The unenviable position of weaker states on the frontier of the powerful – Analysis – Eurasia Review

Historically, weaker border states have had to contend with the geopolitical and strategic interests of a powerful neighbor

Weak countries that share a land or sea border with a powerful state with geopolitical interests have historically faced a dilemma. The choices they had to make were difficult.

All states, whether weak or strong, have a powerful psychological need to maintain their sovereign and independent status as equals in the community of nations. All states must develop commercial and political ties with a wide variety of countries, including world powers with opposing interests. At the same time, they are subject to the lures and pressures emanating from global and/or regional powers, especially Big Brother at the gate.

To overcome the dilemma, some states have voluntarily chosen neutrality. Switzerland has always been neutral by mutual agreement. Sweden chose to be neutral. Finland had a difficult relationship with the USSR/Russia but managed to keep its independence by acquiescing to the Soviet Union or Russia in many ways. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland has changed course and wants to join NATO, like Sweden.

When a weaker border state is perceived as a security or geopolitical threat to the more powerful neighbor, the latter becomes hostile and may even threaten absorption, war or blockade or other forms of sanctions.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a 13-day political and military standoff over the installation of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the American coast. When the Ukrainian border state was considering joining NATO, which was slowly but surely moving towards the Russian border, Russia invaded Ukraine. In Moscow’s eyes, a border state must be mindful of Russia’s security and geopolitical interests.

Even more recently, when the United States encouraged Taiwan to be formally independent from mainland China and United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a controversial visit to Taipei, China put its armed forces into offensive. In Beijing’s eyes, Taiwan is part of China. In the days of European empires, powerful nations built weaker but neutral buffer states on their borders, and kept giants from clashing. The buffer states ensured the security of the two giants against each other.

In modern times, powers, whether regional or global, expect their smaller neighbors to be aware of their geopolitical and economic interests and not to harm them. The docking of the controversial Chinese ship in August Yuan Wang 5 and a 2014 Chinese submarine in Sri Lanka sparked discontent in India due to the longstanding and continuing to escalate geopolitical tension between India and China. India fears being encircled by China.

In 2013, India and Sri Lanka, along with the Maldives, entered into a maritime security cooperation and information sharing agreement. The deal was at National Security Advisor (NSA) level with Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Defense, replacing the NSA. But despite the deal, Sri Lanka allowed a Chinese submarine to dock in Colombo in 2014 when it was known to be angering India. Said agreement was reiterated in 2020. And yet the spy/research ship Yuan Wang 5 was cleared to dock in August this year, behind India.

The matter was settled as Sri Lanka and India wished to pursue good relations for the general benefit of both countries. However, the residues of the impasse remain. China attacked India through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka, the latter even asking Sri Lanka to join China in the struggle for independence and sovereignty against threats such as those observed on Taiwan and the mooring of Yuan Wang 5.

India responded with a travel warning that could hurt tourism in Sri Lanka at a time when Chinese people are being barred from venturing abroad. New Delhi wanted Colombo to know that it would not be happy if Colombo took the bait from Beijing to support the UNHRC. India feels hurt that despite its $3.8 billion loan to Lanka to deal with economic distress, and despite China’s refusal to help, Lanka should address the concerns of India with little respect.

While the Lankan government is silent on the risk of an Indo-Lankan split, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, Milinda Moragoda, has tried to mend the fences. In a frank and constructive interview with the The Hindu On Saturday, Moragoda said: “There is no doubt that the mooring of the ship was a problem between us. The question is how to build a framework for such problems in order to avoid them in the future, and not letting this kind of problem lead to a lack of trust Despite the ups and downs, Sri Lanka would like to build a balance in the relationship, where there are no surprises.

But Colombo must find ways to get help from China. Although the IMF is working on a bailout for Sri Lanka, the island nation must restructure its external debt to a variety of creditors, a task that is not easy, especially when China says it cannot accept any collective decision to take a “haircut”. Beijing is against debt restructuring. And without its adherence to any agreement, the other creditors will not agree. And if there is no collective agreement, the IMF bailout of US$3 billion will not materialize.

Sri Lanka must appease China, but China will not easily accept if Colombo does not accept its condition of turning a deaf ear to India’s demands. Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong made this very clear in his recent article in Sri Lankan newspapers.

Speaking of India but not naming it, Qi said: “Thinking back to the great history of the island of Sri Lanka, which overcame aggression from its northern neighbor 17 times, colonization by the West during 450 years and a war against terrorism for nearly 3 decades, still stands tall in the world with courage and pride.

“No attack on the national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka will be tolerated. Approving the stopover of a foreign ship at Hambantota or any other port for refueling is a decision taken by the Sri Lankan government which is entirely within its sovereignty, not to mention all scientific research activities of Yuan Wang 5 consistent with international law and common international practice”.

“External obstruction based on so-called security concerns but without any evidence from certain forces is de facto a total interference in the sovereignty and independence of Sri Lanka. Fortunately, with the joint efforts of China and Sri Lanka, the incident was resolved properly, which not only safeguarded the sovereignty and independence of Sri Lanka, but also upheld fairness and justice once again. international.

“Like Sri Lanka, China suffered a hundred years of humiliation from 1840 to 1949. Due to a similar dark experience, China has always supported Sri Lanka in international forums to protect its sovereignty, independence and its territorial integrity. We will continue to do so. On the other hand, some countries, far and near, still invoke various baseless excuses to intimidate Sri Lanka and repeatedly trample Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence.”

“Next month, the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council will be held in Geneva, where human rights issues in Sri Lanka could likely be stirred up again. As the people of Sri Lanka continue to grapple with severe economic and humanitarian hardship, many might wonder what these countries, which have always preached about human rights, will actually do. Will they help Sri Lanka alleviate its human rights crisis by providing concrete support? Or will they once again use human rights as a camouflage tool to meddle in the internal affairs of the island nation and continue to put salt in the wounds of the Sri Lankan people? Let’s wait and see.

Support for the UNHRC is a major Chinese bait for Sri Lanka as the Sri Lankan political system is rocked by council censures because such censures could lead to the withdrawal of GSP trade concessions and the arrest of its leaders by Western nations under the principle of universality. jurisdiction.

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