News Section

News Section

RIYADH, 20 May 2022, (TON): A Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs official confirmed “the Kingdom had taken crucial steps to enhance food security, put forward strategies to promote food growth and face climate change and water scarcity.”

Saudi Press Agency reported “Waleed Al-Khuraiji, Saudi deputy minister of foreign affairs, said these measures contributed to improving food security indicators in the Kingdom.”

During the Global Food Security Call to Action meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday, Al-Khuraiji said that the food security challenge proves that sustainable recovery depends on international cooperation.

He said “despite progress in the development process, achieving the 2030 Social Development Goals had become extremely difficult, as global expectations and indicators show a deviation in the path towards achieving the second goal of the program, which includes the eradication of hunger.

Al-Khuraiji said “among the global health challenges are the spread of pandemics, as the spread of the pandemic revealed to us the fragility of the international system in combating a virus that is not visible to the naked eye, which led to severe consequences that affected societies and economies.”

He said Saudi Arabia led a global response to the pandemic that accompanied the Kingdom’s G20 presidency, as it supported global efforts to confront this pandemic with $500 million.

DHAKA, 20 May 2022, (TON): President M Abdul Hamid expressed his profound shock and sorrow at the death of journalist, columnist, poet, writer and language veteran Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury.

In a condolence message, the President said at the death of Gaffar Chowdhury,

Composer of the famous song 'Amar Bhaiyer Rokte Rangano Ekushey February,' Bangladesh lost a pioneer who was progressive, creative and believed in the spirit of Liberation War.

He said “his immortal song on Ekushey gave immense courage and inspiration to the Bengali nation in the Language Movement and the War of Liberation.”

President said “he had worked throughout his life to promote the spirit of the Liberation War through writings.”

NEW DELHI, 20 May 2022, (TON): Lawyers said “members of hardline Hindu groups filed petitions in a court in northern India to stop Muslims from entering a historic mosque, until the court decides on an earlier plea seeking approval to look for any Hindu relics which may be on the site.”

Meanwhile, Hindutva organization Sri Ram Sene said “it is preparing a list of churches and mosques in Karnataka it claims are illegal.”

Another Hindutva outfit, the Narendra Modi Vichar Manch, called for a survey of mosques in the state to look for evidence of Hindu monuments that may have stood at the same sites.

Judges of a local court in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh allowed the new petitions but are yet to start hearings in the 2020 case aimed at securing permission to film and survey inside the 17th century Shahi Eidgah mosque.

DHAKA, 20 May 2022, (TON): National Film Award winning actress Bidya Sinha Saha Mim has been appointed as UNICEF's newest national ambassador in Bangladesh.

UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh Sheldon Yett at a press conference said “as the ambassador, the actor is set to join prominent personalities around the world who use their voice and prominence to advocate for the rights of children.”

Speaking on the occasion, Mim said "across our country, UNICEF is there with us to protect children and their right to education, health and a bright future. I have long admired UNICEF's work for children. It is a high regard for me to be part of that cause, for every child."

She added "each one of us has a responsibility to speak up for the rights of children and women. I am looking forward to doing my part together with UNICEF.”

DHAKA, 20 May 2022, (TON): United States Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Steve Chabot have expressed their willingness to facilitate further strengthening Washington-Dhaka relations.

They said this while having meetings with a four-member delegation from the Standing Committee on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh National Parliament led by its Chairman Muhammad Faruk Khan on Wednesday in Washington DC.

A press release said “other members of the team were Nurul Islam Nahid, Nahim Razzak, and Kazi Nabil Ahmed while the meetings took place at the respective offices of the senator and the congressman at Capitol Hill.”

During the meetings, the Parliamentary delegation briefed the US lawmakers on Bangladesh's impressive socio-economic development that has taken place under the able leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh Ambassador to the US M Shahidul Islam and Embassy officials were also present.

By F.F Mushfika

The crisis

The Financial Times announced as of May 19, 2022, that

A 30-day grace period for missed interest payments on two international sovereign bonds expired on Wednesday, forcing Sri Lanka into what some analysts called a” hard” default as the country confronts an economic and political crisis. The last Moody’s rated sovereign borrower to default in Asia was Pakistan in 1999”

The on-going crisis in Sri Lanka is overwhelming. The country is moving towards bankruptcy. The economic downfall has become massive. The shallowness of the foreign reserve today has shunned the country from moving forward. Sri Lanka being one of the emerging countries depends tremendously on its foreign reserves to provide the essentials. Over to 73 years Sri Lanka has been declared officially to be facing its worst nightmare of encountering the consequences due to the huge downgrade of the economy in 2021. Today, there are hour and day-long queues for even kilometers distance for the essentials such as fuel and food. It has abundantly impacted the lower- and middle-class families.

