Notes to the People: NO to the MCC
Posted on July 2nd, 2020

By Sumanasiri Liyanage Courtesy Ceylon Today

The two seemingly unrelated events became quite important in understanding the emerging trends in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The first was the simmering tension that has been prevailing in the border between India and China turned into face-to-face fighting between two sides broke out in the Galwan Valley on 15 June. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) between China and India runs from east to west for some 4,057 kilometres.

As BBC reported, at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese forces in a disputed Himalayan border area. No details about Chinese casualties. The second was the handing over of the final report of the committee appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to investigate on the proposed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement.   

Events and Structures

Historians and social scientists incessantly debate on the relationship between events and structures. A standard dictionary defines events as happening or occurrence of any kind. It was customary to say that describing and analysing an event is a task of the historians while the specific task of the social scientists is to decipher social structure. Historians like Fernand Braudel are against this bifurcation. For him, an event is a mere froth on the waves of history. Hence, history should study geographical, ecological, and mental structures of long duration and how different elements or constituent parts (like economy, demography and politics) are conjoined. Marshal Sahlins puts it crystal clear in the following words: Structure is to the event as the social to the individual, the essential to the accidental, the recurrent to the idiosyncratic, the visible to the invisible, the lawful to the aleatory, the quotidian to the extraordinary, the silent to the audible, the anonymous to the authored, the normal to the traumatic, the comparable to the unique.”

Hence, the task of either a social historian or a social scientist is to look for underlying forces that worked beneath the surface. Some events are epoch-creating. Events may look accidental, but they demonstrate the strength, as well as the weakness of the structure within which they operate. Moreover, events are not isolated; they are linked with multiple events in the past so that to understand them they should be situated in their proper context. Only then their distant linkages may be diagnosed. It is in such a perspective that this column proposes to look at these two recent events.

Indo-China Border Conflict

Let me first deal with Event 1, i.e., the recent escalation of border conflict between India and China in Galwan Valley. Commenting on the event Achin Vanaik has to say this: To understand why these hostilities have broken out now, one must look beyond the immediate conditions on the border to the shifting bilateral relations between the two countries. This, in turn, cannot be separated from a survey of the historically evolving geopolitical ambitions of the two countries, and their respective ties and arrangements with other powerful States”. Of course, there are two drivers that would lead to border disputes between countries with common border, land or sea. They are: (1) nationalism and (2) Imperial domination in its many varieties. Both are in operation in India and China. However, as far as the border disputes are concerned, India’s record is worse than that of China. Vanaik notes: it further bears mentioning that China, which shares a border with fourteen countries, has resolved its land-border disputes with all but India. Of India’s six land neighbours, disputes remain with five of them — excluding only Bhutan”.

Indo-China relations worsened not because of the tension at the Border States but because of outside intrusion into the IOR in the guise of encountering Chinese influence in the IOR. As Vanaik has noted the China factor has divided Indian foreign policy establishment. He writes: ‘One group (the largest) argues that India must further consolidate and deepen its relations with the United States and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — QSD or the ‘Quad,’ consisting of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. 

A second group somewhat problematically proposes that India pursue closer relationships with the United States and the Quad, yet also seek to maximise its strategic autonomy and thereby achieve better relations with China, as if both courses of action are compatible through some form of brilliant diplomacy. 

A third group (easily the smallest) call on India to reconsider and reframe its current relationship with the United States and the Quad to become much more independent and non-aligned. The very coinage of Indo-Pacific Region by the US establishment is to get India into this quadrilateral security dialogue. India’s ambiguous position over China has been working as the third driver for the border tension. The US appears to be playing the same role that it played to destabilise West Asia, popularly known as the Middle East, now in the IOR.

Millennium Challenge Corporation

It is imperative to situate the MCC compact in this broader configuration of the IOR. Although Sri Lanka does not fall into the category of poor Nations, the US is keen to offer a US$ 480 million grant to Sri Lanka. This is in itself fishy. The committee report on the MCC has painted the MCC agreement as detrimental to national economy and will not contribute positively to alleviate poverty or to rejuvenate the economy. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the most important negative aspect of the MCC is its possible adverse impact on the country’s sovereignty. Although the US Government has denied that the MCC has nothing to with military agreements, as we all are aware it is an integral part of the overall Indo-Pacific strategy that entails three main elements (diplomacy, defence and development) associated with three major agreements namely Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and MCC. 

As I and many others have shown, through the MCC compact and other associated agreements, the US seems to be trying to make Sri Lanka a part of and centre of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India while Taiwan plays second fiddle. Sri Lanka’s decision to sign the MCC compact would be tantamount to moving away from the non-aligned foreign policy that was embedded into our foreign policy discourse in the 1960s and the 1970s. Transcending beyond party affiliations, every citizen in Sri Lanka should say without any hesitation ‘NO’ to the MCC following the message conveyed by the Prof. Gunaruwan Committee. 

(The writer is a retired teacher of Political Economy at the University of Peradeniya.) E-mail: [email protected]By Sumanasiri Liyanage | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 3 2020

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