August 2016

What challenges would ASEAN face if it were to expand in the future?


The ASEAN is a regional trading bloc that began with an “original membership of five states, it expanded to seven in 1995” (ASEAN secretariat, 1997) and now consists of ten member states. As a regional trading bloc they function with collective political, social and economical interests. The success of one nation within the bloc contributes to the strengthening of the entire bloc therefore policies are tailor made and structured to enhance any individual nation benefits into regional benefits. This paper analyses the key dimensions that allowed ASEAN to grow thus far and discusses the challenges that it may face in the future.

One factor that favoured the growth of ASEAN is the GDP growth in member states. In 2015 Malaysia “recorded a growth of 4.6 per cent” (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2016) and Indonesia a GDP of “5.04 per cent in the last quarter of 2015” (Chilkoti, 2016). The rise in GDP of member states has benefitted ASEAN and is mainly attributed to the “rapid growth of their middle classes”(Hughes and Woldekidan, 1994) and “in 2009 the middle class included 1.8 billion people, with… Asia (525 million) (Pezzini, 2012). A subsequent effect of having a growing middle class leads to consumerism where there is a higher demand for the consumption of goods and services within these countries. As individual countries aim to cater to this rising demand their output will rise causing individual GDP’s to rise as a result. Due to the presence of free trade as the ASEAN member states will trade more with each other causing total ASEAN output to rise as a by product of higher trade volumes. It is evident that the economics successes of individual members will have a growth enhancing effect on the growth of ASEAN.

However this is not always the case as there are income disparities within the ASEAN members so not all countries will benefit equally from having a growing middle class. Such examples are seen where “Singapore and Brunei record the highest GDP per capita while (…the Philippines and Thailand) have only half that.” (OECD, 2013). This explains that the effects of a growing middle class would have uneven effects on different countries because their consumer demand for goods and services will differ and thus their GDP growth. For instance as cited, Singapore has a large proportion of a middle class so their GDP growth is likely to be higher as opposed to the Philippines who has a significantly lower middle class and would therefore have a lower GDP. Such disparities may not actually lead to the growth of ASEAN, as total output is unlikely to rise in the presence of income disparities.

Furthermore, ASEAN as a bloc has been able to grow thus far because they are a large and efficient market that can adjust to prevailing global economic conditions. One way ASEAN achieves this is through their infrastructure that is useful in “binding ASEAN countries closer through infrastructural linkages in transportation, telecommunications and energy” (Ong Keng Yong, 2004). The fact that they have been well connected allows them to maintain efficiency when it comes to the transport of goods between member countries and other global economies despite the large geographical area. This allows for more trade to be facilitated as these countries cater to a range of other countries. Total ASEAN output is likely to increase in times of favourable economic conditions where this is prevailing consumer demand.

In evaluation, it is important to consider the effects to ASEAN in times of unfavourable economic conditions. This was evident during the 2008 global financial crisis. At this time the “economic crisis (has) had an unexpectedly large impact on Asian economies. The GDP growth rate for the region is expected to be a little over one third of the 9.5 per cent growth rate Asia enjoyed in 2007.”(Lamberte, 2009). This displays the dire effects of the exogenous shocks that came about from the West. A root cause was the fact that as incomes fell in many countries, especially in the West for example “the US, consumption is likely to fall well below the 72 per cent share of GDP” (Lamberte, 2009). Consumer demand for imports from Asia declined. Hence there was a fall in trade volumes from ASEAN members to the global economy and thus stunted the ability by which ASEAN could grow further.

Moreover, ASEAN has been able to grow because its member states offer cheap labour and possess abundant natural resources that attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into their countries. Japan is “ASEANS largest source country…with an FDI stock of $180 billion” and the rationale behind this FDI into ASEAN is because they have “extensive production networks and supply chains through out Asia” (Kawai, Thuzar and Hayton, 2016). Therefore it is sensible for Japanese MNC’s to set up in an ASEAN member country because they are able to capitalise not only on the efficient production links but also the free trade zones and cater to the demands of the other ASEAN members. Further, the EU accounted for “24,989.9” see appendix i. (ASEAN, n.d.). This is because the EU outsources their manufacturing chains to the East where it will be more cost effective, as there is not only cheap labour but also highly efficient manufacturing processes in the ASEAN countries. Hence it is clear that ASEAN has been able to grow because inflows of FDIs and MNCs create more employment and as incomes within these countries increase, as does consumer demand. This leads to higher trade volumes and higher output/GDP thus allowing ASEAN to grow.

