The mainstream Western leaders and intellectuals are increasingly preoccupied with the so-called “crisis of the liberal international order.” Western media outlets daily broadcast apocalyptic narratives: the “universal” and “fundamental” values of liberalism are besieged by the contagious forces of “extremists,” who apparently threaten the progress of the entire humanity. Listening to liberal opinion leaders in the European capitals, one could not help but feel as if the sky was falling upon us. However, one can be stunned by the fact that these world-ending narratives are almost entirely absent in the Japanese public debates. While challenges of Trumpism are rightly recognized in Japan, they are discussed in the manner of business-as-usual: how to constrain the unilateral ambition of the hegemonic American partner, which has been an enduring theme defining Japanese foreign and economic policy over the last seven decades. This short article briefly introduces a select number of Japanese perspectives on the ongoing transformation of the international order and explains why Japanese leaders are coping with the contemporary challenges in a relatively more sober manner.
To begin with, Westerners cannot keep calm in the face of the mounting challenges to the liberal order because liberalism has become an absolute faith for many of them, or at least for the mainstream leaders and intellectuals. From an outsider perspective, Western liberals appear to be treating conservatives in the same way Europe’s medieval religionists treated non-believers.
While Western liberals talk of the crisis of liberalism, Japanese thinkers distinguish the crisis of the liberal philosophy from the crisis of liberal elites. Through centuries of interaction with the West, Japanese observers have learned that Westerners are brilliantly good at developing enlightening philosophies yet they are remarkably bad at practicing them in an enlightening way.
The mainstream Western leaders and intellectuals are increasingly preoccupied with the so-called “crisis of the liberal international order” . Western media outlets daily broadcast apocalyptic narratives: the “universal” and “fundamental” values of liberalism are besieged by the contagious forces of “extremists,” who apparently threaten the progress of the entire humanity. Listening to liberal opinion leaders in the European capitals, one could not help but feel as if the sky was falling upon us. However, one can be stunned by the fact that these world-ending narratives are almost entirely absent in the Japanese public debates. While challenges of Trumpism are rightly recognized in Japan, they are discussed in the manner of business-as-usual: how to constrain the unilateral ambition of the hegemonic American partner, which has been an enduring theme defining Japanese foreign and economic policy over the last seven decades. This short article briefly introduces a select number of Japanese perspectives on the ongoing transformation of the international order and explains why Japanese leaders are coping with the contemporary challenges in a relatively more sober manner.
Liberalism as a faith
To begin with, Westerners cannot keep calm in the face of the mounting challenges to the liberal order because liberalism has become an absolute faith for many of them, or at least for the mainstream leaders and intellectuals. Take the example of the European Union (EU). Ken Endo, Professor at Hokkaido University and Japan’s leading expert on European integration, points out the pathology of EU seizensetsu [EU-goodism] in his award-winning book Tougou no shuen [The End of Integration] – a blinding tendency to uncritically celebrate the EU as an absolute good . Anybody who questions the integrity of the holy Union is treated as a mad man, as if the EU is some kind of sacred church. From a Japanese point of view, this is a déjà-vu. When secularism emerged in Europe, religious elites of the time tirelessly disseminated apocalyptic narratives of the “value-based” Christian transcontinental order besieged by “secular extremists,” “bulger nationalists,” and “uneducated peasants.” When the mass was uprising against the Christian union in Western Europe, religious elites blamed “puppets of Satan” for spreading disinformation, dividing societies, manipulating people’s fear, and undermining their “fundamental” and “universal” values. While occidental leaders of the medieval age saw a shadow hand of Satan in every secular uprising, Western leaders of our time see a shadow hand of Vladimir Putin in every popular resistance. Japanese leaders rarely see the world in such a theological picture since they do not have an absolute faith in liberalism: for them, liberalism is not the final Destiny.
