Daily Archives: October 2, 2014

Visa denial like bullying: Dalai Lama

Dharamsala: Breaking his silence for the first time over visa denial to him by the South African government owing to Chinese pressure, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama Thursday said it was like ‘bullying’.

‘The treatment by the South African government is like bullying a humble person who has no protection,’ the Nobel Peace laureate said in his 15-minute address here.

‘They are protection,’ he said, pointing towards fellow laureates Iran’s Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams of the US, who were present at a function here to mark the silver jubilee celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in Dharamsala, had applied for a visa to South Africa Aug 27 to attend the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace laureates to be held in Cape Town Oct 13 to 15.

This was the third time in five years that the Dalai Lama has called off his visit to South Africa.

In 1989, the Tibetan spiritual leader won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for Tibet.


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International spotlight on Sri Lanka dimmed

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a day after his return from New York, had an eventful day on Tuesday. First, he swore in the newly elected members of the Uva Provincial Council including his nephew Sashindra Rajapaksa as the Chief Minister for his second term. It was followed by the Cabinet session and the meeting with the leaders of political parties in his coalition.

On the agenda of the swearing-in ceremony, Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has not been listed for speaking. It became a matter of concern for the President who instructed Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Dullas Alahapperuma to correct it and invite Mr. de Silva.

The President sounded elated over his gains from interactions with the world leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Session in New York.

In particular, he referred to his meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The President related his readings of these two bilateral meetings, to his Cabinet ministers.

“If any party teams up with the TNA, it will be an act running headlong into the interests of its popular vote base in the South. Any political alignment with the TNA is interpreted as joining hands with the LTTE rump, by the southern polity, and it will be reason enough for people in the South to vote against anyone maintaining political links with the TNA. Mindful of this ground reality, some TNA parties are working out new strategies that may yield results.”

In reference to Mr. Kerry’s meeting, he noted the United States appeared to have softened its stance on Sri Lanka, and it was a positive development. The government’s reading is that the US has relented somewhat in its pursuit of Sri Lanka’s case at the moment. Sri Lanka’s issue has been put on the agenda of UNHRC for every six months, and, according to the government sources, the US looks tired of it as they have many other issues to focus on, in the broader context.

Likewise, the President reportedly noted that India would not be tough on Sri Lanka.

However, Mr. Modi had reiterated its call for the government to engage with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the key interlocutor of this problem and vice versa. Also, the Indian Prime Minister had recollected his rebuttal of the TNA’s request to appoint a special envoy to Sri Lanka. Instead, he had said the High Commissioner of India, accredited to Colombo, would deal with all such matters.

During his stay in New York, he had another key meeting with Iyad Madani, the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). During this meeting, Mr. Madani raised allegations about attacks on Muslims and their places of worship.

The OIC has the impression that the atrocities on Muslims continue with impunity, with people getting killed and Mosques burnt.

The President invited Mr. Madani to visit Sri Lanka for a better understanding of the ground situation, as there is no substitute for personal observation. Accordingly, he is slated to visit Sri Lanka shortly. The OIC is currently in contact with the External Affairs Ministry to chalk out a programme for the visit. Sri Lanka has applied for observer status in the OIC.

“The United States appeared to have softened its stance on Sri Lanka, and it was a positive development. The government’s reading is that the US has relented somewhat in its pursuit of Sri Lanka’s case at the moment. Sri Lanka’s issue has been put on the agenda of UNHRC for every six months, and, according to the government sources, the US looks tired of it as they have many other issues to focus on in the broader context”

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Session, the President also met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Mr. Moon started his talk after complimenting the President on what he called ‘diplomatic skills’ that secured a number of Heads of State visiting Sri Lanka including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe within a short span of time.

Besides, President Rajapaksa had talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyata who stressed the importance of grouping with like-minded countries to present the cases of the respective countries. The President also had talks with the leaders of countries such as Palestine, and Qatar.

In addition to the President’s interactions, External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris met with his counterparts from countries such as New Zealand, Ghana, Philippines, and Ivory Coast.

Another important dialogue that happened during the time, was the meeting with Asia Co-operation Dialogue, an international body evolving at the time to articulate the Asian point of view. Saudi Arabia is the current chair of this body.

TNA -SLMC bracing for new strategy

Speculation is rife in political circles about a snap presidential election early next year, and the political parties, both in the government and the opposition, are contemplating political strategies to be tried. A significant development among them is the attempt by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to explore the possibility of forming a common front with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

The TNA is an amalgam of four Tamil parties- Ilankai Tamil Arachu Kachchi (ITAK), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). It controls the Northern Provincial Council and a bulk of the local authorities in the North. It has a sizeable chunk of votes in the East. SLMC also commands political power in the East, and in fact, it holds sway in running the Eastern Provincial Council with its eight members.

