Monday, March 12, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
‘Forever Xi’ shakes up
Chinese politics
With one masterstroke, China’s Xi Jinping has shaken up the era of collective leadership and added to himself the tag “President for life.”
Sunday's historic vote by the parliament to abolish presidential term limits has thus placed the destiny of 1.4 billion-plus Chinese effectively in one leader’s hand.
Ironically as well as comically, one of the first positive reactions came all the way from Washington which never tires of preaching the values of democracy.
US President Donald Trump not only greeted with joy the consolidation of power by Xi Jinpingb, but also went to the extent of suggesting the United States might one day “give that a shot.”
With the turbulent one-man rule of Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong still lingering in memory, concerns about the decision are natural.
But, fortunately, the China of today is not the same as the one under Mao.
The country is now increasingly connected with the rest of the world and is a key global player.
Surmising China’s return to the era of isolation and violent political struggle makes little sense, at least as of now.
As per International Monetary Fund official, David Lipton, China is a key partner for over 100 countries, which represents more than 80 per cent of global GDP. The Chinese success story is, hence, deeply intertwined with the fortunes of the world economy.
China alone is providing one-third of the global growth, and is outweighing other countries in areas of digital commerce, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Xi is a tough leader with a soft countenance. When he was appointed party secretary of Shanghai in 2007, he was a "compromise candidate" who the party's elders hoped to "co-opt," according to a US embassy analysis written at the time.
The leader’s no-nonsense approach was soon on display when he launched an anti-corruption campaign that punished one million officials. The campaign also toppled top politicians who posed a threat to him, sending an unmistakable message to any potential adversaries.
What’s behind Xi's decision to become a permanent president? Not much is clear but there are suggestions that he needs more power to crush endemic corruption, a goal that is within reach thanks to another constitutional amendment creating an anti-graft authority with power to punish and purge.
The future path depends on which role Xi dons more significantly — reformer or dictator. The Chinese and the rest of the world would be happy if he embraces the former choice.
Senseless violence in
Sri Lanka should end
Despite a state of emergency, reports from central Sri Lanka indicate that violent Buddhist mobs have been sweeping through towns and villages, burning Muslim homes and businesses and leaving victims barricaded inside mosques.
Colombo cannot afford to remain passive in the face of such mob brutality. Sterner action should be initiated against those indulging in the atrocities.
It’s true that the government has ordered popular social media networks blocked in an attempt to stop the violence from spreading, and thousands of police and soldiers have been spread out across the worst-hit areas.
A curfew has also been ordered across much of the region.
However, the fact that even such stringent measures have not helped is an indication that it is organised violence and hardline groups with dangerous agenda are behind it. The perpetrators should not be allowed to get away.
The situation on the ground is worrisome. Hundreds of Muslim residents of Mullegama, a village in the hills of central Sri Lanka, were forced to barricade themselves inside a mosque after Buddhist mobs attacked their homes. Several Muslim homes have been badly damaged.
Instead of helping the victims, police personnel prevented them from saving their property, while doing nothing to stop the attackers.
The violence in Kandy is just the latest targeting Muslims in the country.
Mobs set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week over an issue involving a chef.
Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.
In June 2014 riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead and many injured. That bout of violence was instigated by a Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are on trial, accused of fostering religious conflict.
Sri Lankans love cricket and should heed cricket legend Sanath Jayasuriya’s peace appeal. “Disgusting and sickening to see the acts of violence in Sri Lanka. I request people of Sri Lanka to be wise and stay together in these tough times,” the sports star has mentioned on Twitter.
The Sri Lankan government should act sternly against groups that are inciting religious hatred. Appropriate measures should swiftly be taken to restore normalcy in affected areas. The rule of law should be upheld by ensuring the safety and security of one and all.
The perpetrators of the mindless violence should be brought to justice at the earliest.
Trump-Kim summit plan
lights up wick of hope
Months of raging tensions between the United States and North Korea, involving personal insults and threats of war from both sides, have suddenly given way to diplomacy.
This is certainly a stunning, but hugely welcome development.
The announcement of a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un sounds indeed "like a miracle," as South Korea's President Moon Jae-in put it.
This is especially so because no sitting US president has ever met any of the North Korea's leaders, much less gone to Pyongyang.
From deriding each other as a "little rocket man" or a "mentally deranged US dotard," the two leaders have come a long way to give dialogue a chance.
The nuclearisation in North Korea has been a source of great concern for the entire world. Last year alone, Pyongyang carried out 20 ballistic missile tests.
Pyongyang's race to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the continental United States has proved a problem for successive US administrations.
North Korean leaders have sought face-to-face talks with consecutive US presidents, who have rebuffed the idea as an effort to achieve strategic parity that does not exist.
On multiple occasions, Kim's father Kim Jong Il dangled the prospect of talks and denuclearization as a means of buying time, easing sanctions and dividing South Korea from its allies.
Pyongyang now seems to have achieved its goal, while agreeing to a suspension of nuclear tests.
The summit would be the biggest foreign policy gamble for Trump since his taking office in January 2017.
Trump aides are convinced that immense pressure has worked. They see Kim Jong Un's invitation to Trump to a historic summit as evidence that the latter’s efforts to isolate his counterpart are bearing fruit.
"North Korea's desire to meet to discuss denuclearisation — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump's strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working," insists US Vice President Mike Pence.
His argument is that the US made "zero concessions" and "consistently increased the pressure."
Whatever the true reasons, Pyongyang’s change of tone is as dramatic as the way it inflamed passions by repeatedly rejecting United Nations’ appeals and snubbing international opinion.
Almost all world leaders view the latest announcement as a positive development. The push to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons programme seems to be working. At least, it seems so as of now. And that surely is heartwarming news.
Bring Boko Haram
atrocities to an end
Reports that more than one hundred schoolgirls have been abducted by Boko Haram insurgents after an attack on an educational institution in north-eastern Nigeria comes as hugely disturbing news.
The dreaded Boko Haram group has been crossing all limits. Repeated abduction of innocent, little girls shows that the militants are sheer cowards with no human feelings.
The hardliner militant group had earlier attained international notoriety after abducting more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. The girls were forced from their dormitories onto trucks and driven into the bush. Fifty-seven manage to flee.
That case drew global attention to the insurgency and spawned high profile social media campaign Bring Back Our Girls.
According to the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict – which works for the protection and well-being of children affected by armed conflict – schools in north-east Nigeria continue to be attacked at an alarming rate.
It is estimated that as many as 1,400 of educational institutions have been destroyed since the beginning of the insurgency in 2009.
As per UN officials, the attacks overwhelmingly focus on the abduction, forcible recruitment and use, killing and maiming as well as sexual abuse of innocent Nigerian girls whose only crime is to be female and to dream of an education.
The Nigerian Union of Teachers went to the extent of issuing a statement demanding a "24-hour military patrol around all schools" in the region to better protect students and teachers.
The union’s stand is understandable, especially because some parents of students who survived the attack say their children are too frightened to return to class.
Nigeria's security forces have now been ordered to defend all schools in "liberated areas" of the country's northeast to avoid further mass abductions from schools by Boko Haram extremists.
The order by Nigeria's interior minister "has become necessary to forestall a re-occurrence of the attack on innocent school children," as per a statement. Only time would tell how effectively the decision is implemented. 
What is adding to the concern is that the extremist group remains alive and active. The group continues to attack civilian and military targets.
The entire world shares the anguish of the families of the girls and the people of Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities should act swiftly and work for the safe return of the girls to their families. Those militants responsible for the act should be brought to justice.

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