“RIC”: BRICS after Bolsonaro

November 08, 2018

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog

BRICS is the acronym of the “alliance” that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

In reality, and with all due respect to Brazil and South Africa, BRICS is about RIC.

With Russia, India and China, in any order, there lies the future of Eurasia; the virtually unchartered quarter that houses over one third of the entire world population; a huge chunk of landmass, rich in resources, not only human resources, and just waiting for the right moment to make its mark in history.

The so-called “Silk Road”, or in reality silk roads, was historically the network of caravan paths that ancient traders took on their journeys from east to west, linking worlds largely unknown to each other, long before Vasco da Gama’s highly documented trips.

And whilst the ancient cultures of India and China flourished in their own right, apart from Alexander’s conquest, the Muslim and subsequent Mongol conquests, there was little historic geopolitical interaction between that far Far East and the Middle East; let alone Europe. The long icy and hard terrain made it very difficult, even for the brave at heart, to take the journey from Beijing to Vienna. The temptations to make that trip did not match the hardship of the journey for the averagely motivated traveler.

But this is all about to change. The new “Silk Road”, the network of super highways that the “RIC” nations are intent to build is going to change this status quo and shorten land distances.

The Trans-Siberian railway is a Russian route and constructing it linked Vladivostok with Moscow, but it was not intended to link China with Europe. If anything, it helped bolster the isolation of the USSR. But the new “Silk Road” project will change the transportation map of the world upside down once and for ever.

The determination to build this massive road network does not need either Brazil or South Africa; again with all due respect to both nations.

By taking many considerations into account, we must be realistic and say that the electoral win of Brazilian candidate Bolsonaro will not affect the prospect of the “Silk Road” one way or the other. The repercussions of his election will affect Brazil more than any other country. Purportedly, his policies will affect global climate, but this is another issue. His fiscal and international policy making decisions may put Brazil under the American sphere of influence, and this unfortunately can and will affect Brazil very adversely, but the damage is likely to be restricted to Brazil only.

With or without Brazil, BRICS can survive, but for it to survive and make a difference, it will need to become more serious about conducting its business.

The first step towards becoming more proactive is best done by establishing proper trust and conciliation between the three major players; Russia, China and India.

The love-hate relationship that marred the Soviet-Maoist era took a while to heal. The Russians and the Chinese seem to have gone many steps ahead towards establishing trust and confidence in each other. But China and India continue to have serious problems, and for as long as they have border and sovereignty disputes, this hinders them from becoming effective partners in every way.

Furthermore, BRICS needs a preamble and a Statement of Purpose. At the moment, it doesn’t have one. With all of its hypocrisies, the Western alliance camouflages itself behind the veil of Christian values, democracy and the “free world” slogans. Thus far, the only undeclared statement of purpose for BRICS seems to be that of defiance to the Western alliance.

The BRICS alliance will face a struggle founding an attractive preamble. Orthodox Christian Russia, predominantly Hindu India and Communist/Taoist/Buddhist China have little in common religiously speaking. Perhaps the BRICS leaders should be using common political grounds instead. They certainly cannot use democracy; not only because such an adoption would make them look as copycats, but also because they have different ideas about democracy, and Russia and China definitely do not endorse Western-style democracy.

In reality however, BRICS can use abstract lofty principles as their preamble; principles such as morality, honesty, and if they want to be less “theological” as it were, they could use principles such as “International law”, “International equality” and the like.

Apart from accumulating gold, building bridges and super road networks, planning fiscal measures to cushion the effects of a possible collapse of the Western economy on their own economies, developing state-of-the-art hypersonic weaponry and giving a clear message announcing that the world is no longer unipolar, the BRICS alliance ought to make clear statements about what kind of alternative world it envisions.

This is very important, because a significant percentage of the world population does not know what to expect if the BRICS alliance becomes the new dominant financial and military power. They have special concerns about China because they don’t know much about China, and they worry not only about whether or not China will be a new colonial super power, but they also worry about one day waking up and seeing traffic signals in Mandarin; so to speak.

To many people across the globe, the Chinese culture, language and modus operandi look like something from another planet.

The Cyrillic Russian and the Devanagari Indian scripts are no less daunting than the Mandarin script, but many Indians and Russians speak English and the West has had much more cultural interaction with both Russia and India than it ever did with China.

Furthermore, for the BRICS alliance to become more viable, it will need to develop a military alliance akin to that of NATO. When and if such an alliance is forged, then members will be protected as any attack on one will be considered as an attack on the whole coalition. Such an alliance will not increase the chances of war. Quite the contrary in fact, as it can lead to much needed stability. If for argument sake North Korea were a member, it would not be in a situation where it can claim that it needs nuclear weapons for self-defense, and secondly, the West would not be threatening to attack for fear of a major global escalation. The Cold-War, costly and potentially disastrous as it was, presents a successful model of nuclear deterrence. And in retrospect, had Vietnam been a member of the Warsaw Pact (or a similar one that included the USSR), it is possible that America’s war on Vietnam would have been averted. A more realistically plausible scenario is the case of former Yugoslavia. Had the Warsaw Pact been still standing, NATO would have never attacked Serbia back in 1999.

To be able to afford a more effective military deterrent, be a viable stand-alone economic power and to be attractive to the rest of the world, the BRICS coalition will ultimately need more member nations. Ideally, it would be of huge significance if Japan could be convinced to join it. The inclusion of Japan will not only add a huge financial power to the group, but it will also generate an in-house regional security to the China Sea region. Baby steps have been recently made between China and Japan towards conciliation, and much more needs to be done. It will take a lot of work and good intentions on both sides to undo a long history of hostilities and distrust.

Other nations that can and arguably should enter the coalition are; Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and post Erdogan Turkey. Why post Erdogan? Because Erdogan’s Turkey can turn BRICS into a bag of TRICS.

Resource-rich Australia has much to gain in joining such an alliance as this will not only bolster its own security, but it will also secure economic stability and on-going trade.

Thus far, all the official visits that the RIC leaders have exchanged, all the business deals they made, all the projects they are embarking on, huge as they are, are only baby steps towards turning their alliance into one that can lead the world and establish the necessary moral, financial and security foundations that are capable of underpinning it.

Over and above establishing a new world reserve currency, setting up an alternative to the US-based Internet and WWW, SWIFT, etc, the brave new world will need hope, trust, morality and concrete assurances for a long-awaited change for the better. These are the real challenges facing the BRICS alliance now; not the Bolsonaro win.

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Why’d The US Issue A Sanctions Waiver For Chabahar?

By Andrew Korybko
Source

Many observers are wondering why the US issued a sanctions waiver for the Indian-built port of Chabahar in southeastern Iran and the railroad project that’s supposed to one day extend from it to Afghanistan, but the reason is that America sees this curious “Lead From Behind” arrangement as one of its last chances to retain its long-term influence in the landlocked country.

