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Monday, June 29, 2020

Journalists’ junket to China

Is China weaponizing the free press?
In a rare glimpse inside the dragon nation, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) claims China has built its discourse power beyond borders and engineered a change in the global news landscape.
How? The new report “The China Story: Reshaping the World’s Media” was launched on June 25, by IFJ, a global network of affiliated journalists unions spanning the Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, and the Middle East to protect media rights and promote freedom of expression worldwide.
IFJ, the world’s largest voice for journalists, does not hesitate to say Red Republic’s media-warriors is increasing its global footprint in the world’s media and its strategy showed clear signs of targeting journalists to “outsource its influence” in developing countries with ineffective or repressive governments, yet also clearly cut across both the developed and developing world.
Journalists from 58 countries were asked whether they received overtures from Beijing. There’s evidence that hundreds of senior journalists, media practitioners from both developed and developing nations, had taken part in all paid extravaganza trips to mainland China.
The research said 67% of the respondents surveyed had been approached by Chinese entities under the media outreach campaign program in almost every continent. The media outreach initiatives include journalism exchange programs, union cooperation, content sharing, training courses, and media acquisition.
The global research details how unions described a recent emphasis on organizing Chinese tours for Muslim journalists, even from non-Muslim countries, with selected some being taken to the Xinjiang province, where at least 1 million Uyghur are reported to be in political indoctrination in so-called re-education camps, in an attempt to rewrite the global narrative of the Muslims in former East Turkestan.
What they have to do in return is speak in favour of the Uyghur camps or cheer China’s coronavirus response, and write editorials and opinion columns drum-beating China’s grand infrastructure scheme, the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI).
Almost half of all respondents (44%) in African countries, Latin America, and Asian countries said they have received tangible support, such as the donation of computers and recording devices for journalism unions, as well as educational aid and agreement for content sharing and a series of training programs.
On the other hand, some journalists expressed concern about the increasing role of Chinese propaganda in the media space in their respective countries.
China’s hegemony in global media footprint has won the hearts of chiefs of state media outlets, especially television, radio, official news agency, and press information department.
In a bizarre truth, the lucrative media exchange program and skill development training courses have also been offered to the press wing of prime ministers’ and presidents’ offices in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
IFJ has reasons to raise an alarm regarding China’s influence on the government’s media institutions. Well, the IFJ report did not indicate whether the Chinese media outreach program had a hidden agenda of espionage.
In the Philippines, journalists voiced suspicions that Beijing’s ultimate aim was to influence the Filipino government itself through close cooperation with President Duterte’s communications team.
Stating Australian media exposure with China, the report says:“The results have, in many cases, produced stories that faithfully echo Beijing’s position on issues ranging from the South China Sea to technological developments in China.
“With increasing numbers of Chinese journalists working globally, it also provides insight and understanding of the powerful place China’s media now occupies and one that should not be underestimated.”
The report recommends that journalists’ unions can play a role in educating and preparing journalists to better educate the public on how to detect biased news.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 29 June 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Need pedestrian-friendly cities to fight coronavirus

Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
When many metropolitan cities worldwide ease lockdown restrictions, some city authorities are closing their roads to vehicles, making bicycle lanes, widening pavements, and handing over parking spaces to eateries and coffee joints.
Meanwhile, neighbouring India plans to make 100 cities more pedestrian-friendly after coronavirus lockdown. The Indian government commits to making its streets and markets more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists as it emerges from one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns, a move urgently needed to curb pollution and improve liveability.
Bangladesh urban planners and city authorities should give additional effort to make cities more pedestrian-friendly once the coronavirus lockdown is relaxed.
Dhaka cannot be said to be a walkable city. Moving in the city is dangerous for pedestrians. Every day, numerous pedestrians are victims of a road mishap in crazy traffic. A pedestrian has to negotiate several hurdles as if overcoming obstacle course training for security forces.
If this is the scenario of Dhaka, imagine the walkability in the cities of Chattagram, Barishal, Khulna, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Cumilla, or Sylhet.
As the people of the region are likely to live with the coronavirus and have to abide by health guidelines, hundreds of city dwellers have opted to ride motorbikes and bicycles to maintain social distance. 
The volume of both self-driven modes of transport has been reported to have significantly risen in the streets.
If the pedestrian-friendly city is implemented, the commuters will also incorporate more walking. For sustainable urban living, cities should also promote public transit and bicycle lanes.
If pedestrian-friendly walkways are built, the major shift in urban living will have a positive impact on traffic, dramatically improve air quality, and improve overall health and life quality.
Making safe walkways was never a priority of the city authorities. The authorities prefer roads for the plying of private vehicles, instead of rapid public transport besides the upcoming mass transit metro-rail which will commute from north and south.
When the commuters exit from the metro-rail stations, for short distances, most people will prefer to walk to their work, home, or business. 
Any urban development means construction, which unfortunately does not have transparency and accountability. A safe walkway for pedestrians was also never a high profile program, for which city planners nor the city authorities will get public applause.
The challenges remain that for the city planners and city authorities, policy planning is always anti-poor and biased towards the elite. As if the cities have been built exclusively for the elites and rich.
One visible example is enough to prove the city planners’ bias. There are several kilometres of rickshaw-free roads in the city, but there is not a kilometre where motor vehicles are restricted.
Every time there is a media outcry and street agitation of a vehicle hit and run of a student, the authorities will promptly build a speed-breaker or a foot-over-bridge. 
That’s a quick-fix solution of a problem, instead of a pedestrian-friendly walkway as a solution for road mishaps.
A smart cities program is the need of the hour. The city planners should include stakeholders from street vendors to students, from commuters to city dwellers, for measures like road closures, barricades, and repurposing of parking spaces.
Hopefully, the city planners soon will include Dhaka among the most walkable cities such as New York, Vancouver, and Sydney. 

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 22 June 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pandemic has exposed deep-seated weaknesses in Bangladesh

Photo: Reuters
A senior staff member along with many others of a grocery chain outlet in Dhaka were hailed as “corona warriors” by a leading English newspaper. The daily did not hesitate to describe that “our humanity, empathy, and responsibility is being tested by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Shila Aktar, a customer relationship officer at a grocery outlet had a fever, but other signs of coronavirus were absent. With fever, she went from one government hospital to another -- over four consecutive days.
She tried day and night to access the dedicated helpline. Also, she desperately tried online registration with no luck.
On the third day, she had an outrageous experience at a government-dedicated Mughda Hospital for Covid-19 patients. The Ansar Battalion sold Tk20 tickets at the exorbitant price of Tk2,000 to 3,000 in connivance with the hospital staff.
Hearing her ordeal, a journalist wrote an angry post on Facebook. Promptly, the lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury responded pro-actively. The following day, the guards were removed and an additional booth to collect 150 additional samples a day was opened adjacent to the hospital.
On the fifth day, despite feeling weak, she stood in a queue from 6am in a make-shift booth in Bashabo, in the city. Finally, her sample was taken.
The issue did not end there. Now the waiting period began to get her virus test report. After four days she received a heartbreaking message online and also phone SMS that she was positive. 
“Dear Shila Aktar, your test for coronavirus is positive. Please stay at home. Be positive.”
The test for the coronavirus is a nightmare for millions in the country. Well, the government and private resources have been inadequate, coupled with widespread corruption in medical supplies and a lack of transparency in health care management.
As the crisis in Wuhan enlarged last winter, the “learned” heath minister Zahid Malek assured the nation that the country is fully prepared to overcome the pandemic.
When the virus finally struck on March 7, there were only a few ventilators in the country. The country had few virus testing labs, and no dedicated hospitals for infected patients when the first virus was detected in early March.
Despite media warnings, based on input from infectious disease experts, the airport authorities and immigration departments were lax in checking the entry of thousands of people, and also didn’t follow the quarantine protocols.
Well, the government never used the word “lockdown” or “curfew” and the police and civil administration all over the country failed to keep the people at home, maintain social distancing, wear masks, or practise basic hygiene.
The worst-case scenario was that the doctors, nurses, and health care staff often did not have enough PPE, including gloves and masks and safety materials.
Some state hospital senior doctors who have taken to social media to criticize the poor quality of medical supplies were punished. Even those who complained of poor living facilities in designated hotels were also punished.
Caught in a catch-22 situation, between lives and livelihoods, after 66 days, the government partially opened offices, factories (including export industries), shops, public transport, domestic flights, and restaurants. Several media reports say all the establishments flouted health guidelines with impunity.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been rated among the top 10 women leaders for the commendable job in coronavirus management by the prestigious Forbes magazine. She recently wrote in the British newspaper, The Guardian, that Bangladesh is unlikely to be the only country struggling with health, economic, and climate emergencies this year.
Most governments have proved dangerously unprepared for the crisis, which has exposed deep-seated weaknesses in public-health and social-security systems in rich and poor countries alike.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 16 June 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Healthcare, humanity, and hospitals

