Sri Lanka and China’s Indian Ocean Strategy


February 22, 2017

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Number 372 | February 21, 2017

ANALYSIS

Sri Lanka Suffers from China’s Indian Ocean Strategy

By Shiyana Gunasekara

Amidst local protests against the Chinese presence in the southern Sri Lankan town of Hambantota, Beijing insists that the town’s port project has been discussed in the “spirit of equality and mutual benefit, and follows market rules.” China’s activity in the Indian Ocean – particularly in Sri Lanka, which is a focal point in China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan – appears to be predatory lending under the guise of economic development.

India needs to recalibrate its strategy towards the other South Asian countries for its own security, if not regional stability; however, Delhi has yet to offer a comparable alternative to doing business with China. Instead, India has taken its asymmetric power in the region and the de facto allegiances of its much smaller neighbors for granted.  With China’s recent track record of placing military vessels in traditionally commercial docks, India must take its role as the South Asian hegemon seriously.

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80% share of  Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port goes to China

In October 2016, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced that the China Merchants Holdings (International) Company Ltd. would hold an 80% share of the Hambantota Port in exchange for over USD $1 billion in the country’s debt.  This should be of particular concern to India, since China has used the Colombo South Container Terminal, owned by the same Chinese firm, to dock submarines, as opposed to the Sri Lanka Port Authority’s mooring designated for military vessels.  Previously, Colombo intended to hide visits of two other Chinese naval vessels from the media. With the majority of the Hambantota Port sold to China’s semi-private sector, India should be prepared for another visit by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy – perhaps for a much longer period of time.

The complete details of Chinese loans and other financial assistance have not been disclosed to the public, notably including details of the loan interest rates. China leads the country’s foreign inflows, with 98% of Chinese assistance to Sri Lanka being loans and only two percent as grants. China’s Export-Import Bank accounts for 77% of these loans, with 14% coming from the China Development Bank, and five percent from interest-free loans. China’s Export-Import Bank has notoriously given loans to countries on its OBOR initiative with strict self-serving procurement and contracting regulations: Chinese companies must be awarded the contract, both for the project itself and for procurement, and at least 50% of project procurement must be services, equipment, technology and materials from China.

Foreign direct investment and other forms of financial engagement from a G2 country to an emerging economy should be focused on market-friendly approaches to supporting economic development in the latter. Chinese investment in Sri Lanka, and other countries along China’s visionary trail would be a true boost to the local economy if the loan money were staying in the country through greater local employment and project procurement. Instead, Sri Lanka borrows money from China, which China requires to be used to contract largely state-owned Chinese companies. These companies provide salaries to Chinese employees who come to Sri Lanka to build infrastructure projects using mostly Chinese materials and technology.

The Mattala Airport and the Hambantota Port are prime examples of large-scale infrastructure projects financed by China that did not promote local economic development.These projects were purely gambles by the former Sri Lankan government, for which there was no guaranteed return on investment – a risky move for an economy coming out of an expensive three-decade war.

Sri Lanka, undergoing vast economic reforms outlined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), might not be the only South Asian state that will have to be bailed out due to crushing Chinese-owned debt.  An IMF report on the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), noted that import requirements of the project “will likely offset a significant share of inflows, such that the current account deficit would widen.” While the IMF acknowledges that the long run benefits may help mitigate said costs, such success is not guaranteed, as seen in Sri Lanka.  Hence Pakistan too should take into serious consideration the equity-for-debt swap that Sri Lanka was forced into due to the island nation’s ill-advised decisions and China’s over-eagerness to offer self-serving loans.

India is the largest power in South Asia in essentially every measure, and should continue to initiate deeper maritime collaborations with its neighbors for its own interests as well as for the benefit of the region. India can accomplish this goal by providing fiscal alternatives for its smaller neighbors to develop their infrastructures and human capital that are more favorable than Chinese-financed loans with unclear intentions.

China is a pragmatic power, and most likely foresaw Sri Lanka’s economic decline that resulted in Chinese ownership of the Hambantota port. China’s actions of fostering questionable loan conditions and blurring the line between commercial and military objectives do not correspond to its purported aim of establishing a positive public image. Ultimately, if China commits to increased transparency, its ambition to become a re-emerging global power will be better received.