The two parties had planned a meeting early this week. However, it was postponed because SLMC leader and Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem could not turn up due to some other engagements on the day. Therefore, the meeting has now been re-scheduled for later this week.

In this effort, the idea is to make a political formation of the minority parties. Alongside the SLMC, the TNA is seeking to make overtures about this initiative to parties such as the Democratic People’s Party led by former MP Mano Ganeshan and a few other small parties like the United Socialist Alliance.

This seems to be an exercise to show the collective strength of the minorities as a force to reckon with, at the presidential election. At the 2010 Presidential Election, the TNA unsuccessfully sought to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The party publicly campaigned for former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, and the SLMC also did the same.

Bearing this in mind, the two parties may try to evolve novel strategies best suited for them under the changed political circumstances.

There is a different school of thought harboured by some parties within the TNA over supporting any main candidate publicly this time. If any party teams up with the TNA, it will be an act running headlong into the interests of its popular vote base in the South. Any political alignment with the TNA is interpreted as joining hands with the LTTE rump, by the southern polity, and it will be reason enough for people in the South to vote against anyone maintaining political links with the TNA. Mindful of this ground reality, some TNA parties are working out new strategies that may yield results.

International formation supporting SL

Twenty-two developing countries of the Like Minded Group (LMG) in Geneva, in a joint statement made through its Chair -Egypt have said the Group “believes that the intrusive mandate given to the OHCHR by Resolution 25/1 to carry out investigations on Sri Lanka is unwarranted, especially in the context where the country is implementing its own domestic processes”.

The countries joining this statement (see full text below) were; Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, DPRK, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela, Zimbabwe. It was delivered on Thursday (25 September 2014) following the ‘Oral Update’ of the High Commissioner and the reply by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative.

This group made this statement soon after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein made an oral update on Sri Lanka’s situation. The government, in its foreign policy, paid greater focus on Latin America and Africa, even by establishing resident diplomatic missions with some capitals in these two regions. So, the LMG’s action is seen by the government analysts as a success of its foreign policy reaching out to Africa and Latin America at this hour.

However, there is a tough time ahead for the government in March next year, as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is to submit its comprehensive report on investigations into Sri Lanka’s case to the UNHRC followed by an interactive session.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris held talks with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in New York, and discussed the issues. He briefed the High Commissioner on the stand that Sri Lanka could not submit itself to an international investigation. Apart from diplomatic and bilateral issues, the lighter side of their conversation was on their studies at Oxford University. Mr. Hussein recalled that he joined Oxford University the same year when Prof. Peiris left it.

During the tenure of the new High Commissioner, the government remains optimistic that his office will be open-minded and objective.

Sri Lanka, which hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), hosted a reception in New York together with Britain, and Malta which will host it next time. However, the British Foreign Minister could not stay for the function because he had to rush back to the United Kingdom to attend the debate in the House of Commons on airstrikes in Islamic States in Iraq and Syria.

At this meeting, Prof. Peiris reportedly highlighted the point that the developing countries should be given the chance to access the established markets, without making undue influences through subsidies that can distort the picture.


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Understanding China’s Hard Line on Hong Kong

When Chinese students first took to the streets of Beijing in April 1989 – initially to mourn the death of reformist former Premier Hu Yaobang, then to protest for more democracy – nobody in the Chinese leadership seemed to have been planning for it to end with tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square.

As Ezra P. Vogel tells it in his painfully long but hugely informative biography Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China – which I read on trains and planes and in hotel rooms during a trip to China in June organized by the China-United States Exchange Foundation – many Communist Party officials were sympathetic to the protesters. The most important of those officials, Deng Xiaoping, was not so well-disposed, but he initially hoped the movement would fizzle out on its own. It was only when it didn’t, and after inept attempts at shutting the protests down without violence backfired, that Deng put his foot down and his underlings sent in the tanks.

What does all this portend for the protests currently unfolding in Hong Kong? Not sure, of course. But when Edward Wong and Chris Buckley write in The New York Times that “the toolbox of President Xi Jinping of China appears remarkably empty of instruments that could lead to palatable long-term solutions for all involved,” it’s hard not to worry that things could go terribly wrong. On the mainland, the Chinese leadership has learned since 1989 how to shut down incipient protests quietly or channel citizen anger in Party-approved directions. Those methods don’t work in Hong Kong, Wong and Buckley write, because the former British colony has civil liberties and freedom of speech. But at the same time, it’s hard to see how the protesters’ demands for political self-determination will ever fly in Beijing.

Why won’t they fly? It helps to go back to Deng, and the intellectual and political battle that followed in the wake of Mao Zedong’s death. Mao was of course the mercurial, tyrannical, economically disastrous founding father of Communist China. Deng had been a top Mao lieutenant since the birth of the People’s Republic in 1949, but was sent off to a rural tractor factory during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s for trying to fix the country’s flattened economy by, in Mao’s words, “pursuing the capitalist road.” He was rehabilitated in 1974 and briefly served as Mao’s right-hand man, but was expelled from office again in early 1976.

