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Editorial: Dialogue with international stakeholders- a right only reserved for MDP?

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A recent headline reads “Opposition members visit Pakistan, what is their purpose?”. The article published in a local news has been highly circulated albeit with negatively reaction by the public. The article alleges that opposition Vice-President MP Ghassan Maumoon along with the Maldivian former Chief of Defense Force Major General Shiyam had visited Pakistan together and discussed various issues with senior officials of the Pakistani government.

The article alleges that the two of them discussed on the bilateral relations between both states and discussed trade relations. The only cited source in the article “Business Record”, stated that the duo had negotiated with Pakistani officials on initiating a cargo ferry between Pakistan and Maldives.

These allegations were met with contradictory hyper-nationalistic, pro-Indian sentiments by senior officials of the ruling party.  While some senior officials of the government dubbed the alleged Pakistani cargo ferry service as “Ludicrous”, others viewed the allegations as a threat to national security, sovereignty and ties with India. A senior official within the government was also cited to have said that the visit was against the norms of foreign relations, and that only the ruling party may conduct dialogue with foreign nations.

According to the article, an unnamed member of the parliament accused Vice-President MP Ghassan Maumoon along with the Maldivian former Chief of Defense Force Major General Shiyam of sharing intelligence documents with Pakistani government. At this point, we need to take a step back and consider the fact that all this accusations and allegations from the government against a serving MP and one of the most distinguished serviceman in our defense force’s history,  is based on an article based on hearsay.

However, what is more interesting is that the notion that “only the ruling party may conduct dialogue with a foreign nation.”, which needs to be re-examined. Current ruling party MDP, known for its close ties with the western states, calling to cease an alleged dialogue between an opposition member, a retired serviceman and our neighboring state of Pakistan is just hypocrisy. If we’re to look back at the days when the current ruling party MDP was the opposition, it is riddled with constant trips to western states and dialogue with politicians and donors.

In an interview with Agence France-Press (AFP) in 2013, MDP’s International Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor called out to boycott Maldives tourism sector. Three years later in 2016, former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem met with the leader of Germany’s green party a day before that ITB fair was to launch and passed false information that a grossly overrated 500 Maldivians had joined the ISIS in Syria, and urged to boycott Maldives tourism.  This led to a sharp decline in tourist arrival, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth damages to the economy.

The previous administration’s attempts to gain the right to decide the price of Maldivian seafood products exported to the European Union was also blocked by then opposition MDP when again, the former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem intervened and urged the EU not to grant it.

In more recent times, on 7th February 2018 current Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid participated in a panel discussion on NDTV and was heard saying on live television that he is “concerned” that India had to take any action against Maldives and urged the Indian government to send its armed forces to Maldives.

The tables turned, the current ruling party MDP seems eager to make the economic losses incurred by their reckless dialogue with foreign nations, into a distant memory. Moreover, any allegation of dialogue with a foreign nation and current opposition seems to conjure up their own the memories and intensions, sparking hysteria. The double standard aside, in a democratic environment, an opposition should have the right to dialogue with international stakeholders, without the threats of prosecution by the ruling party.

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The U.S. military empire – the next global threat?

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The current trend of de-dollarization is a sign of shift in geopolitical powers. The U.S. backed by its U.S. Dollar has dominated global politics since the early 1900’s. This is also in part due to their military-industrial complex which finances the U.S. economy war after war since its inception.

Since signing the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, the U.S. has waged war a total of 93 times. Meaning  on average the U.S has waged a new war every 2.6 years.

If we are to look at its current military empire, the U.S. has 800 military bases around the world. In comparison, France, UK and Russia has a combined total of 30 military bases around the world. Even China has only 4 overseas military bases, of which one is used for space explorations.

It is evident from these figures alone just how much of a global threat the U.S. has become unchecked. The U.S. has repeatedly waged asymmetrical war on under armed and underdeveloped or developing  countries in the name of democracy and security. In Iraq alone, more than 800,000 people have been killed as a direct result of war by the U.S. according to the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs.