Testing for coronavirus has been a nightmare for millions in Bangladesh, coupled with widespread corruption in medical supplies and poor transparency in healthcare management
A senior staff of a grocery chain outlet in capital Dhaka, along with many others, was hailed as “Corona Warriors” by the Business Standard published from Bangladesh. The paper was emphatic in celebrating the role of these “heroes” at a time when “our humanity, empathy, and responsibility is being tested by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Testing for coronavirus has been a nightmare for millions in the country. The government and private resources are inadequate, coupled with widespread corruption in medical supplies and poor transparency in healthcare management.

Desperate times
Shila Aktar, a Customer Relationship Supervisor at Agora grocery outlet, had fever and weakness, but other signs of coronavirus were absent. She went from one government hospital to another. On the fifth day, she decided to stand in a queue at another make-shift booth in the city. Finally, her sample was taken.
Shila had desperately tried all helplines – announced as public health messages on public and private televisions, FM radios, newspapers, SMS, as well as embedded ringtones on mobile phones. At last, she took to Facebook to share the suffering of hundreds of people who had to wait in long queues for several hours at the state hospitals to get themselves tested.
She recounted her terrible experience at the government-dedicated Mughda Hospital for COVID-19 patients, not far from her home. The Ansar Battalion guards sold Taka (BDT) 20 tickets at an exorbitant price of Taka 2,000 to 3,000 in connivance with hospital staff union leaders. Her angry Facebook post brought the matter to the attention of a local lawmaker, Saber Hossain Chowdhury. The following day, para-police guards were removed and additional booths were opened adjacent to the hospital to collect further 150 samples a day.
Then began the waiting period to get her virus test report. After four days, she received a heartbreaking message online and also via phone SMS: “Dear Shila Aktar, your test of coronavirus is positive. Please stay at home. Be positive.”
Shila was unknowingly wandering for more than nine days infected by the contagious virus.

Leadership lessons
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been rated among the top 10 women leaders for their commendable responsibility in coronavirus management by the prestigious Forbes magazine. Despite working with goddess Durga’s ten hands, she was in a dilemma as to what should be her nation’s priority: lives or livelihood?
As the crisis in Wuhan grew, the ‘learned’ heath minister Zahid Malek assured the nation that the country is fully prepared for any eventualities to overcome the pandemic. Thousands of panicked migrants returned home from epicentres; they were checked with ancient thermal scanners and hand-held thermometers, which broke down in weeks.
Despite media warnings, based on inputs from infectious disease experts, the airport authorities and immigration department were lax in checking the entry of thousands of people, who didn’t follow the quarantine procedures.
When Bangladesh’s first virus infection was detected on 7th March, there were only a few ventilators, a couple of virus testing labs, and no dedicated hospitals for infected patients. While the government never officially announced a ‘lockdown’ or ‘curfew’, the police and civil administration in the country failed to keep the people safe at home or ensure that they maintained social distancing, wore masks, and practised hygiene.
The most worrisome part was that the doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff did not have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits. The suppliers had no fear of delivering low-quality and even fake materials. Scores of doctors and nurses were infected and were either placed in-home quarantine, isolation centres, or hospitals. Nearly half a dozen doctors succumbed to the deadly virus.
Some state hospital senior doctors who took to social media to criticise the poor quality of medical supplies were punished. Even those who complained of poor living facilities in designated quarantine hotels were punished.
When Cyclone Amphan from the Indian Ocean struck southwest of Bangladesh in May, people were afraid to move to the shelters as they were not built with social distancing in mind.
Caught in a catch-22 situation, between lives and livelihoods, the government has partially opened offices, factories (including export industries), shops, public transport, domestic flights, and restaurants. For now, the fate of parks, cinema halls, convention centres, religious and cultural festivals is on hold.
Regular products that were once sold on the streets have vanished. Now we have hawkers selling hand gloves, sanitizers, face shields, PPE gowns, and goggles to eager customers, who are unaware of the quality of these products.