For as tough as the US promised that its reimposition of sanctions on Iran would be, it unsurprisingly went soft when it came to the issue of the Indian-built port of Chabahar in the southeastern part of the Islamic Republic. The State Department confirmed earlier this week that the US granted a sanctions waiver for this project, which simultaneously drew attention not only to the project’s significance, but also the special nature of the American-Indian Strategic Partnership if Washington thought it important enough to preserve at the expense of undermining its sanctions regime against Iran. The reason for this is that the US understands the long-term strategic ramifications of redirecting Afghanistan’s international trade away from Pakistan (and increasingly China) and towards the rest of the world market via the access that it obtains through Chabahar, which is why the railroad that’s supposed to branch off from this port to the landlocked country is also excluded from the sanctions regime.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

The US isn’t just losing influence in Afghanistan on the military front after the Taliban’s recent spree of gains across the country, but also on the economic one as well after China’s recent inroads there, which America worries could soon have political consequences if Beijing succeeds in establishing new patronage networks with the internationally recognized Kabul elite. This could in turn make it less likely that the US can keep Kabul and the Taliban from striking a deal, especially one at its expense, which is why there’s such an interest in ensuring that America can still retain its control over Afghanistan’s permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”). Suitcases full of cash aren’t sustainable, whereas the clinching of privileged business deals with China are, hence why the US had to urgently streamline a solution and realized that it was forced to rely on its newfound Indian ally.

No reasonable comparison can be made between China’s ability to exert influence in Afghanistan and India’s, but the two BRICS “frenemies” nevertheless did agree to cooperate in jointly training its diplomats. There’s also the possibility that they’ll pool their infrastructure resources together in turning the country into a shining example of the “China-India-Plus-One” framework that they unveiled before this summer’s BRICS Summit, thereby putting an end to the competition between the New Silk Road and the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor”. On the surface, all of this should be appalling to America because of how much it risks undercutting its strategic ambitions in Afghanistan, but Washington is clearly wagering that mutual suspicions will persist between China and India which will in turn make the railroad a feasible opportunity for indirectly exerting influence through its South Asian “Lead From Behind” partner.

Keeping India In Line

Iran will obviously receive some residual knock-on benefits from being the transit country facilitating Indian-Afghan trade (which, to remember, is intended to function as a more sustainable means of ‘buying off’ Kabul’s “deep state” than suitcases full of cash in the face of China’s New Silk Road competition), but the US is willing to turn a blind eye to that because of how comparatively insignificant those profits will be. After all, the US could always sanction individual Indian or Afghan companies that trade with Iran across this route instead of keeping their economic activities on a strictly bilateral basis (apart from paying transit dues and other unavoidable expenses that go into the country’s coffers), so the plan is at least conceptually viable and doesn’t necessarily subvert the spirit of Trump’s sanctions policy against the Islamic Republic.

It needs to be emphasized that the US is engaging in long-term strategic planning that won’t yield immediate dividends, but that it’s undertaking this approach because of the high level of trust that it’s established with India since the election of PM Modi in 2014. The US now regards India as a strategic partner, one which is indispensable to “containing” China, even though India itself is playing a “double game”  by working closer with China over the past few months through a cunning strategy that it regards as “balancing” (officially described as “multialignment” in its official parlance). There’s always the chance that India could disappoint the US, but that’s unlikely since it needs access to the US marketplace to continue its growth and is deathly afraid (whether rightly or wrongly) of having its domestic industries swamped by Chinese imports if it pivots towards the New Silk Road.

A Reason To Rethink The Hybrid War On CPEC

This strategic backdrop suggests that the Indian-American Strategic Partnership is here to stay and that the US will continue indirectly backing New Delhi’s efforts to circumvent Pakistan and trade with Afghanistan via Iran in spite of the Trump Administration’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Adding another wrinkle to this already complicated arrangement is that Pakistan might counterintuitively benefit in some respects from Chabahar’s success so long as this gets the US and India to stop destabilizing Balochistan out of fear that the resultant blowback could endanger the Afghan corridor that New Delhi is building. Terrorism could easily spill across the border and threaten the project, thereby harming the US and India’s long-term joint strategic interests, and Iran might also take serious issue with India’s covert sponsorship of these terrorists to make its continued hosting of this corridor conditional on New Delhi discontinuing its support for them.

Pakistan and Iran are on the same page regarding the role that third-party actors have in provoking occasional border problems between them through these means, so considering the increasingly strategic importance that both countries attach to their relations with one another, it follows that Tehran’s interests would be best served by leveraging its influence over the Chabahar Corridor to ensure security in the transnational Baloch space. This is the only scenario in which Pakistan could partially benefit from the Chabahar Corridor, so it’s incumbent on those in Islamabad to do everything that they can to encourage their Tehran counterparts to take every step in that direction. The US and India have obvious reasons for wanting to continue their Hybrid War on CPEC, but the argument can be made that their support of Baloch terrorism to this end runs an unacceptably high risk of blowback that could scuttle their joint plans for Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia.

Concluding Thoughts

The prima facie impression is that the US must have had some reason or another for waiving its sanctions against Chabahar, but cohesive explanations for why this is have been far and few between. It sounds absurd that the US’ interests in Afghanistan are furthered by Iran of all countries and especially at this specific point in time, but that’s the reality as it presently exists. To be clear, Iran isn’t intentionally assisting the US with anything, but its hosting of the Indian-built Chabahar Corridor to Afghanistan could be instrumentalized by Washington through its strategic partnership with New Delhi to advance the US’ grand strategic interests. On the other hand, however, Iran isn’t a completely passive bystander to this process either, and could at the very least work directly with its Indian partner to ensure that neither it nor the US continue their destabilization of Balochistan through the Hybrid War on CPEC because of the blowback that it could cause for the Chabahar Corridor.

Under the Pakistani volcano

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Via The Saker

November 04, 2018Under the Pakistani volcano

While Khan plays on a complex geopolitical chessboard, Chinese aid could be a financial lifeline as Islamabad faces off against deadly religious extremism

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

It has been a breathless week, huddled in the shadow of the simmering, bubbling, politico-religious volcano that is Imran Khan’s Pakistan.

And this week’s multi-faceted developments may just signal seismic shifts in Pakistan’s internal and external relations for the foreseeable future.

Before moving on to bloodier matters, let’s start with the “Mr. Khan Goes to China” episode – essential for reviewing all aspects of what is enthusiastically described by both sides as the “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership”.

Xi’s financial lifeline for Khan?

Prime Minister Khan, leading a fresh government elected in July and facing a range colossal challenges, set the tone from the start. He did not mince words.

“Countries go in cycles, they have their high points, they have their low points,” he said. “Unfortunately, our country is going through a low point at the moment with two very big deficits, a fiscal deficit and a current account deficit. And so we, as I’ve said, have come to learn.”

Arguably few teachers beat Chinese President Xi Jinping, praised by Khan as a role model. “China’s phenomenal achievements are worth emulating,” Khan said. “No other country has tackled poverty and corruption the way China has tackled it.”

The lynchpin of the strategic partnership is inevitably the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the New Silk Road, or Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). Before his stint as guest of honor of the First China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Khan met a crucial player in Beijing for CPEC financing: Jin Liquan, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Right from the start, Pakistan’s new Planning Minister Makhdoom Bukhtiar was confident that Islamabad would not need to reschedule around $2.7 billion in Chinese loans due for repayment in 2018. Instead, what’s in the cards is an improved economic package centered on taking CPEC to the next level.

A financially stable Pakistan is absolutely crucial for the success of BRI. A Pakistani audit of projects approved by the previous Nawaz Sharif administration called for streamlining CPEC, not curtailing it. Now, Team Khan does not subscribe to the notion of CPEC as a debt trap.

With Saudi Arabia and China stepping in with cash, Islamabad may avoid becoming further indebted to the IMF and its trademark “strategic adjustments”- widely dreaded across the Global South for producing a toxic mix of austerity and inflation.

