All roads lead to Rome for Xi

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March 25, 2019

All roads lead to Rome for Xi

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

All (silk) roads do lead to Rome, as this Saturday Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will sign a memorandum to adhere to the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Afterward, Xi becomes a magnanimous version of The Sicilian, visiting the port of Palermo, with Beijing intent on investing in local infrastructure.

Atlanticist hysteria has been raging wildly – with the simplistic narrative focused on the fact that Italy is a G7 member, at the heart of the Mediterranean “mare nostrum”, and crammed with NATO bases. Thus, it cannot “sell out” to China.

Conte and diplomats in Rome have confirmed that this is strictly about economic cooperation, and signing a memorandum is non-binding. Italy has, in fact, been informally aligned with the Belt and Road scheme since 2015 when it became one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which finances scores of BRI projects.

EU members Greece, Portugal and Malta have also signed BRI agreements. Berlin and Paris have not – at least not yet. Same with London, but post-Brexit that will inevitably happen as trade with China will become even more important for the UK.

Here, in English and Italian, is the draft text of the memorandum, although the final version may be slightly more diluted to appease the Eurocrats at the European Commission (EC), which last week defined China as a “systemic rival”.

Milan’s Corriere Della Sera published a comprehensive op-ed signed by Xi Jinping himself, even quoting legendary writer Alberto Moravia. Xi stresses the “strategic trustworthiness” between China and Italy and vows to “build a new stage of Belt and Road in aspects of the sea, the land, aviation, space and culture”. So, yes, this is not only about geoeconomics, but crucially also about the projection of geopolitical soft power.

Hoping to emulate Singapore

I have already explained how Marco Polo is back in China, again, and how the EU is struggling to position itself in a common front when dealing with its top trade partner. The ongoing geoeconomic game is essentially about the Maritime Silk Road – with  Italy positioning itself as BRI’s privileged southern European terminal.

The port of Venice is already being upgraded for a possible role as a BRI terminal. Now, the possibility opens for Genoa and the northern Adriatic ports of Trieste and Ravenna to be developed by COSCO and China Communications Construction. Conte himself has already singled out, on the record, Genoa and Trieste as “terminals for the New Silk Roads”.

COSCO is on a roll. It has operated the port of Piraeus in Greece since 2008 and holds 35% of Rotterdam and 20% of Antwerp. And it plans to build a terminal in Hamburg. In the Battle of the Super-Ports, as I defined it, between northern and southern Europe, Cosco is betting on both sides.

Zeno D’Agostino, president of the Trieste port authority, even dreams of becoming the new Singapore, profiting from Chinese investment, while not renouncing to manage its new status – as happened with Piraeus. He has perfectly understood how, for the Chinese, Trieste is “the perfect gateway to Europe.”

Palermo is an even more interesting story. It happens to be the hometown of both Italian President Sergio Mattarella and, more significantly, Michele Geraci, the undersecretary of state for economic development. Geraci was a finance professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou from 2009 to 2018. A Sinophile fluent in Mandarin, he has been Rome’s point man negotiating with Beijing.

China directly investing in the Sicilian economy is a huge deal, totally in tune with Italian national interest in terms of expanding the role of a strategic bridge between southern Europe and northern Africa.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, left, is seen with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in this photo from late last year in Brussels. Photo: AFP / Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu

On the hypersensitive telecom front, it’s certain that every direct reference to data sharing, 5G and strategic infrastructure will not be part of the Italy-China BRI memorandum.

That won’t alter the fact that both Huawei and ZTE have been experimenting for years now on installing 5G in Italy. Huawei already sponsors two “smart and safe cities” research centers in Italy. And the recent opinion piece by one of Huawei’s rotating chairmen has made a huge splash not only in Italy but across the EU; Guo Ping argues that the reason for the current demonization campaign is that Huawei equipment blocks all back-doors available for spying by the US National Security Agency.

All aboard the BRI train

Moving on, when Xi visits France early next week, his focus will be totally different. The Paris establishment has not made up its mind yet on how deep to relate with BRI. Inside the EU, France is the top power in terms of constraining Chinese investment. So Xi’s strategy when meeting President Macron will rely on stressing cooperation on climate, global governance and peacekeeping operations.

According to media reports, Macron has also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to join the meeting.

Beijing is very much aware that France chairs the G7 this year and is the crucial co-actor along with Germany in shaping EU policies, especially after the crucial European elections in May that may translate into a huge success for far right, anti-Brussels parties.

Beijing is also focused on guaranteeing a smooth China-EU summit in Brussels on April 9, which will make things much easier for the 16+1 summit of China plus Eastern and Central Europe nations in Croatia on April 12. The inescapable fact is that the 16+1 – the majority of whom are part of the EU – as well as Greece, Portugal, Malta and now Italy are all on board of BRI.