First published in the Health Analysis Asia, 12 June 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, health fact-checker in Bangladesh. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

China Should Apologise Tiananmen Massacre

Symbolic Graphics
Quietly the infamous day passed off without large vigil to mark the 31st Tiananmen Square massacre on 4 June.
Hong Kong is the only territory of mainland China where a candlelit vigil, mass commemorations are held for the event since 1990. The event attracted tens of thousands of participants and visitors from all over the world.
Hong Kong police have banned the annual vigil marking the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre for the first time in 30 years, citing coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
The candlelight vigil was in memory of tens of thousands pro-democracy movement were brutally suppressed on 4 June 1989 at ancient Qing dynasty Tiananmen Square built-in 1651, ending months of unarmed student-led demonstrations in China.
The governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never acknowledged the massacre.
About 180,000 troops and armed police marched into Tiananmen Square and crushed a student protest calling for democratic reform following the death of a progressive leader in CCP, who had been deposed by Chairman Deng Xiaoping.
Well, no death toll has ever been officially released, but rights groups and Chinese in exile estimate hundreds, if not thousands were killed when China's elite People's Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on unarmed protesters in Beijing.
Surely there was global outcry and media made screaming headlines around the world, with iconic images such as the "Tank Man" bravely defying the troops on the square.
China's hardliners exploited that event to oust reformers who had been sympathetic to the demonstrators. The hawks have rewritten history and demonizing political opposition and dissidents.
Tiananmen Square has brought the hardliner bigwigs of CCP into drawing board to rethink the state policy and implemented methods of repression and strict state control, according to Zhang Lifan, who was a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1989.
Post Tiananmen, many of China's reformers (including the head of the Communist Party himself) were condemned to lifelong house arrest, while some dissidents fled to the West in collaboration with a network of exiled Chinese in Paris who advocates on how to bring democracy to China.
China's state authority censorship increased manifold with a particular emphasis on purging the protest from Chinese news and history books. Within a year of the massacre, the Chinese government "had closed 12 percent of all newspapers, 13 percent of social science periodicals and 76 percent of China's 534 publishing companies," according to Minxin Pei's From Reform to Revolution.
China's hawks were initially perturbed by the Tiananmen pro-democracy struggle and further frightened by the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991. America's victory in the Cold War and the outright dissolution of the USSR shook Beijing hardliners.
The Tiananmen syndrome has impacted proactively upon open-door policy in trade, commerce, and investment. The economic policy has catapulted China to become an Asian giant and gradually came at par of Western countries.
Amid anti-American conspiracy theories, which portrayed the devious United States continually undermine the Chinese people. The purge of pro-American reformers in China left few reform advocates in positions of power, rest were toppled and send into exile.
The hawks also adopted "hyper nationalists" concepts and soon became official Party doctrine in the Patriotic Education Law in 1994, which China later tried to impose on Hong Kong.
Behind the curtain, the reformers in China keeping their heads low, silently watching the Hong Kong's pro-reform protests and of course giving up hopes of Chinese apology to the families and survivors for the massacre and another ten of thousands thrown into dark dungeons in punishment to dare challenge the CCP hawks. #

First published in The New Nation, 10 June 2020

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Of Racism and Whitening Cream Culture

A complex over darker complexion
An Indian actor got called out for protesting racism while endorsing whitening creams in TVCs (television commercials). Instead of echoing her protest, hundreds of voices on social media blasted the glamour actor for “shameless” and “pseudo-liberal” jibes against racism in the United States when they advertise whitening creams to be bold and beautiful.
The global outcry after the first-degree murder of African-American George Floyd in the street of Minnesota in the US has once again raised eyebrows among policy-makers, social scientists, and civil rights defenders.
Social and political tensions that have long been simmering just beneath the surface of the global economic order have begun to boil over, as evidenced most vividly by the protests in the US over the death of a black person, by four police officers in Minneapolis.
Ignoring coronavirus health safety advice, from London to Auckland, Toronto to Berlin, and Copenhagen to Madrid, demonstrators gathered in thousands to express solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter protests against police brutality in America.
The fault-line has been ignored by politicians of both camps of Democrats and Republicans.
In the lockdown during the virus outbreak, in mid-March, more than 40 million workers have filed unemployment claims in the US, and more and more families are pushed to the brink of poverty.
American civil rights activists often cry wolf, arguing violence breeds violence, and repression breeds retaliation. The cautionary messages of rights defenders usually fell into deaf ears of politicians and society leaders.
Life seems to be simplified in black and white colour code. Profiling a person having black or white hearts, so are bank loans or utility bills defaulters blacklisted. It is expected the priests and Muslim clerics are in white, while the executioners in prison wear black.
Deposed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s speeches were laced with satire and a sense of humour which made him a controversial statesman. He once said: “Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolize bad luck and white for peace.”
There is no reason for the white supremacist to admire the dictator Mugabe but his quotes from speeches will be remembered when he says: “Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes to weddings and black clothes to funerals.”
In a country where a government, politicians, national institutions, and state policy surreptitiously incite racism to settle scores in a plea to crack down on opposition and dissidents, such state policies further marginalize minorities for their belief, faith, ethnicity, race, language, and culture. Social scientists warn that where there is racism, the parameters of repression and inequality in society remain visible.
The social construction of racism is built in our hearts and minds. Unknowingly, millions developed a perception that evil is black and angels are draped in white. Unfortunately, such a colour-coded concept is in children’s storybooks and school textbooks.
Indian actor Abhay Deol criticized his glitz colleagues in the Bollywood industry, saying that “woke Indian celebrities” have been speaking out on #BlackLivesMatter but failing to speak up on similar instances within the country.
The tradition in South Asia is for young women eligible for marriage to apply turmeric on their face and hands, an ancient tradition enabling her skin to glow when seated at the ceremony -- or use whitening creams to be fair and beautiful.
Whereas, in the west, women love to have their skin tanned in the summer, bathing in sunshine.
The day when the demand for skin whitening cream sale plummets, only then can a nation be redefined to be non-racist.
It’s high time to admit the vanity of a false distinction.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 9 June 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