Sri Lanka owing to its mismanagement of funds and other unhealthy strategies such as the tax-cut in 2019 and disregarding the import of fertilizers have intensified the ruination of the country’s economy to an extent that is stated as “unbelievable” by the commoners. At- present the country is waging its war-like battle daily to fulfill their basic needs. It has become extremely difficult to survive and people are lamenting, crying, and protesting for a change and immediate solutions to rectify the crisis at hand. Although, the struggle looks like an infinite travel, some are keenly presenting strategies and tactics to overcome this economic crisis. Concerning the people’s needs-a short-term goal, many immediate resolutions were taken. These includes taking loans from other countries such as India and China. Nonetheless, this has further amplified the problems for a greater calamity. The pricing is towering high which is congesting the lives of the citizens of Sri Lanka. In addition, with every wrong decision of the government, the innocent lives are at stake. Owing to the demonstrators the state is also seemingly attempting to satisfy the people with many techniques- except for the fact that the commoners continue to suffer.

Introduction

In essence to the background of the story, it is indispensable to mention that there has been serious discussion to rectify the crisis with a long-term goal. The International Monetary Funding bailout is one among them. Due to several political reasons and instability, Sri Lankans are failing to reach IMF successfully. The Opposition Party are constantly urging the government to bring about a thoughtful management of affairs. Several ideas were brought in by Harsha de Silva – a leading economist of SJB and Sajith Premadasa – the leader of the Party. On May 17th, the latter tweeted that,

The need of the hour is for all Sri Lankans living abroad to use the formal banking channels for remittances. This is what supporting the country at this moment looks like. If you can influence anyone to do so, please do it”

It has occurred that the contemporary economic disaster is exhausting the pathetic civilians to their knees. The instantaneous deliverances like borrowing funds from other nations to supply the demands has only escalated the crisis furthermore to a chaotic environment. Focusing on the bigger image of the problem, it is high time the Sri Lankans talk about remittances. The foreign remittances could therefore make significant changes to the draining foreign reserves. This could heighten the possibility of giving a hope to the country- if only it is being managed in an efficient manner.

What are foreign remittances for Sri Lanka today?

Foreign remittance is a mode of money transference that is done by a migrant worker who resides in abroad countries to their homeland for their respective family members and relatives. These money are vastly received by family members for the purpose of covering their expenses. In countries like Sri Lanka – remittance enormously influence the economic growth. This is because, the inflow of foreign funds is thereby preserved by the state to use it for the economic development by involving in effective transactions among other countries. It would further enhance the supplies to the country as well. However, in 2020 due to a global decline in the economy – the World Bank issued a warning of a downfall of 20%. This enormously effect lower in-come countries- which is what you are witnessing nowadays in Sri Lanka. In abundance to misgoverning of affairs by the ruling party, Sri Lanka has immensely thrown into debt and bankruptcy.

The demand of the SJB for the present crisis.

SJB - the “United People’s Power” who is a responsible Opposition is uniting with the government to explore into solutions to overcome the problem. Endorsing the protestors claim to oust the Rajapaksha Regime, the Party also stands for the country to resurrect. The recent tweet of Sajith Premadasa, necessitating the inflow of remittances into the country is an alarming factor. This not only will ensure the growth of the foreign reserve but also will direct the country for a positive change. Due to the allegations of corruptions unto the Ruling Party- influenced the country from restraining to receive the mandatory dollars. Coupling with the deep-rooted hatred towards the Rajapakshas by the permanent migrants or diaspora, appeared to have featured their opinion to refrain sending money to the country as a possibility of Fraud. These allegations are of the nature that it could completely cease a person from supporting the nation. As a positive element, Sri Lankan government emphasized on transparency of using the funds to the public – predominantly for the essential commodities.

As of now, Sri Lanka’s economy is crippling towards its deathbed. The remittances from the fellow Sri Lankans living in foreign countries could extremely change over the events. It could also stop from the country falling into its deepening debt trap. It could be the greatest solidarity a person can display upon his homeland.

Once, as stated by Dilip Ratha- an intellectual of international migration and its relationship with universal growth,

Huge remittances could cause huge appreciation to the currencies. We need to ask ourselves, how do we measure the remittances, what effects do they have on social programs”

The positive conclusion of hope

Having discussed about the remittances and its impact on Sri Lankan economy, it is essential that these transfers are based on authorized banking channels. In that case, it could be one major aspect of a lifeline to the Sri Lankans. Regardless of several disadvantages or alleged frauds, Sri Lanka could once again stand if only the government muddled through this chaotic situation with a proper strategy of overseeing the funds economically. Hence, the possibility of uplifting the country by eliminating the challenging times of the people relies upon the government, once more.

Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less” – Robert E. Lee-

With that being said, let us believe that a change is only possible when the duties of oneself is fulfilled. Let us also believe that the diaspora and the workers unitedly shoulder the Sri Lankans to overcome the tragedy together. May the silent prayers of the citizens of Sri Lanka survive on practical hopes.

By Nasriya Naffin, TON Sri Lanka

The Indo-Pacific strategy, the latest addition to the geopolitical debates, is an important regional strategy that connects both Indian and Pacific Ocean regions. It has become a growing prominence throughout the globe due to its significant geopolitical and geostrategic implications and to the vast natural resources, and the strategically vital sea lines of communication that are found within the region.

All these years Sri Lanka has been working together with major powers of this region in infrastructure development, trade, security and communication. Even though the island nation is not considered as a major power in the region and has not yet mentioned its own strategy towards this, the country will fully support and work towards the Indo-Pacific strategy which will bring many benefits that cannot be missed at a time like this. Sri Lanka has become a hotspot in this strategy for its unique location in the Indian ocean where many busy sea - lines surrounding the country.

The major players of the Indo-Pacific are the United States, China, India, Australia, and Japan. India as the closest neighbor may consider strengthening its influence here in Sri Lanka by supporting the country's security and assisting the country's ongoing financial- crisis. The question is, can these acts limit Chinese assistance towards the country? India recently has offered many new investment projects to the country in the sectors such as energy, logistics and infrastructure.

India's quick response towards the country's on-going crises has helped Sri Lanka tremendously to survive the hard days. China on the other hand has followed a slow approach towards the situation even though it remains the country's largest donor.

The USA has shown a growing interest towards Sri Lanka's ongoing crisis and has welcomed the country's decision to work with the IMF. They have also requested the western giants to help with the country's economic crisis.

Can Indo-Pacific produce policies that can favor Sri Lanka and many other island nations in the region remains uncertain as the strategy is still new and has not given much attention to the areas such as marine pollution, climate change and disaster management which are some of the significant issues these countries are facing at present.

According to some expertise Indo-Pacific strategy was brought up to strengthen maritime security within the region. The world giants are trying to acquire military facilities in the region. On the other hand, the USA, Europe and many other world giants are concerned that China’s increased presence in the region could threaten security interests in the region. As these regional partners continue with their struggle for power, will small islands like Sri Lanka truly benefit and will they discuss the country’s problems is a question.

The great power competition in the Indo-Pacific region may bring financing for many infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka but will these projects be sustainable? Environmentally friendly?

On the contrast, Indian influence in the seas can affect the island’s fisheries industry. Illegal migration and drug transportation are some of the threats the country is facing at present and how favorable the Indo-Pacific strategy is on these matters towards Sri Lanka remains uncertain.  

China is already carrying a considerable amount of economic weight and offering opportunities to the island.  Even though the western countries consider debt financing unsustainable, Sri Lanka cannot miss any opportunity that is offered by China during this crisis. However, will China make this as an opportunity to dominate the island nation?  

India and Western countries are opposing the initiative of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is another issue that can confuse Sri Lanka as the country cannot miss any financial assistance from the international community. Where is our country going to stand? Either way it can create conflicts. India will do anything to minimize Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. Already the Chinese-invested on the power grid project in Sri Lanka, which was suspended in December due to India's interference. Not to forget USA that always considers China as a threat.  

Sri Lanka with an important geolocation, it is wise to take a neutral stand with the International giants rather than depending only on one or two. Sri Lanka will always need assistance for both the economy and security internationally.

The Indo –Pacific strategy could bring many opportunities including a chance to become the trade and maritime hub in the Indian ocean. 60 percent of country’s total trade occurs with the major powers of the Indo-Pacific region. It is clear that the country cannot move forward in isolation. Sri Lanka should show a positive approach towards this strategy while balancing other regional and global powers.

This may not be an easy task for the country, especially when competing among major powers keep building towards this island due to its strategic location. The country needs many bilateral trade agreements to strengthen the economy. The location and the natural harbors around the country is conducive for this. We are in a strategic location in the Indian ocean and we need a strategic plan to maximize benefits and minimize conflict with them.

Nishat Shuja

South Asian states are becoming water-scarce owing to their population growth. As of 2022, the frequent and extreme heatwaves have further increased water scarcity in states like Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. The shortage of water will ultimately affect the farmers and lead to food scarcity as well.

