New opportunities for Asia
Asia is the most dynamic continent in the world today.
It is home to the two most populous countries in the world. Asia
has an almost countless number of ethnicities and cultures. The
region is economically very active, with a number of countries
having 'Asian Tiger' status and others moving rapidly towards
developed status. The rest of the world is scrambling to trade
with Asia and gain an investment foothold there.
But most Asian countries still do need the assistance and
cooperation of the international community to accelerate their
economic growth. They have a healthy dialogue and interaction
with major donor countries, international financial institutions
and lending agencies.
However, there is a widespread notion that these financial
institutions impose certain conditions on countries that seek
their assistance. In some instances, these demands and
conditions are clearly politically motivated, probably at the
insistence of certain powerful nations. This is not a healthy
trend, considering the effect such conditions could have on the
people of countries seeking assistance.
This point was raised on Thursday by President Mahinda
Rajapaksa, when he observed that financial institutions that
play an increasing role in the Asian region should be more
concerned about the burdens they impose on the masses through
conditions for assistance and elimination of poverty.
Addressing the eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Asia
Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) in Colombo, President Rajapaksa
stressed that Asian countries should not be held ransom to such
Some of these demands and conditions have little to do with
the grant of aid and loans. Several Western countries which did
not appreciate Sri Lanka's victory over terrorism tried to block
aid to Sri Lanka in the international arena, citing human rights
concerns. Sri Lanka was able to successfully defend itself at
the UN against these charges, with the help of many friendly
nations including China, India and Pakistan. Sri Lanka also
successfully negotiated a US$ 2.5 billion facility with the
International Monetary Fund, despite many attempts to deny such
These instances show that enhanced cooperation among
developing countries could be one answer to the dominance of
certain international fora by powerful Western countries. The
ACD is one such forum which shows the unity of Asian countries.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has
also initiated regional development fund and a food bank that
will reduce the dependency on other nations. Elsewhere in Asia,
ASEAN, ARF, BIMSTEC and other bodies are reaching a new level of
cooperation among Asian countries. As the President noted, Asia
should strive to regain its independence that is challenged on
many fronts and across many borders.
'Trade, not aid' is a mantra in modern economics. But there
are hurdles to the free flow of trade. Many developed countries
still practice protectionist measures that keep out goods from
the Third World. As President Rajapaksa pointed out, these
countries and institutions should recognize the many
disadvantages caused by subsidies implemented by the advanced
economies while preaching to the developing countries to move
away from subsidies. Asian economies have also been hit hard by
the recent economic meltdown in the West. In the President's
words, "our economies are today facing hardship due to the
problems caused by others who should share the burdens of
recovery". Asian countries and many others are today carrying
the burden caused by poor regulation and the encouraging of
greed in dominant economies of the West.
As the President emphasized, Asian countries should view this
situation as a challenge and an opportunity to strengthen
intra-regional trade and cooperation. The very theme of the
eighth Ministerial Meeting of the ACD "Spirit of Asia: Global
Economic Recovery and Development Prospects" reflects this
viewpoint. There should be a better dialogue among the various
Asian regional fora and Asian countries should raise one voice
on the international stage, i.e at the UN. It is also vital to
increase people-to-people contact in Asia, which should
eventually aspire to open all borders and even move towards a
common currency. The proposed Pan-Asian rail network, of which
Sri Lanka is also a member, is a step in the right direction. In
the meantime, air and sea links should be developed further.
Asia still faces many other challenges besides development.
Although Sri Lanka has successfully crushed terrorism, many
other Asian countries are grappling with it. They are already
looking at Sri Lanka as a role model in this regard. Asian
countries must share intelligence and work together to end this
grave threat to civilization. Poverty and malnourishment, food
insecurity, the drugs trade, trafficking in women and children,
lack of educational opportunities and the use of children for
labour and conflict are among the myriad other issues
confronting the region. These are huge challenges that require a
concerted effort on the part of all Asian nations but they can
all be surmounted with the right leadership and attitudes.