Sunday, June 07, 2020

‘National Hero’ Nuclear Scientist A ‘Prisoner’ In Pakistan

Pakistan’s ‘national hero’ scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who got his nation the secrets for a nuclear bomb has pleaded with the country’s Supreme Court to be allowed freedom of movement .
Khan was on Time magazine’s cover “The Merchant of Menace” in 2005 that exposed his sinister role in not only securing the secrets for Pakistan’s bomb by subterfuge and theft but also in selling the same to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
In a handwritten letter to apex court about a fortinight ago,  the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, said that he is being kept prisoner and also being restrained from pleading for his free movement.
The 84-year old ‘deactivated’ nuclear scientist presently under house arrest also requested Pakistan’s apex court to safeguard his fundamental rights and allow him to be heard.
Presently he has no access to the internet, phone, computer device, and even visitors are barred to enter his residence.
Khan’s last public appearance was on 4 February 2004, when he appeared on national television and admitted to having helped supply materials necessary for making nuclear weapons to rogue nations, North Korea and Libya.
Several years ago, influential Abdul Qadeer Khan used to take a stroll into a park across the street from his mansion in Islamabad’s King Faisal Mosque and feed the monkeys that lived in the woods.
In his driveway sits a large Jasmine bush, trimmed into an odd but unmistakable shape – a mushroom cloud. Some say it was a sadistic gesture to have a nuke cloud in front of his palatial house was a dream to nuclearise the Muslim countries.
Once he was catapulted to fame as a national hero after Pakistan detonated five underground nuclear bombs in 1998 amid high tension with neighbouring India over disputed Kashmir.
Hand-painted portrait of “Father of Nuclear Bomb” adorned on the backs of trucks and buses all over the country, also celebrated in textbooks. He was twice awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian honour, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz medal.
Khan was born in Bhopal, India, in 1936, 11 years before the independence of Pakistan. When he immigrated to Pakistan in 1952, Khan had developed an interest in science and loathing for India.
He has told his biographer of witnessing the massacre of Muslims by Hindus that followed the partition in 1947 after the end of British Raj, which Rawalpindi’s military hawks interpreted his extreme form of patriotism.
Overzealous of India’s nuclear programme, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed ‘Doctor Nuke’ to run Pakistan’s nuclear-research establishment, to develop a weapon.
In a decade, Khan stopped walking in the wooded park in Islamabad to feed the monkeys. The national hero turned a multimillionaire, owner of a fleet of vintage cars and properties from Dubai to Timbuktu.
Whether motivated by greed or ideology or both, Khan decided to go into business for himself. The father of the nuclear bomb masterminded a clandestine and profitable enterprise selling to rogue leaders in Libya and North Korea, the technology and equipment to produce nuclear arsenals.
He donated $30 million to various Pakistani charities and had enough money left over to buy his staff and colleagues cars and pay for the higher education of their children.
With his accumulated fortune, he paid to restore the tomb of Sultan Shahabuddin Ghauri, an Afghan who conquered Delhi, Khan put up a portrait of himself next to the Sultan.
White House claimed that Khan’s customers were the notorious regime of Iran and North Korea – two countries identified by Bush administration as members of the “axis of evil”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna says so far it has not found definitive proof that Iran has a weapons programme. Well, not enough proof that Khan gave those countries including Islamic Iran the rudimentary but effective designs for nuclear warheads.
Western intelligence could not find solid evidence of business with Al Qaeda and there is reason to suspect the link had existed. The Rawalpindi GHQ intelligence apparatus had worked closely with Khan in his role as the government’s top nuclear scientist, are known to sympathise Osama bin Laden.
It remains a mystery how Pakistan’s nuclear blue-eye nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan outwitted Western intelligence to build a global nuclear-smuggling network that made the world a more dangerous place. #

