This article originally appears in the Daily FT of Monday 3rd June 2019, and can be accessed here.
The latest edition of the Lowy Institute’s ‘Asia Power Index’ provides an insightful picture of the power dynamics shaping the Asia-Pacific region, with many interesting takeaways for Sri Lankan political leaders, bureaucrats and businesses. One of the overarching messages contained in the 2019 Index is that China is making strides in power and influence across the region and is closing the gap with the United States, even though the latter still remains the dominant power in Asia. Yet, even as China forges ahead with its ambitious (and sometimes contentious) ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, the report argues that the country’s internal political and structural challenges will make it hard for it to establish ‘undisputed primacy in the region’. Closer to home, Sri Lanka’s performance paints an interesting picture. Drawing from the report’s co-author Bonnie Bley’s article last year, If the number of skyscrapers is an indication of a country’s ‘Prestige’ and thus, ‘Cultural projection’ as measured by the Index, then Sri Lanka ranks pretty high at 16thout of 25 countries, with three buildings above 150 meters compared to just two in New Zealand. But the Index provides a much more comprehensive picture than that of a country’s hard and soft power and influence in Asia, ranging from economic relationships to strategic ambition, which are discussed in this article. On ‘Overall Power’, Sri Lanka ranks 21stout of 25 countries, with a score of 8.5 out of 100 and listed in the ‘Minor Powers’ category. We are above Nepal, Mongolia, Laos, and Cambodia, but below Bangladesh and Myanmar. The rest of the article highlights some of the key findings of the report across a select set of influence measures, and explores their relevance for Sri Lanka.