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“Siege Mentality” Will Cost Sri Lanka Dearly In The Economic Sphere

A Japanese Navy vessel that visited Sri Lanka recently. War ships regularly call on various countries during peace times, and are not considered a threat to a nation. However, a section of society and the media would have one believe that such exercises are harbingers of foreign intervention.

There is this unfortunate tendency on the part of sections of the media in Sri Lanka to sensationalize South Asia’s perceived geopolitical tensions. They are prone to even counting the number of big power war ships that visit Sri Lankan ports. According to one source, the number of such vessels visiting Sri Lanka since 2008 is 450 and rising.

The question to be posed is whether such media fixations have a depressing impact on the morale of the public and on that of the political and decision-making personnel of this country. Here’s a thought-provoking question that ought to be focused on by universities and think tanks, for instance, for the purpose of ascertaining the possible insidious and inimical impact of those sections of the local media that gravitate towards the ‘freedom of the wild ass’.

The research question of foremost importance, in this connection, is whether our political and other decision-makers are adversely affected by such deleterious tendencies in these sensation-prone sections of the media. Is there a risk of them and other sections that matter cultivating over time a ‘siege mentality’ as a result of the notion being dinned into them that the country is continuing to be coveted by external powers whose intentions are questionable? We do not intend to prejudge the issue at this juncture but wish to point out that these questions constitute material that local Media Studies ought to take up for research and deliberation in the national interest. Their feedback will prove vital in the areas of media and national security policy formulation.

While there is no question that the Freedom of Expression should thrive, the ideal of balancing freedom with responsibility should never be lost sight of. Hopefully, the directions of media research outlined here would lead to the strengthening of this ideal.

The criticism could be made by some readers to the effect that Sri Lanka’s decision-makers are unlikely to succumb easily to all that they are exposed to in the media but those who know Sri Lankan politicians in particular are unlikely to unreservedly subscribe to this notion. As proved time and again even the most prominent of our politicians are not always above gullibility.

What prompts the above questions is a series of recent disclosures in a global study conducted by the HSBC Bank on the readiness among Asia-Pacific countries to engage in international trade and business in the current global economic climate. The report by HSBC is titled ‘Navigator: Now, next and how for business’. The study brought out in early November surveyed more than 8,500 corporates across some 34 markets worldwide. More than 3,300 companies in 12 markets in the Asia Pacific region featured in the survey.

The Garment trade has been an important foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka. However, the country has not diversified enough on the economic front and now lags behind many Asian nations in trade.
The Garment trade has been an important foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka. However, the country has not diversified enough on the economic front and now lags behind many Asian nations in trade.

Among other things, the study reveals that India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam ‘score the highest in the world, with more than nine in 10 companies having a positive outlook on trade.’ Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is nowhere among the front runner countries in the Asia-Pacific that are home to companies with a ‘positive outlook on international trade’ and those that possess corporates that are ‘confident of success in the current environment.’ (Those interested in having detailed information on this survey could contact Alan Ho at alan.s.y.ho@hsbc.com.hk and Tala Booker at tala.booker.@hsbc.com.hk)

Some other countries that feature very favourably in the HSBC study and are seen as meeting very adequately the criteria for corporate vibrancy and ‘business readiness’ are China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. Needless to say, many of these countries have a ‘colonial past’ and are the victims of ‘neo-colonial’ binds of numerous kinds.

How is it that Sri Lanka, now being touted by interested parties as a ‘hub’ for numerous things, is nowhere near these economically successful countries? It ought to be plain to see that many of the above listed countries were at one time seen as way behind Sri Lanka in terms of economic performance. But today they are soaring ahead of Sri Lanka. Why?

The answer could very well lie in the ‘siege mentality’ referred to earlier. Sri Lanka has a ‘mixed bag’ of political decision-makers in particular. Some of them are yet to outgrow stifling ideological blinkers that were relevant only in the ‘colonial times’ of the early decades of the last century. However, they continue to wear them, in the hope of garnering the votes of those in this country who, like them, remain mired in nationalist political agendas of pre-independence times. However, it ought to be clear that these ideological fixations that stress ‘inwardness’ rather than ‘outwardness’ in matters relating to economic and business policy, are badly outdated in the current times.

Sri Lanka could be said to be tearing itself apart on the horns of a dilemma. Should we go the whole hog and engage fully with the global economy or not? This is the issue, but Sri Lanka’s ruling establishment is divided on this question. Those advocating ‘openness’ have to contend with those who strongly favour narrowly nationalist agendas. The result is policy dysfunction. The history of Sri Lanka’s Free Trade Agreements bears out the point.

It is for the above reasons that sensationalist treatment of geopolitical issues in the local media could prove highly deleterious and counter-productive. These sections of the media probably target local nationalist sections, including decision-makers, and the latter, in turn, strongly influence economic and business policy. These policy parameters, by rejecting a proactive engagement of Sri Lanka with the global economy, bring about economic retrogression.

Sri Lanka possesses dynamic business houses and entrepreneurs of exceptional ability but they could be stymied by politicians who nurture ‘inwardness’ in economic policy. Little wonder we are way down in Asia-Pacific business success rankings.

Narrow nationalistic agendas act as a stranglehold on Sri Lanka’s ability to fully engage with the global economy. Of particular issue are Trade Agreements signed with various countries which are constantly attacked as being detrimental to the country.
Narrow nationalistic agendas act as a stranglehold on Sri Lanka’s ability to fully engage with the global economy. Of particular issue are Trade Agreements signed with various countries which are constantly attacked as being detrimental to the country.

If big power war ships are visiting Sri Lanka and the ports of other small states in South Asia, this is only to be expected, because no major power will be content with playing small roles on the stage of international politics. But these small states ought to be circumspect and sufficiently skilled and foresighted to protect their independence and sovereignty. If they don’t do this, they have only themselves to blame. However, cultivating a ‘siege mentality’ would result in these small powers inviting increasing material backwardness and underdevelopment.

Bangladesh and Vietnam, for example, ought to remind us that ‘the sky’s the limit’ for those countries of our region that engage the world proactively, without losing sight of their national interest. These countries are not only blessed with forward-thinking political establishments but with also media which think in terms of achieving what is due to their countries in a spirit of utmost pragmatism and practicality.

 

 

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