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EU dilemma: how to deal with China

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EU dilemma: how to deal with China

March 19, 2019

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

Facing China’s irresistible rise all across the chessboard, and under relentless US pressure, the not exactly democratic EU leadership is on a backbreaking exercise to position itself between a geopolitical/geoeconomic rock and a hard place.

The 28-member EU holds a crucial meeting next week in Brussels where it may adopt a 10-point action plan detailing, in a thesis, the terms of an equitable economic relationship with China going forward.

This will happen as Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Italy and then France – ahead of the very important, annual China-EU summit in Brussels on April 9, to be co-chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

That’s the crucial context under which the European Commission (EC) has recommended what it describes as 10 concrete “actions” to the EU Heads of State for their debate at the European Council in March 21 and 22.

The full report, EU-China – A Strategic Outlook, is here.

The EC shows how in 2017 – the latest available figures – the EU was “China’s largest partner with a share of 13% of imports of goods in China and a share of 16% of exports of goods from China.” At the same time, the EC stresses that China is an “economic competitor” and “a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”

Yet the EC’s “contribution” to the European Council debate next week is far from confrontational. It is a balancing act couched in Eurocratic terminology attempting to shape common “resolve” among the 28 member-states.

Predictable real problem

Coming from the EC/EU, support for “effective multilateralism with the United Nations at its core” is the norm – with China fully integrated.

Beijing is praised for its support for the Iran nuclear deal, its role in the denuclearization of North Korea, its upcoming role in the peace process in Afghanistan and tackling the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. The real problem, predictably, is China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Virtually no one apart from Brussels Eurocrats knows about the existence of an “EU Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia.”  That’s one of those joint communiqués that no one reads, issued late last year, “enabling the Union to seek synergies between the EU and third countries, including China, in transport, energy and digital connectivity, on the basis of international norms and standards.”

Curiously, in the EC report, there’s no mention whatsoever of the New Silk Road, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which happens to be China’s synergy masterplan for the whole of Eurasia. We could define it as Globalization 3.0.

On the other hand, Made in China 2025 is duly referenced – and not demonized, Trump administration-style.

From the EU perspective, the key problem remains “lack of reciprocal market access.” The EU wants greater access for European companies, less Chinese subsidies for Chinese companies and curtailment of technology transfer from European firms to their state-owned joint venture partners in China.

All this should be part of a deal on investment rules to be clinched by 2020.

Action 9 in the EC report is quite revealing: “To safeguard against potential serious security implications for critical digital infrastructure, a common EU approach to the security of 5G networks is needed.” To deal with it, the EC will issue – what else – another “recommendation.”

A hefty degree of Eurocratic puzzlement seems to be in the cards; one cannot disassociate BRI from Made in China, 5G and Huawei technology; it’s all part of the same package. Yet the EU is under heavy pressure from Washington to ban Huawei and forget about joining BRI, even as nearly 20 EU member-states are already linked or interested in linking to BRI, and a majority are also interested in Chinese 5G technology.

Brussels diplomats confirmed to Asia Times that the EC report was basically authored by Berlin and Paris. And yes, they had to deal with heavy Washington pressure.

The report harbors a subtle, inbuilt element of “Chinese threat” – perhaps not as overtly as in a Pentagon report. This stance is how the Franco-German alliance believes it may influence “recalcitrants” such as the 16+1 group of Central and Eastern European nations doing business with China, as well as soon to be BRI-linked Italy.

Yet that’s already a done deal – as I detailed in the case of Italy.

‘Existential threat’

Beijing is accomplishing, little by little, something that is unbearable for the Beltway; extending its influence not only inside the EU but inside the NATO space.

The US Deep State may have lumped BRI – along with Made in China 2025 and Huawei’s 5G – as part of an “existential threat”; but that’s not the case for most EU latitudes, from Greece and Portugal to German industrialists and the new Lega/Five Stars administration in Rome.

Brussels very well knows that Washington will punish any “ally” who gets too close to Beijing. It’s never enough to be reminded that the list of economic “threats” to the US features, in that order, China, Russia and Germany. And Italy is now caught in the crossfire – because it is committed to good economic relations with both China and Russia.

Rome has already sent a clear message to Brussels; beyond any EU common “resolve” facing China, what matters is the Italian national economic interest in, for instance, linking the ports of Venice, Trieste and Genoa to the New Silk Road. Alarmed Atlanticists are essentially warning that Italians cannot cross a red line; they need to ask permission to act independently. That’s not going to happen – whatever the EC decides to “recommend.”

Marco Polo is back in China – again

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March 10, 2019

Marco Polo is back in China – again

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

Embattled Chinese technology giant Huawei is on a new commercial offensive in New Zealand, one that playfully conflates the nation’s passion for rugby with telecommunications infrastructure.

“5G without Huawei is like rugby without New Zealand,” one billboard said. Another reads: “New Zealanders wouldn’t accept second or third best on the rugby field, and they shouldn’t have to put up with it when it comes to 5G.”

