by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the United States, has made a second visit to Sri Lanka within a few months. PriorMore
In a significant development for India’s cruise tourism industry, the country’s first international cruise ship, MV Empress, was launched from Chennai, setting sail to Sri Lanka. The ship, carrying 750 passengers, aims to promote affordable and accessible world-class cruise services for Indian travellers. The maiden voyage will visit three ports in Sri Lanka, Hambantota, Trincomalee, and Kankesanturei, before returning to Chennai
The Chinese-built port in Hambantota, which has been a subject of criticism among Indians over the years, has made extensive preparations to warmly welcome India’s inaugural international cruise ship. Despite speculations and concerns from Indian experts suggesting a military purpose behind the construction of the port, Sri Lanka vehemently denied such claims. The decision to choose Hambantota as the port of call for the first international cruise ship from India signifies a significant turning point in bilateral relations.
Sarbananda Sonowal, the union minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways and Ayush, expressed his enthusiasm for the launch of MV Empress. He stated that India’s coastal region boasts rich heritage and culture, offering immense potential for cruise tourism. Sonowal emphasized that the new cruise service will provide passengers with an opportunity to experience opulent facilities, entertainment, and breathtaking views, while also making such services affordable and easily accessible.
The launch of MV Empress is the result of an agreement between Chennai Port and M/S Waterways Leisure Tourism Pvt Ltd, which was forged during the first Incredible India International Cruise Conference in 2022. The International Cruise Terminal in Chennai, developed at a cost of 17.21 crores Indian rupees, served as the starting point for this remarkable journey.
Looking ahead, the Indian government has ambitious plans to enhance the country’s cruise tourism infrastructure. It aims to construct three new international cruise ports by 2024, with a projected increase in the number of cruise ships from 208 in 2023 to 500 by 2030 and a staggering 1100 by 2047. Moreover, the government intends to explore additional ferry routes connecting India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar. As a result of these developments, the number of passengers availing cruise services is expected to surge from 9.5 lakhs in 2030 to 45 lakhs in 2047.
In addition to promoting international cruise tourism, the government is also focused on launching Gujarat Pilgrimage tours, Cultural and Scenic Tours, Ayurveda Wellness Tours, and Heritage Tourism initiatives. These efforts reflect India’s commitment to diversifying its tourism offerings and capitalizing on the country’s rich cultural and natural resources. The launch of MV Empress and the subsequent plans for the expansion of India’s cruise tourism industry indicate a promising future for the sector. With enhanced infrastructure, increased cruise ship arrivals, and diverse tour options, India aims to position itself as a major player in the global cruise tourism market, providing unforgettable experiences to both domestic and international travelers
America has found it more difficult than ever to cover up its hidden agenda when peddling the so-called “Indo-Pacific strategy” to Asia-Pacific countries at the just-concluded 20th Shangri-La Dialogue.
While making high-sounding claims about “promoting peace, prosperity and progress in the Asia-Pacific through the power of partnership,” the United States is virtually stoking division, instigating confrontation and undermining peace in the region.
“American leadership” is in fact American hegemony in disguise.
Essentially, “American leadership” is dominated by a Cold War mentality and an “America First” doctrine regardless of the interests of its allies, mainly in the form of “coercive diplomacy.”
In terms of politics and the military, it has never stopped forming blocs by coercing others into taking sides, pushing for a military arms race among Asia-Pacific countries to benefit only itself.
Economically, it has repeatedly used the U.S. dollar’s global supremacy to export its own crises to emerging markets and developing countries in the region, letting the latter bear the brunt.
Moreover, to blunt China’s influence in the region, the United States and its allies have been stepping up efforts to exploit the concept of “national security”, aiming to weaken China’s connections with non-aligned emerging economies.
Indeed, we could not agree more with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s saying in his speech during the event that “this region’s security and prosperity cannot be taken for granted.” Ironically, the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific are put under threat by the United States itself.
Washington’s actions in the region do not match its words. On the one hand, the United States has anchored its “Indo-Pacific strategy” in openness and respect for sovereignty. On the other hand, it rushed to muster Cold-War style groupings such as the AUKUS deal and Quad alliance.
Take the Taiwan question, which is at the very heart of China’s core interests and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations. On various occasions, U.S. President Joe Biden and many other senior officials of his administration have publicly pledged to stay committed to the one-China policy and not to support “Taiwan independence.”
But Washington is bent on stirring up tensions across the Taiwan Straits, not least by sending warships and fighter jets, boosting arms sales, ganging up with other countries to intervene in the Taiwan issue, strengthening the so-called “official exchanges” and, most recently, sailing through the Straits.
These deliberate provocations are turning the region into a dangerous flashpoint.
The U.S. and “Taiwan independence” separatists relying on external forces are indeed the real factors that exacerbate tensions and cause changes in the status quo.
Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, the United States has been sending warships and military aircraft, as well as intensifying its military presence, stoking tensions in the region.
Beijing, as always, values the development of China-U.S. military relations, and military exchanges between the two sides have not been interrupted. But if the United States appeals for communication while undermining China’s interests, and calls for crisis management while continuing its provocations, any talk for the sake of talk is of little use for bilateral relations.
Peace and development have become the most valuable global public goods. The Asia-Pacific has broken through havoc caused by war and financial chaos, and achieved development in recent decades. As such, when the world is facing multiple crises rarely seen in history, people in the region understand well that a path of peaceful development, featuring solidarity and win-win cooperation, fits the interests of all.
Anna Malindog-Uy, vice president of the Manila-based think tank Asian Century Philippines Strategic Institute, pointed out that Asia-Pacific countries can promote peace and security in their own way, especially “in resolving conflicts of interest and differences.”
Unlike the “Indo-Pacific strategy” full of geopolitical calculations, the China-proposed Global Security Initiative calls for a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, where no country can strengthen its own security at the expense of others.
Clearly, the Asia-Pacific cannot afford to lose peace and development to geopolitical competition or bloc confrontation. Stuck in a hegemonic mentality, the “Indo-Pacific strategy” featuring confrontation over dialogue, alliances over partnerships, and zero-sum over win-win is doomed to fail.
Damarys Ruiz, a state employee from Cuba’s capital Havana, expects that the government’s strategy to boost the economy can bring prosperity to her country.
The 50-year-old, who works in the field of commerce, told Xinhua that state companies can very much contribute to improving Cuba’s economic situation after the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus.
“We are opening the country to foreign investment and a monetary overhaul is underway,” she said. “I feel we are moving on the right track.”
According to official statistics, the state sector in Cuba provides more than 80 percent of the country’s GDP.
In addition, roughly 8,000 small and medium-sized enterprises have been approved on the island since September 2021, the Cuban Ministry of Economy and Planning said in its latest update.
Adriel Perez, who works for a private mobile repair shop in the district of Playa in Havana, said local entrepreneurs can make the Cuban economy more dynamic.
“The private sector is now permitted to import, which is highly beneficial for the quality of service we offer the population,” he said.
The Cuban government has initiated various measures to recover the economy, amid the intensification of the six-decade-long U.S. embargo, which has cost the Caribbean nation more than 150 billion U.S. dollars, according to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Minister of Economy Alejandro Gil said that at present 285 companies are reporting losses. As inflation becomes increasingly severe and complex, he called for increasing production in the food sector, where inflation has the greatest impact.
A significant part of hard currencies has been invested in reactivating agricultural and electronic industries as well as in the imports of rice, pork meat and care products, he told the parliament recently, adding the government continues to implement a package of 63 measures approved in April 2021 to spur national food production.
Meanwhile, Cuba has welcomed over 1.2 million tourists so far in 2023, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
Taxi driver Raul Diaz said he believes his country can overcome the obstacles posed by the U.S. embargo.
“We need to continue to work hard, but a better economy is possible,” he said. “We are making a huge effort to improve our quality of life. The solution depends on us.”
The Cuban government has projected a 3-percent GDP growth in 2023.
A panel of environmental and human rights activists acted as judges in a People’s Health Tribunal organized by communities on the African continent impacted by the operations of extractive corporations Shell and TotalEnergies. Supported by organizations like Medact, We the People, the People’s Health Movement, and #StopEACOP, on May 20, the Tribunal found the corporations guilty of harming the health of people across Africa.
Nnimmo Bassey, Jacqueline Patterson, Kanahus Manuel, and Dimah Mahmoud condemned Shell and Total’s activities, stating that they were “extremely harmful to the livelihoods, health, right to shelter, quality of life, right to live in dignity, quality of environment, right to live free of discrimination and oppression, right to clean water, and right to self-determination.” This edition of the People’s Health Tribunal was built as activists witnessed extensive greenwashing by the oil and gas industry at COP27 in Egypt last year.
Decades of exploitation of African land have resulted in devastating consequences, including air pollution, water contamination, deforestation, violence, land grabbing, and forced migration. Omar Elmawi, who provided an overview of TotalEnergies’s impact on Mozambican communities, emphasized that in the current situation, “everyone loses, except Total.” Elmawi said he believed that African countries must take control of their own resources and development to make sure that justice is restored.
Governments in the Global North, where most extractive corporations have their headquarters, still choose to ignore the destruction caused by these industries. In 2022, Shell made a profit of $40 billion, while TotalEnergies ended the year with $36 billion in profits.
from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service
Almost 200,000 Palestinians could be without critical humanitarian food aid starting next month, according to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The agency had said earlier this month that almost 60 percent of Palestinians it was providing food vouchers for will stop receiving them by June, due to an acute funding deficit.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza are suffering from decades of economic decline due to the constraints, barriers, and restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation as well as frequent Israeli raids and attacks. According to the latest WFP statistics, 1.84 million Palestinians, or roughly about 35 percent of the total population, are currently suffering from food insecurity at various levels.