However it is debatable if these trends of FDI into ASEAN will continue into the future. In the recent past FDI into Africa has been unprecedented with a “65 per cent increase in capital investment in 2014 … the number of FDI projects in the continent rose 6 per cent.” (Fingar, 2015). The rationale behind this recent shift is associated with the vast pools of natural resources that many African nations ow`n such as diamonds, lithium and copper. This makes it a favourable venue for FDI and is consolidated with the availability of low cost workers. Thus it is clear that FDI patterns change over time and is not always reliable to be exceedingly high into a particular country or group of countries.

On the other hand it is important to take into consideration the challenges ASEAN may face if it were to consider expanding in the future. One such challenge is the uncertain political climate most ASEAN countries face that leads to instability within. For example in Thailand the “army chief …declared himself the prime minister “ (Shaffer, 2015) and in Malaysia the Prime Minister “has brought an expansion of repressive laws, multiplying human rights abuses and curbs on media freedoms” (The Guardian, 2016). The evidence portrays that an unstable political climate within a country can be destructive because there is no good governance to steer an economy towards success. This means implementation of incorrect policies can lead to lower than expected GDP growth and thereby causing the success of ASEAN to be undermined and therefore this may pose a challenge to it from future expansion. Similarly, with regards to political instability we can associate Cambodia that was “ranked the worst performing country in Southeast Asia” (Keo, 2013) when it came to the Transparency Index. There may be cases of misappropriation of public funds either to the private sector or to the pockets of the governing elite. In essence the funds used for developing the economy and infrastructure are no longer used for that purpose and may stunt growth rates in countries like Cambodia. Due to the above it is likely to pose a challenge to ASEAN, as it may fear stunt growth rates if it offers other countries membership, where these countries could have unstable political climates as well.

Another encounter ASEAN faces before it expands is the need for structural transformation in several member countries before it offers member ship to others. There is the need to deindustrialise i.e a move from the secondary sector to the tertiary sector. In Philippines the industrial sector “accelerated to 5.5 per cent from 5.4 per cent posted last year… the agricultural sector accelerated to 1.6 per cent from 0.6 per cent” it is also important to acknowledge “the services sector which grew by 5.6 per cent” (Philippine Statistics Authority, 2015). Although countries like Philippines are expanding their tertiary sector there is much more to do be done to expand this sector in their economy. They can make use of their natural attributes and promote tourism on a larger scale in order to enhance the service sector. This is where the challenge lays for ASEAN, it cannot expand further until these structural changes take place and most of their economies develop into a tertiary sector dominant economy. When this takes place these countries will face a higher GDP and their success can be enjoyed by ASEAN as well.

Furthermore, ASEAN faces the challenge of being over dependent on the Chinese economy. “China was the largest individual trading partner (14 per cent share of ASEAN trade)”(Salidjanova and Koser-Weser, 2015) in 2013. This clearly depicts that for ASEAN, China is its biggest import and export partner. The above-mentioned dependence however is not going to benefit ASEAN in the long run in time where China faces economic adversity. “The Chinese economy grew by 6.9% in 2015… slowest growth in a quarter of a century.” (BBC, 2016). In light of this evidence, in times of falling growth and falling income levels demand for ASEAN exports is likely to fall. This will adversely affect the trade balance ASEAN has with China and persistent trade deficits can lead to the slow down of ASEAN economies. Therefore if ASEAN is to expand its membership it ought to reduce its dependence with China as it may impact the ASEAN economy negatively.