Pakistan juggles China, Iran, Saudi, Turkey

Pakistan is all about its prime geopolitical location, the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia.

For Beijing, Pakistan as a key BRI node mirrors its new role as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As Khan has clearly identified, this interconnection can only turbo-charge Pakistan’s geo-economic position – under the institutional framework of SCO. The Xi-Khan partnership may actually center around an economic win-win for Pakistan and the SCO.

Of course, myriad challenges lie ahead.

Take for instance Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Lu Kang having to clarify that “all the cooperation between China and Pakistan has nothing to do with territorial disputes.”

Kang was referring to the hoopla surrounding the fact that a Pakistani company launched a bus service from Lahore to Kashgar via Islamabad; essentially the northern CPEC route via the Karakoram Highway, which skirts Kashmir. China does not want any interference whatsoever in the ultra-volatile Kashmir dossier.

Saudi Arabia is also making some not-too-subtle moves. Islamabad’s official position is that Riyadh’s recent financial offer came with no strings attached. That’s unlikely to be the case; Saudi traditionally casts a long shadow over all matters Pakistani. “No strings” means Islamabad should keep closer to Riyadh, not Tehran.

The House of Saud – paralyzed by the fallout of the bloody Istanbul fiasco – will go no-holds-barred to prevent Islamabad from getting closer to Tehran. (Or Ankara, for that matter). A possibly emergent, long-term, game-changing Turkey-Iran-Pakistan alliance was the talk of the town – at least during the first part of this week of weeks.

That brings us to the crucial visitor Khan received in Islamabad before his trip to China: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Last month, 14 Iranian border guards were kidnapped by the Pakistan-based Jaish al-Adl Salafi-jihadi fanatics. Pakistan security forces have been helpless so far.

Khan and Zarif talked about that – but also talked about Khan’s offer to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia in trying to find a solution for the tragedy in Yemen. The fact is, a Tehran-Islamabad rapprochement is already a work in progress.

That is the sophisticated geo-political game Khan must play. Meanwhile at home, he has to get down and dirty as he gets to grips with violent domestic religious turmoil.

‘Go legal – or else…’

I’ve been in Islamabad since Monday – right on the lip of the volcano, and enjoying the privilege of being part of one of the most extraordinary geopolitical conferences in recent times, something that in the current polarizing dynamic could only happen in Asia, not the West. But that’s another story.

While I was parsing elaborate analyses of this geopolitical chessboard, reality intervened.

Or – perhaps – it was a graphic intimation that Pakistan may just be changing for the better.

Street blockades paralyzed key nodes of the nation because Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman laborer, in jail for nine years, was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of spurious charges of blasphemy. There are less than 4 million Christians in Pakistan out of a total population of 197 million.

I was with a small group on the motorway to Peshawar, prior to taking a detour to Taxila – Alexander-the-Great land, where I planned further research on ancient Silk Roads – when suddenly we were halted.

A mullah was blaring his hate through a loudspeaker. A couple of his minions blocked all circulation.

Why the police would not dislodge this small group is the matter of all matters in Khan’s arguably new Pakistan. The highway standoff embodies the high-stakes grapple underway between the state and religion.

Back in Islamabad, as he led me around the campus of the National Defense University, Timoor Shah, a bright young man at the Center for Policy Studies, gave me a crash course on the nuances.

What a global audience should understand is this. On one side stand the state, the military and the judiciary. (Accusations continue to be hurled that Khan was privileged in the July elections by the military – the top institution in Pakistan – and an activist judiciary.) On the other side, stand fringe religious nuts and an opportunistic, discredited opposition.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a minor extremist political party whose only platform is to punish blasphemy, has issued death threats against the three Supreme Court judges. Pakistan could do worse than import a strangle/bone-saw/dissolve-in-acid Saudi execution squad to deal with such groups.

It’s instructive to consider what the director general of the PR arm of the powerful intelligence service, ISI, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had to say: This is a legal matter and the Pakistan Army should not be dragged into it. Ghafoor also stressed, “We are close to winning the war against terrorism and our attention should not be diverted.”

Ghafoor told politico-religious parties protesting against the Supreme Court judgment – quite a few of which were firmly on the lunatic fringe – to go legal or else. Amid this, TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi swears that that the Army has threatened to “destroy” his party.

The military sent a delegation, including ISI officials, to talk to the religious protesters. Ghafoor was careful to stress that the ISI is an intelligence department that reports to the prime minister.

In the end, the government caved in. Despite knowing that Aasia Bibi faces fundamentalist wrath and her only path to safety would be a one-way ticket out, they agreed to put her on something called the “Exit Control List.” Even that did not prevent TLP fanatics from threatening “a war if they sent Aasia Bibi out of the country.”

‘Taliban Godfather’ killed

As if all this were not toxic enough, on Friday evening Maulana Samiul Haq – the fabled “Godfather of the Taliban” – was stabbed to death in his house in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city.

Haq led the sprawling Darul Uloom Haqqania, a madrassa, or religious school, in Akhora Khattak, near Peshawar, founded in 1988. The madrassa graduated none other than Mullah Omar, as well as other Taliban notables.

Haq embodies a torrent of turbulence in modern Pakistani history – including his stints as senator during the Zia ul Haq and Nawaz Sharif administrations. He also tabled a notorious Sharia bill during Sharif’s last term.

But for me, the story was personal. In a tortuous way, Samiul Haq saved my life – courtesy of a letter of introduction he had signed after I visited his madrassa to follow a Talibanesque indoctrination in progress.

When, along with my photographer Jason Florio, we were arrested by the Taliban at a military base in Ghazni in the summer of 2000, we were only released from waiting six months to be tried as “spies” because of Samiul Haq’s letter.

This obviously pales when compared to the high-profile, principled move by the Pakistani Supreme Court to save Aasia Bibi from a death sentence.

But it could be the first salvo in a Khan-era Pakistani war against religious fundamentalism.

India, Iran, Russia push alternative to Suez Canal

The International North-South Transport Corridor is to link the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf via Iran to Russia and North Europe.

The International North-South Transport Corridor is to link the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf via Iran to Russia and North Europe.

Wed Oct 31, 2018 11:00AM

India, Iran and Russia will meet next month to discuss the operation of a 7,200 km trade and transport corridor that presents a cheaper and shorter alternative to the traditional route through the Suez Canal.

A general view of the Suez Canal from Al Salam Peace bridge on the Ismalia desert road before the opening ceremony of the New Suez Canal, in Egypt

The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a multimode network of sea and rail routes, will link the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf via Iran to Russia and North Europe.

The project comes in the backdrop of China’s multi-trillion-dollar One Belt One Road initiative. Within Iran, the two routes overlap in a potential boon to future businesses.

New Delhi has been actively courting Tehran, given the utmost importance it attaches to the route and Iran has been receptive.

Once operational, the corridor will allow India to send its goods to Bandar Abbas in Iran by sea, from where they will be transported to Iran’s Bandar Anzali on the Caspian Sea by road. Next, they will be shipped to Astrakhan in Russia and transported into Europe by rail.

Image result for India, Iran, Russia push alternative to Suez Canal

The route will cut the time and cost of delivering goods by about 30 percent to more than 40 percent. Compared with the Suez Canal, the corridor will reduce the transport time between Mumbai and Moscow to about 20 days. The estimated capacity of the corridor is 20 to 30 million tonnes of goods per year.