About the Author

Shiyana Gunasekara is a masters candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies focusing on international economics and Asian affairs, and was a Fulbright Scholar to Sri Lanka in 2014-2015. She can be contacted at Shiyana.Gunasekara@jhu.edu

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

East Asia: Trade Regime critical for Economic Stability and Political Security


East Asia: Trade Regime critical for Economic Stability and Political Security

by  EAF Editorial Group

What the Trump Administration will ultimately do to the shape of the global trade regime is difficult to foretell but there’s no question that it will change it forever, even if there is strong global push-back against Trump’s threat to unravel trade agreements and carry a protectionist stick.

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The trade regime, and the way in which it encourages open trade and international interdependence among those who sign on to its rules, is not simply an instrument of economic policy strategy that can be changed without political consequence. For most countries, and certainly those in East Asia which are so dependent on open trade to sustain their basic livelihood, the trade regime is a critical instrument of political security.

Trump has already signed executive orders to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). What appeared noisy campaign rhetoric has been transformed into concrete action.

Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP is no big deal in itself: with the exception of what it promised in terms of liberalisation of the Japanese economy, the economic effects of the deal that was on the table were oversold. Even renegotiation of NAFTA may have more limited economic consequences than have been threatened. But these steps, together with the threat of punitive tariffs on imports from China and Mexico, plus a total retreat from multilateral or regional trade agreements, tears at the core principles upon which the US supported postwar economic order had been built.

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POTUS Donald J. Trump and China’s President Xi

Anyone who says that a switch of this magnitude and direction in the trade policy strategy of the world’s largest economy and second-largest international trader is of little consequence is seriously delusional. The old certainties that brought prosperity and a significant measure of stability to world affairs for nearly three-quarters of a century after the Second World War are under serious threat.

A world in which the defining characteristic is a lot of bilateral trade agreements rather than one in which multilateral and regional frameworks are predominant imposes costs on business and consumers alike because of the need for compliance with different rules of treatment across different trading partners. It also injects a different tone into international politics. These concerns are what motivates the argument for regional and global trade regimes that govern international flows of goods and services through unified rules and standards.

The broader the framework within which trade can take place, the greater will be the scope for division of labour and the higher the gains from international trade. Bilateral trade deals can’t replicate the gains from regional and multilateral agreement, and they will unhelpfully cut across global and regional value chains. As the largest centre of production networks, East Asia has much at stake in the push back against an open, global rules-based trading system and the regional arrangements that support it.

While the direct economic costs of Trump turning America’s back on the TPP and other measures might be relatively small, the systemic costs are much larger.

As Shiro Armstrong and Amy King write in this week’s lead essay, Trump’s executive order to withdraw the United States from the TPP agreement in the Asia Pacific ‘is a strategic turning point in the open economic order. It is a blow to furthering reform for some members, a lost opportunity for the United States to write the rules of international commerce, and more worryingly a sign of the United States turning its back on the global economic system it helped create and lead’.

How can East Asia, which includes China and Japan — the world’s largest and fourth-largest trading nations — stand against the corrosion of a global trading order that is so central to their common economic and political interests?

The economies of East Asia must, of course, stand quietly firm in global and regional forums and in all their bilateral representations to the United States against the undermining of the global trading system, giving strength to those forces in America that can help to shape much better outcomes than the present circumstances threaten. But, through their own commitment to collective liberalisation and reform, they can also help to lead the system back from the brink.

With major multilateral trade deals at the WTO now too difficult and bilaterals only able to make slow and incomplete progress towards freer markets, Armstrong and King observe, all eyes now turn to Asia’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. It is the most important initiative on the global trade scene.

Image result for flags of asean member statesASEAN is the hub of RCEP Agreement

RCEP comprises the 10 Southeast Asian members of ASEAN as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Though, as Armstrong and King say, there are many misconceptions about the RCEP enterprise.

‘The first misconception is that RCEP is China-led. But China is a spoke and ASEAN is the hub of the arrangement. RCEP was built to consolidate ASEAN’s five separate free trade agreements with China, South Korea, Japan, India and Australia–New Zealand. And the RCEP idea and its guiding principles were crafted not in China, but in Indonesia. ASEAN centrality has ensured that RCEP has incorporated Asia’s other large power — Japan — and reflects Japanese preferences as much as those of China. Originally, China wanted to limit core membership of Asian cooperation to ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea. Japan wanted a larger membership, involving Australia, New Zealand and India, to help provide a counterweight to China’.