Last November, New Zealand blocked the use of Huawei equipment and supplies in the roll out its new generation 5G network over national security concerns, one of the first indications that Wellington is taking a harder look at its largest trading partner.

The company is not banned outright in New Zealand, but is under a temporary ban via its local partner Spark, which has been prohibited from deploying Huawei’s technology over spying concerns shared by New Zealand’s “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing partners, namely the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said last year that it had “established links between the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and a global campaign of cyber-enabled commercial intellectual property theft.”

“This long-running campaign targeted the intellectual property and commercial data of a number of global managed service providers, some operating in New Zealand,” Andrew Hampton, director general of the GCSB, said.

A Huawei advertising billboard in New Zealand. Photo: Huawei website screen grab

Concerns over Huawei’s alleged links to China’s ruling Communist Party are now global, but New Zealand’s stance on China is fast shifting, with Huawei’s ban just the latest in a growing list of concerns that have caused ripples in previously calm and mostly trade-centric relations.

Last month, headlines on both sides of The Ditch — the sea that separates Australia and New Zealand – were made after allegations surfaced that a New Zealand academic had been harassed by presumed Chinese agents.

New Zealand scholar and China expert Anne-Marie Brady recently alleged that her office at the University of Canterbury and then her personal residence were broken into by persons acting on behalf of the Chinese government.

Earlier, Chinese officials had appealed to her university as well as New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stop funding her research, some of which has probed China’s military activities, including revelations that Beijing is building bases on territory that Australia claims in Antarctica. Brady was also the first to reveal that a sitting member of New Zealand’s parliament previously served as a Chinese security agent.

New Zealand’s newfound and rising China concerns are starting to mirror Australia’s. Canberra’s fears have centered on Beijing’s perceived interference in its domestic politics, resulting in new laws that without overtly naming China aim to curb its political influence.

Brady has testified to Australia’s parliament, which was recorded in the official Hansard ledger. Australian journalist Peter Hartcher noted last month that New Zealand had not done the same, though it has since faced strong pressure to do so, including via a 150-strong petition from academics.

Andrew Hastie, chair of the Australian parliament’s security and intelligence committee and noted China hawk, told the reporter that “it appears that she’s a target of interest for the Chinese Communist Party or apparatchiks of the Chinese state as a way of silencing her and intimidating her.”

“It’s very clear that my country’s government wants this story to go away. The Chinese Ministry of State Security operates in our societies unhindered and our governments just watch. It’s happening in Australia, too,” Brady told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

The shells of the Sydney Opera House are seen through a Chinese flag. Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood
The shells of the Sydney Opera House are seen through a Chinese flag. Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood

As the controversy spirals, Wellington is now waking to the issue. China’s targeting of Australia-based people of interest has until now been more overt.

In 2017, Chinese academic Chongyi Feng was detained in China and not allowed to board a flight to Australia, where he teaches at the University of Technology Sydney. Feng holds permanent residency in Australia but is not a citizen, meaning Canberra was limited in what it could do.

Unrelated but threatening moves have worried politicians, journalists and academics in Australia, with allegations and instances of spying, bribery, political donations, academic interference and pro-Beijing propaganda placements in Chinese language Australian newspapers.

While some claims have bordered on hysteria, others have been proved and grounded in fact. To be sure, New Zealand’s view of China has not been as tortured as in Australia, which has relied on Chinese demand and investment to keep its recession-proof economy afloat even as it balances ties with its close ally the US.

But China is also New Zealand’s largest trade partner. New Zealand’s exports of all goods and services to China were worth NZ$16.6 billion (US$11.8 billion) for the year ended September 2018, $2.6 billion (US$1.8 billion) more than Australia and almost double New Zealand’s sales to the US, a government website says.

New Zealand is not confronted with the same trade-versus-security dilemma as Australia, but recent Chinese moves in its backyard have clearly made Wellington uncomfortable. It’s view of China as a “strategic partner” is also changing, as Beijing increasingly challenges the “rules-based order” in global affairs New Zealand holds dear.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s left-leaning Labour government has started to raise those concerns, analysts note. Those were seen in a Strategic Defense Policy statement issued last year, the first by New Zealand to raise Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

“[New Zealand] is navigating a more complex world” and will “face challenges not previously seen in our neighborhood… [its] security outlook may be shaped most powerfully by a combination of forces putting pressure on the international rules-based order which will play out in newly potent ways close to home.”

New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern speaks to the press in Wellington on October 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Charlotte Greenfield
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in an October 19, 2017, file photo. Photo: Reuters / Charlotte Greenfield

China “seeks to restore claimed historical levels of influence … [and] some actions in pursuit of these aims challenge the existing order.” “It has expanded its military and coast guard presence in disputed areas of maritime Asia. It has determined not to engage with an international tribunal ruling on the status of sovereignty claims,” the paper said.

