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Implications of the Geneva vote

The recent vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was upsetting, and it would make sense for Sri Lanka to assess what happened and work towards ensuring that such a situation does not occur again. However there seems little chance of that, since the same was obvious a year ago, but nevertheless nothing was done, except to sit back and hope disaster would not strike twice.

The only efforts at analysis we saw from the Ministry of External Affairs were leaks to the effect that the vote engineered by the United States had put Sri Lanka back on track to working with what were described as its traditional allies.

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Why China needs the Hambantota port

During  Sri Lankan career diplomat and former SAARC Secretary General  Nihal Rodrigo’s tenure as Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China,  when the proposals for the expansion  and modernization  of the port of  Hambantota were  being seriously developed , he had informally asked the views of  a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) about the speculation of  many  think tanks in  the West about the  so-called Chinese  "string of pearls"  being  setup across  the Indian Ocean region. 

Rodrigo specifically asked whether Hambantota,  in the South  of  Lanka,  was going to be part of that string. The theory about China’s security necklace across  the Indian Ocean revolves round the sea ports of Gwadar in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Sitwe in Myanmar (formerly Burma)  and, more recently, with much media focus, on   Hambantota.  These ports have been linked and projected as a necklace of containment  round India by many particularly  in the Western  strategic community. 

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The new imperialism

The country was agog with the news that after the visit of two American bureaucrats named Otero and Blake, [both from the State Department], they had announced that the United States would support the anti-Sri Lanka resolution bought by some western countries in the Human Rights Council. As usual the sanctimonious reason given by the Americans for this act of rank treachery was that it was to "provide an opportunity for the Government of Sri Lanka to describe what it intends to do to implement the LLRC recommendations and advance reconciliation as well as accountability, human rights and democracy concerns". Will anybody be fooled by this kind of nonsensical utterance?

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Accountability, reconciliation, democracy

At a recent seminar at the Acadamie Diplomatique Internationale in Paris, a team from the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), on a Paris-London visit, presented on ‘Developments in the Arab World and the Impact on Asia: an Asian Perspective’. I attended eagerly, not only because of the subject’s salience but because these were my recent colleagues and friends.

The team’s presentation differentiated the domestically driven developments, most importantly but not exclusively in Tunisia and Egypt, from external military intervention in Libya’s armed civil conflict or civil war. Prof Tan Tai Yong, the Vice Provost of the National University of Singapore (with which Yale has just signed a deal to establish a liberal arts college) and Executive Director of the Institute pointed out that while Asian opinion agreed that the intentional killing of unarmed civilian protestors de-legitimized any regime and constituted a new ‘red line’ for the international community which if crossed would trigger R2P, Asia with its organically evolved societies and states of long historicity  (contrasting with many an Arab state such as Libya carved out as a patchwork of tribes, clans and ethnicities mere decades ago by colonial fiat, with Egypt a monumental exception), its functioning political parties and use of universal suffrage, its familiarity with and history of street protests, and its better shared prosperity in an era of economic upswing, has states of an entirely different formation and type from those of the Arab world, and does not suffer the same structural vulnerabilities of legitimacy.

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Why Now?

Why now? Why revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt this year, rather than last year, or ten years ago, or never? The protestors now taking to the street daily in Jordan, Yemen, Bahrein, Libya and Algeria are obviously inspired by the success of those revolutions, but what got the process started? What changed in the Middle East?

Yes, of course the Arab world is largely ruled by autocratic regimes that suppress all opposition and dissent, sometimes with great cruelty. Yes, of course many of those regimes are corrupt, and some of them are effectively in the service of foreigners. Of course most Arabs are poor and getting poorer. But that has all been true for decades. It never led to revolutions before.

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