India’s Union Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu on Saturday met a Russian business delegation in New Delhi, where he said “all issues may be resolved in order to operationalize the (INSTC) route as early as possible.”

An official statement said India, Russia and Iran will hold a trilateral meeting on November 23 to make the route operational soon, Indian media reported Tuesday.

“The INSTC is the shortest multimodal transportation route linking the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf via Iran to Russia and North Europe,” India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry said in the statement.

To access resource-rich Central Asia, India has to route its goods either through China, Europe or Iran. The routes through China and Europe are long, expensive and time consuming, with Iran being the most viable one.

The first dry run of the INSTC was conducted in August 2014 and the second in April 2017.

India is seeking to leverage the strategic Chabahar port in southeast Iran to link with the INSTC.

The country has committed $500 million to Chabahar that it is building chiefly to crack open a trade and transport route to landlocked Afghanistan.

Last week, senior officials from the two countries met their counterpart in Tehran to discuss a full commissioning of the port that the three countries are jointly developing.

It was the first trilateral meeting of the Coordination Council of the Chabahar Agreement, coming in the face of fresh sanctions imposed by Washington on the Islamic Republic.

“All sides shared the view that a full operationalization of the trilateral Chabahar initiative will promote connectivity and economic development of Afghanistan and the region,” India’s External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

For landlocked Afghanistan, the corridor means opening the way to billions of dollars in trade and cutting the country’s dependence on foreigners for aid as well as stemming the illicit opium trade.

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The Asian Parliamentary Assembly Meeting In Gwadar Was Good News For CPEC

 

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By Andrew Korybko
Source

It was a very prudent move for Pakistan to have Gwadar host this year’s Asian Parliamentary Assembly instead of any other of the country’s cities because Islamabad showed off the progress that’s been made thus far on CPEC, encouraged its fellow institutional members to feel like they have a stake in its future success, and opened their eyes to the peaceful state of affairs in Balochistan.

This year’s Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA) just took place in the southwestern Pakistani port city of Gwadar, the terminal point of the Silk Road’s flagship project of CPEC as well as its mainland-maritime pivot, which importantly allowed Islamabad to show off the progress that’s been made thus far on this game-changing initiative. Around 100 parliamentarians from 26 countries such as Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia arrived to participate in the event, which was the first high-profile multilateral one of this level to take place there. The author suggested back in Spring 2017 during a speech at Pakistan’s National Defence University (NDU) that the country prioritize hosting large-scale events in this growing connectivity nexus in order to promote CPEC, proposing at the time that a brand-new function one day be unveiled provisionally called the “Gwadar Gathering” for bringing together a wide array of academic, political, military, business, and civil society figures.

The two-day APA meeting can therefore be seen as an organizational and logistical precursor for preparing Gwadar to host even larger functions in the future such as the unique one that the author suggested. It’s also relevant in and of itself not only for the work that the organization carried out during this time, but because of the soft power goals that Pakistan advanced as well. CPEC recently secured significant Saudi backing during Prime Minister Khan’s visit to the Kingdom in mid-September which was seen as proof of this project being the “Zipper of Eurasia” in at least connecting West Asia with East Asia via Pakistani territory, let alone of its larger potential in ultimately becoming the “Convergence of Civilizations” in Afro-Eurasia. These geo-cultural integrational possibilities could powerfully debunk Huntington’s thesis about the imminence of a so-called “clash of civilizations” if successfully actualized and thus stabilize the emerging Multipolar World Order.

Accordingly, it only makes sense that Acting President Sadiq Sanjrani emphasized the angle of CPEC’s Asian integrational vision and also took the time to talk about Pakistan’s many sacrifices in the War on Terror. This latter part of his remarks drew attention to the peacemaking achievements that were made in the Balochistan region over the past couple of years that enabled Pakistan to guarantee the security of CPEC and therefore make APA’s Gwadar meeting a reality. The intention behind doing all of this was to make the visiting dignitaries feel like their countries have a stake in CPEC’s success, but it also had another motivation to it as well. Showing the foreign parliamentarians the developmental progress that CPEC has made in Gwadar and the entire Balochistan region, as well as Pakistan’s future plans for them, exposed the fake news narrative  that the supposedly “hopeless plight” of the native Baloch has given rise to a “rebellion” as nothing more than a debunked infowar narrative spread by hostile forces.

The fact of the matter is that approximately 100 visiting parliamentarians saw that CPEC is delivering tangible benefits to the people of Balochistan and that the Pakistani state has successfully defeated terrorism there, though the region nevertheless remains in the crosshairs of Hybrid War precisely because of its strategic significance vis-à-vis the “Zipper of Eurasia” concept and its larger “Convergence of Civilizations” one. Having said that, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the rare attacks that still occur there every once in a while are due to foreign-backed terrorist infiltrators and not indigenous “rebels”, which former separatist leader Dr. Jumma Baloch proved to the world since switching sides, exposing how India hijacked his people’s struggle, and launching the Overseas Pakistani Baloch Unity organization for rehabilitating his remaining wayward compatriots. As such, it can be said that Gwadar’s hosting of the latest APA meeting was a success because it informed 26 countries’ representatives of CPEC’s grand strategic importance and the peaceful state of affairs of Balochistan.

 

Pakistan and China Share the Same Fight Against Extremism and Extreme Disinformation

By Adam Garrie
Source

Not long ago, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in north-west Pakistan was a no-go area where a combination of foreign terrorists and local extremists ruled the roost. Frequent attacks against civilians continued to scar the landscape while poorly coordinated US drone attacks on civilians only served to add to the blood bath. All the while, US “assistance” to Pakistan often served to perversely feed the dangerous cycles of extremism that all patriotic Pakistanis sought to eradicate.

Today, the region’s fortunes have largely been turned around thanks to an unrelenting anti-terror campaign by Pakistan’s army as well as key intelligence operations by the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). On the political front, it cannot be ignored that the 2013 regional election victory of Imran Khan’s PTI helped to bring about the new wave of social normalcy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that continues to this day now that PTI heads a government at a national level.

While Pakistan’s war on terror is not over and won’t be so long as a single violent extremist seeks to harm the peaceful operations of society, Pakistan’s war on terror has largely been won both in terms of neutralising multiple extremists (both foreign and local) and in terms of restoring law, order and normal civil society to parts of the country that were once de-facto “governed” by terror groups.

While the US launched a war in neighbouring Afghanistan in 2001, ostensibly to avenge the 9/11 terror attacks, America’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan became a war of terror for innocent Pakistani civilians who had their lives destroyed by the inflow of terrorists and other radicals from Afghanistan.

Today’s Naya Pakistan under the leadership of Imran Khan who for years has articulated the need to combat extremism both through traditional security means and through positive political reform is emblematic of a nation that is looking forward after waves of terror sought to push Pakistan to the brink. While the United States continues to deride Pakistan’s record on combating terrorism rather than laud the country for largely destroying the notorious terror group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, China is all too aware of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and if anything seeks to learn from Pakistan’s harrowing experience.

China’s north-west Xinjiang province has itself been subject to a wave of extremism, albeit one that has thankfully been far smaller than that which Pakistan has faced in recent years. China’s solution to the problem, much like Pakistan’s, has been to implement modern security measures against extremists while simultaneously investing in the province’s infrastructure, economic development and educational institutions for both children and adults seeking to learn modern vocations.