After Mao’s death in September of that year, the country at first appeared headed in the direction outlined in a February 1977 People’s Daily editorial with the typically opaque headline, “Study the Documents Well and Grasp the Key Link.” It became better known as the “two whatevers,” which may sound like a Bud Light ad but was actually a hard-line commitment to “resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave.”

The problem with this approach, as Deng pointed out in May 1977, was that over the years Mao had contradicted himself repeatedly and even admitted to making loads of mistakes. (“He said that no one can avoid making mistakes in his work unless he does none at all,” Deng wrote.) Faithfully adhering to Mao’s decisions and instructions was a recipe for confusion and error – and in fact Mao’s handpicked successor Hua Guofeng had already begun changing course even while publicly espousing the “two whatevers.”

A year later, Deng threw his weight instead behind the approach outlined in an essay by a philosophy professor first distributed in Party circles and then published in the Guangming Daily and elsewhere, titled “Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.” Or, as Deng himself liked to put it, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

Deng’s view of course prevailed. He became the country’s de facto leader, and not only stayed in that role for almost 15 years but built a production line of presidents and premiers who have largely followed his lead. That lead has consisted of doing whatever it takes to keep the economy growing, as long as it doesn’t threaten the supremacy of the Communist Party. (In fact, it’s economic growth that has come to be seen as essential to maintaining the supremacy of the Communist Party.)

Deng thought that Nikita Khrushchev irreparably weakened the Soviet Union by disavowing predecessor Josef Stalin in 1956. And so while he abandoned virtually all of Mao’s economic policies, Deng never disavowed Mao or the one-party state. After the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, events in Eastern Europe and the former USSR seemed to Deng and his colleagues to prove that preserving one-party rule was essential. The collapse of Communist rule not only left a lot of former Communist rulers out of work, imprisoned, or killed, but in Russia and other former Soviet Republics it also left the economy and the people worse off, at least through the 1990s. The contrast of that debacle with the world-changing economic miracle that China has pulled off since 1978 only strengthened the conviction among China’s leaders that their way was the right one.

It’s not so important to them that Maoism or even Communism continue to be practiced in China – despite the frequent obligatory references to Marxism and “Mao Zedong Thought” in political pronouncements, the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton appear to have more currency in modern Washington than Marx’s or Mao’s do in Beijing. But it’s extremely important that the Party remain supreme. Because otherwise, well, look at Russia.

But if the Chinese Communist Party isn’t really Maoist, or even Communist, what is it? The parallel that springs most readily to mind, especially when one learns about the systematic ways in which the Party selects, trains, and promotes its leaders (recommended reading: Richard McGregor’s The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers), is that of a big corporation – IBM or GM in their Organization Man heydays. Another parallel is to the corporatist ruling parties that drove earlier modernization drives in other East Asian nations, from the LDP in Japan to the KMT in Taiwan to the PAP in Singapore to what’s now called the Saenuri Party in South Korea.

To an outsider, in fact, it’s not clear at all that the example of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s is the one Chinese officials should be looking at. Western corporations are effectively one-party states, but they are at least in theory open to that party being deposed by shareholders if it does a poor enough job. And most of the other Asian corporatist parties have moved away from one-party rule, allowing opposition politicians to not only contest elections but win them, without bringing economic ruin or even entirely ceding power. But the idea that China could learn political lessons from its smaller neighbors isn’t popular in Beijing. Instead, the mantra is that the country is uniquely diverse and hard to govern, and needs single-party rule to stay together. (For an impassioned and quite entertaining defense of this view, see Shanghai venture capitalist Eric Li’s TEDGlobal talk from last year.)

Hong Kong is different from the rest of China, and Beijing has been willing to let it be different. But Party leaders don’t appear willing to let the territory’s inhabitants challenge the Party’s ultimate authority over them – presumably out of fear that this would weaken its authority elsewhere in China. This year, in fact, they have made several new assertions of that authority, most recently the dictate that, while Hong Kong residents will get to elect a political leader in 2017 (something they never got to do under British rule, by the way), Beijing will choose the three nominees.

That’s what brought on the current round of protests. They’re embarrassing for China’s leadership, and any harder crackdown will be even more embarrassing, and possibly extremely damaging to Hong Kong’s economy. But don’t imagine that Xi Jinping and his colleagues in Beijing will be easily persuaded by a bunch of protesters 1,200 miles away, and a bunch of negative media coverage or even official condemnation from the West, that the course that Deng Xiaoping laid in back in 1978 – and violently reaffirmed in 1989 -is in need of a major correction.

Harvard Business Review

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