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Trump’s Withdrawal from West Asia Synchronizing with his “Pivot to Asia”

This, when Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping will also be circling around that issue and addressing a host of others

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Trump, Asia, Dore Gold
Surely, Imran Khan will carry the peace message, but he will also unfurl his Jammu and Kashmir agenda before the Iranian leadership. Pixabay

When Dore Gold, one of the most powerful voices in Israel’s strategic community, raises his hands, skywards, and exclaims, “Today I feel as vulnerable as the Kurds”, who have been abandoned by Donald Trump, one fact can be cast in stone: West Asia has changed. A panic war cannot be ruled out. But war with whom? Situated in a comparable circumstance, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, on his knees in Yemen and the Aramco compound, is flourishing the flag of peace at Tehran. But then who hit the Iranian tanker outside Jeddah? These regional conflicts will not tamely wind down; they will zig-zag their way out.

The Saudi “messenger” to Tehran, happens to be Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Surely, Imran Khan will carry the peace message, but he will also unfurl his Jammu and Kashmir agenda before the Iranian leadership. This, when Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping will also be circling around that issue and addressing a host of others. It must be clear as daylight to New Delhi that Trump’s withdrawal from West Asia is synchronizing with his “pivot to Asia”, which means expanded conflict with China. Western media’s dedicated coverage of the disturbances in Hong Kong, human rights in Xinxiang, all signal a long-term Sino-US standoff. Since the days of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, India has been active in the “Quard” with Japan, Australia and the US. Ambiguities in the international system made it possible to play both the options – quard and bilateral relations with Beijing. But Trump is likely to be more jealous as US-China tensions rise? New Delhi will have to toss up a coin with the same image on both sides.

It is exactly 33 years ago that President Ronald Reagan and the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev mooted such innovative arms control ideas at Reykjavik, Iceland, that even strategist like Henry Kissinger found them unacceptably radical. And yet, when sense sank in, the intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed the next year paving the way to a changed world order. Change is in air, but of a different order.

Trump has been characteristically blunt. “The United States has spent $ eight trillion fighting in and policing the Middle East (West Asia). Thousands of our great soldiers have died or been badly wounded. Millions of people have died on the other side.”

Trump, Asia, Dore Gold
The Saudi “messenger” to Tehran, happens to be Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Pixabay

“Going into the Middle East is the worst decision ever made in the history of our country. We went to war under a false and now disproven premise: weapons of mass destruction. There were none.” This is Trump’s rationale for “slowly and carefully bringing our great soldiers and military home”. He says his focus is on the Big Picture. “USA is now greater than ever before.” That is his line for the 2020 elections.

Trump has been making allegations against his predecessors even before. Watch his interview to Jake Tapper of the CNN on the eve of the 2016 elections. He was vehement that Obama and Hillary Clinton spent millions “in Syria which, in fact, went to terrorists”. Soon after this allegation, Obama’s Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, told a Congressional hearing before live TV cameras that a $500 million project to train militants had to be terminated because the “Jihadis” so trained had walked away with all the expensive equipment and joined some other group.

This was quite as mysterious as the origins of the Islamic State. The sudden establishment of the Islamic state in Mosul remains an uninvestigated whodunit. When the IS charged towards Baghdad in 2014, wielding the latest arms mounted on Humvees straight from the showroom, sources in Baghdad and Najaf were quite convinced that the IS was a US project.

What Erdogan has been offered is a poisoned chalice. This is clear as daylight in Trump’s own words. The tone is of malicious glee: “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”

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The recipe for the countries listed above to stew in their own juices is available possibly unknowingly even in Turkish statements. The Kurdish forces Erdogan is bombing had in their custody thousands of Islamic State detainees, many of them foreigners. State Department spokesmen are on record: “The US has pressed France, Germany and other European nations to take back captured IS fighters, but they refused.” In fact Turkish sources have amplified this statement. Some 12,000 IS fighters are distributed over seven prisons in north-east Syria. Of these, 4,000 are “foreigners”, which means neither Syrian nor Iraqi. List of IS members and their families taken back by western countries is almost comical: France (18 children), US (16 adults and children), Germany (fewer than 10), Australia (8 children), Sweden (7 children) and Norway (5 children). It is in the nature of groups like the IS to slip through even well laid nets. How many IS fighters are lying low in Syria’s north is anybody’s guess. But the Kurds along the Syria-Turkey border, who kept a steady gaze on the IS will now be hopelessly distracted by the Turkish offensive. Until the other day, the US was with the Kurds. What if these IS jihadis are let loose, say, across the border into Turkey? Erdogan will have to cope with trouble makers of a more lethal make than the Syrian Kurds.