While many people in the west who are unfamiliar with the cultural characteristics of both Pakistan and China continue to deride both, Pakistani author and scholar S M Hali is deeply familiar with Xinjiang and stated the following about the progress of development in the province based on his experience through multiple visits to north-western China:

“In the past, China’s eastern provinces enjoyed greater opulence and a higher rate of development, perhaps because they are closer to the coastal region and ports. However, this disparity caused Xinjiang’s population to face a sense of deprivation, which was manipulated by China’s detractors, who tried to incite the Muslim population, ethnic Uighurs, into insurgency.

President Xi Jinping quelled the insurgency with a two pronged policy. Security forces cracked down on the troublemakers with an iron hand, while development projects with the inclusion of Uighurs ushered an era of prosperity. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the New Silk Road, which promises a new age of affluence, has Xinjiang as its focal point. The flagship BRI project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) terminates at Xinjiang’s ancient city of Kashgar, which was a major city of the ancient Silk Road and has become BRI’s launching pad into Central Asia and beyond.

The steps taken by both the central government and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to dispel a sense of deprivation, promote conventions of religious beliefs and conduct an era of harmony is remarkable.

I have been visiting Xinjiang for the past four decades and am a witness to its various stages of development. From a sleepy backwater of the 1970s, Urumqi has become a sprawling metropolis, with high-rise buildings, busy roads, marketplaces and shopping malls. A network for underground Metro trains and high-speed railways is reaching the final stages of completion.

Currently I am touring Xinjiang as a guest of the BRI to delve deep into its core and feel the pulse of this massive project. A detailed tour of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and discussions with AdudulrekepTumniaz, President of the Institute and deputy director of Xinjiang Islamic Association was very reassuring. The Institute is 28 years old and has came a long way. My previous visit was in 2011 and since then, a new campus with modern class rooms, an impressive mosque, well equipped library, cosy dormitories and state of the art sports facilities has been completed in 2017, which can compete with any modern western university.

The Chinese constitution ensures freedom of religion and Islam is no exception, however, western critics and detractors of China have been spreading rumours about the practice of Islam being curtailed. Since extremists have been distorting the tenets of Islam, quoting verses out of context and leading the faithful astray with their particular brand of religion to fulfil their heinous designs, the Islamic Institute has picked up the cudgel to produce scholars and religious teachers who can become Imams in various mosques and University Professors and teachers as well as research scholars to guide the faithful and protect them from extremism.

The Bachelor’s Degree being conferred upon the Islamic Scholars from the Institute — which numbers around 1200 per year — is spread over five years. Imbibed with the knowledge of Islam, equipped with the wherewithal to take up the responsibility of guiding others, these graduates have an open mind and are well versed in technology science, social studies and current international affairs to meet the challenge head on.

The scourge of extremism, which had hit Xinjiang in 2009 and later in 2014 is now diminishing because of the measures taken by the Central Government of China and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are bearing fruit. Security is tight; vigilance is efficient and more effective because the physical, financial and moral well-being of the citizens is being guarded. More opportunities for education, vocational training, employment opportunities and religious freedom are producing healthy students. Young boys and girls especially from the less developed and impoverished regions are being afforded the opportunity to study in state of the art boarding schools, where they are being provided quality education, mastery over arts, sciences, languages and extracurricular activities at state expense to complete high school and gain admission in inland institutions of higher learning. Facilities for practicing religion are also being enhanced. Modern and well equipped mosques, slaughter houses where halal meat can be procured or the Eid-ul-Azha rituals practiced and support in pilgrimage are paying rich dividends. The government is ensuring that pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah are provided logistic support, while spiritual education and respect for the rights of the faithful is maintained. Medical facilities, which were redundant in Xinjiang once upon a time, have now been established to a level which is unprecedented. Traditional as well as conventional medicine is offered to the urban as well as rural dwellers with the additional advantage of telemedicine, on concessional or gratis basis.

With such a heavy investment, financially, spiritually and morally, there is no way the detractors of China can lead the faithful astray any longer”.

With the US and many European states, so-called “NGOs” and dishonest so-called “journalists” attempt to defame Pakistan for “harbouring religious extremism” while simultaneously running an infowar suggesting that China is repressive towards peaceful Muslims, both of these dystopian narratives are far from true as most ordinary Pakistanis and ordinary Chinese can attest to. The key therefore is for an increased amount of cross-border communication so that China and Pakistan can fight the infowar together, just as sure as China’s largely victorious war against extremism in Xinjiang was partly inspired by Pakistan’s own difficult but ultimately rewarding success story when it comes to suppressing extremism within Pakistan’s border.

The nature of the manifold infowar against China and Pakistan is clearly designed to sow mutual suspicion among all-weather fraternal partners. While the erroneous and defamatory “debt trap” narrative regarding Belt and Road is easily dispelled through the observation of well known case studies, western attempts to defame China as an anti-Islamic society must be dispelled through an increased amount of physical contact between Muslims from places like Pakistan and those living in modern Xinjiang. Like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Xinjiang is today a much better place than it was even eight years ago. In both cases, economic, social and infrastructural development has replaced extremist tendencies. Likewise, in both cases the central governments of China and Pakistan continue to respect the unique local characteristics of the respective regions.

To conclude, it is necessary to publish a recent interview that the Chairman of the Government of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Shohrat Zakir recently gave with domestic media. When comparing the words of the Pakistani Hali with Chinese Xinjiang politician Shohrat Zakir, it becomes clear that both men are speaking of similar experiences in the same place. By contrast, the Xinjiang described by many western actors is a fictional place that has nothing to do with China, nothing to do with Islam and nothing to do with China’s multiple fraternal partners in the Islamic world, first and foremost Pakistan.

Below is the full interview with Shohrat Zakir from Xinhua: 

Question: Would you please brief us on the current situation in Xinjiang, given that under the influence of international terrorism and religious extremism, the number of violent terrorist attacks had been on the rise in parts of the region over a period of time?

Answer: Since the 1990s, the “three evil forces” (terrorism, extremism and separatism) in China and abroad have plotted, organized and conducted thousands of violent terrorist attacks including bombings, assassinations, poisoning, arson, assaults, unrest and riots, causing the deaths of a large number of innocent people and hundreds of police officers, as well as immeasurable property damage. The horrific crimes of terrorists not only severely undermined the stable and peaceful order and the atmosphere of solidarity and progress of Xinjiang, but also trampled upon the essential human rights of people of all ethnic groups in the region, such as their rights to life, health, property and development. People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang were enraged and shared hatred toward the terrorist crimes. A child of a Uygur police officer who died in the line of duty wrote me a letter. In emotional words, the letter reads: “My father sacrificed his life on the counterterrorism frontline. His upright personality will always inspire me. I hope that the Party and government can unwaveringly root out terrorism so that no children grow up without their fathers.”

Facing complex and grave circumstances as well as the pressing anti-terrorism desire of the people, the Chinese government has resolutely taken measures in preventing and combating violent terrorist crimes in accordance with the law. In the past few years, under the firm leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, Xinjiang has thoroughly carried out the policies of the CPC Central Committee on governing Xinjiang, unswervingly worked for the general goal of ensuring social stability and long-term security and made major achievements in fighting against terrorism and safeguarding stability. Now Xinjiang is generally stable, with the situation under control and improving. In the past 21 months, no violent terrorist attacks have occurred and the number of criminal cases, including those endangering public security, has dropped significantly. Public security has notably improved with religious extremism effectively contained, while people are now feeling more secure. We have laid a good foundation for completely solving the deeply-rooted problems that affect the region’s long-term stability.