Dhaka is at the risk of depleting its freshwater resources because it does not have adequate mechanisms for freshwater extraction. The situation is very alarming, according to the Director of groundwater hydrology of the Bangladeshi water development board, Anwar Zahid. Agriculture and industries would suffer due to the depletion of water resources. Other states such as Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and even China are also at risk of this.

At such a time, India maintains its water hegemony over the smaller states of the region. India strives for regional hegemony at the expense of smaller states of South Asia. Ideally, it should be in stable bilateral relations with those states, instead, it is exploiting the weaker powers.

With Bangladesh, India maintains an upper hand on the water sharing mechanism. Ganges river is the main source of water for India and it flows into the Padma river in Bangladesh. The Padma river is the main source of water for Bangladesh’s industry and agriculture. The state is highly dependent on this river. India constructed a barrage roughly 17kms upstream from the border of Bangladesh on the Ganges river in West Bengal. Farakka barrage was constructed in 1975 which disturbed the flow of water to Bangladesh. It was an event of illegal withdrawal of water by India and highlighted the exploitative tendencies of Indian hegemony in the region.

Similarly, India constructed a tunnel to divert the flow of water from the Kishanganga river. Pakistan contested India’s decision as it violated the 1962 Indus Basin treaty. India went ahead and completed the construction project nevertheless in 2016. The project disturbed the water flow to the downstream areas of Pakistan administered Kashmir. In April 2022, World Bank announced to resume the arbitration process over this issue. It is an example of water hegemony by the Indian state which is yet to be resolved.

Bangladesh, being an agrarian economy suffered from decreased water flow for its irrigation. The Farakka barrage was called “Death Barrage” by Bangladeshi scholars owing to its destructive tendencies on the economy and ecology of Bangladesh. The issue developed into a full-scale dispute between the two states and eventually a water-sharing agreement was reached. After 1975, the dry season flow of water into Bangladesh reduced significantly because of India’s selfish acts. Both states tried to avert a conflict by making efforts toward a water-sharing agreement. The 1996 Ganges River treaty was signed as a response, and is due to expire in 2026. The treaty was signed just as Sheikh Hasina came to power and thawed Bangladesh’s relations with India.

Through the treaty, India gave Bangladesh an equal share of the Ganges without taking into account that Ganges-Padma is the main source of irrigation for the state while India has plenty of other transboundary rivers. It also did not consider the environmental factors in the long run. It was a very short-sighted yet long-term treaty that only decreased Bangladeshi grievances and prevented a conflict. The political factions in Bangladesh opposed the treaty for its exploitative tendencies. The government of the Awami League under Sheikh Hasina Wajid has always been appeasing India. The appeasement resulted as a response to India’s role in the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971. It has only allowed the regional giant to become even more exploitative.

Now that the treaty is about to come to end in 4 years, the debate has emerged again in Bangladesh. 26 years ago, these states did not consider the climatic factor, economy, and social aspects while dividing the water of the Ganges. The condition of climate change has only worsened in those 2 decades. It will be even more difficult and unfair for Bangladesh to survive with the disrupted flow of water.

Bangladesh is facing an extreme water crisis at present. The crisis is directly related to the grain damage, soil erosion, deforestation, and even depletion of wildlife dependent on water. When the Ganges River treaty expires in 2026, the possible new water-sharing agreement will have to allocate more water resources to Bangladesh to combat the economic and ecological challenges. There is a possibility of the dispute becoming active again now that the treaty is in its final stage.

The opposition of the Bangladeshi government will put pressure on it to demand more water resources since the state is extremely dependent on the water of the Padma river. The pro-India government of Sheikh Hasina will face tremendous pressure at home to take a harder stance against India.

The Indian water hegemony has been established through a combination of consent and coercion. This type of hegemony is not only inhumane, but it is also unfair. The people of Bangladesh will soon run out of adequate freshwater resources. This issue has the potential to develop into a full-scale conflict if both sides do not sign a fair water-sharing mechanism of the Ganges while keeping into account the environmental factors.

By TON Sri Lanka

During the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka, China refused to rearrange the repayment of its loans to Sri Lanka by saying that it has no system of doing such a thing. Instead, the Chinese Foreign Minister advised the Sri Lankan President that he should promote Sri Lankan industries and exports and sign the long-pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China to finish the foreign exchange shortage.

However, when the economic situation in Sri Lanka degraded, China offered a loan of US$ 1.5 billion to aid pay off old loans and an additional US$ 1 billion as a credit to secure essential goods from China. After Sri Lanka approached the IMF, China offered help Sri Lanka swing a good deal with the IMF.