Pundits like New York Times, Thomas Friedman, see West Asia exposed to a different kind of danger as a result of US withdrawal. Ever since the Iraq-Syria border was opened, the Iranians have an easy land bridge from Tehran, Iraq, Syria to Lebanon. Friedman’s anxiety is that this “tightening of the noose around Israel” will now go unchecked because that was one of the roles the US played in the region. “This brings the Iran-Israel shadow war into the open.” By the act of pulling out, Trump has set several cats among several flocks of pigeons all over the place. (IANS)

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Despite Growing Technology, AI Divides the Rich and Poor in Asia

Asia Catches up on AI but Digital Divide Remains Between Rich and Poor

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Technology
The earliest fans of the internet wondered if it could be a democratizing technology, giving all people access to information, regardless of their income, social status, or level of freedom under their governments. Pixabay

The earliest fans of the internet wondered if it could be a democratizing technology, giving all people access to information, regardless of their income, social status, or level of freedom under their governments. Today another computer technology — artificial intelligence — raises similar questions, depending on whether it will bring benefits for all, or worsen the inequality already in place.

A new report, jointly released by Google, INSEAD business school, and Adecco recruiters, tackles those questions by ranking nations and cities based on how well they attract people to their workforce by investing in technology like AI. Asian nations shot up the Global Talent Competitiveness Index in 2020 compared to 2019, particularly developing nations. That has led observers to a two-pronged conclusion marked by cautious optimism: on the one hand, poorer nations can use this technology to get ahead; on the other hand, if people become complacent, the technological advantage could stay in rich nations.

“As talent becomes increasingly fluid and mobile, some early AI adopters could leverage this to become more talent competitive,” Bruno Lanvin, executive director of global indices at INSEAD, said, “however there are also signs that the ubiquity of AI is amplifying current imbalances and inequalities.”

Most large nations in Asia improved their rankings this year, including China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The index assigns nations a score for each of dozens of indicators, such as how much technical education and training they provide, the amount of technology transfer they enable, and the level of social mobility.

Technology
Singapore is the only Asian nation to make the top 10 in the Global Talent Competitiveness Index based on its technology. VOA

The reason observers have drawn mixed conclusions from the index is that there is opportunity for developing nations to improve, but it is limited. For instance Malaysia got higher marks this year because it does a good job of matching workforce needs with talent. However the report authors say it “would benefit from higher tolerance and greater opportunities for minorities and immigrants.”

What the authors call most “worrying,” though, is the risk of a widening gap between rich and poor in terms of which nations are best preparing to use artificial intelligence. Rich city-state Singapore is the only Asian nation to break the top 10 of the index released last month. In the part of the study focused on cities, high-income Tokyo and Hong Kong are the best performing in the region.

Developing nations are able to make some progress because, at a lower level, technology is accessible and cheap. India and the Philippines, for instance, have become global call centers and IT outsourcing hubs, and it is relatively easy for their citizens to pick up basic coding skills regardless of their income.

However when technology needs move beyond just coding skills, more investment and resources help. Artificial intelligence, in particular, relies on massive amounts of data to be input and computer power to crunch the data. Nations and companies that amass that data, and the highly-paid professionals who can understand it, have such an advantage that it might become too hard for others to catch up in the future.“

Technology
When technology needs move beyond just coding skills, more investment and resources help. VOA

AI also will affect people’s jobs and change the nature of work,”

Kent Walker, senior vice president of Google, said. “We need to anticipate these changes and take steps to prepare for them.”

Google has exactly such an AI advantage. It has been able to collect many photos to input into and improve its image recognition algorithms, for instance, at a level that would be hard for other companies to match.

The authors released the global talent index in hopes of highlighting the digital divide, as well as providing recommendations on how to solve it. They say to prevent people from being left behind, developing nations can focus on vocational training and lifelong learning, and not just for lower-skilled tech jobs like coding. People can learn to do work that is complemented — not replaced — by robots; machines may be able to move a syringe into position, but patients will still want human nurses to oversee the injection, for instance.

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“The human role in the world of work is being augmented by technology rather than substituted by it,” Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group, said.

At a government level, nations should agree on the rules and principles that guide AI research and uses, such as the need for data protection, the report said. That would increase the odds that new technologies are advanced in the interest of humans. (VOA)