In July, New Zealand announced it would spend NZ$2.35 billion (US$1.67 billion) on four Boeing P-8A Poseidon submarine-hunting maritime patrol aircraft that would offer more interoperability with the US and Australia in naval exercises.

Winston Peters, acting foreign minister with the minority New Zealand First party, traveled to Washington last December to seek US support and help in the Pacific, New Zealand’s backyard and a part of the world that feels significantly less safe for a small but independent nation than it did even two years ago.

“New Zealand is a small but well-functioning democracy located at the bottom of the world,” he said in an address. “While New Zealand and the United States work together on a range of global issues, our cooperation and like-mindedness is now coming into sharper relief in the Asia Pacific where the region is becoming more contested and its security is ever more fragile.”

In recent months, analysts and academics have noticed a perceptible shift away from China. “I can’t recall in recent years a more substantial and consolidated New Zealand official view of the behaviors that China is exhibiting in the South China Sea,” professor Robert Ayson of Victoria University told Asia Times.

“Jacinda Ardern’s coalition government has brought with it generally higher levels of concern about some of China’s goals and actions in the wider Asia-Pacific region and an increased willingness to put these concerns on the public record.”

“China’s more worrying behavior and the arrival of a more concerned government has meant that those parts of New Zealand’s official community which have been concerned about China have had a more receptive audience in Cabinet for their views.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) welcomes New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters at the Department of State in Washington DC on December 17, 2018. Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

“It’s no coincidence that these stronger indications of skepticism and concern about China have come when Winston Peters is foreign minister and his [New Zealand] First colleague Ron Mark is Defense Minister,” he said via email, pointing out the minority leader’s nationalist and more traditional realist credentials compared with the left-leaning and inclusive Ardern.

But Ardern may also take a more traditional view that China can still be a part of rules-based-order, including in regard to climate change mitigation efforts. The basis for that is a “comprehensive strategic partnership” signed under former prime minister John Key and President Xi Jinping.

David Capie, a professor at the University of Wellington, told Asia Times that “those actions [of China’s] threaten New Zealand’s interests, so it’s not surprising that there would be a shift in policy. I’m sure it is a welcomed by our closest partners, but this is a New Zealand decision.”

There is speculation that Wellington has been pushed into a harder line vis-à-vis Beijing by both Canberra and Washington and that the Labour government — despite being far more left-leaning than the previous center-right Key government — was correcting a perceived laxity on China by its predecessors.

“It sometimes takes the election of a new government for officials to be able to take a look at policy settings and to work out if they need adjusting,” Capie said. “I think that’s what’s happened to New Zealand.”

Still, Wellington must keep intact its crucial economic ties with China, even as it changes the way it looks at Beijing’s place in the world and region. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with Ardern on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in November, where the two leaders discussed upgrading their ten-year-old free trade agreement (FTA), according to Chinese media.

Chinese tourists taking pictures in New Zealand. Photo: Facebook

New Zealand has also signed on to the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact. At the same time, domestic anti-China tensions have flared with Chinese buyers often blamed for inflating property prices. That backlash has recently motivated foreign property ownership law changes.

Adding to the economic drama, a plane bound for Shanghai to promote China-New Zealand tourism under the “Land of the Long White Cloud” promotion campaign was recently inexplicably turned back. The campaign aims to lure more Chinese to New Zealand, especially to lesser visited areas.

Much of New Zealand’s trade with China centers on dairy and agricultural exports, with the Chinese keen for goods and foods they see as clean, safe and high-quality. New Zealand has been using that clean image as a drawcard for tourism promotions. One entrepreneur even started selling bottled New Zealand air to China, with each bottle enough for 180 breaths.

“I wouldn’t overstate the shift that’s taken place. The government has expressed a desire to keep working with China and sees it as an especially important partner on issues like climate change and trade,” Capie said.

But the harassment of New Zealand nationals who reveal China’s hidden moves in the region and a block on Huawei’s involvement in its telecom infrastructure development shows the relationship is shifting from what was once a friendly, warm and trusted place.

This Map Shows a Trillion-Dollar Reason Why US is Backing Terrorism in Western China

February 26, 2019 (Tony Cartalucci – NEO) – As part of a larger, concerted effort to encircle and contain China, an ongoing disinformation campaign has been waged by the Western media against Beijing’s massive global infrastructure building spree known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A recent and particularly appalling example of this comes from a Business Insider article titled, “This map shows a trillion-dollar reason why China is oppressing more than a million Muslims.”