Moreover, ASEAN faces a challenge of having too many non-tariff barriers and there is the call to remove them if other countries are to gain access to ASEAN. Non-tariff barriers (NTB’s) refer to trade barriers that are not of tariff origin and usually refer to standards and regulations. Compliance of NTB’s “entails additional costs…(and) disadvantage foreign firms that have a different set of standards”. (Asian Development Bank, 2013). This puts most countries at a disadvantage because subject to these NTB’s their goods become more expensive as they reach the ASEAN market and demand for these imports are likely to be lower as ASEAN consumers prefer cheaper domestic products. The impact to ASEAN will be negative because trade diversification will not take place and other countries may set up similar NTB’s as a form of retaliation. In turn this could result in the fall in the growth rates of ASEAN if demand for their exports fall drastically. Therefore their very stringent NTB’s pose a challenge for ASEAN to expand further and if this is to be considered a viable option their NTB’s should be more lax.

Overall as a regional bloc it is evident that ASEAN needs to adopt a set of structural policies if it hopes to over come the challenges it faces and expand further. Over time it has been able to grow thus far due to the resilience and corporation provided by its member states. As a bloc it has the potential to grow further as South East Asia is becoming a dominant player in the global arena. Although, ASEAN has reached great heights the future is uncertain. This can be attributed to internal divisions and the fact that the international system is constantly changing may pose a challenge to the growth of ASEAN.

By Hashila Fernando


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“INCLINED” not “PRO”: Debunking the cacophony on D.S’s “pro-west” Foreign Policy


D.S Senanayake, the first prime minister of independent Ceylon (Sri Lanka) has often been termed as “pro-western” in his foreign policy. The reasons that writers, historians and scholars articulate to prove this point is the close relationship that he maintained with the British on economic, defensive and ideological grounds as well as the relative distance he maintained with the socialist leaning Nehru of India, the Repressive Stalin of the Soviet Union and Mao of China since 1949.

In an article1 recently published online, I attempted to disprove this impression by exposing the “Friendship with All, Enmity with None” “middle path” policy that D.S Senanayake followed and advocated for; which was incidentally, similar to the one that the present president Maithripala Sirisena sketches.1

However due to the widespread incongruous belief that D.S Senanayake’s  foreign policy was “pro-western” I have undertaken the task of rewriting an interpretation that challenges the predisposed pre-conceptualized understanding of his foreign policy. In this article I hope to first deconstruct some of the arguments leveled to “prove” D.S Senanayake’s “pro-west” foreign policy and to expose the reasons as to why he took such a course of action. I conclude with the position that his foreign policy was the best course of action to take under the circumstances and was logical and coherent as against being merely “pro-western”. To begin, the terminological difference between “pro” and “inclined” needs to be dealt with.

In the context of this article “pro” is defined as being predisposed in supporting or embracing a certain course of action/behavior, without a factor or variable which pushes one towards that course. Thus a “pro” policy towards something would not need a factor externally or internally (in the context of a country) to influence one to follow a course of action or implement a policy; but instead arise from ones desire to pursue that policy because one wishes to. On the other hand an “inclined” policy towards something would be a result of external or internal variables which have a sizeable impact on the final decision that one takes. Thereby a factor or variable, significantly outside ones control would influence ones decision and/or attitude towards it which makes one inclined to follow a certain course of action or policy for the better interest of the country.

To articulate this difference in a simple example; one could say that India was inclined to follow a nuclear strategy in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s after its regional power China exploded its first nuclear bomb in 1964. Thus, India was not “pro” nuclear but “inclined” towards the development of “nuclear” power due to the nuclear capability of its regional rival China.

D.S. Senanayake although “inclined” towards the British due to many different variables was not “pro”-British and to suggest that he was so is, I believe not entirely accurate. He faced many issues and problems both before the British gave him the reigns of the country and even after obtaining ‘power’ from the British in the post independent phase.

