For Tony Blair, ‘radical’ Islam is a growing threat

Updated 23 April 2014

For Tony Blair, ‘radical’ Islam is a growing threat

LONDON: The West should set aside its differences with Russia and China to focus on the growing threat from radical Islam, Tony Blair said Wednesday, in a speech that included a call to support Egypt’s military government against its Muslim Brotherhood opponents.
In a speech in London, the Middle East envoy said the spread of extremist ideology in that region as well as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and North Africa “represents the biggest threat to global security of the 21st century.” The former British prime minister said that tackling “a radicalized and politicized view of Islam” should be at the top of the global political agenda. He said many in the West seemed “curiously resistant” to face up to a force that “is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalization.”
Blair, Britain’s prime minister between 1997 and 2007, is now Middle East envoy for the Quartet of the United Nations, the European Union, the US and Russia.
In a speech in London, he said that “whatever our other differences, we should be prepared to reach out and co-operate with the East, and in particular Russia and China,” to combat extremism.
Blair’s political legacy in Britain is tarnished by his decision to lead the country into the divisive invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair acknowledged the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had undermined Western willingness to intervene in the Middle East. But he called for the West to engage with the region, saying “we have to stop treating each country on the basis of whatever seems to make for the easiest life for us at any one time.”
Blair argued that “on the fate of Egypt hangs the future of the region.” He defended the coup that overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi last year, saying “the Muslim Brotherhood government was not simply a bad government. It was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country.” He said the protest that led to Morsi’s ouster “was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation. We should support the new government and help.”
Blair said there was a shared interest between East and West on the dangers of religious extremism and it should be at the top of the global agenda. He said many people were “curiously reluctant” to acknowledge the common thread linking militant movements around the world, but said “we have to take sides” against a dangerous ideology that was a “perversion” of Islam.
“There is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world, politically, socially and economically, and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity. This is the battle,” Blair said.
Taking sides meant supporting the principles of religious freedom and open rules-based economies, whether they were held by states or revolutionaries.
In reality, this meant backing the new governments in Egypt and Tunisia and helping the security services in Libya and Yemen to reform, he said.
In Syria, which he called “an unmitigated disaster”, Blair said both the prospect of President Bashar al-Assad staying in power and the opposition taking over seemed like “bad options”.
“Repugnant though it may seem, the only way forward is to conclude the best agreement possible even if it means in the interim President Assad stays for a period,” he said.
He also said it was an “absurdity” that Western nations spent so much on defending themselves against Islamist extremism that was being taught to young people in countries “with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships”.
Blair suggested the G20 launch an international programme to eradicate religious intolerance from schools systems and civil society organisations in those countries.
“They need us to make this a core part of the international dialogue in order to force the necessary change within their own societies,” he said.
“This struggle between what we may call the open-minded and the closed-minded is at the heart of whether the 21st century turns in the direction of peaceful co-existence or conflict between people of different cultures.”
Blair was prime minister between 1997 and 2007 and is now representative for the Middle East Quartet, comprised of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.


‘Clear risks’ for stability in China’s Pacific lending, Australian think tank warns

Updated 19 min 27 sec ago

‘Clear risks’ for stability in China’s Pacific lending, Australian think tank warns

SYDNEY: China’s financial largesse in the Pacific carries “clear risks” for stability if left unchecked, a Sydney think tank warned, while saying allegations of “debt-trap” diplomacy are so far overblown.
In a study released Monday, the influential Lowy Institute warned that fragile Pacific nations risked borrowing too much and leaving themselves exposed to demands from Beijing.
China has repeatedly been accused of offering lucrative but unserviceable loans to gain leverage or snap up strategically vital assets like ports, airports, or electricity providers.
While Lowy said allegations that China was engaged in “debt-trap” diplomacy in the Pacific were overblown, the trend was not positive and countries like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu were dangerously exposed.
Between 2011 and 2018, China committed loans to the region worth $6 billion — around 21 percent of regional GDP.
A majority of that money, $4.1 billion, was earmarked for Papua New Guinea.
Only a fraction, less than $1 billion, has so far been dispersed but China is still the single largest creditor in Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu.
“The sheer scale of Chinese lending and the lack of strong institutional mechanisms to protect the debt sustainability of borrowing countries mean a continuation of business as usual would pose clear risks,” the report said.
The South Pacific has become a forum for intense competition for influence between China, the United States, and Australia in recent years.
The island nations sit on a vital shipping crossroad, contain vast reserves of fish stocks, and provide a potential base for leading militaries to project power well beyond their borders.
Beijing has stepped up engagement in the region through a series of high profile visits and no-conditions lending via its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Solomon Islands and Kiribati recently announced they would switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing after a long courtship by the country’s Communist leaders.
Six Pacific governments are currently debtors to Beijing — the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
Lowy said many of China’s loans carry a modest two percent annual interest rate.
But it warned that China would need to adopt formal lending rules if loans were to be made sustainable as natural disasters like earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis can quickly upend countries’ ability to pay back loans.
“Three small Pacific economies — Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu — also appear to be among those most heavily indebted to China anywhere in the world,” it said.