Xinjiang has started to enjoy the dividend of effective counter-terrorism efforts with its economy steadily growing, people’s livelihood improving, and overall progress being made in all respects. In 2017, the region had a 7.6 percent growth in GDP while the per capita disposable income of urban and rural residents increased by 8.1 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively. Tourism boomed in 2017 when the region registered more than 100 million trips by domestic and international tourists, a year-on-year growth of 32.4 percent. In the first nine months of this year, Xinjiang has already recorded 132 million trips by tourists from home and abroad, a 40 percent year-on-year increase. Many people who have visited Xinjiang used social media to extol the region’s progress: Today’s Xinjiang is not only beautiful but also safe and stable. No matter where they are or at what time of the day, people are no longer afraid of going out, shopping, dining and traveling.

Question: It has been reported that Xinjiang has launched a vocational education and training program in a bid to facilitate its efforts to counter terrorism and extremism. What’s the thinking behind this move?

Answer: Terrorism and extremism go against human civilization and are the common enemy of the international community. Countering terrorism and eradicating extremism is a global issue as well as a global headache. Over the years, many countries have pursued approaches to countering terrorism and extremism according to their own conditions and have made headway in this regard. The international community has also realized that terrorism and extremism are very hard to root out and can easily resurge. Drawing on the anti-terrorism experience of the international community, China has actively responded to the UN General Assembly’s resolution on Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and has been committed to addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, while preventing and combating terrorism. Based on its realities, China has combined fighting and preventing terrorism with an emphasis on prevention. China has been actively exploring and applying preventive measures in countering terrorism and extremism.

Based on its own realities, Xinjiang has given equal importance to fighting and preventing terrorism, and sought to combine the fight against violent terrorist crimes with the protection of human rights. On one hand, Xinjiang has put emphasis on strictly countering a small number of violent terrorist crimes according to law, and spared no efforts in protecting the basic human rights of the citizens from the harm of terrorism and extremism. On the other hand, Xinjiang has also stressed addressing the root cause of terrorism, and moved to bring around, educate and save the majority of those who committed petty crimes, through assistance and education, to prevent them from becoming victims of terrorism and extremism.

Today, despite the significant progress Xinjiang has made, countering terrorism and extremism is still a long-standing, complicated and serious issue and calls for high alert. In particular, the four prefectures in southern Xinjiang were threatened by terrorism and seriously influenced by the spread of religious extremism in the past. Some residents there have a limited command of the country’s common language and a limited sense and knowledge of the law. They often have difficulties in finding employment due to limited vocational skills. This has led to a low material-basis for residents to live and work there, making them vulnerable to the instigation and coercion of terrorism and extremism. There is still a long way to go for southern Xinjiang to eradicate the environment and soil of terrorism and religious extremism.

Based on the above-mentioned situation, Xinjiang has launched a vocational education and training program according to the law. Its purpose is to get rid of the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism and stop violent terrorist activities from happening.

Question: Could you tell us more about the legal basis and relevant procedure of the vocational education and training program?

Answer: In recent years, the Chinese government has accelerated the legislation of its anti-terrorism efforts to strictly prevent and combat violent terrorist crimes according to law.

The National People’s Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Law in 2015 and the Ninth Amendment to the Criminal Law, while the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, together with the Supreme People’s Court, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of Justice, in 2018 issued guidelines on the application of law in cases involving terrorism and extremism, which have improved and clarified the definitions of terrorist crimes, criteria for conviction, case handling procedures, and working mechanisms. Together with the Criminal Procedure Law, these laws and regulations have formed a relatively sound Chinese anti-terrorism legal framework. While strictly following the Constitution, the law on regional ethnic autonomy and the legislation law, Xinjiang has taken its local conditions into consideration and formulated the region’s enforcement measures of the anti-terrorism law, de-extremization regulations, among others. These laws and regulations are subject to revisions to keep them up to date.

In practice, when dealing with those who have been instigated, coerced, or lured into terrorist or extremist activities, or people who only committed minor offenses when involved in terrorist and extremist activities, Xinjiang combines punishment with leniency and gives prominence to their rehabilitation and redemption in accordance with the Criminal Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, the Anti-Terrorism Law and other relevant laws and regulations. As for most people who are influenced by terrorism and extremism, those suspected of minor criminal offenses but do not have to be subject to penalties or can be exempted from criminal punishment, Xinjiang has provided them with free vocational training through vocational education institutions to improve their ability in commanding the country’s common language, acquiring legal knowledge and vocational skills, among others. In that way, Xinjiang can better guard against the infiltration of terrorism and extremism. The detailed procedures include, on the premise that training goals, methods, program completion standards and testing methods are clearly identified, that vocational training institutions sign an agreement with the trainees. The institutions will then conduct the free programs through various forms such as collective courses, boarding schools and hands-on training. The trainees will be issued certificates of completion after they meet the required standards.

Question: Could you please elaborate on the main content of the vocational training?

Answer: Currently, Xinjiang has established a training model with professional vocational training institutions as the platform, learning the country’s common language, legal knowledge, vocational skills, along with de-extremization education, as the main content, with achieving employment as the key direction. The vocational training institutions have set up departments of teaching, management, medical care, logistics and security, and allocated a corresponding number of faculty, class advisors, medical, catering, logistics and security staff.

In the process of learning and training, the trainees will advance from learning the country’s common language, to learning legal knowledge and vocational skills. Firstly, the trainees will take learning the country’s common language as the basis to improve their communication abilities, gain modern science knowledge and enhance their understanding of Chinese history, culture and national conditions. The teaching follows standardized plans, textbooks, materials and systems. The trainees are taught in various methods suited to their literacy to raise their abilities to use the country’s common language as soon as possible. Secondly, the learning of legal knowledge is taken as a key part of cultivating the trainees’ awareness of the nation, citizenship and rule of law. Legal experts are hired to lecture on the Constitution, the criminal law and the civil law, etc., and judges, prosecutors and lawyers are invited to teach the criminal law, the law on public security administration, the anti-terrorism law, the marriage law, the education law and Xinjiang’s de-extremization regulations. Thirdly, vocational learning is taken as a key way to help trainees find employment. Courses on clothing and footwear making, food processing, electronic product assembly, typesetting and printing, hairdressing and e-commerce have been set up to suit local social needs and job market. Multi-skill training is provided to trainees who have the desire and capability to learn, so that they acquire one to two vocational skills upon graduation. Businesses in garment making, mobile phone assembly and ethnic cuisine catering are arranged to offer trainees practical opportunities. In the meantime, they are paid basic incomes and a bonus. The mechanism has taken shape in which the trainees can “learn, practice and earn money.”

In daily life, vocational institutions and schools strictly implement the spirit of laws and regulations, including the Constitution and religious affairs regulations, and respect and protect the customs and habits of various ethnic groups and their beliefs in diet and daily life. Faculties of the institutions and schools also try their best to ensure and meet the trainees’ needs in study, life, and entertainment on the basis of free education. The cafeteria prepares nutritious free diets, and the dormitories are fully equipped with radio, TV, air conditioning, bathroom and shower. Indoor and outdoor sports venues for basketball, volleyball and table tennis have been built, along with reading rooms, computer labs, film screening rooms, as well as performance venues such as small auditoriums and open-air stages. Various activities such as contests on speech, writing, dancing, singing and sports are organized. Many trainees have said that they were previously affected by extremist thought and had never participated in such kinds of art and sports activities, and now they have realized that life can be so colorful.