As Mendis mentions: “to Sri Lanka the attainment of independence had been a bloodless victory in contrast to its predecessors and many to come… Sri Lanka it was the sequel to several decades of political development in a pattern of constitutional evolution which in some respects marked it out as a model colony.”2

Sri Lanka in contrast to India did not “fight” for independence in the same manner that the latter did. During this pre-independence phase led by D.S. Senanayake and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke we can observe discussions, recommendations, and letters of reappraisal being sent to the British to alter their position towards the country and proceed to grant dominion status. The islands’ relationship with Britain was, as a consequence close and cordial.3 However this did not guarantee the independence of the island. Although the ‘defense base’ idea was forwarded by D.S in the early 1940’s to thwart the threat of Japan during that period of time, it probably became a requirement to fulfill, by D.S Senanayake before the granting of independence. Some writers consider, “The defense agreement (as) an integral part of the independence package.”4 While other foreign policy academics have pointed out the same by stating that:

“It was presumably on the basis of the offer of defense and logistical facilities for Britain in the island that it was possible to clinch the deal for the immediate grant of full independence much earlier than intended before.”5

Thus D.S Senanayake may well have been influenced to adopt this defense agreement signed in November 11th 1947 (which came into effect upon independence) as one of the prerequisites and preconditions to independence.

Furthermore the lack of an effective tri-force was deeply felt in the country. Somasiri Devendra of the Sri Lankan Navy writes:

“Although the forces had to look after both external and internal threats it would have been impossible for it to meet any external threats for many years to come. The government therefore signed a defense agreement with Britain for that country to provide us a ‘safety net’ against external threats. The external threat was largely from communist countries and to a lesser extent from India.”6

D.S Senanayake also advocated for the need of the defensive treaty on similar grounds by uttering the words: ‘I cannot accept the responsibility of being prime minister unless I am provided with the means of defense.’7

Another reason may have been his sense of fear concerning declarations made by Indian scholars and members of parliament with regard to Sri Lanka, the Trincomalee harbor and the Indian Ocean. On the one hand, K.M. Panikkar in his book ‘India and the Indian Ocean’ propounded the idea of strategic unity of India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as one of the pre-requisites to a realistic policy of Indian defense. The conviction that “Independent India inherited a body of British strategic doctrine developed for the defense of the British Indian Empire as the basis for its own strategic theory” 8 may have augmented D.S Senanayake’s sense of apprehension at the inception of Sri Lanka’s independence. Such accounts were compounded by the naval activities taking place in the southern part of India. If, as professor Amal Jayewardene indicates, India believed in the “strategic indivisibility of the subcontinent”9 then the possibility of India adopting total control of “oceanic space” in the Indian Ocean becomes an all too frightening reality; and especially so, at the time of independence.

Fears of Indian expansionism and the possibility of Sri Lanka falling within India’s defense perimeter were ignited when Indian congressmen spoke-albeit lightly-of a federation incorporating India and Ceylon. Panikkar’s writings on the geo strategic significance of the Trincomalee harbor to India likewise, induced fears in Ceylon. Due to the islands geo strategic position and the presence of the Trincomalee harbor one can assume that India saw the island as its Achilles heel if it were to be attacked.

Although one cannot observe tensions, rivalries or enmity between the two countries a certain sense of “political aloofness”10 prevailed. This “political aloofness” may have increased the threat perceptions from the activities and statements by the islands closest geographical regional power-India-during that period of time. Herbert fisher argued that “small states seek to offset their weakness by association of alliance with other powers great and small.”11 Thus the prime ministers foreign policy which was “inclined” towards the British may have been a natural reaction to the threat perceptions he had felt from India. This is not reflective of a “pro” British foreign policy but an “inclined” foreign policy towards the British due to the existence of variables out of his control in the geo-politics of the region.

The need to keep trade lines open and continue Ceylon’s economic development was also placed high on the national interests during that time. “D.S Senanayake knew from experience during the Second World War how necessary it was to keep Ceylon’s sea and air bases free from obstruction in order to bring in the essential imports like food stuffs, without which the people would starve. Nearly one half of all food consumed was imported, one half of Ceylon’s rice was from abroad, 99% of curry stuff, pulse, and dried fish important for curries and 100% of wheat and sugar were also purchased abroad.”12