In this vein, a growing number of Japanese intellectuals argue that liberalism has somehow become a godless religion in the Western world . This is a main theme explored by Mao Yamaguchi, a Harvard-educated young Japanese lawyer, who recently released her new book Riberarizumu toiu yamai [The Sickness of Liberalism] . From an outsider perspective, Western liberals appear to be treating conservatives in the same way Europe’s medieval religionists treated non-believers. In the American political arena, mainstream liberals treat Trumpians in a very illiberal way, constantly derogating them into subhuman psychopath, or worse, a “deplorable” disease to be eliminated for the sake of a “brighter” future. While conservative thinkers in the West skillfully amplify popular resentments to mobilize resistance, Western liberals are also driven by the naked hatred towards those who disagree with their moral convictions.
From a Japanese point of view, this rage of hatred against hatred only reminds us of Western religious wars where there was no holy side. Hidetsugu Yagi, human rights scholar and Professor at Reitaku University, once rightly pointed out in his Han jinken sengen [Anti-Human Rights Declaration]  that, while Western liberals preach the respect for “all,” they show no respect for non-liberal states and citizens. The absolutist doctrine of human-rightism is used and abused to silence those who do not endorse liberal worldviews, paradoxically undermining the most essential foundation of the liberal world order – the freedom of thought. In light of this, Yagi maintained that religious fundamentalists, Soviet revolutionaries, and liberal internationalists share one thing in common: the attitude to dismiss their opponents as “unenlightened” peasants acting “against their own interests.”
The crises of philosophy
While Western liberals talk of the crisis of liberalism, Japanese thinkers distinguish the crisis of the liberal philosophy from the crisis of liberal elites. A few centuries ago, Japanese samurais understood the crisis of the Christian world order not very much as the crisis of Christianity, but more accurately as the crisis of occidental Christian elites. Today, Japanese leaders understand the crisis of the liberal world order not very much as the crisis of liberalism, but more accurately as the crisis of Western liberal elites. The problem may not be liberalism per sei, but instead the quasi-religious zeal of contemporary Western liberals who want to paint everything in the color of liberalism. A similar line of reasoning is put forth by Tatsuo Inoue, prominent Japanese liberal philosopher and Professor at the University of Tokyoi in his award-winning book Riberaru no koto ha kirai demo riberarisumu ha kirai ni naranaide kudasai, or, as the title of the book suggests, “You May Hate Liberals But Please Do Not Hate Liberalism“ .
While liberals often condemn conservatives for blindly following their inflexible conservative convictions, liberals also blindly follow their own. For instance, Inoue’s new book Ziyu no chitsujo [Order of Freedom] fiercely criticizes the illiberal tendency of the EU to present itself as the only game in town, as if the European integration is driven by the “iron law of history” from which no deviation shall be permitted . This fatalistic and teleological worldview appears pathologically similar to that of Marxism-Lenism, which envisioned the coming of a singular “objective” future organized by the “fundamental” and “universal” values of socialist cosmopolitanism. As British scholar E.H. Carr once famously wrote in his book The Soviet Impact On The Western World, “The first Bolsheviks remained impenitent westerners: for them Russia was a backward country to be regenerated by revolutionary doctrines derived from the west. The early Bolsheviks were also whole-hearted internationalists who believed that the ‘workers had no country’ and regarded the Russian revolution merely as pan of a European or world-wide revolution.”  In the face of the Soviet cosmopolitan project, Western liberals repeatedly taught Japanese leaders that any utopian project which curtails opposition would eventually end up turning itself into a totalitarian system of suffocating political correctness. As Japanese liberals like Inoue point out, it is truly ironic that Western liberals seem to be following this dangerous path of a messianic quest for the singular Truth.