First published in news portal The on 7 June 2020 

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender in Bangladesh. He is recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; he could be reached at

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Sino-India ‘war-cry’ at the roof of the world

Indian PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping Photo/REUTERS
No bullets were fired! So far, Chinese and Indian troops exchanged brickbats and hurled bullies.
Normally, India and Pakistan skirmishes trade thunderous artillery fire and weapons drawn on each other -- often inflicting civilian casualties.
Presently, both China and India claim transgression of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) over Galwan Valley in Ladakh. The valley was once a flashpoint in the 1962 Sino-India war.
An earlier Sino-India border dispute in 2017 or Doklam stand-off refers to the faceoff between the Indian Armed Forces and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the construction of a road in Doklam near a tri-junction border area, known as Donglang, or Donglang Caochang (meaning Donglang pasture or grazing field), in Chinese.
After a month of the stand-off, both India and China withdrew their troops from the Doklam theatre.
As the Galwan valley stand-off continues, China is increasingly taking a more belligerent position. Of the flashpoints, three were in Ladakh in the Kashmir region, while another is at Nuka La Pass, which connects India’s north-eastern state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet.
The question is: Why are the two Asian giants hurtling down the path of war at the Himalayan frontiers?
When the military of the two countries are in a face-off, Xi Jinping tells PLA to “prepare for war” to thwart the coronavirus impact on national security.
The winter in Galwan Valley is brutal. Even during clear weather at any time of the year, border patrol at 15,000 feet above sea level is treacherous.
There are several theories to why this border tension exists when the world is trying to control the coronavirus that came from China.
First, China allegedly changed its claims over the Galwan Valley thrice. Now, Beijing says that the entire Galwan Valley belongs to China.
“India in recent days has illegally constructed defense facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region, leaving Chinese border defense troops no other option but making necessary moves in response, and mounting the risk of escalating stand-offs and conflicts between the two sides,” blames China’s official newspaper the Global Times.
Second, China is annoyed after the Indian authority’s plan for a huge economic zone in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, offering attractive packages to shift manufacturing plants from China, when companies are worried about the second wave of Covid-19 sweeping the country.
The media report in Indian newspapers has visibly irritated the bigwigs of the Chinese Communist Party, with the strategic ambition of India to replace China’s role in the global industrial chain only expanding. Thus, the Global Times editorial has expressed its rage against the “Make in India” campaign to become the world’s next destination for brand factories.
Third, Narendra Modi’s administration last year revoked the autonomous status of the part of Kashmir under its control. Indian-administered Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority region in India and has continued to be claimed by China’s staunch ally, Pakistan.
While India and Pakistan have fought wars over Kashmir, China has always stood beside Pakistan and supported Kashmir nationals’ right to self-determination.
The fourth sore point between China and India is Tibet, a region that China says is its rightful territory. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the so-called Tibetan government in exile, have its headquarters in Himachal, India.
Fifth, ignoring the Sino-India relations, Narendra Modi nominated two BJP lawmakers to 'attend' swearing-in of Taiwan virtual celebration of president Tsai Ing-wen swearing-in ceremony.
Meanwhile, China is in no mood for dialogue. Beijing is blaming India, and China’s newspaper the Global Times has been publishing aggressive and anti-India rhetoric. It claims that India has “illegally constructed defense facilities across the border into Chinese territory.”
“Not since 1975 has a bullet been fired across the shared border. As a result, the theory that Sino-Indian clashes are flashes in the pan and unlikely to lead to more extensive fighting has become a widely held consensus,” Professors Sumit Ganguly and Manjeet S Pardesi wrote in the Foreign Policy.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 1 June 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. His twitter is @saleemsamad and can be reached at