According to reports, the WFP will be forced to close down its operations in the West Bank and Gaza by August if there is no new funding by then.
The WFP estimates that $51 million is required to continue its operations in Palestine until the end of this year. It has called for regular, stable funding to continue providing vital food aid to Palestinians in the coming years. The food aid program for Palestine has reportedly already been reduced by 20 percent for May 2023.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Samer Abdeljaber, WFP representative and country director in Palestine. “We have no option but to stretch the limited resources we have to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable families are met. They will go hungry without food assistance.”
from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro participated in a joint press conference on May 29 from the Planalto Palace in Brasília, highlighting the importance of resuming ties. The press conference was held following a bilateral meeting between the heads of state ahead of the South American Presidents’ Summit.
As Lula told media, “This is a historic moment. After eight years, President Nicolás Maduro is back to visiting Brazil and we have recovered our right to have a foreign policy with the seriousness we have always had, especially with the countries that border Brazil.”
Their meeting took place days after Lula and Maduro appointed ambassadors to each other’s countries on May 24, and formalized the reestablishment of relations.
According to statements from their governments, the meeting focused on reactivating trade between the two countries, cooperation on issues regarding the Amazon, advancing regional integration, and issues related to their 1,366-mile border. At the press conference, Lula highlighted that at its height, the flow of trade between the two nations had reached $6 billion and it had now dropped to $2 billion, which he argued “is bad for Venezuela and Brazil.” Lula also said that he is in favor of Venezuela joining BRICS.
Maduro commented on the challenges the country underwent when “Brazil closed all of the doors and windows, despite being neighboring countries, countries that love each other as people.” He recalled an attempt to invade the Venezuelan embassy in Brasília, which was defended by Brazilian social movements and solidarity groups. “Today, a new chapter of relations between our countries begins,” he said.
from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to extend a fragile truce by five days on May 29. The truce, which came into effect on May 22, was marked by violations although the intensity of fighting decreased. Over 850 civilians have died and over 3,600 have been injured since fighting broke out on April 15. Nearly 1.4 million have been displaced.
On May 28, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which had jointly mediated the ceasefire, released a statement highlighting violations by both parties. The statement said that while the SAF violated the prohibition against aerial attacks, the RSF had “continued encroachment in civilian areas.” Among the buildings occupied by the RSF was the office of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).
SCP spokesperson Fathi Elfadl told Peoples Dispatch that no humanitarian corridor had been set up and areas worst affected by the fighting had not received aid. In fact, the U.S.-Saudi statement said that both SAF and RSF forces had stolen consignments of humanitarian aid.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict. Prices of bottled water, food, and fuel have gone up between 40 and 60 percent in conflict-affected areas. The World Food Program (WFP) projects that 18 million people will be left unable to afford basic food by as early as August if the fighting continues.
The fighting in Sudan was the culmination of months of tension between top generals who had staged a coup in October 2021 and severely repressed civilian protesters who were demanding democracy.
from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service
America’s self-imposed debt limit is no more than a joke as Washington, the world’s richest debtor, can never satiate its unchecked spending appetite by unceasingly borrowing from overseas. Hence the recurring debt problem has become an incurable toxic addiction.
The United States, as the world’s largest economy whose currency still holds a dominant position globally, thus has an unshirkable responsibility to fix its debt problem in a responsible fashion.
But each time its debt addiction strikes, America’s nasty domestic partisan politics and debt brinksmanship will uniformly make matters worse, sending shockwaves across the global markets and putting the whole world on tenterhooks. The ongoing crisis is no exception.
After months of political tug-of-war, U.S. President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an agreement on Sunday on raising the debt ceiling. If approved by the U.S. Congress later this week, it would be the 103rd time the country raises its debt limit in the post-war era.
While the deal may have for the moment helped the country avert a destructive debt default, and allow the world to breathe a sigh of relief, America’s deep-seated debt problem remains unsolved and is always ready to come back and haunt the world some day.
America’s national debt clock is ticking. The swelling debt, more than 31.4 trillion U.S. dollars now, is a credibility challenge for the world. Facing the skyrocketing numbers, nations across the globe have become increasingly anxious about the United States’ ability to repay its bills in the long run.
The greenback is the most commonly held reserve currency, making up more than 60 percent of global foreign exchange reserves. Theoretically, the United States, with its dollar supremacy, can continue to issue new bonds to pay off the old debts as long as its government revenues can cover the interest payments. However, that is highly unsustainable.
