Weerasinghe said another point of contention was that China wanted zero tariffs on 90 percent of goods the two countries sold to each other as soon as an agreement is signed while Colombo would rather it started with zero tariffs on only half of the products concerned and expanded gradually over 20 years. But concerns have grown in recent months that such investments can drive the country of 21 million people deeper into debt and undermine its sovereignty, prompting greater scrutiny of deals with China. Talks between China and Sri Lanka for a free trade agreement have hit major hurdles, mainly because Beijing will not agree to Colombo’s demand for a review of the deal after 10 years, Sri Lanka’s top negotiator said, according to the Reuters news agency.China has invested billions of dollars building ports and roads and power stations in the Indian Ocean island nation just off the southern toe of India as part of its Belt and Road Initiative to increase its trade and other connections across Asia and beyond. China’s exports to Sri Lanka dwarf the trade that goes in the other direction, leaving Colombo with a big deficit with Beijing. “The talks have come to a standstill. China wants to remove the review clause,” Weerasinghe told Reuters. Beijing was opposed to such an option because it wanted longer-term stability, he said.China’s commerce ministry did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.The review clause that Sri Lanka wants would allow it to change some of the deal terms if they were hurting the island nation’s local businesses. Sri Lanka’s chief trade negotiator K.J. Weerasinghe said this week that Colombo was insisting on a right to review the free trade pact after ten years, but China was not ready to agree that.Ministerial level discussions about an agreement have not been held since March last year. Lower-level discussions between officials have made little progress, according to Weerasinghe. The 2017 figures for China trade have still not been released by the Sri Lankan authorities.The trade deficit with China accounted for nearly half of the nation’s total deficit in 2016, adding pressure on the country’s current account deficit, central bank data showed.Sri Lanka’s foreign debt rose nearly 17 percent to 4.72 trillion rupees ($30 billion) last year, a fifth of that coming from loans from China to finance the massive construction program across the island.Colombo is separately negotiating a trade pact with India, but that is also moving slowly because Sri Lankan businesses fear they will face competition from a flood of cheap goods made by Indian firms. China has been pushing for free trade pacts with countries in the region and last year sealed an agreement with the Maldives that drew criticism from opposition political groups in the tropical islands’ nation. They said it had been rushed through parliament with less than an hour of debate.Sri Lanka has previously said it wanted more time to negotiate the free trade deal with China as it is concerned about the economic impact of a rushed deal on its economy.Sri Lanka imported $4.2 billion worth of Chinese goods in 2016, mostly raw materials for garments, machines and electronics, metals, transport equipment and chemicals. Its exports to the world’s second largest economy were just $211 million the same year, which included textiles, tea and vegetables, footwear and rubber.
NASA/Aubrey Gemignani NASA’s first dexterous humanoid robot, Robonaut 2The beginning of 2019 saw a focus on the role of technology on the world of work, and the impact it is having on inequality. The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched a landmark report in January: the Global Commission on the Future of Work. This study concluded that technological innovations provide “countless opportunities” for workers, but warned that, if these technologies are not deployed as part of a human-centred agenda based on investing in people, work institutions and decent, sustainable employment, we run the risk of “sleepwalking into a world that widens existing inequalities and uncertainties.”One of the key technological innovations mentioned in the report, one that garners significant media attention, is artificial intelligence (AI). A report from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), published at the tail-end of January, noted a “quantum leap” in AI-related patents, suggesting that AI could soon “revolutionize all areas of daily life beyond the tech world.”AI inspires as much fear as excitement, evoking a dystopian world in which more and more work is carried out by machines, with society split between a tiny super-rich elite and the rest, an unemployable mass of people with no prospect of finding work.Kriti Sharma doesn’t see things that way. She has been recognized by the UN as a Young Leader For Sustainable Development Goals, in recognition of her work to ensure that AI helps to create a better, fairer world, through her AI For Good organization, and her role in the Sage Future Makers Lab, which was set up to equip young people around the world with hands-on learning for entering a career in Artificial Intelligence. Inequality is an “entrenched imbalance”The question of inequality was raised several times by the UN in January: speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, UN chief António Guterres pointed out that, while technological progress and globalization have led to “fantastic improvements” in many areas, they have also increased inequality and marginalized millions.And, in her annual letter, Lise Kingo, CEO of the UN Global Compact, which supports private sector efforts to do business responsibly, noted that, in 2018, we saw “a small group of individuals are getting exponentially richer as billions are left behind in poverty.”Inequality is not only rising, it is also an “entrenched imbalance,” according to Richard Kozul-Wright, a globalization expert and Director with the Trade and Development agency UNCTAD.In an interview with UN News, which you can listen to here, Mr. Kozul-Wright said that notionally high employment rates in many economies mask the fact that wages and working conditions are not improving, and that whilst wages have been stagnant for a decade, dividends on shareholdings have been recovering, benefiting financial asset holders. His remarks came in the wake of the January launch of the 2019 World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report which showed uneven growth (both between and within countries) that is often failing to reach where it is most needed.Will AI take away our jobs, or transform them? UN Sustainable Development SectionKriti Sharma, United Nations Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals.Speaking to UN News, Ms. Sharma acknowledged that people who live in countries which are on the wrong side of the digital divide (with less access to data) will be at a disadvantage, and pointed to studies that show a gender divide is looming, with women twice as likely to lose their jobs to automation, because of the kind of work they are involved in: “We need to make sure that we give people enough opportunities to reskill themselves, otherwise we end up creating more inequality that we had before.”However, she believes that one of the biggest risks is failing to embrace this technology, and not equipping people with the skills to use it to solve global problems. Ms. Sharma laid out three ways to help ensure that AI brings about a fairer world.First of all, it is important that a diverse group of people from many backgrounds are creating this technology, people who “understand society, policy-makers.” The second point is to ensure that AI is being used to solve the “right problems,” such as accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals, by diverting energy, research and funding into this area. And, lastly, international standards must be agreed upon, to make sure that the technology we create is used in a way that is safe and ethical for the world.No progress without international cooperationSo, what is the way out of the “entrenched imbalance” of inequality? For the UN, a greater emphasis on international cooperation is an important part of the solution. The 2019 World Economic Situation and Prospects report concludes that, at a global level, a “cooperative and long-term strategy for global policy” is the way towards progress in reducing income inequality, and warns that a “withdrawal from multilateralism will pose further setbacks for those already being left behind.”As the Secretary-General told the audience in Davos, a coordinated and global response is the only way to fight inequality, because “we need to work together. There is no way we can do isolated responses to the problems we face, they are all interlinked.”
