Photo: G20 Hangzhou Summit. Source: Official Website - Photo: 2016

The G-20 Fiddles While Rome Burns

Viewpoint by Somar Wijayadasa*

NEW YORK (IDN) – The G-20 Summit in China took place when our world is more divided than ever before, and multi-millions suffer from wars and other calamities.

One showpiece of the Summit – even before it started – was the decision by United States President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to ratify the Paris Agreement of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, a significant achievement considering the fact that U.S. and China are world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters that cause global warming.

But another major threat to our planet “nuclear weapons” was ignored. Obama can at least partially realize the vision of “a world without nuclear weapons” that he first laid out in Prague, in 2009, by unilaterally announcing a “no-first-use” option of ever initiating the use of U.S. nuclear weapons, and a “no-launch-on-warning” option of unleashing nuclear weapons immediately after detecting an apparent nuclear strike by another state.

If Obama (Nobel Peace Laureate) makes that bold decision, all nuclear powers would follow his lead.

The possibility is not without precedents as President John Kennedy said that these nuclear weapons “must be abolished before they abolish us”, and President Ronald Reagan said: “We must never stop at all until we see the day when nuclear arms have been banished from the face of the Earth.”

Since he became President, Obama has prioritized his “Pivot to Asia” project to shift U.S. diplomatic and military resources away from the Middle East and into Southeast Asian countries in order to counter China’s growing dominance in the region and ensure a foothold in growing markets – even though China views it as meddling in its backyard.

Obama has bolstered economic and diplomatic ties with Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar and has deployed a rotational force of Marines to Australia, a missile-defence system to protect South Korea from the North’s missiles, and has made a strong case in providing military aid and U.S. support for regional cooperation in addressing maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

At the Summit, Obama asserted that “The United States is more deeply engaged across the Asia-Pacific than we have been in decades” and that “Our position is stronger and we’ve sent a clear message that as a Pacific nation, we are here to stay.”

Bidding farewell to G-20, Obama went to Vientiane to attend the ASEAN conference where he described Laos as the most heavily bombed nation in human history. He said that “Eight bombs a minute were dropped on average during the Vietnam war between 1964 and 1973 – more than the amount we dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II”.

The U.S. flew 580,344 bombing missions over Laos, dropping 260 million bombs – equating to 2 million tons of ordnance. Obama committed $90 million to clean up an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs that still litter the impoverished Laos.

Apart from the death and destruction in Laos, casualties in the Vietnam War are estimated at 1,313,000 Vietnamese deaths, and nearly 60,000 American soldiers killed-in-action, over 150,000 wounded, and some 1,600 missing.

Referring only to the ravages in Laos, Obama said that “Villages and entire valleys were obliterated, and countless civilians were killed. That conflict was another reminder that, whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a wrenching toll, especially on innocent men, women and children”.

While we know that Russia, China and North Korea are openly hostile to Washington, other countries in the region that know about past U.S. policies in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Korea may not easily fall in line behind the United States.

State of the World: Pathetic

Conflicts in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen, the violence in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan are raging unabated.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports of “losing a generation of children” because about 13.7 million school age children in these conflict zones are not in school, and that 50 million children worldwide have been driven from their homes – 28 million due to conflicts and the rest to escape extreme poverty, trafficking, kidnapping, rape and even murder.

Syria, today, presents the biggest humanitarian crisis thanks to the Arab Spring protests that erupted in 2011. It has so far killed over 500,000 Syrians.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, 4.8 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria.

In the Syrian conflict, Russia and the U.S. have largely backed opposing sides. This quagmire is a gross humiliation on the United Nations and all world leaders for their lack of vision and enthusiasm to resolve this humanitarian crisis. As of this writing, U.S. and Russia stuck a deal for a ceasefire even though several previous truces failed.

In addition to above-mentioned man-made disasters, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) pointed out that some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. The vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.

The UN confirms that 783 million people do not have access to clean water. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reveals that over 1.7 billion people in Asia & the Pacific lack access to sanitation, and UNICEF data shows that some 594 million people in India – nearly 50 percent of country’s population defecate in the open.

That is the true State of the World, and a damning indictment on our world leaders.

China and Russia: Game changers in international relations

Last year, Russia signed a $400-billion deal to supply China with 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually from 2018 for 30 years; a 457 miles gas pipeline; a $25 billion deal to boost Chinese lending to Russian firms; a $2 billion investment fund targeting agricultural projects; a deal for Russia’s Sberbank to open a $1 billion credit line with China Development Bank; and the two countries would jointly invest $19.7 billion in a rail link between Moscow and the Russian city of Kazan to be completed by 2020.

Among other mega projects under way are the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, String of Pearls Project, China Africa Forum, the New Silk Road (One Belt, One Road) initiative and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB). The two nations seek to integrate the New Silk Road with the Eurasian Economic Union project to overcome the economic difficulties they have faced.

During his visit to the U.S., in 2015, Xi announced that China would create a $3.1 billion Fund to help developing countries tackle climate change, and another Fund worth $2 billion to aid developing countries to implement the post-2015 Development Agenda.

In 2006, 19 Asian and Eurasian countries agreed to build a Trans-Asian Railway network. China is building a 427 km long railroad from China through Laos to Thailand’s border and a $3 billion railroad from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Djibouti where China is investing $400 million in modernizing Djibouti’s seaport. A former Chinese diplomat confided in me that “China is eyeing on acquiring the American military base in Djibouti”.

While the balance of world power is clearly changing, China has been building economic blocs with Russia, Central Asia, Africa and Asia while United States has been building military blocs and bases around China in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

It is time for all world leaders to shed their differences and military ambitions, and work together to make our world a safe place for all to live in peace.

*Somar Wijayadasa was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly for ten consecutive years from 1985-1995, and was Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 September 2016]

Photo: G20 Hangzhou Summit. Source: Official Website

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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