Through centuries of interaction with the West, Japanese observers have learned that Westerners are brilliantly good at developing enlightening philosophies yet they are remarkably bad at practicing them in an enlightening way. Soviet Communism is the latest of the failed Western enlightenment projects in this regard. Initially developed as the embodiment of the freedom of choice, liberalism once signified the rejection of absolutes. Nowadays, contemporary liberals act as if liberalism is an absolute faith – the standard of “politically correct” conduct which must be embraced by any “sane” human. If the moral appeal of liberalism appears to be in a sky-fall, it is not because the liberal philosophy is unattractive, but because this otherwise-inspiring philosophy is practiced in an awfully illiberal way lacking tolerance, compromise, compassion, and flexibility. After all, most Japanese leaders can keep calm in this apparent “crisis” of the liberal world order because they predominantly understand liberalism as practical guidelines to organize politics, not as holy doctrines to be fanatically imposed at all cost. Put differently, liberalism is one among many competing values defining the Japanese political arena, whose uniqueness lies in its organic fusion of Western and traditional Japanese ideas. As long as Western liberals want to seek a homogenous world of an unchallenged liberal morality, they shall find no peace in this messy world of pluralistic realities. After all, the essence of liberal governance lies in the promotion of competition, including democratic governance (political competition), market economy (economic competition), and the rule of law (competing claims put forth by prosecutors and defenders). Then, it is truly paradoxical that Western liberals are acting as if there should be no challenge to liberalism.
First published in our partner RIAC
- 1. See, for example, Ikenberry, G. J. (2018). The end of liberal international order?. International Affairs 94(1): 7-23.
- 2. Endo, K. (2013). Tougou no shuen [The End of Integration]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten. Endo maintains that many of the core principles of the EU are in fact derived from Christian principles of governance. For instance, he points out that the EU’s principle of subsidiarity is basically a copy of the Protestant principle of subsidiarity which advocated the decentralization of decision-making in Protestant communities.
- 3. Financial Times reporter Eduard Luce’s The Retreat of Western Liberalism makes the exactly same claim. See Luce, E. (2017). The Retreat of Western Liberalism. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
- 4. Yamaguchi, M. (2017). Riberarizumu toiu yamai [The Sickness of Liberalism]. Tokyo: Shinchosha.
- 5. Yagi, H. (2001). Han jinken sengen [Anti-Human Rights Declaration]. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo.
- 6. Inoue, T. (2015). Riberaru no koto ha kirai demo riberarisumu ha kirai ni naranaide kudasai [You May Hate Liberals But Please Do Not Hate Liberalism]. Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbun Shuppan.
- 7. Inoue, T. (2017). Ziyu no chitsujo: Riberarizumu no houtetsugaku kougi [Order of Freedom: Lectures on Liberal Legal Philosophy]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
- 8. Carr, E. H. (1947). The Soviet Impact On The Western World. New York : Macmillan, p. 105.
The Xinjiang-Uyghur issue
In late March the United States, Canada, the UK and the EU took a concerted action to announce sanctions over human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang-Uyghur by the Chinese government.
This is the first time since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 that the EU and the UK have imposed sanctions on China over human rights issues.
Furthermore, Australia and New Zealand also issued statements expressing support for joint U.S. and EU sanctions against China. U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken stated: “The joint transatlantic operation sends a strong signal to those who violate or trample on international human rights”.
This joint operation is clearly part of a concerted U.S. effort to work with its Western allies against China through diplomatic actions.
After gruelling wars in Korea and Vietnam and later in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria,we wonder:
1) why do we want to open another front to export democracy with bombs?
2) Why has the Xinjiang-Uyghur issue become a deadly matter that brings the United States and its allies together to impose sanctions on China, while ignoring the barbaric behaviours codified by the backward-looking, but allied Gulf monarchies?
3) Why is the Xinjiang-Uyghur issue attracting increasing attention from the international community?
4) Why does the United States use the Xinjiang-Uyghur human rights issues to shape a diplomatic action with Western allies against China and forget about the black people being murdered on the streets at home?
Let us try to better understand the situation.
The strategic importance of Xinjiang-Uyhgur for China is similar to Tibet’s (Xizang). The Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region is the largest provincial unit in China. It covers one-sixth of China’s territory and borders on Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It can be used as a base by China to influence its neighbours. However, Xinjiang-Uygur can be used as a bridgehead by external powers to threaten China’s territorial integrity.
Like Tibet (Xizang), Xinjiang-Uyghur also has immense economic value in terms of oil and gas resources, and it can also be used as a channel to import energy from Kazakhstan. It is also a site for Chinese nuclear weapons and missile tests.