If we are to look at even more recent times, the U.S Special Operations Command (SOCOM) revealed that there are US Special Forces operating in 134 countries in special operations or combat. Out of 195 countries in the world, the U.S. has their armed special forces members in 134 countries. That alone is enough to warrant a second thought into American imperialism.

As the “war of terror” comes close to an end, the U.S. has set its eyes on its next and biggest target, China. It is a fact that the development of China and its economic sphere of influence is a threat to the U.S’ hold on the global economy.

The U.S. has long held control over the rest of the world with bare minimum donations. China’s approach to this is in the form of substantial development projects which would allow the country’s economic independence from western states, which is fueling the anger of west towards China.

The demonizing of China and its technologies is undoubtedly due to the Chinese economy outpacing the west.  But, the U.S. may have met its match as China and its allies including Russia has solidified their stand against the U.S. military and its war mongering practices. And it is an undeniable fact that the U.S. “military empire” has become a global threat.  Will the rest of the world continue to turn a blind eye to the atrocities done and enabled by the U.S.? or will they for once, stand up for humanity?

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China’s achievements and lessons past 40 years of planting forests.

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Article by Feng Hao, a former researcher at chinadialogue.

Inner Mongolian county of Horinger, has dramatically changed compared to a decay ago when the villages such as Baiyantu has to experience sand and dust storms. The planting of trees has diminished the sandstorms since then and improved the environment generally.

Horinger is an example of China’s afforestation drive. As the climate emergency worsens, the potential for planted trees to draw carbon out of the atmosphere is being re-examined. Could Chinese expertise be put to use internationally?

China’s afforestation efforts

In Mongolian, the word Horinger means “20 houses” and dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912). This was a flourishing city during the Northern Wei period (386-534) but over the next thousand years overexploitation of the land and changes in the climate saw the economy fail and people move away – until only the 20 households of its name remained, eking out an existence in the desert sands.

Winds from Siberia and the continental monsoon both sweep past Horinger, which lies upwind of Beijing. They used to whip dust all the way to Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei; spring dust storms ravaged northern China every year from the mid 20th century to the early 21st. Then in 2010, a project started in Horinger to plant Mongolian Scots pine, Manchurian red pine, Korshinsk pea shrub, apricot tree and seaberry. In total, 3.3 million trees now cover more than 2,500 hectares of degraded land. The results were felt locally. “We used to have more than ten days of sandstorms every year. Now it is just three or four,” says Yang Shuantao the village secretary of Baiyantu.

The Horinger forest is expected to fix 220,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere over a 30-year period. This makes afforestation a key tool in addressing global warming as negative emissions technologies that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere are required to limit warming to 1.5C above the pre-industrial level.

Tree-planting schemes designed to reduce sandstorms began in China in 1978. Official figures show that China’s forested areas have since increased from 12% to 22% (115 million hectares to 208 million hectares). NASA data shows China and India are global leaders in greening over the past 20 years, accounting for one-third of total extra foliage between 2000 and 2017. However, these figures take “forest” to include areas of immature trees or that are temporarily treeless after being harvested. Gains of vegetation that most people would call “forest” are far less.

Speaking anonymously to China Dialogue, a forestry expert explained that in the last four decades China has developed systems for calculating and monitoring forestry carbon stores. The technology is now mature enough to measure and predict carbon storage within various forest ecosystems. This expertise means that: “Our ready-made approach could be applied elsewhere in the world,” said the expert.

China is already promoting its expertise in countries signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). At the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing earlier this year, the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, called for Chinese participation in a drive to plant ten billion trees in the next five years. “There should be a joint project, an ambitious project, of planting trees so that we can mitigate the effects of climate on our coming generations.”

Precedent suggests that such cooperation would mean sharing knowledge and funds. Khan said he hopes the new project will build on the success of the Billion Tree Tsunami project which he claimed has seen five billion trees planted in the last five years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone. His government estimated that the scheme will enlarge the forested area of Pakistan by 1%.