The article has been widely circulated by the Western-funded fronts cited in the article itself, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) whose executive director – Kenneth Roth – would claim in a social media post:

China’s mass detention of Uighur Muslims is driven [not] only by Islamophobia but also by the centrality of their Xinjiang region to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Claims that Chinese policy is “driven by Islamophobia” are particularly absurd. China’s closest ally and partner in the region is Pakistan – an undoubtedly Muslim-majority nation. Roth never explains why the BRI’s “centrality” would drive “mass detentions” in Xinjiang when Chinese infrastructure projects elsewhere – both within China and abroad – including across Muslim-majority Pakistan – do not feature nor necessitate such “detentions.” 

 


Something is clearly missing from the Business Insider’s, Human Rights Watch’s, and the rest of the Western media’s Xinjiang narrative.The Business Insider article claims:

Beijing has been cracking down on Uighur life in on Xinjiang. Officials say its repression is a necessary counter-terror operation, but experts say it’s actually to protect their BRI projects.

These “experts” never explain why Beijing officials would feel the need to “protect their BRI projects.” Nor do they explain from whom they need protection. The obvious explanation is in fact that – as Beijing has stated – Xinjiang faces a significant terrorist threat.

A minority among Xinjiang’s Uyghur population has undoubtedly been radicalized and has carried out scores of high-profile terrorist attacks across not only Xinjiang, but across all of China in recent years.

A Reuters article published by Business Insider in 2014 titled, “Knife-Wielding Attackers In Chinese Train Station Leave 27 Dead, 109 Injured,” details just one of many attacks carried out by Uyghur extremists.

2015 Reuters article also published by Business Insider confirms that the attackers were in fact Uyghur terrorists. The train station located in Kunming is over 2,000 miles from the Xinjiang region – illustrating the reach of the terrorist threat Beijing is dealing with.

Despite these previous – well-known admissions – published by Business Insider itself – the media platform as well as many others, alongside fronts like HRW unashamedly feign ignorance over China’s very real security concerns in Xijiang today.

Western Propaganda Inverts Reality  

The Business Insider article claims:

China’s government has for years blamed the Uighurs for a terror, and say they saying the group is importing Islamic extremism in Central Asia.

But there’s another reason why Beijing wants to clamp down on Uighurs in Xinjiang: The region is home to some of the most important elements of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s flagship trade project.

Here – Business Insider deliberately inverts cause and effect – claiming China is cracking down on Uyghurs simply because vital segments of its BRI project pass through Xinjiang – instead of cracking down because of very real terrorism threatening an obviously essential economic corridor.

And as Business Insider’s own map reveals, China’s BRI passes through many other regions inside China and beyond – including regions dominated by Muslim communities absent of similar tensions.


Uyghur Terrorism is Real 

It is clear that Business Insider, HRW, and others are deliberately mischaracterizing China’s policies in Xinjiang and misrepresenting the root cause of Uyghur extremism. But even the article itself admits a very real security threat, stating:

China has accused militant Uighurs of being terrorists and inciting violence across the country since at least the early 2000s, as many Uighur separatists left China for places like Afghanistan and Syria to become fighters.

US State Department-funded and directed Voice of America (VOA) in an article titled, “Analysts: Uighur Jihadis in Syria Could Pose Threat,” would admit (emphasis added):

Analysts are warning that the jihadi group Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) in northwestern Syria could pose a danger to Syria’s volatile Idlib province, where efforts continue to keep a fragile Turkey-Russia-brokered cease-fire between Syrian regime forces and the various rebel groups. 

The TIP declared an Islamic emirate in Idlib in late November and has largely remained off the radar of authorities and the media thanks to its low profile. Founded in 2008 in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, the TIP has been one of the major extremist groups in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in the country in 2011. 

The TIP is primarily made up of Uighur Muslims from China, but in recent years it also has included other jihadi fighters within its ranks.

The article also admits that up to 3,000 militants may have fought for TIP in Syria and warned of the possibility that these militants might transfer their fighting skills back to China.

Such admissions – even from official US state media operations – help expose the current disinformation campaign targeting Beijing for supposed “repression,” and means that Western special interests – including the US government itself – are at the very least undermining China’s legitimate counter-terrorism efforts.

US is Intentionally Fomenting Violence in Xinjiang to Disrupt the BRI

But clues even in Business Insider’s own article reveal US support for undermining Chinese internal security goes far beyond mere disinformation.

Among the “experts” Business Insider cites includes Rushan Abbas described by the article as a “Uyghur activist in Virginia.”

What the article intentionally omits is that Abbas is actually a long-time employee and contractor of the US government – admitting in her own biography posted by a Washington DC-based consulting firm she works for, that:

[Rushan Abbas] has extensive experience working with U.S. government agencies, including Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Justice, and various U.S. intelligence agencies.

The biography also admits:

She was also employed at L-3, as a consultant at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom during 2002- 2003 and as a news reporter at Radio Free Asia. 

Ms. Abbas has also worked as a linguist and translator for several federal agencies including work for the US State Department in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and for President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush.

Her claims that family members were abducted due to her US-based “activism” fit into a pattern of fabricated human rights “outrages” used to paint targets of US coercion and aggression in the worst possible light.