A British student who told the world of the Duke of Edinburgh’s famous “slitty-eyed” gaffe during the Royal tour of China 30 years ago wrote a personal letter of apology to insist he was not a “communist nutter”, it has emerged.Simon Kirby, then a 21-year-old student, had shared the Duke’s words with curious reporters, who had asked him for an account of their meeting.The incident caused international embarrassment, risking ongoing relations with China and has gone down in history as one of the Duke’s most indelicate remarks.Newly-released documents from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, shared under the Freedom of Information Act, have revealed how the young Mr Kirby tried to make amends, with a personal plea to the unimpressed ambassador Sir Richard Evans. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. “I would like to convey my regrets to you for being the cause of such embarrassment to you and to the royal tour,” he wrote in a handwritten note.“It was unfortunate for me that I was singled out and I have since suffered the consequences…”Please be assured that I was in no way guided by anti-Royal sentiments, I am certainly not some kind of Communist nutter.”Sir Richard replied: “I of course accept what you say about the frame of mind in which you spoke to the journalists. I now regard the incident as closed.”In October 1986, The Daily Telegraph reported that the Duke of become “embroiled in an embarrassing and potentially damaging row” after telling Mr Kirby he had found Peking “ghastly”.He warned students that if they stayed in China too long, they would end up “slitty-eyed”.The next day, the Duke told the waiting press that the student had been “rather tactless” in divulging their conversation.At the time, Mr Kirby was 21, from Leamington Spa, and a Chinese language student at Edinburgh University who spent 10 minutes in the company of the Duke and Queen.He told the Press: “The Duke was very outspoken.” Please be assured that I was in no way guided by anti-Royal sentiments, I am certainly not some kind of Communist nutterSimon Kirby Show more Royal reporter Hugh Davies called the Duke’s words “singularly ill-judged”, detailing how Sir Richard had attempted to pass it off as a “right royal clanger in a good-humoured conversation with a student”.“Sir Richard and his staff must have been horrified,” Davies wrote at the time. “One diplomat I know almost fell off his chair when told.“British diplomats will have to walk on eggshells for the next few weeks, in readiness for a possible face-saving retaliation.”China’s leading English language newspaper described the Duke’s remarks as “foot in mouth disease”, while the Daily Mirror dubbed him “the great wally of China”. The heavily redacted documents also shed light on other incidents during the 1986 state visit.One, which gives an account of a reception attended by the then British Consul General T E J Mound, states: “The Queen was able to talk to almost everyone present including, I fear, a tottering Scottish shipbuilder who was determined to wrap himself around as much as possible of the taxpayers’ champagne.”Officials were also compelled to navigate the diplomacy of international business, after fielding complaints that British aircraft and Rolls-Royces should have been used on the trip.Tom Lyon, of Clam-Brummer Ltd, wrote: “If on the China trip the Queen did not wish to travel in Concorde (we must respect her wishes) there probably could have been an alternative such as changing to a shorter haul British aircraft at Singapore.”With initiative the Foreign Office could have thought of a solution. Also on arrival the Queen was conveyed in a Mercedes – surely Rolls-Royces or the new Jaguars could have been flown out?” Senior government officials said that Concorde was not suitable and the Queen had arrived in a specially-adapted Tristar aircraft operated by British Airways.The Department of Trade and Industry responded: “The decision on which vehicles the Queen used during her State Visit to China was for the Chinese and not for us.”It was gratifying that the Guandong authorities elected to use Rolls-Royces for the Queen’s stay in Canton.”The documents were released by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office under the Freedom of Information Act. China’s leading English language newspaper described the Duke’s remarks as ‘foot in mouth disease’Credit:Tim Graham/Getty