Thursday, November 05, 2020

How the US election would impact Sri Lanka - Prof. Rohan Samarajiwa

Well known Sri Lankan academic and political and economic analyst Prof. Rohan Samarajiva said that the election in the US was not a unified election conducted by a central election commission, but a collection of 51 separate elections with lots of postal ballots and such making it unlikely that the final results will be known in a few hours.

Further analysing the election especially focusing on the impact on Sri Lanka, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva expressed the following views:

The election was focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant effects on the economy. In my view, the pandemic is running out of control and the effects on the economy are likely to be severe. Whoever wins, the focus will be domestic as a result. Impacts on the scale of the Great Depression of 1930 are likely. If enough people in the US are affected, impacts on worldwide demand are likely. The US is Sri Lanka’s principal export market. We will definitely be affected. We should hope for an effective response to the pandemic and the economic crisis.

Trump has withdrawn the US from the WHO, which many people in the US and outside believe is needed as part of an effective response to this and future pandemics. If Biden wins, I expect the US to immediately rejoin. There will be a clear difference between the engagement of the US in multilateral initiatives that affect Sri Lanka such as on Climate Change and pandemics. Biden’s team will engage, Trump will try to go it alone.

In terms of geopolitics, I do not expect fundamental changes in initiatives such as the quad (US, Japan, Australia, and India) and the general efforts to balance or contain the rise of China. These moves are associated with the long-term interests of the US rather than a specific political party. Of course, the way things are operationalized may be different.

India will continue to be an important focus of US strategy and in many cases, Sri Lanka will be fitted into the larger strategies around India and China. As a tiny country on the other side of the world, it is a little unrealistic to think that we will be a high priority for the people who will be appointed to the foreign policy and defence teams.

Because the country will be preoccupied with domestic matters, the emphasis on human rights is likely to be less, whoever comes to power. Of course, if Trump returns, it will be close to absent, though the ingrained culture in the State Department will take some time to fully reflect that.

A new President will make thousands of new appointments of officials. These new appointees will be able to push some matters of importance to them personally, but at this point, it is too early to speculate. Kamala Harris’s primary identification is as an African American, rather than as a desi, even though her selection has motivated the large population of Americans of Indian origin to support her. My observation has been that the Sri Lankan diaspora in the US is less influential than in Canada and the UK.

I see the most impacts in terms of how the world deals with the pandemic, the related economic contraction and the larger problem of the effects of climate change. A Trump win will mean the US will try to go it alone and disregard science. A Biden win is more conducive to a multilateral approach that gives weight to science, but in the weakened state that the US is in, things will be sub-optimal, whoever wins.

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