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In the end, ASEAN centrality and the interests of Australia and India in the region meant a broader and representative group ideally placed to take the lead collectively on global trade.

‘With the world trading system under threat’, as Armstrong and King conclude, ‘it is time for leaders in Asia to step up and push for opening markets and deepening reforms to enhance economic integration, not just with each other but with Europe, the United States and the rest of the world’.

*The EAF Editorial Group is composed of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/02/20/east-asias-agreement-to-keep-the-world-economy-open/

50 Year Old ASEAN–No Longer Business As Usual


February 10, 2017

50 Year Old ASEAN–No Longer Business As Usual

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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IT is not business as usual. As ASEAN’s array of official and private sector meetings roll out for the year, urgent thought must be given to dramatically new challenges beyond the stubborn issues that continue to arrest the region’s meaningful integration.

The advent of Donald Trump as President of the United States has overturned many regional assumptions and threatens to cause economic as well as political turmoil. These developments should make ASEAN think crisis management – even if, in the end, the worst does not happen.

There are a number of “what ifs” which should be addressed.What if Trump causes a trade war to break out between America and China by imposing the punitive import duties on Chinese goods that he has threatened?

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It will then not be a simple outcome of relocation of manufacturing centres from China to low-cost Vietnam, for instance, as some have rather sanguinely suggested. The supply chains to which many ASEAN exports are linked for the finished Chinese product would be broken. There will be export disruption – not just for China.

There are countries in ASEAN, apart from Vietnam (90%), like Singapore (176%), Thailand (69%) and Malaysia (71%) whose exports amount to a substantial proportion of their GDP.

On top of exports through China, their own direct exports to the US will also be affected, as will any relocated exports from Vietnam.

There will be no winners in a trade war, no benefits to be derived from China’s apparently singular predicament. The knock-on effect will be widespread. In time, as excess capacity looks for export sales, dumping will become a problem, as will protection against it.

Motor cars that cannot get into America will have to go somewhere. Steel turned away from the US as Trump seeks to protect mills and jobs in the mid-west will have to be shipped somewhere else. Even the textile industry will be spinning in different directions as Trump has promised to revive it in America.

The whole global free trade ecosystem will go topsy-turvy. How will free trade within the ASEAN Economic Community, such as it is, be maintained? Can ASEAN+6 move on to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as the fallout from Trump’s America First trade policy hits the world?

Asia – and ASEAN – will have to stick together and carry on with the open, albeit reduced, global free trade and investment system. Will that happen?

Some ASEAN states with larger domestic economies are less dependent on international trade than others. Already, now, they take a different position on opening up their market. Will it get worse in the situation of stress, should it come about?

ASEAN must talk about these possibilities now, before they happen. Someone must take the lead. Too often this does not happen in ASEAN. Can the officials, or the secretariat, or the private sector do this scenario-setting for the ministers, for the leaders? Or is ASEAN going to carry on as if everything is not changing around it?

I am reminded of what George Orwell has been said to have remarked: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. The tendency to take to the ASEAN level what routinely happens in many ASEAN domestic systems should be snapped. Some functionary in ASEAN must warn the regional grouping of the dire threat facing it.

The other challenge facing Asia and ASEAN is the risk Trump poses to regional peace and stability. This comes from the challenge again thrown at China, this time in respect of its claim to the South China Sea. As China’s predominance in the disputed expanse of territory is by no means ideal, its exposure to a more counter-assertive and belligerent American stance under Trump – no Chinese access to islands artificial or militarised that do not belong to China “under international law” – may encourage claimant ASEAN states to be less compliant with the China-set path of dispute management.

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Since the law of the sea tribunal decision last July, there has been a lowering of temperature in the South China Sea dispute, even if at the cost of not highlighting the baselessness and futility of China’s claims under international law. The return has been a commitment by China in the diplomatic channeling with ASEAN to having a code of conduct (COC) finally in place this year – although only in framework form.

It has been a long-term ASEAN objective to have this COC for peaceful conduct in the South China Sea. China has hitherto been dragging its feet on this. With a more assertive American policy against China, would there be among ASEAN states a disposition to push with the US to get a better deal on the South China Sea?

This kind of geopolitical arbitrage may be attractive, but it would come at a longer-term cost to regional cooperation, which has become critical because of Trump’s foreign economic and trade policies. This is a dilemma ASEAN states would do well to address together.