This attests yet again to the need to develop friendly ties with a country that Sri Lanka can trust; in order to strengthen and develop its military and naval fleet as well as protect the country if an invasion was to take place from a regional power. Such variables may have been decisive in shaping the foreign policy of our country during that period of time. One cannot forget that the Portuguese developed and expanded their influence to the south Asian region via a “blue water strategy” “where sea power was to be the instrument of commercial supremacy”13 and the possibility of the Indians doing the same once the British left the region may have played out in D.S Senanayake’s mind. Merely reflecting upon the decisions he took instead of examining the reasons why he undertook such decisions has resulted in a myopic outlook of his foreign policy. Upon closer reexamination one can without doubt claim that his policies did not seem to be predisposed towards the British but are instead leaning towards the British due to regional and extra regional tensions and mistrust as well as the internal fear of the rise of communist parties in domestic elections.

Sri Lanka not only took arrangements to lessen the threat perception of India but also took action to reduce the communist threat as well. The Colombo plan adopted in 1950 “was a kind of variant of the Marshall plan in Europe, as the chief strategy of the participants of the conference to meet the communist threat…”14 D.S was extremely sensitive to the communist activity which had a strong base both externally – in the north, north east Asia (with the presence of the soviet union and china respectively) – as well as internally with the rise of the communist parties within the democratic framework of the Sri Lankan election process. D.S looked towards economic and security integration through the Colombo plan but failed to continue this task due to his untimely death in 1952.

The D.S Senanayake government’s relationship with the commonwealth has also been cited by some as reason to show the prime ministers “pro-west” foreign policy. At the very inception of the country’s independence the prime minister sought to be a member of the commonwealth alongside India and Pakistan. The reason for such behavior is understandable in the context of not being part of the United Nations till 1955. International recognition is one of the foremost essentials of a state and being part of the United Nations would effectively accomplish this need; but not being granted entrance to the UN due to the soviet veto resulted in the need to closely integrate Ceylon with the Commonwealth. The commonwealth thereby not only ensured our recognition as a sovereign country equal in terms with India and Pakistan, the larger of our neighboring states, but also became a defense strategy as an effective guarantee that the island if invaded would constitute a violation of international law and the territorial sovereignty of a state recognized by the world. Moreover, “D.S Senanayake was convinced that the commonwealth had no expansionist ideas and that its one ambition and desire was to preserve and maintain peace in the world.”15

Another source of criticism is leveled at the external affairs agreement with the British signed by D.S Senanayake in 1947 which came into effect on the date of independence. However, W. M Karunadasa aptly discloses the rational reasons for such actions:

“What is more important in the external affairs agreement was the opportunity it afforded Sri Lanka to be represented abroad, through the good offices of Britain. This assistance benefited Sri Lanka in two respects. Firstly Sri Lanka did not possess the necessary apparatus to conduct efficient diplomatic relations at the time of independence; secondly, she had not sufficient economic resources to be spent on establishing diplomatic missions in many countries.”16

Thus the external affairs agreement with the British, similar to the defense agreement and the act of joining the commonwealth reveals a rational decision which shows the “inclination” of the foreign policy towards the British due to considerations relating to security and economic affairs.

Some writers have stated that the very act of recognizing the People’s Republic of China in 1950 immediately after the British proceeded to do so re-emphasize that Ceylon was “guarded and guided by the British.”17

Professor Shelton Kodikara believes that: “Ceylon recognized the people’s republic of china (PRC) on 5th January 1950 and simultaneously terminated her relations with the Chinese nationalist government (because) The UK  had accorded recognition to the new communist regime on the same day, and it would appear that Ceylon’s recognition policy was largely influenced by the attitude of the United Kingdom… granting early recognition to China, therefore, Ceylon was merely following Britain’s lead on the question.”18

 I challenge this notion because Ceylon had little to gain besides showing that it is following British guidelines to the word. On the other hand Ceylon had in 1949 opposed the colonialistic practices of the Netherlands in Indonesia and had even disallowed Dutch ships to dock in Ceylon. This action would not be a reassuring move to the British and would naturally showcase Ceylon’s independent course of foreign policy behavior. If one was to state that Ceylon recognized the PRC simply to follow the actions of the British, even if it did not materially benefit the island, then how could one portray the action to not allow Dutch ships to dock in Ceylon? I believe that Ceylon recognized the PRC because D.S Senanayake might have had the understanding that the PRC would one day become a market source of Ceylonese exports. Indeed his immediate successor Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and R.G. Senanayake initiated the rubber rice pact of 1952 which was one of the longest running south-south agreements in the history of the world; brought into existence in the same year of D.S Senanayake’s untimely death.