This area has traditionally been under the influence of various forces that have been claiming these territories. For thousands of years, the deserts and mountains of Xinjiang-Uygur were crossed by merchants. Peoples and armies passed through it continuously, sometimes forming alliances with the Middle Empire, sometimes to free themselves from the Emperor’s influence, only to fall into worse hands.
The Chinese who started to travel there before the 19th century met Persians and Muslims, most of whom were Turkish-speaking. It is not for nothing that the other name of the territory is East Turkestan.
The region was not fully incorporated into the Chinese administrative system until 1884, when it was divided into province and called Xinjiang, meaning “new frontier”. China’s control, however, was fragile and, when China’s presence was still at a minimum in 1944, the local population announced the establishment of a short-lived republic called East Turkestan, backed by the Soviet Union led by Stalin, who – like the United States today – wanted it to fall within his sphere of influence.
However, as Stalin was a great statesman and not just a parvenu, with the birth of the People’s Republic of China, the Georgian leader agreed that the territory be reintegrated into the Middle Empire as the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region.
With a view to strengthening administrative and political control in the autonomous region, the People’s Republic of China used the same methods in other surrounding areas: immigration development, trade, cultural assimilation, administrative integration and international isolation.
As early as the mid-18th century, the Qing government had created a national industry near the capital Ürümqi. In the 19th century, Chinese merchants arrived in large numbers. After 1949, the People’s Republic of China placed the autonomous region under a national plan designed to orient and direct local trade towards China’s internal economy, banning border trade and people movements that were widespread in the past between borders that at the time were undefined and misgoverned.
In 1954 China established the Xinjiang-Uyghur Semi-Military Production and Construction Corps to transfer demobilised officers and soldiers, as well as other Chinese immigrants, to industries, mines and enterprises. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, thousands of middle school graduates were delegated to perform tasks in Xinjiang-Uyghur from various cities in China, especially Shanghai, and most of them lived in farms. I remember the great enthusiasm of some major European parties at this news: the same parties that, having changed their names, are today shedding “the bitter tears of Petra von Kant” along with Biden.
In the 2010 census – according to official statistics – out of 21,815,815 inhabitants, 45.4% were Uyghurs and 40.48% Chinese, although the real number could be even higher. The many officially recognised ethnic minorities included Kazakhs and Muslims of Chinese ethnicity.
In the decades prior to 1980, Xinjiang-Uygur developed slowly because of its bordering on the then hostile post-1960 Soviet Union, and because of its rugged and considerable distance from other parts of China. However, when Deng Xiaoping implemented reforms in the 1980s, China’s development policy created demand for Xinjiang-Uyghur’s coal, oil and gas resources, thus making the local area one of China’s largest producers of fossil fuels.
In the 1990s, China began building oil pipelines to transport oil from the far West to the mainland market. In 2001, China announced a “Western development” policy to fully exploit Xinjiang-Uyghur’s resources. The central government invested billions of dollars to build infrastructure and create political incentives to attract national and foreign companies.
This has meant that the country has increased its per capita GDP, as well as raised the education level. China has also modernised its society and this has made it unpopular with those fundamentalist Muslims who, boiling with terrorist rage, are now calling for help from those who initially funded ISIS to bring the secular Syrian government down, under the slogan “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
For most of the Maoist era, the Uyghurs, as well as the less numerous Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities, were forced to give up Islam, learn Chinese and relinquish their traditional customs and habits. All this much to the delight of the then epicurean and atheist West, which has always despised faith: a further element of contrast that later materialized on the part of fundamentalists.
As in Tibet (Xizang), the most traditionalist Uyghurs believe that their land has been invaded by Chinese immigrants and their lives are overwhelmed by a “Western” style imposed authoritatively from outside: a pretext that President Erdoğan has been the first to exploit, not failing to include it in his Panturanist conception.
In fact, after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Turkic and immigrant Uyghur communities in the three new neighbouring States of Central Asia, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, experienced a cultural and religious revival, thus creating a new sense of hope and power among the Uyghurs in Xinjiang-Uyghur.