Moreover, the vocational institutions and schools pay high attention to the trainees’ mental health and helped them solve problems in life. They not only provide professional psychological counseling services, but also duly deal with complaints from the trainees and their families. All this shows that the management of the vocational institutions and schools are people-oriented.

Question: Could you please elaborate on the progress of the vocational training?

Answer: Through vocational training, most trainees have been able to reflect on their mistakes and see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism. They have notably enhanced national consciousness, civil awareness, awareness of the rule of law and the sense of community of the Chinese nation. They have also been able to better tell right from wrong and resist the infiltration of extremist thought. They have become more proactive in shaking off poverty, and becoming better off. It has been a common practice among them to expect and pursue a modern life. They are confident about the future. “I didn’t understand the country’s common language, nor did I know about the laws. I wouldn’t even have known that I had made mistakes. But the government didn’t give me up. It has actively saved and assisted me, giving me free food, accommodation and education. Now I have made great progress in many aspects. I will cherish this opportunity and become a person useful to the country and society,” a trainee said.

On the whole, the following achievements have been made. Firstly, the trainees have gained progress in mastering the country’s common language. In the past, many of them had difficulties in listening, speaking and reading. They now are able to basically understand and use it in communication, which has broadened their sources to acquire modern knowledge and information. Many trainees said they were affected by religious extremism and failed to understand the significance of bilingual education. They said they had thought of merely sticking to their own ethnic language as the way to preserve their ethnic culture, so they refused to learn the country’s common language. Now they have realized they should not only learn the common language well, but also foreign languages to follow modernization trends.

Secondly, the trainees have been increasing their awareness of the rule of law. Affected or coerced by religious extremist thought, many of the trainees acted under “religion discipline” or “family discipline” that was distorted or concocted by extremists. Many trainees have now realized that they are firstly citizens of the nation, and their behavior is both protected and regulated by law. They have truly understood what is legitimate and what is not. They now also know how to turn to the law for help. “As a divorced woman, I am raising a son and a daughter with the help of my parents, living in poverty. I did not know that my ex-husband had the obligation to raise the children, too,” said a female trainee, who is now able to use the law to claim overdue alimony from her ex-husband.

Thirdly, the trainees’ vocational skills have been enhanced. Many trainees had no vocational skills before. Even though they wanted to get a job, it was hard for them to find one. By learning vocational skills and knowledge, and participating in practical training, the trainees have now mastered preliminary practical skills. It has gradually become realistic for them to increase their incomes, get rid of poverty and acquire wealth. “Through practicing vocational skills, I can earn 1,500 yuan per month now. My income has increased a lot and I have become the main support for my family. I can stand tall and start receiving praise from my elders. My wife has become more considerate. My kids are proud of me. I have regained respect and confidence,” a trainee said.

As a result of the vocational education and training, the social environment of Xinjiang has seen notable changes, with a healthy atmosphere on the rise and improper practices declining. There has been a growing trend to pursue modern scientific and technological knowledge and etiquette; the dissemination of religious extremism is resisted consciously; communication, exchanges and integration among various ethnic groups are closer; public support for countering terrorism, maintaining stability and de-extremization is stronger; and people of all ethnic groups are full of hope for better lives.

Question: After your introduction, we have got a clear and comprehensive understanding of the work of vocational education and training. Would you please give us some information on the future plan of vocational education and training?

Answer: Facts have proven that vocational education and training fits the reality of current efforts in countering terrorism, maintaining stability and eradicating extremism in Xinjiang. It is an effective measure of Xinjiang to explore ways to remove the environment and soil of terrorism and extremism, and prevent violent terrorist crimes. Since its launch, the work has won high recognition and sincere support from people of all ethnic groups across Xinjiang. It has played an important role in achieving social stability and enduring peace and security in Xinjiang, and served as a positive exploration and constructive attempt for the international community in countering terrorism and eradicating extremism.

According to feedback from the vocational education and training institutions, some trainees have come close to or reached the completion standard agreed in the training agreements. They are receiving course-completion tests in an orderly manner. They are expected to complete their courses successfully by the end of this year. We are busy with their employment arrangements. Meanwhile, Xinjiang will carry out programs to invite investments that suit the vocational skills of trainees. By bringing more businesses to Xinjiang, we will create jobs and alleviate poverty. We will try to achieve a seamless connection between school teaching and social employment, so that after finishing their courses, the trainees will be able to find jobs and earn a well-off life.

Next, Xinjiang will further implement the strategies and policies on the region, set by the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, adhere to the people-centered philosophy of development, properly handle the relations between stability and development, and concentrate on the three major tasks: construction of the core zone of the Silk Road Economic Belt, the implementation of the rural vitalization strategy and the development of the tourism industry. It will also take the four prefectures in southern Xinjiang as the main battlefield to fight against poverty with targeted measures to ensure that by 2020, all rural residents living below the poverty line are lifted out of poverty. Xinjiang will also work to see that people of all ethnic groups have a stronger sense of fulfillment, happiness and security, and that the gains of development benefit people of all ethnic groups in a fair way.

The new Silk route on rails

The new Silk route on rails

October 06, 2018

By Nat South for The Saker Blog

This is the second part in a series that looks behind the scenes, at particular aspects of trade, shipping and transport involving Russia. This analysis was partially written back in spring 2018, before taking academia seriously for a while.

Historically & to this day the US depends on the Mahan theory of sea route control and control of significant maritime chokepoints for power projection. Hence, the US hegemon relies heavily on its heavy outstretched military muscle, especially the use of any of the 11 carrier groups as part of this infrastructure. This is connected to traditional maritime trading routes.

We are seeing an ascendency of Chinese military projection in the last decade, within increasing Chinese naval presence in those areas traditionally dominated by the US Navy. The New Silk road as embodied by the Great Belt & Road Project will also inevitably change military dominance, (as China is building its third aircraft carrier and launched its 29thType 054A frigate in January).

Without repeating the articles by Pepe Escobar on bigger geopolitical and economic picture on the New Silks Roads (here and here), I will concentrate on some the ‘cogs’ that will underpin the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI started with a large-scale international economic forum was held in Beijing in May 2017. More than 100 countries, many heads of states attended, including President Putin. The forum kicked off a whole series of projects world-wide, with long lasting & far-reaching socio-economic impacts.

Similarly, the newly created Yuan petrodollar could create a seismic shift by eventually pushing out the US dollar monopoly and eventually lead to the demise of the status quo of the US dollar as a global reserve currency. The US dollar is the weak link in Washington’s US unipolar vision of the world, as well as focus of military power. De-dollarization has been underway for a while in order to create an alternative economic order.

Part of the change in trade routes, primarily driven by China, is the development of rail networks for containerised trade as well as planned High Speed rail trade routes (as mentioned in Pepe Escobar’s article) connecting China to Europe, through a combination of several intermediary countries, including central Asia. These networks are known as:

  1. East-West international transport corridor
  2. The North-South international transport corridor
  3. Middle Corridor (EU- China, circumventing Russia with banned products).