The China Green Foundation aims to create three belts of poplar trees by 2030,  stretching from northwest China to central and west Asian nations including Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkey. Private companies such as Alibaba are also playing a part in tree-planting projects. Ant Forest rewards users on the Alipay platform by allowing them to grow a virtual tree on their mobile phones when they make low-carbon choices, such as cycling instead of driving. With enough points, the tree can actually take root in the desert; Alipay has promised to invest 200 million yuan (US$28 million) into desertification control along the BRI.

On the UN’s invitation, China will lead talks on nature-based solutions (NBS) at the September climate change summit in New York, where it will organise the proposals from various parties. NBS can be used to conserve, sustainably manage and restore land and marine ecosystems, and promote sustainable agriculture and food systems.

According to Ella Wang of WWF China, the country is pushing for NBS to be featured in nationally determined contributions, adaptation plans and overall development strategies. It is also advocating for more funding to put NBS on the agenda at international talks.

China may put its afforestation model forward as one NBS approach.

Forty years of tree-planting

Afforestation is generally regarded as one of the most practical nature-based solutions, but some debate still surrounds it.

Zhu Chunquan, China representative for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, explains that an NBS approach would prefer natural renewal and restoration over the planting of artificial forests.

A new study of the Bonn Challenge – to restore 350 million hectares of forests by 2030 – found that natural forests in the tropics and subtropics hold 40 times more carbon than plantation forests. If that area, which is about the size of India, were to become a natural forest then by 2100 it would have removed 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere whereas commercial monocultures would only remove one billion.

Interestingly, more than half of the carbon sink effect of the world’s forests is in areas where the trees are relatively young – under 140 years old – because young trees absorb more carbon as they grow. But this does not mean that plantation forests are the answer, as much of the wood harvested from them becomes paper, cardboard and wood chip that soon degrades and releases its trapped carbon back into the atmosphere.

Regenerating degraded forests may be a more sustainable option. While planted forests need careful management, natural forests are self-replenishing.

While afforestation projects have proven popular in China, they have also caused problems. Experts say that blindly applying China’s afforestation experience abroad as an NBS measure may backfire.

For example, in some water-stressed areas, afforestation has put further pressure on water resources. In areas ill-suited to growing trees, money and resources have been wasted on annual planting efforts that have not produced a single surviving tree. Monocultural “shelterbelt” forests which, like the biodiverse one at Horinger, are meant to protect soil and provide shelter from the wind, can threaten local plant species pulled up to make room for them and are vulnerable to pests.

In some places, expanses of original forest have been felled to be replaced by denser, commercial tree plantations. This may boost forest coverage statistics, but the ecological functions of the original forest are lost and desertification does not decrease. There have also been questions over faked coverage figures and low tree-survival rates in China’s Three-North Shelterbelt Program, which has been lauded as a “Green Great Wall”.

But Huang Wenbin, the forest projects head for WWF China, says that “we can’t ignore the historical context” surrounding those afforestation efforts. He says there was limited understanding of how to manage forest ecosystems in the 1970s, and resources, technology and policy tools were lacking. Based on the scientific knowledge of the time, dense and tall monocultural forests seemed the best choice to stop sandstorms, he added.

“Afforestation is itself one form of ecological restoration, but the key issues are what kind of forest, where, how dense, and so on,” says another forestry expert who wishes to remain anonymous. He explains that they carried out a lot of research prior to the Horinger project to identify important ecological zones and restoration targets, deciding which locations were suitable for planting trees, shrubs or grass.

According to Huang Wenbin, a mixed ecosystem of trees, shrubs and grass provides better ecological functions. However, transforming a forest where all the trees are the same age is a challenging process requiring selective felling, replacement, planting and natural renewal. Huang points out that China’s forest assessments have focused on coverage, overlooking other important measures such as species diversity.

Zheng Yan, of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, has systematically reviewed recent studies of government-led ecological restoration projects. She is yet to publish her findings but found that less than a third mentioned protection of biodiversity or species conservation.

International applications?

Experts say that when applying its expertise internationally, China should learn from its mistakes.