From the 1980s to 2001, demonstrations, riots, occasional murders and terrorist attacks occurred with increasing frequency. The Chinese government claims that the criminals’ goal is 1) to separate Xinjiang-Uyghur from China, and 2) that the Uyghur separatists are terrorists connected to al-Qaeda.
All these accusations are controversial, because most Uyghurs – either secular or moderate Sunni Muslims – have not created a resistance movement at all, as the Uyghur society is not integrated around specific Islamist parameters.
Many incidents seem to have various and sometimes personal causes, and often result in casualties. But, in any case, the authorities have launched a series of strict public order campaigns, fearing that even the slightest sign of dissent, such as a demonstration, a parade, a march, a gunfight with the police, will be amplified by the usual media to pave the way for a bloody local civil conflict, which – unlike the Syrian one – could turn into the Third and Last World War.
All this would certainly not be triggered to protect some fundamentalist Muslims in defence of human rights. The causes are always the same.
Chinese Foreign Policy in a Global Perspective
Foreign policy plays a fundamental role in state security and government’s decision-making. It is the pivotal factor for political stability of a nation, its economic affairs as well as the relations with other states. It is necessary for the development of a nation or a region to resolve the disputes with their neighbors. International disputes have frequently been given a fair chance with dialogue between the warring parties. Different states can coexist with friendly neighbor resulting in greater benefit for the people of the country. It brings peace and stability in the region as a byproduct. For the progress of humanity, peace is an essential element. To avoid war and hostility, an element of understanding and mutual survival should be established among the states. Hence, the concerned states will learn to co-exist peacefully.
Since its independence, China has pursued a focused approach towards attaining financial progress. Diplomatic policy of China has been directed towards its economic prosperity and political independence of the Chinese nation. Initially it was an isolated nation with introspective policies. Its national policy characteristics included peaceful co-existence between nations, mutual interdependence, regional supremacy, autonomy, national safety and avoidance of conflicts with other states and nations. Hence China developed regional influence and stability and developed good relations internationally and globally. China wanted to protect its territorial autonomy and sovereignty of other regional nations as well. Hence it soon emerged as a powerful nation both militarily and economically.
China continued working on a deliberate path of stable and good relations with other countries globally. The role of leaders and government in the foreign affairs under Xi-Jinping’s leadership catapulted the Chinese national and foreign policy to new heights. This charismatic leadership brought constructive changes in the internal governance and matters of foreign involvement with other nations. He emphasized the importance of military and during his governance astounding improvement in foreign and regional stability was observed. The internal stability of Chinese national policy was soon reflected on the international podium. Its economic prosperity increased astronomically under the vigilant governance of the leader of China’s political party. China rose peacefully and gained regional, economic, and political stability. China is today considered as a world-wide power because of its stable national policy. It has observed a radical development in geo-politics. Why has the significance of Chinese nation increased in the international community?
China and Pakistan have enjoyed friendly relations with each other for decades. Gwadar port will become a doorway for business, commerce, collaboration, coordination and development between these two neighbours. It does not only affect China and Pakistan’s economic prosperity but the prosperity of South Asia and beyond. China has achieved worldwide recognition as an economic might with powerful impact on economy, geography and strategy of the region. The port has worldwide implications, whether related to economy, trade or commercial activities.
The dimension of foreign policy has evolved with the pace of time. The relations between China and United States of America are complicated. Both nations have difference of opinion regarding vital concerns of the state, political practices, administration, diplomatic policies and commercial productivity. Both nations consider different notions regarding the concept of civil rights. President Donald Trump has recognized China as an adversary for the United States of America. According to his beliefs, China abhors the ethics and principles of America causing a destabilizing effect in South-China Sea region.