Already, beyond ASEAN, India appears attracted to taking advantage of the predicament China might be in with Trump. India, of course, has long-standing border disputes with China, which Beijing has been happy to keep unresolved. At the same time, there is strategic competition between the two over their regional place in Asia.

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Another could be Japan which, again, has many unresolved disputes and issues with China. India, in particular, appears to want to flirt with Trump even at the cost of frustrating conclusion of the RCEP. The cost to India, however, could be isolation from the Asia-Pacific region for an uncertain alliance with Trump’s America.

You cannot do strategy with a counter-party whose leitmotif is transactional. With Trump it is not going to be win-win. It is going to be win-win-win for America.

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Trump’s Win For America First Foreign Policy

ASEAN states should want to address these profound issues. Even dissuade member and partner countries from wanting to sup with the devil, as it were.

China, of course, has not been the ideal big country partner beyond platitudinous statements and suffocation of ASEAN by money. Its actions in the South China Sea are not indicative of a great power that will not grind your face in the dirt if you did not do its bidding.

Will China become the good big brother it claims it wants to be, even as America becomes the bad and ugly one?

It looks like ASEAN might be caught between a rock and a hard place. Individual member states no doubt will be doing their calculation with the hope to position themselves in a better than survival mode.

However they will all be better off if they also worked together among themselves and partnered Asia-Pacific countries to achieve better economic integration, whose benefit will discourage them from playing dangerous geopolitical games.

So, as ASEAN under Philippines leadership looks at themes such as inclusive growth, an excellent focus, and addresses the many stubborn issues that are barriers to better integration, it must prepare also for the very difficult economic and political environment which will be fashioned by the Trump administration.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE IDEAS (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

 

Hoping for the Best Against Trump


January 30, 2017

Hoping for the Best Against Trump

By Ian Buruma

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/hoping-against-trump-by-ian-buruma-2017-01

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Is there any reason for liberals to feel optimistic after a year of political disasters? Is there even a shred of silver lining to be found in the tatters of Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, and European disunity? Christians believe that despair is a mortal sin, so one might as well try to find a glimmer of hope.

In the United States, many liberals console themselves with the belief that the obvious dangers of being governed by an ignorant, narcissistic, authoritarian loudmouth backed by billionaires, ex-generals, peddlers of malicious fake news, and neophytes with extreme views will help to galvanize a strong political opposition. Trump, it is hoped, will concentrate the minds of all who still believe in liberal democracy, be they left or even right of center.

In this scenario, civil-rights groups, NGOs, students, human-rights activists, Democratic members of Congress, and even some Republicans, will do everything in their power to push back against Trump’s worst impulses. Long-dormant political activism will erupt into mass protest, with resurgent liberal idealism breaking the wave of right-wing populism. Well, perhaps.

Others seek comfort in the expectation that Trump’s wildly contradictory plans – lower taxes, while raising infrastructure spending; helping the neglected working class, while slashing welfare and repealing the Affordable Care Act – will suck his administration into a swamp of infighting, incoherence, and incompetence.

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All these things might happen. But protest alone won’t be of much help. Anti-Trump demonstrations in big cities will no doubt annoy the self-loving new president, and the moral glow of joining the resistance will warm the protesters. But without real political organization, mere protest will go the way of Occupy Wall Street in 2011; it will peter out into ineffectual gestures.

One of the most dangerous ideas of contemporary populism is that political parties are obsolete, and should be replaced by movements led by charismatic leaders who act as the voice of “the people.” By implication, all dissenters are enemies of the people. That way lies dictatorship.

Liberal democracy can be saved only if mainstream parties can regain voters’ trust. The Democratic Party must get its act together. “Feeling the Bern” (the mantra of Bernie Sanders’ leftist campaign) will not suffice to stop Trump from inflicting great harm to institutions that were carefully constructed more than two centuries ago to protect American democracy from demagogues like him.

The same thing is true of international arrangements and institutions, whose survival depends on the willingness to defend them. Trump has expressed his indifference to NATO, and US security commitments in East Asia. His election will further erode Pax Americana, already battered by a succession of foolish wars. Without the US guarantee to protect its democratic allies, institutions built after World War II to provide that protection would not survive for very long.

Perhaps there is a tiny ray of hope in this gloomy prospect. Europe and Japan, not to mention South Korea, have become too dependent on US military protection. The Japanese have fairly large armed forces, but are hampered by a pacifist constitution written by Americans in 1946. Europeans are completely unprepared to defend themselves, owing to inertia, complacency, and lassitude.