Ren Wenwei of WWF China says that local tree species suitable for the climate should be chosen, with the biomass of the tree and the larger ecosystem also considered.

Afforestation is no easy fix. Planted forests need long-term investment and management. Moreover, saplings don’t immediately absorb huge quantities of carbon dioxide. You only see results 20 or 30 years later, when they become small but quick-growing trees.

Questions have been raised about China’s greening experiments in BRI nations. In Peshawar, Pakistan, locals have questioned the felling of ancient trees to make way for the Chinese-led construction of a bus rapid transit system, only for the local government to later announce big investments in tree planting.

When asked about China’s plans to create a green Belt and Road, Russian environmentalist Eugene Simonov expressed concern: arid ecosystems such as deserts and grasslands cannot support trees, and sustainable use of water resources should be prioritised there.

Back in Baiyantu village, Inner Mongolia, 65-year-old Li Laqing doesn’t care how much carbon the nearby forest will sequester. He’s not interested in discussions about afforestation and climate change either. But he does have an opinion on the forest: “The environment’s much better now. Birds we had stopped seeing are coming back, and occasionally we see foxes and badgers.”

The villagers take good care of their forest. On Tomb-Sweeping Day this year, while some were burning offerings to their ancestors on the hillside, a team of villagers set out to ensure no forest fires started. “There’s no doubt that the forest has improved the environment, and I hope those trees grow big and strong,” says Li.

This article originally appeared on chinadialogue.net and published under CC BY NC ND license.

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Adela Raz replaced with Dr. Zalmai Rassoul under Indian influence?

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Who is Adela Raz?

Adela Raz is the current Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations and is the first female to hold the office.  Born in to an educated family, Adela Raz’s father was murdered by Talibans who labelled Adela Raz as too “progressive” due to her education. She is also the first Afghan to receive the H-1B  visa from the U.S.

Adela Raz is a well-respected and popular diplomat within the UN who has repeatedly proven herself as an individual capable of leading multilateral programs and missions. Most recently, she was appointed as the co-coordinators for the United Nations General Assembly on COVID-19 related initiatives.

Adela Raz campaigned for the UNGA President’s seat.

According to sources within the UN, in 2019 she started a well-funded campaign to become the second Afghan to hold the office of the President of the United Nations General Assembly after Abdul Rahman Pazhwak in 1966, and to become the 5th women to hold the office.  On 13th November 2020 Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid declared his intention to contest for the seat with a state budget of MVR 4 million.

Indian intervention?

In January 2021 Dr. Zalmai Rassoul took office as the Afghan Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  Dr. Zalmai Rassoul is the former Foreign Minister of Afghanistan during Hamid Karzai’s administration, with very little diplomatic ties within the UN circles since then.

It  was during this same time that Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar visited the Maldives, on 20th February 2021 on a two day visit. On his trip, the influential Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar announced that India would support and back Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid as the 76th President of the United Nations General Assembly.

Shortly after Adela Raz inexplicably ceased her campaign efforts and  Dr. Zalmai Rassoul announced his intentions to contend to become the President of the United Nations General Assembly.

PGA indebted to India?

Following his election as the 76th President of the United Nations General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid appointed Ambassador Thilmeeza Hussein as a Special Envoy of the PGA and the Indian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Nagaraj Naidu Kumar as his Chef Du Cabinet. This would make the Indian Ambassador Nagaraj Naidu Kumar a “chief of staff” to the President of the United Nations General Assembly. This makes it abundantly clear on the role India played in electing Abdulla Shahid and his debt to them.

It is a well-known fact within diplomatic circles that smaller countries simply cannot win a seat within the UN without the backing of a major power. And Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid’s win is without a doubt due to the backing by India and by proxy the US, United Kingdom,  Japan and Australia. But question remains, did India use its regional influence to force Adela Raz to withdraw and insert the elderly Dr. Zalmai Rassoul? And how would have the result been had Adela Raz competed against Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid?. It is certain that the outcome would have been vastly different had Adela Raz competed against Abdulla Shahid.

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