Ref. J J Robinson’s article on The Maldives in the October issue of Asian Affairs: it’s sad to think that whilst Western tourists indulge in these paradisiacal surroundings, free-thinking Maldivians are being criminalised or forced into exile by their government.
Blessed with natural wonders, the islanders nonetheless face an uncertain future. Ironic that The Maldives, with a number of far-sighted policies in place to protect its many resources (eg the total ban on shark fishing introduced in July 2010), and a sustainable fishing industry dominated by pole-fishing for tuna, should itself be threatened by climate change.
Having thrown off the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial powers, The Maldives became a Republic in 1968. However, since then, moves towards democracy, human rights and free speech have been limited and short-lived. Politics has been dominated by nepotism and corruption, and I find it reminiscent of certain Caribbean islands in the 1990s, where politicians often appointed their own relatives or cronies to important posts. It is also revealing that economic support is forthcoming from China and Saudi Arabia; and as Robinson writes, even the threat of suspension from The Commonwealth has failed to curb the current regime’s abuses of power. One wonders how many of the tourists enjoying their tropical paradise are aware that even religious beliefs are dictated by the government, and so-called ‘religious unity’ laws are invoked to criminalise nonconformists. Alarming, too, that such intolerance and extremism are rife in The Maldives, even to the point of hundreds of Maldivians travelling to Syria to fight, at a time when political stability in this part of the world is so badly needed.
South China Sea stand-off
Humphrey Hawksley’s recent article about the US and China makes a number of important points. The current impasse between the two superpowers seems to harden over time, and just recently (29 September), a Defence Ministry spokesman accused Japan of ‘playing with fire’ in planning to conduct joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea.
Given the need for the export-led Chinese economy to have unrestricted access to the Strait of Malacca, in particular – the gateway between the Indian and Pacific Ocean and falling within the South China Sea – China is understandably ‘twitchy’ about conflicting territorial or other claims to these waters. However as Henry Kissinger wrote, ‘a country facing such large domestic tasks is not going to throw itself […] into a quest for world domination’ (Kissinger, 2012, On China, Penguin, London).
Let us hope cool heads prevail on both sides, as China is unlikely to relent on its perceived rights, but the pressure for freedom of navigation mounts.
Ghost Town – Turkey in Cyprus
‘The end of Ataturk’s legacy’ (Asian Affairs, Sept. 2016) gave me fresh food for thought on Turkey’s role on the world stage. On a recent visit to Cyprus, I was moved and angered by the extraordinary sight of Famagusta – or at least a distant view of the ghost town, through binoculars, from the viewpoint outside the occupied zone.
Not only was the invasion by Turkey in July 1974 brutal and indefensible, but its aftermath and the Turkish military’s subsequent oppressive policies in northern Cyprus continue to cause suffering on this beautiful and fascinating Mediterranean island. Its geographical location has made it a meeting point for occidental and oriental culture, and its history stretches back thousands of years, as demonstrated by the unique artefacts discovered there. How ignorant of the Turkish occupiers to destroy, loot and smuggle overseas these artworks, which lose so much of their meaning and relevance out of context. Ultimately, the suffering of around 200,000 Greek Cypriots whose homes, livelihoods and way of life were taken, quite apart from those who lost their lives resisting the occupying forces, is unending whilst nothing is done. May Turkey be subject to intense diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions and denied membership of the European Union while this injustice continues.