However for all of the reasons outlined above, his go-to choice was the British. He chose the British as the closest ally to Ceylon because:

  1. He understood that Britain no longer had expansionist aims in the Indian Ocean.
  2. He knew that the British naval force would be a deterrent factor if India was to directly or indirectly influence Sri Lanka’s foreign policy making (thus maybe a minor balance of power was at play in D.S Senanayake’s mind).
  3. He knew some of the British parliamentarians and hence he had an understanding of their attitude towards the region of south Asia.
  4. And lastly Sri Lanka had close trade and economic relationships with Britain and this would only be a further strengthening of an existing friendship.”19

Thus, D.S Senanayake chose an extra regional power – the British – as Ceylon’s closest ally and his policy was carried out by his two successors up until 1956. As the prime minister elucidated in a speech given to the BBC in 1951: “A world at peace is therefore her (Ceylon’s) first and foremost need, the world’s goodwill next, and then some timely and appropriate assistance if it can get it.”20

Indeed, it was his decision to pick the United Kingdom as the country’s closest “friend” but this decision was the outcome of many variables both internal and external; and one cannot pass a judgment to state that it was entirely his natural disposition towards the British that became the sole factor in making the foreign policy decisions of the country. He was therefore not “pro-west” but “inclined” to the west. In the face of many problems and challenging circumstances he sought a closer relationship with the UK but the factors behind his actions are equally if not more important to consider.

The words of Mendis are I believe a fitting end to my article:

With little knowledge of foreign affairs but great understanding of its principles he (D.S Senanayake) had steered his country through the dangerous shoals near the shore when setting out on the voyage of independence. As the captain of that ship he deserved the place accorded to him by his people as the father of our nation. 21

Shakthi De Silva.


  1. Silva, S. D. (2016, August 04). “Friendship With All, Enmity With None”: An Assessment of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy In The Times of DS Senanayake and Maithripala Sirisena. Retrieved August 14, 2016, from
  2. Mendis, Vernon L. B. Foreign Relations of Sri Lanka, from Earliest times to 1965. (p. 355) Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara Prakasakayo, 1983. Print.
  3. For more information see: Jennings, Sir Ivor. The Road to Temple Trees: Sir Ivor Jennings and the Constitutional Development of Ceylon: Selected Writings. Ed. Harshan Kumarasingham. Colombo: Center for Policy Alternatives, 2015. Print.
  4. Siriwardena, L. (1992). Internal dynamics in the evolution of Sri Lankan defense policy. In G. Keerawella (Author) & P. V. Jayasekera (Ed.), Security dilemma of a small state (pp. 236-237). New Delhi, India: South Asian.
  5. Mendis, V. L. (1983). Foreign relations of Sri Lanka, from earliest times to 1965 (p.363) Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara Prakasakayo.
  6. DEVENDRA, S. (2015). The NAVY IN SRI LANKA 1937-1972. (p. 185) Sri Lankan Navy.
  7. HULUGALLE, H. A. (1975). The life and times of Don Stephan Senanayake. (p. 201) M.D Gunasena.
  8. Kodikara, S. U. (1979). Strategic factors in interstate relations in South Asia (p. 13). Canberra, Australia: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.
  9. Jayewardene, A. (1992). Changes in power structure and security perceptions in the south Asian sub system. In P. V. Jayasekera (Ed.), Security dilemma of a small state (p. 291). New Delhi, India: South Asian.
  10. Kodikara, S. U. (1965). Indo-Ceylon relations since independence. (p. 37) Colombo: Ceylon Institute of World Affairs.
  11. Warnapala, W. W. (1992). Political processes and aspects of national integration and security in Sri Lanka. In P. V. Jayasekera (Ed.), Security dilemma of a small state (p. 147). New Delhi, India: South Asian.
  13. Jayasekera, P. V. (1992). Changing role of Sri Lanka in British defense strategy in the Indian Ocean. In P. V. Jayasekera (Ed.), Security dilemma of a small state (p. 67). New Delhi, India: South Asian.
  14. Kodikara, S. U. (1992). Defense and security perceptions of Sri Lankan foreign policy decision makers: A post independence overview. In P. V. Jayasekera (Ed.), Security dilemma of a small state (p. 211). New Delhi, India: South Asian.
  16. Karunadasa, W. M. (1997). Sri Lanka and non-alignment: A study of foreign policy from 1948 to 1982 (p. 19). Dehiwela: Image Lanka
  17. Nissanka, H. S. (1976). The foreign policy of Sri Lanka under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike: A turning point in the history of a newly independent country in Asia (p. 3). Colombo: Dept. of Information, Govt. of Sri Lanka.
  18. Kodikara, S. U. (1982). Foreign policy of Sri Lanka: A Third World perspective. (p. 59) Delhi: Chanakya Publications.
  19. Silva, S. D. (2016, August 04). “Friendship with All, Enmity with None”: An Assessment of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy in the Times of DS Senanayake and Maithripala Sirisena. Retrieved August 14, 2016, from
  20. Kodikara, S. U., & Misra, K. P. (2004). Prime Minister D.S Senanayake’s speech delivered over BBC London – January 1951. In A. Jayawardane (Ed.), Documents on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, 1947-1965 (p. 1). Colombo: Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.
  21. Mendis, V. L. (1983). Foreign relations of Sri Lanka, from earliest times to 1965 (p. 392). Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara Prakasakayo

