He was answering queries on how China planned to allay Indian fears over increasing forays by its ships and submarines into the Indian Ocean region after Beijing last month released its first ever report outlining a new military strategy enhancing its navy’s duties for the first time to “open seas protection”. China today played down Indian concerns on Chinese submarines visiting Sri Lanka and Pakistan recently.The Indian Ocean (IO) region was not India’s backyard and upholding this perception could trigger clashes, the Chinese military cautioned, with analysts seeing it as sabre-rattling by the northern neighbour to gain dominance in the strategically crucial territory, the Hindustan Times reported. “The word backyard is not very appropriate to use for an open sea and international areas of sea,” senior captain Zhao Yi, associate professor of the Institute of Strategy in China’s National Defence University, told a group of Indian journalists. “I admit geographically speaking India has a special role to play in stabilising Indian Ocean and the South Asian region.”Questions about PLA navy’s maritime strategies were raised in the context of Chinese submarines visiting Sri Lanka and Pakistan recently, but officers played down Indian concerns. “The Chinese government has been very prudent in handling PLA navy’s navigation to the IO. Most of the time when our submarines go to the Indian Ocean, we diplomatically inform our neighbouring countries,” said Zhang Wei, a researcher with the PLA Navy Academic Institute. “We should enhance cooperation in order to enhance mutual trust at the level of military and government.”Zhao quoted a US scholar who said the IO region was likely to be a focus area and at the epicentre of maritime clashes in the 21st century.“This scholar indicated that there would be severe clashes in the IO areas. I did not agree with him. But if someone views (the region) as its backyard, I am afraid this possibility (of clashes) cannot be eliminated,” the officer noted. Beijing, however, did recognise New Delhi’s stabilising influence in the IO and South Asia region, said a senior officer from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the largest defence forces in the world. The Indian Ocean region was very important to China as well as other countries as it was an important channel for international trade and that is why Beijing sought relevant navigational rights through it, Zhao said.
Underscoring that every person has the right to be “free from torture” and “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment”, UNAIDS, the agency dedicated to tackling the virus, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the sexual and reproductive health agency, warned the new penal code, which came into force in the south-east Asian monarchy on Wednesday, “will have a significant negative impact on overall health and well-being” there.“These extreme and unjustified punishments will drive people underground and out of reach of life-saving HIV treatment and prevention services,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.The discriminatory laws further punish sexual orientation, same sex relations and reproductive health care. They will disproportionately impact women and create barriers to accessing health information and services, the agencies said.Every person, without any distinction on any grounds, has an equal right to live free from violence, persecution, discrimination and stigma of any kind – UNFPA chiefMr. Sidibé “strongly” urged Brunei to “suspend or repeal the amendments to the Shariah Penal Code”, which are based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, offering UNAIDS’ support to “ensure that laws are grounded in human rights, based on evidence and protect the most vulnerable”.Further criminalizing same-sex activities not only negatively impacts public health, but also increases stigma and gives license to discrimination, violence and harassment, they added.“Every person, without any distinction on any grounds, has an equal right to live free from violence, persecution, discrimination and stigma of any kind”, stated UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem.The UN agencies cited evidence showing that criminalized communities are more vulnerable to violence, less likely to access necessary HIV and other health services, and less able to protect themselves against HIV infection.Moreover, they pointed out that criminalizing minorities also works against reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), designed and agreed by 193 Member States, to leave no-one behind. “Human rights are universal”, reminded Ms. Kanem. “Cultural, religious and moral practices and beliefs, and social attitudes must not be invoked to justify human rights violations against any group regardless of gender or sexual orientation”.Last December, Brunei called for improved data on key affected and higher-risk populations for greater outreach and better health-care provisions. The UN agencies criticized that Syariah Penal Code would undermine this endeavour.A dangerous trendBoth UNAIDS and UNFPA expressed concern over increasing conservative and discriminatory policies in a number of countries that risk violence, stigma and discrimination against people on the basis of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.The noted that recent discussions with Governments in the Asia–Pacific region have highlighted the need to “put evidence-informed and human rights-based laws and policies in place”. The UN agencies stressed the need to repeal criminal laws against consensual adult sex and decisions on reproduction, adding that health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, must be “accessible, affordable and acceptable”.UNAIDS and UNFPA supported the calls of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the open letter of the five UN Nations human rights mandate holders to “suspend the implementation of the revised penal code and urge all governments to protect the human rights of all people”.International outcryThe harsh laws include stoning for sodomy and adultery, limb amputation for theft and public flogging for abortion also criminalizes exposing Muslim children to any religion other than Islam.High-profile celebrities such as George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John, have called for a boycott of Brunei-owned luxury hotels, including the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and the Dorchester in London.