Abbas is just one of many working out of Washington DC to support what is openly US-backed Uyghur separatism in Xinjiang.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – a US government-funded organization dedicated to political interference worldwide – has an entire page dedicated to “Xinjiang/East Turkistan” – East Turkistan being the state Uyghur extremists seek to carve out of territory recognized under international law as China.

Subversive organizations openly promoting separatism such as the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) also maintain offices in Washington DC and receive money and support directly from the US government.

Also a poorly guarded secret is the extensive amount of US arms, equipment, money, and other material support provided to terrorists waging war against the Syrian government – among which include Uyghur terrorists as admitted by VOA itself.

From Washington DC, to the battlefields of northern Syria, to Xinjiang itself – the US is openly cultivating a vast terrorist threat to pose as a significant roadblock to China’s BRI.

Is the public really meant to believe a state-sponsored terrorist threat aimed at crippling a multi-trillion dollar economic corridor is not reason enough for Beijing to launch an extensive counter-terrorism campaign? Not only is Washington fomenting terrorism in western China, it is attempting to cripple Beijing’s internal security operations in response to it – all by leveraging and abusing human rights advocacy and portraying the victim of US-sponsored terrorism as a culprit.

That all of this context was intentionally omitted from Business Insider as well as by Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch proves that the West is waging war against China and its economic expansion not only on the ground from Washington to Syria to Xinjiang, but all across information space as well.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazineNew Eastern Outlook”.

One country, two sessions, multiple tweaks

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One country, two sessions, multiple tweaks

March 07, 2019

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

Contrary to Western doom and gloom interpretations, China’s two sessions now taking place in Beijing offer a fascinating mix of realpolitik and soft power. Every year, the two sessions involve the National People’s Congress (NPC) – the legislative body – and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – the political advisory body – laying down the Chinese equivalent of the state of the union.

Premier Li Keqiang’s report acknowledged that Beijing foresees “graver and more complex” risks and “both predictable and unpredictable” challenges, with the conclusion that  China must be “prepared to fight tough battles” in 2019. It was undiluted realpolitik.

An economic growth target in the range of 6.0% to 6.5% is still massive in terms of the expansion of global capitalism – irrespective of the usual suspects carping on about China “stalling” or mired “in deep crisis.”

A deficit-to-GDP ratio set at 2.8% – slightly higher than the 2.6% last year – is not exactly a problem for such a huge economy.

What’s quite intriguing is how “Made in China 2025” – the full designation – simply vanished from the 2019 Government Work Report.

Yet the policy remains – transmuted in the report on the expansion of “smart plus.” By extending tax cuts for manufacturers and small-business taxpayers, Beijing will keep driving no holds barred toward what Li defined as “building up a powerful manufacturing country” – from industrial development to tech innovation.

Prosperity, Sun Tzu-style

The Sun Tzu tweak is that Beijing will tone down promoting the Made in China 2025 drive in public. Yes, the Chinese are learning soft-power techniques – fast.

Beijing’s top targets remain, well, on target; to lift 30 million rural residents from poverty and to double per capita income by next year from a decade earlier, thus arriving at the cherished status of “moderately prosperous society.” By any measure, this is a groundbreaking achievement of historic proportions.

It’s virtually impossible for the West to understand the intricacies of how decisions are made in China. First you consult – broadly, vertically and horizontally. Then you reach a – strategic – consensus. The results are firmly set in annual meetings such as the two sessions and in detailed five-year plans.

The New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are broadly planned all the way to 2049. We are still in the planning stage – implementation, officially, has not even started.

In parallel, geopolitical and geo-economic twists and turns are addressed by constant tweaks and tactical adjustments. That’s the “prepared to fight tough battles” emphasis on Li’s report.

And here lies the challenge posed by the Deng Xiaoping–conceived Chinese system to the mud wrestling of Western democracy. Terminology is irrelevant; call it “socialist democracy” with Chinese characteristics, what matters is if it works. For China.

Terminology actually matters – but only in a Chinese context. Take for instance dixian siwei – which can be loosely translated as grassroots thinking. You hold on to what you have, and rest on a solid foundation, and you stay “sober and strategically focused” when facing new challenges, in the words of President Xi Jinping, who has been using the concept widely. The concept is actually an upgrade of Deng’s “crossing the river while feeling the stones.”

From a Western point of view, what may be open to wide debate is the basis of the concept: “To fully adhere to the party’s political line.” Well, for better or for worse, there’s no other line in the market in terms of 21st-century China. Call it “keep calm and carry on” with Chinese characteristics.

‘Smart plus’ meets BRI

The very few informed China analysts with a Western background, such as Andy Rothman, are adamant: China won’t “collapse” any time soon. Rothman makes a pretty straightforward case: China has already structurally changed, a swift process that crystalized last year.