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The Spirit of Modern Tibet in Neighborhood Diplomacy

modern tibet image

(This paper presented at the International Conference on ‘The Development of Modern Tibet’, organized by the Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University, China, 20th July 2016)



Connectivity and capabilities of Modern Tibet

Innovations in technology, communication and transportation have directed uncontrollable globalization in the 21st Century. Classical geopolitics has been fretted by globalization and has expanded global economic integration and interdependency by converging nation states into a common goal of peaceful and mutual development.

Historical Tibetan plateau was vulnerable to incessant western and eastern foreign attacks due to its location and strategic richness in natural resources. Foreign powers endeavored to detach Tibet from foreign affairs in order to protect their hegemonic power. Natural location of the plateau made the goal. However after the unification of Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1965, Tibet returned to international affairs with Chinese characteristics. China’s liberal market economy and Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Go Global policy’ heavily manipulated the lifeline of Tibet, stimulated to go beyond Tibetan borders and engage in global economy. Apart from Xinjiang autonomous region, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, Tibet has the capabilities to link up the Southwest slowly developing areas of China to the South Asian global market. Since India, Nepal, Bhutan Burma and Kashmir share national borders with Tibet, these borders facilitate the development of Tibet and entire China.

China’s ‘Go Global Policy’ has been developed by the norm of ‘One Belt One Route’ in the 21st century. This norm is laid upon the ancient Chinese silk route which exchanges unity, mutual trust, equality, inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual beneficial cooperation. Countries of different races, beliefs and cultural background are fully capable of sharing peace and development under the valuable inspiration of the Silk Route.[1] In this backdrop, China promotes neighborhood diplomacy; firstly, to achieve sound regional space for her own development, secondly, to apply national development for the development of neighboring countries and thirdly, to achieve common development with all states.


                             China’s basic policy of diplomacy with neighboring countries is to treat them

as friends and partners to make them as feel secure and to support their

development. This policy is characterized by friendship, sincerity,

reciprocity and inclusiveness…. We should advocate inclusiveness,

stressing that there is enough room in the Asia-Pacific region for all

countries to develop and promoting regional cooperation with an

open mind and enthusiasm. We must embrace and practice these

ideas, so that they will become the shared beliefs and norms

of conduct for the whole region.

