Enter the silicon dragon
Matthew Bey’s ‘Intelligent designs’ (Asian Affairs, March 2018) was a thought-provoking glimpse into the rise and rise of China as a tech power, with its lead in artificial intelligence and other key technology developments promising to make it the most powerful country in the world.But my admiration is tempered with worry that this staggering innovation and talent, to which all countries should aspire, has a slightly ominousedge to it in Beijing’s ever more stringentinternet controls and inclination for surveillance over its people.
Nicholas Nugent’s ‘Spontaneous eruptions’ article in your February issue was well composed but somewhat superficial in its analysis. It focused primarily on ‘essentially economic and spontaneous street protests’, as if social, especially gender, issues are not involved in Iran. Economic conditions are bad, but the fundamentalism-fuelled oppression of women is not insubstantial. Spirited, courageous women are fighting the mullahs over, among other things, the compulsory hijab.And how are the authorities reacting to their genuine demands? Police have threatened that if the women take off their headscarves in public, even in protest, they could be charged with ‘inciting prostitution’, which can incur a penalty of up to a decade in jail. Perhaps in a future article, Nugent can employ his undoubted journalistic skill to address this very significant issue.
Survival of the bravest
Touching piece on Asma Jahangir in Asian Affairs’ March edition (‘A flame is extinguished’). Although, as you say, she died far too early, it is amazing that she lived as long as she did, since she took on such hazardous work – shameful as it is that sticking up for persecuted and under-represented people should ever be dangerous. I wonder if other readers will remember the Salamat Masih case in Lahore from 1995, when the young teenage Masih, defended by Asma Jahangir, was acquitted of blasphemy (having at first been handed a death sentence) for allegedly writing on a Mosque wall. One of the judges who acquitted him, Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti, was not so lucky; he was murdered in 1997. So we should all say a prayer for the soul of this wonderful woman who risked her life day after day, not only to save people from death and persecution, but to give them the basic human dignity that should belong to us all by right.
Money talks and walks
Apropos ‘Poised to wring the king of debt’ by Duncan Bartlett (Asian Affairs, February 2018), I wonder at the power of money. China is roguish in its conduct, be it Beijing’s support for terrorist states like Pakistan and North Korea and to notorious jihadists like Hafiz Saeed. Further, it refuses to respect international law, as evident from its refusal to honour the verdict onSouth China Sea in its dispute with the Philippines. And yet the entire world, including the US, wants to humour it.As for Chinese President Xi Jinping, Bartlett seems spot on when he writes that Xi ‘dreams of the day his nation’s economy grows larger than that of the United States… President Xi also recognises that China’s strong influence on the US financial system brings it many benefits, politically and economically’. It is unfortunate that Washington is letting this happen.