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IOR in the ‘Year of the Ram/Sheep’: Elephant, Dragon, Asian Tigers, Lion and the ’Roo By Raakhee Su

C3S Monthly Column M003/15


The Chinese New Year was celebrated on February 19, 2015. According to various experts of the Chinese Lunar Calendar and its 60-year cycle this year is either the Year of the Green Sheep or the Wood Goat/Ram. For the countries of the Indian Ocean with their significant Chinese population this time has been about setting aside of conflicts and embracing the seasonal good cheer while wishing each other “Kung Hey Fat Choi [May Prosperity Be With You].” In between exchanging red envelops with cash to usher in a season of prosperity and having the lion dance performed to ward off evil spirits the Chinese immigrants across the region spread good will continuing the celebration of new beginnings.

Changing regimes, announcements of budgets, and high-level exchange of visits between the nations in the Indian Ocean region has kept attention fixed on promotion of trade and economic ties while intra-regional conflicts were put temporarily on the back-burner. The release of the Human Development Report and the World Economic Outlook reinforced the need for focus on building prosperity through shared growth.


India the largest democracy and Indonesia the most populous democracy in South East Asia were given the Standard & Poor’s rating of “BBB-minus,” which according to their scale is the “lowest investment grade rating, with a ‘Stable’ outlook.” Following the announcement of India’s Budget 2015 by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on February 28, 2015, Kim Eng Tan, Senior Director, Asia-Pacific Sovereign Ratings for Standard & Poor’s said that there will be no improvement in their rating of the country as an investment destination as the nation still needed to “strengthen [at least] two of its macroeconomic metrics on growth, inflation and fiscal health.”

Indonesia’s democratically elected leader Joko Widodo has now been the president of Indonesia for roughly the same amount of time that the Modi Wave swept the Lok Sabha Polls. Modi and the BJP secured electoral majority in April–May 2014 while Indonesia’s  Widodo won in July 2014 both securing their place at the head of government in a triumph of personality. Thus the styles of governance can be compared. Take for example the quote from an article in the Economist in October 2014,

They set the simple, almost innocent demeanour of this grass-roots politician against the ruthlessness of the old guard he beat. It is determined to fight hard to preserve its wealth and privilege—and parties sympathetic to his opponent in the presidential election, Prabowo Subianto, control the legislature. … The battles with the old guard are only beginning. But Jokowi intends to appeal to ordinary Indonesians if the parliament obstructs attempts to transform both the country’s corrupt, grasping politics and the lives of ordinary Indonesians. A common touch can pack a punch.

There can be comparisons with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power first as Gujarat’s chief minister and his party’s Lok Sabha victory when he is a “newcomer” to Delhi and national politics when the Congress and its allies still control the Rajya Sabha.

Singapore and Australia are the only two countries in the Indian Ocean region to score the much coveted AAA rating as well as securing spots in the top ten of the Human Development ranking scale as countries with “Very High” human development. Although in the case of Singapore the GDP growth rate has been slower than the predictions as the island nation and trading hub is yet to totally overcome the inertia of the global economic slowdown.

The newly industrialized countries (NICs) of South East Asia (ASEAN – 5) came to be known as the Asian Tigers when they spear headed the boom in the 1990s. According to the International Monetary Fund’s predictions after a long period of depression the nations are slowly but surely growing and are back in the radar of international investors in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Both in HDI terms and S&P ratings the countries score ahead of India and give good competition to China.

Whether nations of the region behave like sheep, goats or rams to match the animal spirit of the year according the Oriental calendar remains to be seen. They could move together blindly in the quest to attract international investment and trade – follow the green like sheep so to speak or they could display the usual rowdiness of the goat as there are many inter- and intra-regional irritants to harmony in the Indian Ocean region. The other extreme is the active aggression symbolized by the ram which is many cultures is the symbol of the God of War.

According to predictions of the Chinese calendar, the news seems to be positive as the year of the ram, 2015, has been branded a prosperous and favourable time for stable economic growth and peaceful coexistence with the Oriental astrological experts predicting that “both political and economic situations in the world are starting to stabilize…quality of life is getting higher and the crisis that has been tormenting many counties for the past several years is finally promising to be over.” Yet one should keep in mind that traditionally the Ides of March has been a period of turmoil in the region – it has seen protests and revolution in Thailand and Philippines and also witnessed some interregional aggression.  The hope is that the human spirit, intellect, and rationality triumphs rather than any of the much-touted animal spirits traditionally associated with the region!

(The writer, Ms Raakhee Suryaprakash is a Chennai-based analyst. She holds a master’s degree in International Studies and is the founder of ‘Sunshine Millennium’ focused on sustainable development and social issues.)

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