The ratio of government debt in gross domestic product (GDP) is an important indicator of a country’s ability to settle its debts. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office predicts that the proportion will reach 185 percent in 2052. And by 2053, net interest will consume approximately 7.2 percent of America’s GDP — nearly 40 percent of federal revenues. Such a trajectory will cause more serious concerns for the viability of U.S. debts and the dollar’s real purchasing power, creating mounting uncertainties in the world market.
The U.S. debts, with an ever shrinking credibility, have become a major source of risks in the global financial market.
For a long time, U.S. treasuries have been considered as so-called “safe haven assets.” However, the U.S. fiscal and monetary authorities have merely focused on America’s own policy goals, forcing drastic dollar fluctuations and distorting economic cycles, which causes a serious spillover into the financial sector.
Take the fall of the Silicon Valley Bank. On the surface, the bank suffered a devastating run on deposits because of a liquidity crisis. Yet the real reason is that the value of assets that the bank had bought during the low-rate cycle plunged due to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive hike of interest rates.
Since March last year, the Fed has raised interest rates 10 times in a row in an effort to curb inflation. Total book losses on bonds held by all U.S. banks ballooned to about 620 billion dollars at the end of 2022, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
If the United States continues to kick its debt can down the road, the cyclical debt crisis will threaten global financial security and the viability of the global economy over the long haul. Everyone knows that it is a dire problem, yet nothing substantial has ever been done about it. That’s what people call a “grey rhino.”
It is true that the White House and the U.S. Congress over the years can always come up with some sort of temporary solutions to the debt ceiling. Yet considering the country’s chronically polarized political environment, compromises are not always guaranteed and defaults not completely avoidable. If a U.S. default does happen, it could trigger a recession in America, and take a heavy toll on the world economy, many analysts worldwide have concurred.
Solving America’s debt problem demands a systemic and long-term approach. Such sensible solutions for America to wean itself off its debt addiction include curbing the country’s already behemoth and still rising military expenditures, ending the economy’s over-financialization and refraining from abusing extreme monetary policies like quantitative easing, among others.
Yet politicians from both parties have proven short-sighted and dangerously irresponsible. This is a genuine reflection of the country’s dysfunctional political system.
“In my eyes, we’re playing Russian roulette with the United States’ credit,” Jeff Tomasulo, CEO of Vespula Capital Management and Tactical Income, said.
The United States insists on assuming leadership in many areas yet neglects to accept responsibility when things go wrong. America must acknowledge that its debt crisis extends beyond its borders. Ignoring that reality is a price too heavy to pay in this age of global economic interdependence.
On Wednesday, May 17, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso decreed the dissolution of the National Assembly, the country’s unicameral parliament, using the “cross-death” constitutional mechanism. Lasso argued that there was a “serious political crisis and internal commotion” in the country and that the dissolution of the opposition majority parliament was a “constitutional solution” and a “democratic action.” Lasso’s decision came a day after the parliament began an impeachment hearing against him. He is accused of corruption and embezzlement of public funds.
Following Lasso’s announcement, the left-wing opposition Citizen Revolution Movement (RC) rejected the dissolution of parliament, calling it a “desperate and unconstitutional action.” The RC said that it was Lasso’s “strategy” to avoid the impeachment trial that could have removed him from office.
“The decree issued by President Guillermo Lasso is evidence of the triumph of the impeachment. This desperate and unconstitutional action is a strategy of a hopeless government that seeks to avoid the vote to remove it, without caring about the people. He is clinging to his post, instead of allowing the country to revive. The Citizen Revolution -as it has always said and maintained- places its positions at the disposal of the Ecuadorian people. This is the moment for the country to change. Lasso will not be able to stop the judgment of history. Soon the patient but present people will wake up, with our people we will triumph,” stated the RC.
The conservative Social Christian Party (PSC), Lasso’s former electoral partner, also questioned the legitimacy of Lasso’s move and rejected claims of a serious political and internal crisis.
from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service
A study published by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has revealed that economic sanctions, often illegally imposed, have a lasting negative impact on the populations in targeted countries and almost never achieve their stated goals.
The study “Human Consequences of Economic Sanctions” by Francisco Rodriguez, examines the evidence and arguments presented in 32 studies of sanctioned economies, mostly poor and Global South countries. It concludes that “[it] is hard to think of other policy interventions that continue to be pursued amid so much evidence of their adverse and often deadly effects on vulnerable populations,” particularly when they are extremely ineffective in achieving most of their stated goals.
The study finds that they affect the living conditions of the majority population of the targeted countries by making them poorer and more precarious. This is largely because targeted governments have a reduced capacity to maintain social and economic policies that support most of the population, especially the most vulnerable.
The CEPR report also notes that the negative impact of economic sanctions on people is well-known by policymakers and experts. Often, the report says, the worsening of economic conditions in targeted countries is precisely the intention of the measures, in the hope that there will be political upheaval in response.