In a nutshell, economic growth is now driven by consumption, the economy is becoming less and less dependent on exports, and there’s no more pre-eminence of state investment.

And that leads us to the external vectors – and the role of BRI.

This is to a large extent a China goes West strategy. That’s how Beijing has conceptually framed this massive connectivity drive – increased connectivity across the Global South shields emerging markets everywhere from shocks provoked by what can only be construed as Western instability.

Minxin Pei, who now holds the chair in US-China relations at the Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, is among those accusing the BRI of sliding “into obscurity.”

Yet it’s not a question of “taking money away from Chinese pensioners to build a road to nowhere in a distant land,” as Pei wrote in the Nikkei Asian Review. It’s about BRI as the international partner of Made in China 2025.

And it’s about Beijing offering a unique path, for instance to Central Asian and Southeast Asian neighbors – the BRI as a framework for long-term sustainable development, and mixing industrial, agricultural and hybrid economic models.

And that explains why Beijing is becoming responsive to reconfiguring BRI projects in Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.

Once again, it’s dixian siwei on the move. It’s as if Team Xi have been listening, softly, to that famous closed-door speech in September last year by Deng Pufang, Deng Xiaoping’s son. He urged China to “know its place” and not be “overbearing.” That is now translating into “keep calm and carry a ‘smart plus’ strategy.”

Kashmir, Korea, Venezuela, Iran: hot, cold, hybrid war

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March 01, 2019

Kashmir, Korea, Venezuela, Iran: hot, cold, hybrid war

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

Turning and turning in a widening gyre, the geopolitics of the young  21st century resembles a psychedelic mandala conceived by Yama, the Lord of Death.

Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, fresh from a 70-hour train journey, meets in prosperous, communist Hanoi with fellow Nobel Peace Prize contender Donald Trump under the benevolent gaze of Uncle Ho.

This very sentence, if announced not long ago, would have elicited transcontinental howls of derision.

Chairman Kim, owner of a small nuclear arsenal, is deemed worthy of dialogue by the hyperpower while the nuclear-deprived leadership in Iran is not, even as the hyperpower ditched a multilateral, UN-approved, working nuclear deal.

In parallel, the hottest border in Asia reveals itself not to be the DMZ between the Koreas, but once again the Line of Control between nuclear powers India and Pakistan in Kashmir.

Although Islamabad and Delhi might, in theory, escalate to pointing nuclear missiles towards each other, the DPRK won’t point a nuclear-tipped missile at Guam and Tehran points to nothing at all, as it does not hold any nuclear missiles.

In a lighter, Looney Tunes vein, exit regime change in Pyongyang, while regime change in Iran stays, and enter regime change in Venezuela. Iran may still be placed in the Axis of Evil, but the new motto is the troika of tyranny (Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua) as the government in Caracas plays ‘Beep Beep’ to the hyperpower’s Wily Coyote.

An array of dodgy US neocons and shady “foundations” keep the flame of regime change in Iran alive, even fabricating a Tehran-al-Qaeda axis, while in Venezuela a stealth scenario advances. An astonishing briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Moscow this past Friday revealed that “US special forces and tech units will be delivered closer to Venezuela’s borders. We do have information that the US and its NATO partners are organizing for a mass delivery of weapons for the opposition in Venezuela, which will come from an Eastern European country.”

Facts are implacable. NATO, after nearly two decades, was miserably defeated in Afghanistan. The NATO-Gulf Cooperation Council war by proxy in Syria failed. The winners are Damascus, Tehran and Moscow. The conflict in Donbass is frozen. So, a remixed Monroe doctrine is back, even as a humanitarian ploy – reminiscent of the “humanitarian imperialism” that led to the destruction of Libya – may have failed, for now.

Brazilian Vice-President General Hamilton Mourao has introduced a dose of sanity going against the “all options on the table” regime change of his own President, Jair Bolsonaro. Mourao constantly insists “the Venezuela question must be decided by Venezuelans”, adding that US threats sound “more like rhetoric than action” as a military attack would be “purposeless”.

Watch that K

What’s in a name? Pakistan may indeed mean “land of the pure” in Urdu, but the key is in the acronym; K stands for Kashmir – alongside P for Punjab, A for Afghania (actually the Pashtun tribal areas), S for Sindh and T for the “tan” in Balochistan. K is a matter of national identity.

The first Indo-Pak war after Partition in 1947 was over Kashmir. In the following year, Kashmir was divided by the Line of Control (LoC), which remains the de facto Berlin Wall of Asia, way more dangerous than the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the Koreas. Another mini-war across the LoC took place in 1999.