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It is just possible that Trump’s blustering “America first” rhetoric will galvanize Europeans and East Asians into changing the status quo and doing more for their own security. Ideally, European countries should build an integrated defense force that would be less dependent on the US. And the countries of Southeast and East Asia could construct a Japanese-led variant of NATO to balance the domineering might of China.

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But even if these arrangements came to pass (a huge if), it would not happen soon. Europeans are unwilling to pay higher taxes for their own defense. Germany has neither the wherewithal, nor the will to lead a military alliance. And most Asians, including many Japanese, would not trust Japan to lead such a coalition in Asia. The current Japanese government, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would like to revise the pacifist constitution, as a necessary first step toward weaning the country off its total dependence on the US. But Abe’s revisionism is rooted in a nationalist ideology, which is prone to justifying historical atrocities instead of drawing lessons from them. This alone disqualifies Japan from leading others in a military pact.

So, while it might be time to rethink the world order built by the US on the ruins of WWII, the Trump presidency is unlikely to bring this about in a careful and orderly manner. His election is more like an earthquake, unleashing forces no one can control. Instead of encouraging the Japanese to think about collective security in a responsible way, Trump’s indifference is more likely to play to the worst instincts of panicky Japanese nationalists.

Europe is in no shape to rise to the challenge of Pax Americana’s erosion, either. Without a greater sense of pan-national European solidarity, European institutions will soon become hollow, and perhaps even cease to exist. But this sense is precisely what the demagogues are now undermining with such conspicuous success.

If there is reason for confidence, it is not in the liberal democratic world, but in the capitals of its most powerful adversaries: Moscow and Beijing. Trump, at least in the short term, seems to be good news for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Without credible American leadership, or a strong alliance of democracies, there won’t be much left to restrain Russian or Chinese ambitions.

This might not lead to catastrophe in the next few years. Russia and China are more likely to test the limits of their power slowly, bit by bit: Ukraine today, perhaps the Baltics tomorrow; the South China Sea islands now, Taiwan later. They will push, and push, until they push too far. Then anything may happen. Great powers often blunder into great wars. This is no reason for despair, as we begin the New Year, but no reason to be optimistic, either.

Indonesia: Reassessing ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ (Poros Maritim Dunia)


September 7, 2016

Indonesia: Reassessing  ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ (Poros Maritim Dunia)

The Hopeful Alternative: A “Brivot” to Asia may now be in order for Britain


July 10, 2016

The Hopeful Alternative: A “Brivot” to Asia may now be in order for Britain

by Bunn Nagara

http://www.thestar.com.my

Instead of being the end of the good old EU days, Brexit may just be the beginning of Britain’s new productive relations in Asia.

FROM the start, arguments over Brexit had been skewed on several fronts. Mainstream international media tends to be negative about Britain’s exit from the EU. The ills of withdrawal are often seen to overshadow the benefits.

Since a majority of Britons voted for Brexit for distinct reasons, why do media reports fail to portray its benefits – whether substantive or perceived – at least half the time? This may be due to corporate media interests, since EU regional integration favours them over those of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) disproportionately saddled with the costs of EU regulations.

 There is also the secondary causality factor, or “opprobrium by association”. For example, Donald Trump – seen as inhospitable to migrants from minority communities – mistakenly endorses Brexit for shutting out immigrants, so those who consider themselves more liberal on immigration policy reject Brexit for being “xenophobic”.

EU membership in fact discriminates in favour of mainly white European migrants and job-seekers, against those from other continents and even Commonwealth countries.

What’s Up, Mr.Churchill

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-06-28/how-britain-could-undo-the-brexit

Disentangling itself from the EU allows Britain to form new associations and develop old ones with other countries independently. Prime Minister David Cameron and former Defence Minister Dr Liam Fox mentioned the Commonwealth countries as being among them.

Third, the media disinclination to Brexit may also be caused by the lack of quantifiable benefits, real or anticipated, readily shaped into prime time sound bites. It is much easier to cite the trade volumes Britain may lose in Europe than the greater democratic prerogatives that Britons would enjoy.

Yet even this does not explain the common bias against Brexit. The anticipated or presumed losses, however detailed in numbers, are no more than projections and extrapolations since Britain has yet to leave.