China has undertaken military action in the South China Sea and has carried naval exercises in the area. However, United States the opponent of China says that economic prosperity could be affected because of the Chinese presence in the region. Under international regulations, overseas armed forces are not able to control surveillance activities including inspection and scrutiny of the vessels, in its industrial zone. However, China remains unsuccessful to resolve this clash by diplomatic ways. This would result in de-stabilizing the South-China Sea region. Conflict between Philippines and China may rise as a consequence of American backing. To further its economical and safety concerns, United States has laid down bold claims regarding China’s occupation of territory and land in the South China Sea. On the other hand, Japan has sold naval ships to Philippines and Vietnam to enhance their naval protection and discourage Chinese hostility.The relationship between India and China is of worldwide significance. India is a prospering nation in the South Asian region. India perceives China as a militant anathema. China can hamper India’s progress in economical prosperity and can shackle India’s image internationally. Another challenge for India is the Pakistan-China relations. China’s influence can be spread globally which could be inimical to India’s scrutiny. China’s dominance, geographical vicinity and strategies depict an image of instability to India’s national and international interests. India cannot protect its interests and has to make crucial strategic decisions. However if India makes United States it will be able to protect its national interests. India has to overcome many challenges and hurdles as China has dominant influence over the South-Asian region and beyond. Asia’s old opponents China and India are now engaging in a race to initiate maritime assets and to gain influence over each other. India’s wants China to behave according to international regulations. To respect territorial righteousness, and thoughtfulness for all nations irrespective of their magnitude. Both China and India will continue to hustle over the South Asian region, its territory and resources.
Exploring China’s National Salvation in the 1911 Revolution
When the First Opium War broke out in 1840, China became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal nation ruled by foreign powers. The final years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which saw the demise of the imperial regime, were marked by degradation and incompetence; the people were thrown into disorder, and the Chinese nation was plunged into a pit of misery.
During those dark ages, it became clear that the Chinese people would have to overturn feudal autocratic rule and undergo profound social reform in order to gain national freedom. More than a century ago, Revolutionary Party members led by Sun Yat-sen launched the 1911 Revolution, shocking the world and causing unprecedented social change in China.
While living in exile in Honolulu in November 1894, Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Modern China, founded the Xingzhonghui (Society for China’s Regeneration), clearly proposing the first program for a Chinese democratic revolution. Between 1895 and 1911, the Xingzhonghui and Tongmenghui (Chinese Revolutionary League) launched ten uprisings. The Restoration Society also instigated several uprisings across China, sowing the seeds of revolution.
Sun Yat-sen proposed a political program based on the Three People’s Principles: nationalism, democracy, and people’s livehood. A large number of revolutionaries and patriots gathered under his leadership to revitalize China and spread revolutionary ideas. This active progressive wave provided a significant impetus to the formation trends.
On October 10, 1911, gunfire signaled the start of the Revolution of 1911 in Wuchang, Central China, which became known as the “Wuchang Uprising”; other provinces responded, and within a month, 15 had declared their independence. The Republic of China was formally established on January 1, 1912, ending a monarchy that had existed in China for over 2,000 years.
The 1911 Revolution, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, lasted more than 260 years. It was also a democratic revolution that occurred against the backdrop of an increasingly decaying Qing Dynasty, deepening imperialist aggression, and the early rise of Chinese nationalism. Its goal was to overthrow the Qing Dynasty’s despotic rule, save the nation from danger, and strive for national independence, democracy, and prosperity.
With its new politics and ideology, the 1911 Revolution provided a liberation mechanism for the Chinese people that should not be underestimated. It instilled in people a strong sense of democracy and republicanism. Anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles intensified, with the 1911 Revolution serving as a new starting point. By overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, it spread the concept of democracy and promoted social changes in modern China by leveraging its massive shock power and profound influence.
However, due to the constraints imposed by historical processes and social conditions, it was unable to change the social nature of semi-colonialism and people’s miserable situation, nor achieve national independence and people’s liberation. It did, however, pioneer a full-fledged national democratic revolution, vigorously promoted the ideological emancipation of the Chinese nation, laid the groundwork for China’s progress, and explored the path for its future development.
Sun Yat-sen had a charismatic personality, a singular commitment to power, and a knowledge of the West unparalleled by any of his political rivals, which distinguished him and made him an icon of Chinese modernization. He was appropriately dubbed a “revolutionary pioneer” by the Chinese Communists.
This is a great historical process of exploring and realizing national independence, as well as the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, which has emerged after many ups and downs and various vicissitudes.
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