-Xi Jinping, President of People’s Republic of China[2]


This is the spirit of modern China’s Tibet practices neighborhood diplomacy essentially with India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and Kashmir. Tibet is the best practitioner of neighborhood diplomacy of China because Tibet was the reason for China to detach from Nepal in 1855, India in 1962 and originate protracted mutual suspicion. Currently, the spirit of Tibet in neighborhood diplomacy stands for mutual development and peaceful coexistence. The Tibetan spirit lying on globalization is robust than classical geopolitics in the 21st century.


Connectivity through infrastructure developments

Infrastructure development projects-railroads are the core of enhancing connectivity between China’s Tibet and neighboring countries. Qinghai-Tibet Railway which provides a major access route to South Asian countries such as Nepal and India. Qinghai-Tibet Railway provides strong support for Tibet to enlarge the border trade with Nepal and India, which could help Tibet to become a new frontier of economic communication with South Asia.[3] This Railway has already extended to Shigatze. China plans to build two lines from Shigatze which would lead to Kerung, the nearest town from Nepal and other line to Yadong on the India-Bhutan border.[4]

Infrastructure development projects have originated a new pathway to India to develop her northern roads and railroads which are the way as same after the independence. However the memories of 1962 conflict still influence policy makers of India. Although there is no military instrument in current India-China relations, writings, statements of decision makers and ancient defense mentality obstruct the spirit of China’s Tibet. Remote relations improve misunderstanding and closer relations lend a hand to understanding actual challenges and opportunities. The five principles of peaceful co-existence have never been broken by China in its economic relations with other countries. This is the green light to increase economic cooperation between India and China’s Tibet. The one route heavily depends on Asia’s rising India to make tide the economic belt. It benefits and protects 67% of population of Asia who represent one third of global economy.


China’s Tibet as a role model

Neighboring region of China’s Tibet- South Asia has ethnicity based development issues. Ethnicity based demarcation develops egoism rather than patriotism. Unstable conflicting ethnic societies face inequalities and delay their own economic development, national development and security. Multi-ethnic South Asia is exercising this common reality. The rapid expansion of Terrorist, separatist and extremist movements question the sustainability of national as well as regional development and security.

China’s Tibet faced a lot what South Asian countries are facing today. Even though there are many ethnic Tibetans who practice different customs and cultures, they have patriotic voice today. Tibetans are culturally distant but economically contiguous because of the economic policies of the Chinese government. Strategic economic policies ran up entire region without rely on the ethnical differences. This inclusiveness has increased the per capita income, national economic development and peaceful co-existence in Tibet.

China’s Tibet has resolved problems which were occurred by the multi-ethnicities. Its inclusive economic policies peacefully addressed inequalities and protected sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is why South Asian countries can get China’s Tibet as a role model of solving ethnic issues and achieving national and regional economic development.

by Shalika Dias






End Notes


(1989) China’s Foreign Relations: A chronology of events (1949-1988), Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

(2014) Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

Atul Aneja, All is not smooth on the Silk Road 11 July 2016

Chen Tiejun, The Development of Transportation Infrastructure and International Links in China’s southwest Region (2010), ERIA Research Project Report 2009-7-5, Jakarta, 12 July 2016

China Seminar Report, Tibet- Connectivity, Capabilities and Consequences, No. 190 (2006), 11 July 2016.

David S.G. Goodman and Gerald Segal (1997), China Rising, London: Rutledge.

John W. Garver (2001), Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the 20th Century, USA: University of Washington Press.

Kennet Christie (1998), Ethnic Conflict Tribal Politics: A Global Perspective, Britain, Curzon Press.

Monika Chansoria, China’s Infrastructure Development in Tibet: Evaluating Trendiness, No 32 (2011), New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare Studies, 12 July 2016

Nie Xiaoyang (2012), Tibet: Fast and Furious, the Commercial Press.

Ram Rahul (1992), Modern Tibet, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharal.

Ramakant (1988), China and South Asia, Jaipur: university of Rajastan.


[1] Xi Jinping (2014), Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, Beijing: Foreign Language Press.


[2] Ibid.

[3] Chen Tiejun, The Development of Transportation Infrastructure and International Links in China’s southwest Region (2010), ERIA Research Project Report 2009-7-5, Jakarta, 12 July 2016

[4] Ibid.


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