India and Asean are two bright spots of optimism: PM Modi

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama tries to put human face on Syrian refugee debate.

U.S. KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Ten Southeast Asian heads of state and nine world leaders, including President Barack Obama, are meeting in Malaysia to discuss trade and economic issues.President Benigno Aquino III speaks at a closing press conference for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit at the International Media Center in Manila on Nov. 19. Terrorism and disputes over the South China Sea are also on the agenda. (All times local.) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says “winds of change” are blowing through India’s economy, after further market liberalization to turn the country into a global manufacturing hub.

Working to put a human face on the refugee crisis, he said, “They’re just like our kids.” The refugees Obama encountered at a school for poor children in Malaysia were not from Syria, and unlike the flood of Syrians meeting steep resistance in the U.S., these migrants had already been cleared to resettle in America. Speaking of the children he met at the Dignity for Children Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, Obama said “that’s the face of not only children from Myanmar, that’s the face of Syrian children and Iraqi children”. Modi said Saturday that India’s economy has improved since his government took office 18 months ago and implemented two rounds of structural and financial reforms.

Still, Obama said their faces could have been those of kids from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn regions whose pursuit of a life free from violence led them far from their native homes. “They were indistinguishable from any child in America,” Obama said. “The notion that somehow we would be fearful of them — that our politics would somehow leave them to turn our sights away from their plight — is not representative of the best of who we are.” More than mere musings, Obama’s comments were intended as a direct rebuke to those demanding a halt to Syrian and Iraqi refugees entering the U.S. in the light of the Islamic State’s attacks in Paris. With China being one of the oldest civilizations in the world, the more it has to take the lead in promoting peace and harmony among its neighbor countries, according to the Philippines. He said the government is working to ensure a transparent and predictable tax regime, protect intellectual property rights through a new national policy due out soon and remove bottlenecks to make India the easiest place to do business. He insisted that the process for screening refugees for possible entry into the United States was rigorous and said the United States didn’t make good decisions “based on hysteria” or exaggerated risk.

Democrats in large numbers have abandoned their president and his opposition to stiffer screening measures; forty-seven of them voted against Obama on Thursday. Having secured a veto-proof majority in the House, supporters are now hoping for a repeat in the Senate, while Obama works to shift the conversation to milder visa waiver changes that wouldn’t affect Syrian refugees.

In a modest classroom where refugee children were learning English, Obama zigzagged among art projects, puzzles and a caged class rabbit as he asked children in crisp white uniforms and neckties about their aspirations for the future. Excellencies, at this point when we are trying to manage issues, does not conducting massive reclamation and building of structures in contested waters make our collective task harder? Later, as he met with older refugees who will soon relocate to the U.S., he said these children “deserve love and protection and stability and an education.” “You will see the degree to which they represent the opposite of terror, the opposite of the type of despicable violence we saw in Mali and Paris,” the president said. He singled out one refugee from Myanmar — a petite 16-year-old in a bright yellow dress — and said she had been a victim of human trafficking until the U.N. intervened.

We should not wait any longer to establish the Code of Conduct and reinforce, without ambiguity or reservation, our political will with respect to the issue,” he said. In urging their ministers to work on the regional law, the leaders said that “victims of trafficking, mainly vulnerable women and children, have a fundamental right to be protected” in line with international laws.

The President also maintained that the relationship of the Asean and China should be based on the consensus of all the leaders and stakeholders involved. “We believe that it is incumbent upon all actors to pursue common interest through mutual respect and understanding, which have been cornerstones of our relationship throughout history. The issue was highlighted earlier this year when hundreds of Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority of Myanmar, were found to have been trafficked through Thailand to Malaysia. It is important that we sustain these values that our ancestors bequeathed to us: We believe that Asean-China engagements must be anchored upon a consensus resulting from genuine dialogue among all stakeholders, guided by obligations enshrined in international law and relevant instruments,” he said. The leaders did not name the Rohingya problem specifically in their statement announcing the intention to create the ASEAN convention against trafficking to be known by its acronym ACTIP. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and landed in Malaysia, where Obama was attending a regional economic summit.

Some 100 Malaysian Muslim activists protested President Barack Obama’s visit to the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation, denouncing him as an enemy of Islam. Obama’s administration has played a central role in Myanmar’s emergence from brutal military rule, a transformation Obama considers a key foreign policy success. Muslim men wearing skull caps and women in colorful headscarves rallied Saturday near a Kuala Lumpur convention center, where Obama is due to meet Southeast Asian leaders later Saturday.

Yet the continued persecution of Rohingya remains a stain on the country’s record, and even opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an Obama ally whose party triumphed in recent elections, has been sharply criticized for looking the other way. In May, mass graves were exhumed at jungle camps on the border between Thailand and Malaysia that were thought to be mainly Rohingya victims of human traffickers. They chanted “Reject Obama” and held banners that read “O Terrorist, you are not welcome here,” and “America’s war of terrorism is a war against Islam.” He says Japan is committed to bolster its overseas development assistance, and along with Asian Development Bank will provide $110 billion infrastructure financing over the next five years.

Myanmar’s former junta and the quasi-civilian government that replaced it say the Rohingya are considered illegal migrants from Bangladesh – even those that have been in the country for generations. Obama has accused Republicans of politically driven fear-mongering, but strong support in Congress for tighter vetting measures has underscored how pervasive some of those concerns have become. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has opened a two-day regional summit with a call to defeat Islamic terrorism, saying its barbaric attacks do not represent any race or religion. Najib was speaking Saturday at the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional grouping of 10 nations that include the Muslim-majority nations of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Before departing for Washington on Sunday, he planned to attend summit sessions with Asian leaders and meet separately with the leaders of Laos and Singapore. (kes) Although ASEAN has helped greatly increase the region’s economic and political integration, there is a long way to go before the AEC becomes fully functional after becoming a legal entity on Dec. 31. ASEAN countries have torn down tariff barriers and have removed some visa restrictions, but they fall short in more politically sensitive areas such as opening up agriculture, steel, auto production and other protected sectors.

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