Since both the costs and benefits of Brexit are equally notional or hypothetical, they should be entitled to equal time. But pro-Brexit hopes, aspirations and promise are not entertained anywhere as much as anti-Brexit doom, gloom and warnings.

Even champions of Brexit have been distracted from their primary task in having to defend their position against critics. They might have argued that Britain’s best years were before joining the European project, while many an EU country has seen its worst years after joining it.

The reasons for the rise and fall of European powers are complex and need not directly implicate the EU. But the fact that for decades “Europe” has failed to arrest and reverse the decline of once-mighty colonial powers seems to testify to the EU’s limits.

For now the bigger questions are: must Brexit mean assured decline for Britain, and are there no silver linings at all? EU ideology aside, Brexit can have tangible benefits and some are already emerging.

On July 7, the Wall Street Journal reported that the plunge in interest rates caused by Brexit has produced a spike in US mortgage refinancing. Mortgage rates have fallen along with long-term rates. An index of refinancing activity for the week ending July 1 rose 21%, the highest in 18 months.

On the same day, Associated Press reported that European stock markets rallied in anticipation of the US Federal Reserve holding off on raising interest rates. The lower rates may hold until next year.

Politically, British-US relations are likely to improve as well without a European “filter”. Their “special relationship” is unfazed by Brexit and may grow in the absence of continental encumbrances.

British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Sajid Javid is already on a five-nation tour to discuss new and improved trading arrangements.

His first destination was India, which has huge investments in Britain. India’s growth is no less than China’s at some 7%, at a time when all other emerging economies are slowing.

India is already the third-biggest foreign investor (fdi) in Britain, and may soon tie with France for second place. Over the last decade the number of British companies operating in India grew 300%. Today, more than 800 Indian companies in Britain employ well over 110,000 people, while British companies in India employ about 691,000 people. All of this is set to grow on both sides.

Other Commonwealth countries in South Asia are Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Although many Commonwealth members are small with little economic heft, the major countries in South Asia are in it.

The other countries on Sajid’s list are China, Japan, South Korea and the US. All major economies in North-East Asia are covered, including the world’s second- and third-biggest.

Despite the relative decline in China’s growth data, it is still the world’s most promising economy over the longer term. Vastly improved trade with China remains the grand bargain of many developed countries, particularly those in Europe.

As the jewel in Britain’s mercantile “crown” for centuries, trade with China is not to be underestimated. It was the prime reason for Imperial Britain’s involvement in the “Far East,” including Borneo (Brunei, Sarawak, British North Borneo or Sabah) as a convenient way station for sailing ships to Chinese ports.

Centuries ago, European countries were so strong that they competed among themselves for overseas territories as colonial possessions. Today, the EU is desperately holding them together to prevent many an individual slide into history’s abyss.

As a region, modern East Asia is the hub of global economic activity when it was once divided by various European imperial powers. After an initial focus on North-East Asia, post-Brexit Britain may soon consider building on its links with South-East Asia.

Of the 10 ASEAN countries, four had been part of the British Empire with three of them in the Commonwealth today. Other ASEAN members such as Thailand have also had centuries-old trade with Britain.

However, in upgrading its ties in this region, Britain should avoid the mistake of France in the 1990s.Depending narrowly on nostalgia in the Francophone countries of Indochina to boost its regional influence, Paris found itself irrelevant as the rapidly developing region passed it by.

During the Cold War, Soviet influence meant the older French-speaking generation had been replaced by Russian, then later German speakers, with technical training sourced in East Germany. Few Francophiles have survived.

Today, the CLMV countries are more interested in learning English for better progress in a globalised world. Meanwhile, the US “pivot” focuses on militarism rather than economics.

In the colonial era Britain led Europe in carving out the largest expanse of overseas territories and possessions. More recently, it again led Europe in signing on as a founding member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Now, Britain has struck out again on its own to exit the EU, whether or not other member nations follow. The impulse remains to act distinctly and uniquely based on its perceptions of its best interests.

A “Brivot” to Asia may now be in order for Britain. As with Brexit’s concern over immigration, it is about exploring new vistas, not shunning contemporaries by retreating into the past.

Through the AIIB and later One Belt, One Road, Britain could be instrumental in forging vastly productive linkages between East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Europe.

That could help revitalise Europe in a way no EU country could have imagined. By then, Brexit would be fully vindicated.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.