The new Silk route on rails

Of course, the US is acutely aware of this and it is doing everything that it possibly can to throw a few “spanners in the works” in some of the Middle East and central Asia segments. This can be seen as part of a long-standing geopolitical tussle, as outlined in Sir Halford Mackendrie’s ‘Heartlands Theory’, for ultimate control of the Asia-Europe trade corridors.

The key railway projects

The new ‘silk route’ takes mostly high-tech and consumer goods to Europe, replacing the long-gone original silk routes that thrived up the 15th century. As such, rail has become more competitive in speed and cost in the last of couple of years. This trade is offset by the huge trade imbalance resulting in empty containers transhipped back to China.

Just to think of the implications of a more efficient rail infrastructure, when you consider that the average freight journey has already been shortened by 20 days to 12 days. Yet, freight by rail is subsidised both by China and the EU, (mostly on railway infrastructure and operations). It can be argued although rail freight is very small compared to shipping, smaller than air freight, where it represents the smallest percentage, but shows the fastest growth for any of the sector.

When you think that 8 years ago, there were hardly any freight train service from China to Europe, now more than 35 Chinese cities are connected to around 34 European cities, on 57 different routes, with a total of 6,200 trains in 2017 alone. These statistics are significantly increasing month by month. Some of these freight services don’t go through Russia, but a majority do.

Some of the train routes are more symbolic in nature, (such as the first China-Teheran route in 2016), but it does pave the way for further development of rail freight, within Europe and in central Asia. Other routes have become more commercially viable & trains run more frequently in the last year.

Germany is onboard and a key BRI player, with around 400 trains travelled between Germany & China in 2015, (acting both a terminal and a feeder hub for other countries). A twofold increase of 100,000 containers is projected by 2020. To cite one example: 12 trains left Zhengzhou to Hamburg every week in 2017. Many European states have expressed interest in participating in BRI linked projects or are exploring new trade ventures based on the momentum of the BRI. Similar rail connections are planned in Scandinavia, but several are currently subject to a deal of soul-searching and dithering over security and safety due to the nearby Russian border.

“Last year, the volume of container freight rail traffic on the Central European route to Asia was about 350,000 TEU and the forecast for 2020 is already 1 million TEU.” Let’s look at the figures in another way, by comparing the above TEU forecast with one mega containership of around 18000 TEUs. A lot less shipping transits will be needed if this forecast is achieved.

 

Cargo traffic can vary from block trains to trains with “less-than-container-load” (LCL) shipments. Block trains are those where one producer hires all of the cargo wagons.

 

 

ROUTE (via) DISTANCE DURATION
Northern route: Russia 13,000 km 14-16 days
Southern route Russia & Kazakhstan 10,000 km 10-12 days
By sea – Suez Canal transit 30 – 45 days

 

The Russian link

The geopolitical implications of the BRI for Russia are huge. The development of coastal & inland transport infrastructure is growing, with 11 major projects started by Russia alone in the first year, as part of the Eurasian Economic Union package of initiatives. Several of these were mentioned in President Putin’s March speech. These projects involve:

  • construction of new and modernization of existing roads,
  • creation of intermodal hub centres,
  • development of key transport networks such as new rail lines.

Nearly all of these projects fall under the scope of the BRI.

One of the themes mentioned by President Putin in his 4th March speech, was the inadequate railway capacity, especially in the Asian part of Russia. Most people reading or listening to this part probably didn’t notice the significance of this or simply got bamboozled by the videos on hypersonic cutting-edge missiles and nuclear-powered torpedoes.

There are dozens of Russian projects to improve the West-East-West lines and inter connectivity between major port hubs and Asian ports. Similarly, Russia is participating in joint venture with China to upgrade and add in the necessary hard infrastructure. In other words, a lot of investment, dialogue, finance and political will. To this end, Russia implemented a National Railway Development Strategy, as the cornerstone for numerous projects. Most of these are focused along the Trans-Siberian & BAM, with the aim of improving flow of cargo traffic. Here is a selection of the projects:

  • Amur bridge project (Russian-Chinese border) to reduce the line by 700km;
  • Construction of rail bypasses through major cities;
  • The additional of a second rail track in various localities;
  • Salekhard-Nadym Railway

 

There are also major projects being developed or proposed to add to the overall rail capacity, one such project is the Belkomur Railway (Arkhangelsk-Syktyvkar-Solikamsk – Perm Line, to improve the efficiency from White Sea deep-water ports, (which will be another future article) and the Urals industrial heartland. This will provide an alternative transport that shortens the distances between the Urals and the Barents & While Sea areas of Russia by up to 800 km.

 

Another large-scale initiative is the Northern-Latitudinal-Passage, also in the Arctic, to ultimately connect Arkhangelsk to Surgut by rail, including the Sabetta line, (Yamal LNG project as mentioned in the first article), thus opening up gas & oil shipments to either Europe or Asia. It will also connect two other Arctic railway lines, the Northern Line from Arkhangelsk and the line between Nadym and Tyumen.

The validity & implementation of these projects are highly dependent on getting the necessary funding.

Deeper inland hubs

None of these upgrades or new building projects would work effectively, if there isn’t work in parallel on upgrading inland intermodal container hubs and the development of LNG – oil hubs too. One example is Kleshchiha, which is a railhead logistics complex in the city of Novosibirsk. It is an import/export hub for containers between China/ Busan, South Korea & various parts of Russia. The overall terminal capacity will be increased from 116,000 to 242,400 TEUs. Handling capacity will be doubled, from 42 to 83 wagons.

Another planned intermodal project, located in Republic of Tatarstan, at a convenient intersection between the North-South and East-West transport corridors. The Svijazhsky Multimodal Logistic Centre will facilitate cargo traffic between direct rail route, road, and river transport in the region. Moving eastwards, there is the planned Terminal Logistics Centre “Primorsky” at Ussuriysk. By joining the BRI initiated dots, Russian transport links will enhance trade and also potentially the livelihoods of those living and working across vast remote locations.

Summary

Although China-Europe rail freight may have a negative impact on air cargo, it will not significantly change for the foreseeable time the huge amounts of containers (TEUs) shifted by containerships. Some of sea-freight and a lot of airfreight might end on rail lines, depending on the location of the production of goods. Having said that, rail does offer a faster option than sea freight, an option that simply didn’t exist before 2010. Significantly, the rail option also usefully by-passes maritime chokepoints such as the Malacca Strait, Bab el Mandeb and the Suez Canal.

Rail freight offers a compromise between light/fragile air cargo, (expensive) and the slow cargo route of heavier cargo by sea, (cheapest), as such it is especially attractive to the electronics and automotive manufacturers, (still giving them an average time saving of 2 weeks).

China is making moves to shift some industrial sectors further inland from the coastal industrial hubs which will help employment, mitigate the urban overpopulation & chronic pollution hotspots. These production centres link into the road & rail transhipment hubs, which will serve to strengthen the viability of the international transport corridors.

On the diplomatic front, the development of transcontinental freight corridors, (rail & road) is a win-win situation for China, (echoing Escobar’s article) as it permits countries to work together on transport & economic integration. Importantly, China as both an economic powerhouse & a land power on the Eurasian landmass, recognises Russia as a natural power.

Certainly, the new Silk Road has the potential to bring Siberia out from the geo-economical cold metaphorically speaking. This all leaves the US out in cold instead.

 

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