However, China’s old demand that Sri Lanka should speedily negotiate and conclude an FTA still remains. China is certain to pursue this goal to firm up its economic relations with Sri Lanka which cannot be run only on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is mainly a package of erection infrastructural facilities.

China desire to build its relations with Sri Lanka on a strong footing of trade and investment. The FTA is a tool that can open boost the trade and investment.   

Reasonably, the Sino-Lankan trade has been deeply one-sided. In 2020, China exported US$ 4.01 billion to Sri Lanka. The main products were light rubberized knitted fabric (US$241 million), communications equipment (US$ 225 million), and advanced petrol (US$127 million).

During a similar year, Sri Lanka exported US$ 266 million value of goods to China. The core products were tea (US$ 60.4 million), coconut and other herbal threads (US$ 24.2 million), and knit T-shirts (US$ 18.5 million).

Sri Lanka is wary about entering into an FTA with China, as it has experience with other regional countries. Although, the Indo-Lankan FTA has given an increase to Lankan exports to India, still, Sri Lankans keep viewing the India- Sri Lanka FTA (ISLFTA) as unfavorable. They allege the Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB) raised by India are against the interests of Sri Lanka.

Similar worries are there when they conversed an FTA with China. China’s trade with Sri Lanka has increased swiftly.

It is a reality that Sri Lanka’s imports from China increased despite an overall reduction in the island nation’s international trade and the rise of protectionism in its policies. Sri Lanka’s imports-to-GDP ratio was 36% in 2005; during the same year, imports from China to GDP ratio was only 2.6%.  2017, the imports to GDP ratio had dropped down to 23.8% while imports from China to GDP ratio had increased to 4.8 %.

This momentous upsurge in imports from China came even without China having a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka. That means Chinese imports are subjected to normal tariffs, which might be eliminated under an FTA. This is a perturbing factor for Sri Lanka.

It was in 2014, the regime of the China-friendly Lankan President discussed FTA with China. Since then, the two sides have had six conversation sessions. However, the discussions became unsuccessful in 2017 due to differences over the level of trade terms and conditions under the FTA. China wanted 90% of goods to be tariff-free. Obviously, it is not a good trade situation for Sri Lanka.

According to the website Silk Road Briefing, China gives priority to trade in goods and then moves on to trade in services and investments in its FTAs with other countries. China has signed FTAs with 26 countries so far. China is pursuing a policy to remove duties on over 95% of tariff lines on its exports. This shows an alarming situation.

Although, the opportunities for Sri Lankan financiers are profuse because Sri Lanka had a relatively global trade advantage in 566 products, of which, 243 items were or could be exported to China. There were an additional 299 products with trading potential with China. These included vegetable products, rubber, and plastics.

The Silk Road Briefing website points out that there are regional examples that Sri Lankan businesses and entrepreneurs could follow: “The China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, which impacted small countries such as Cambodia and Laos, as well as larger economies such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, came into effect in 2009.

At that time their businesses struggled on their own and were able to adapt by either reinvesting in their own businesses by joining together with Chinese partners or by looking more closely at the China market.

The experience of these South East Asian countries has an example for Sri Lanka which had increased its exports in billions of dollars like Cambodia’s exports rose from US$ 0.841 billion to US$ 1.46 billion; Indonesia’s from US$ 11.63 billion to US$ 32.6 billion.

The same is the case with Laos from US$ 0.47 bn to US$ 1.68 bn; Malaysia from US$ 19.01 billion to US$ 38.7 billion; Thailand, from US$ 15.9 billion to US$ 30.2 billion and Vietnam from US$ 4.8 billion to US$ 49.4 billion. Sri Lankan entrepreneurs will have to come out of their suspicions and should take advantage of opportunities to enter the huge markets in China-related to FTA.

NEW DELHI, 18 May 2022, (TON): Pentagon's top intelligence official has said “India intends to deploy the Russian-made S-400 missile defence system by next month to defend itself from Pakistani and Chinese threats as it is pursuing an extensive military modernisation effort encompassing air, ground, naval and strategic nuclear forces.”

Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, Director of Defence Intelligence Agency, told “India started receiving the delivery of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia in December last year.”

As of October 2021, India's military was seeking to procure advanced surveillance systems to strengthen its land and sea borders and boost its offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

Lt Gen Berrier said "in December, India received its initial delivery of the Russian S-400 air defence system, and it intends to operate the system to defend against Pakistani and Chinese threats by June 2022.”

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