. Despite this, they remain very similar to each other. Indeed, they both study how certain instruments can serve national purposes. Strategy is “where we define an optimal plan for our organizational or institutional objectives” SOILEN -1). In a world where war is banned, civilian technology is more strategic than a bomb.
This means that those actors with hands over new technologies are more inclined to gain additional power and influence. China figured it out during its economic global ascendance and engaged to “master core technologies” in any imaginable area. If from the 80s to the mid-2000s, China’s economic policy was to encourage foreign direct investments in the country through often unfair incentives and advantages to investors; from 2006, China turned to “China Inc” and began promoting “indigenous innovation”, freezing the pursuit of international investments.
Published in 2006, the “MLP”, standing for “The Guidelines for the Implementation of the National Medium- and Long-term Program for Science and Technology Development (2006-2020)” stressed the need to “create an environment for encouraging innovation independently, promote enterprises to become the main body of making technological innovation and strive to build an innovative-type country.” Thus, today’s Chinese economic policy can be considered a long-term oriented pattern focused on the welfare of internal producers. In other words, what China has adopted is a mercantilist set of policies aimed at defeating non-Chinese competitors.
Why is geoeconomics important? Because the means are financial and industrial, and the strategy is mainly territorial. The main example of Chinese current economic policy? The Belt and Road Initiative. For this to be realized, the geographical dimension is vital. In particular, infrastructures in South and Southeast Asia are crucial since they are key to the connectivity envisioned by BRI. These countries are the most likely to allow Chinese naval bases or to serve as strategic pivots for commercial and military needs. This would let China build strong regional power at the first stage, and expand its activities then. Therefore, one might argue that geoeconomics is the evolution of geopolitics and that geoeconomics could serve geopolitical interests. Indeed, the BRI aims to build linkages with other countries and regions through investments, infrastructures, opening corridors, and connecting with them “physically, financially, digitally, and socially”.
In conclusion, the growing importance of economic connections and tools in this technological era makes it the new paradigm to intend power in the XXI century. Wars have been marginalized, and thereby governments ought to find a new way to propagate their power. Notwithstanding, territorial dynamics still play significant roles, even in times of faster communications and digital transactions. This is the case of China, a growing “territorial ruler” with global ambitions that offers advantageous economic opportunities to bring other countries in its orbit while expanding its own economic, diplomatic, and military projections of power.
The Global Humanitarian Overview 2021 has projected a historic level of food insecurity, with famine looming in several countries, due in large part to conflict and systemic violence. This forecast took into account the rising trend of the last two years; in 2019, in fact, seventy-seven million people in over 22 countries have experienced starvation due to armed violence. The new 2021 Global Report on Food Crises has confirmed that conflict has been the main driver of food crises also in 2020. Throughout the past year, up to 100 million people in 23 countries have experienced starvation because of violence and insecurity. The evidence that conflict causes food insecurity is well established. For instance, the FAO reports of the past decade have highlighted a recurring figure: The proportion of undernourished people is almost three times as high in countries in conflict than in other developing countries. This is also the result of the rapidly increasing civil displacements which can result in conflicts between social groups, causing food insecurity and a significant loss of income, resulting in acute famine and poverty.
However, these factors can sometimes interplay the other way round. Often poverty fosters conflict dynamics and insecurity; resource scarcity is a key factor of mass migrations and displacements which can result in conflicts between social groups. Economic inequalities are often seedbed for instability and represent a crucial contributing factor of violence together with socio-cultural and political factors. But poverty exacerbates all human vulnerabilities exposing people to a series of different types of risks. The condition of insecurity driven by privation concerns every dimension of life and it binds with multiple factors which reinforce each other and only eventually result in violence.
For instance, poverty is a key element when addressing food insecurity issues. Food security is a condition in which everybody has regular access to nutritious food, thanks to one’s own livelihood or a safety net provided by the state or any other organisation. Ensuring food security means guaranteeing the production of a sufficient amount of food in total and, especially, that everybody can access such vital resources. The Nobel Laureate in Economics Amartya Sen stated that the root cause of the continuation of world hunger is the continuation of poverty, despite the increasing total prosperity. In fact, even in periods of tight food markets, there is enough food available, but a large number of people are just too poor to afford it.
Many families, especially in developing countries, are particularly vulnerable to high food prices and they lack proper training on how to produce more food more sustainably. Agricultural development plays a key role in generating the incomes needed to ensure food security. In fact, two-thirds of the poor live in rural areas where agriculture is the dominant sector, but poor farmers are extremely vulnerable to the decline in agricultural output and aren’t able to benefit from basic infrastructures and access to markets. Income growth is necessary but the composition of growth matters too, as more equal growth is likely to lead to long-lasting food security. As a matter of fact, other compliments such as safe drinking water, awareness regarding adequate nutrition and access to health services are vital. In light of this approach, to tackle the causes of hunger, the policy objective should be the implementation of social norms dedicated to improving the conditions of the poor rather than concentrate on the overall agricultural production.
Food insecurity is, indeed, the result of many factors chained together. Some of them include privation and low wages coupled with poor education and inadequate health assistance. Malnutrition can be both a cause and a result of health problems. This depends on the quantity and quality of the food a person eats; the diet which a person can access must be sufficiently balanced otherwise a vicious circle begins. In this context, the crucial matter of health care deprivation and discrimination against women deserves a special mention. In fact, the vicious circle starts with maternal malnutrition and pours out, becoming a mass phenomenon further feeding famine and insecurity. The level of education is an important piece of the puzzle. Education significantly influences the information available and the possibility to obtain a well-paid job by which one can access sustainable and healthy food. But the possibility of having access to education and completing it depends precisely on the state of indigence. Malnutrition affects school performance and the diseases, often related to poor nutrition, reduce one’s opportunities in the labor market. In this way, the vicious cycle keeps feeding itself, pressing people in the tight grip of the poverty trap.
Ultimately, hunger driven by poverty can be both a cause and a consequence of conflict. The threats to food security can trigger unrest and provides a tangible reason for the instigation of violence. The 2015 FAO report Peace and Food Security estimated that post-conflict countries with high food insecurity are 40% more likely to relapse into conflict within a 10-year timespan. The report also highlighted how the increase in food prices in 2008 together with cuts in food subsidies, reduced real incomes triggering food riots in many countries.
Thereby, investing in food security may strengthen the effort to prevent conflict and achieve stability. To build long-lasting peace, it is essential to understand the mutual link among poverty, food security and conflict.