THE INDIAN OCEAN FROM ADMIRAL ZHENG HE TO HUB AND SPOKE CONTAINER MARITIME COMMERCE
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU & Ivan Eve
TO BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE, An Update (January 2020)
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
Our final and main objective was, in 2016, to consider the emergence of the Indian Ocean as the center of 21st-century maritime container commerce with Sri Lanka as the hub and Africa becoming an essential vector.
We concentrated on the modern period, the macro-geographic data and situations in and around the Indian Ocean and on one particular aspect: the development of the hub-and-spoke model for the network of maritime connections in, around and beyond the Indian Ocean as for container commerce. We were writing after the end of the Tamil Tigers terroristic civil war in Sri Lankan, hence in 2010 and subsequent years. Mahinda Rajapaksa was President and Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the minister who led the final military offensive and won the war.
We insisted on the hub itself, Sri Lanka, which was at the time changing rapidly; on some of the various harbors around the Indian Ocean and their inland goods transportation networks, essentially railroads and highways; on the projects in that field, particularly the New Silk Road of the Chinese that has become now the Belt and Road Initiative; on the bottlenecks of the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca, for quite different reasons; and on the dead-end of the Persian Gulf, except as the starting point of a hinterland network that would, and will, develop when the wars and insecurity there are stabilized. And this last point has not changed at all.
We envisaged the various routes beyond and the final destinations. We only mentioned the railroad connection between Asia and Europe using the trans-Siberian railroad and beyond to Hamburg and Madrid, as a competing alternative. We eventually showed how backward in that field of container maritime commerce the USA was, and nothing has basically changed, backward as compared to the world and absent from the Indian Ocean and the China Seas as an actor in that container maritime commerce, but not as a military “challenger.”
We then moved to the various organizations that had direct interests in the development of this hub and spoke network of maritime connections and routes in the Indian Ocean. But this led us to the security infrastructure to manage the movements of the ships (to avoid flags of convenience) and the various trafficking activities that are to be contained (human trafficking; smuggling weapons, military equipment and various goods; not to mention criminal activities of any other type) with the challenge of who can do it and how. We then saw clearly the stake attached to the re-emergence of human trafficking and slavery in this vast area, which justifies a long study of slavery in this zone from very ancient times.
This security problem was and more than ever is central due to piracy and trafficking. Digitalized satellite surveillance will have to be set up for the whole Indian Ocean. What role will the USA and Europe play now the New Silk Road with the Silk Railway from China to Germany reached Spain on December 9, 2014, and the maritime Silk Road reached Western Europe quite some time ago? The Chinese were making contacts in Afghanistan to open, after the departure of the Americans, the link between Kazakhstan and Gwadar harbor, Pakistan. China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd and other Chinese companies were involved in harbor equipment and railroad development all around the Indian Ocean.
Our general hypothesis was that the evolution at that time was the refoundation of what existed up to 1433, and the Indian Ocean is becoming again the center of the world’s maritime commerce, under the strong pioneering leadership of the Chinese.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in 2015 by a coalition of some secessionists from his party and the right. For five years this alliance, Maithripala Sirisena as President and Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, systematically froze for two to three years all the projects, particularly the Colombo Port City and the harbor of Hambantota, which brought the growth rate down, and they disbanded the security policy of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which led to the Islamic terror attack of Easter 2019 against Catholic churches and against hotels, bringing the country to stagnation.
This also led to a landslide victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa on November 18, 2019, and the newly elected President called his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, for the post of Prime Minister. This new administration is going back to the economic and diplomatic tables and pushing all negotiations with India and China, first of all, but also with numerous other countries from Pakistan to Russia, from Japan to Singapore, from Dubai to South East Asia, to redynamise the country and to revitalize its tourist industry.
But in the meantime, the world has changed and this book is tremendously powerful in the present situation when the Chinese president is pushing his Belt and Road Initiative forward and amplifying it with the newly developed Artificial Intelligence and digital hi-tech and financial-commercial implementation all around the world with vast developments in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Russia, Greece, Latin America, and Europe, negotiating at the same time a new relation with the USA that will not yield to Trump’s tariff war that has already cost one point of development to the world, two points of growth to the US, and no loss to China who is using the 5G revolution to transform Huawei from a simple telephone company to the heart of the next two or three decades of economic, social and cultural progress. The Indian Ocean has become again the center of this transformation, not only of Sri Lanka or China but of the world.
The mental model is that of the Hub-and-Stroke architecture we described in this book. This model implies that no one dominates the others but that the network necessary for the development of our world is a global pattern of several hub-and-stroke Gestalt all equally connected to one another with half a dozen, a dozen or more hubs and hundreds of strokes. This requires a global security system to manage the circulation of goods, money and people, of intellectual property and economic assets. And that can only happen if we manage to curb what may cause the end of human civilization, I mean climate change, egocentric selfishness, nationalistic jingoism and the inability for all of us to be constantly open to other cultures, religions, beliefs in a systematic reciprocal mutual collaboration because human future is not in any way, written anywhere as some fate that would be inescapable. That means to bring to an end all wars as fast as possible and all troops that are outside their national territories with no clear international mandate back to their homes and barracks.
That’s what is behind this book and the present evolution of the world is actually making this philosophy the real core of our destiny that has been dominating our history since even before we, Homo Sapiens, emerged in Black Africa some 300,000 years ago.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
Olliergues, France, January 20, 2020