Kashmir is a crucial geostrategic prize. Assuming India would ever own it all, that would represent a direct bridge to Central Asia and a border with Afghanistan while depriving Pakistan of a border with China, thus nullifying to a great extent the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), one of the key projects of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

If Pakistan ever owned it all, that would solve the country’s worries about water security. The Indus River starts in the Himalayas, in Tibet, and skirts through Indian-controlled Kashmir before entering Pakistan and running all the way down to the Arabian Sea. The Indus and its tributaries provide water to two-thirds of Pakistan. New Delhi has just threatened to weaponize the flow of water to Pakistan.

There’s no end in sight to Kashmir being roiled over and over by skirmishes or even partial conflagration between jihadis – protected by Islamabad at different levels – and the Indian army. The Islamist Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) wants the whole of Kashmir annexed to a Pakistan governed by Sharia law.

JeM’s Kashmir obsession is also shared by their de facto allies Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Both are supported – with degrees of nuance – by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. Most of all, both are heavily supported, financially, by the Wahhabi House of Saud and the United Arab Emirates.

There’s no solution for Kashmir that does not involve cutting off Saudi proselytizing, financing and weaponizing – the toxic cocktail that nurtured Pakistan’s famous Kalashnikov culture. And there can be no solution when the House of Saud’s ability to have nuclear weapons “on order” from Islamabad remains the number-one open secret in South Asia.

Russia and China as voices of reason

Were this a sensible realm, oblivious of Yama, India and Pakistan would talk, like Prime Minister Imran Khan has just offered, within a framework such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which both are members, with Russia and China as mediators.

And that brings us to what happened in Yueqing, China, on Wednesday, totally under the Western radar; a de facto, ministerial-level meeting of the “RIC” in BRICS, uniting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Lavrov may have denounced “absolutely brazen attempts” to “artificially create a pretext for military intervention” in Venezuela. But the game-changer should have been what Russia, China and India discussed on Kashmir, which may eventually have a direct impact on both Islamabad and New Delhi attempting to defuse a still explosive scenario.

China and Russia’s coordinated positions were absolutely instrumental in facilitating North Korea’s dialogue with the Trump administration. Yet it’s still a long way away from South Korean President Moon’s dream: Trump officially declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean war, via a peace treaty replacing the current armistice with iron-clad security guarantees. After all, that is the number-one condition for the DPRK to start contemplating denuclearization.

China and Russia, in theory, also have what it takes to bring India and Pakistan to reason – plus the clout to put pressure on Saudi Arabia’s weaponized Wahhabism.

And yet, from Washington’s perspective, China and Russia are “threats” – from the National Security Strategy all the way down to functionaries such as Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the Northcom commander, who just told a Senate committee that Russia’s “intent to hold the US at risk” presents an urgent threat.

Some more equal than others

China, Russia and Iran are essential nodes of Eurasia integration, which interlock key vectors of the New Silk Roads, via Iran’s trade agreement with the Eurasia Economic Union and expansion of the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC). Considering the stakes, Lavrov and Yi could not but be stunned by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resigning from his post via Instagram.

Sources in Tehran maintained that the key reason for Zarif resigning was that he was not informed – and did not attend – an ultra high-level meeting in Tehran on Monday of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the IRGC’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and President Hassan Rouhani when they discussed strictly Syrian military matters, not diplomacy. Zarif may not have been in the room, but his number two, Abbas Araghchi, was.

In the end, Rouhani rejected Zarif’s resignation, stressing that it was against Iran’s national interests. And crucially, Soleimani said that Zarif had total support from Khamenei. Even as various factions of Iran’s hardliners may be fuming with both Zarif and Rouhani, characterizing them as fools who fell into an American trap, the last thing Tehran needs at the moment – under pressure by hybrid war – is internal division. In parallel, support from both Russia and China won’t waiver.

Washington may deploy variations of Hybrid War but most reflexes remain undiluted Cold War. The mechanism remains the same. A fortune in US taxpayers’ money is showered on the industrial-military complex, with defense contractors and major corporations paying back fabulous campaign contributions to the political class. That’s why someone like Tulsi Gabbard, who is anti-war – hot, cold and hybrid – and anti-regime change, will be smeared to Kingdom Come by the weapons lobby, and prevented from making a run for the presidency.

The Global South has learned that turning and turning in the widening gyre, some countries are indeed more equal than others. Even though some may be relentlessly blasted as terrorist enablers (Pakistan), and nuclear powers as a rule must be appeased (DPRK) and seduced (India as a plank of the “Indo-Pacific” strategy). Chairman Kim is now a “great leader” who can hand his nation a “tremendous future”.

Non-nuclear powers, especially those rich in natural resources and implementing strategies such as bypassing the US dollar, like Iran and Venezuela, face the fate of being regime change targets, slowly and painfully devoured by Yama, the Lord of Death.

US elites remain incapable of understanding China

Source

February 17, 2019

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)US elites remain incapable of understanding China

A new report on US policy toward China launched by the Asia Society in New York is another example of how supposedly bipartisan US intellectual elites, instead of offering impartial advice, do little more than parrot Washington’s talking points, failing to admit they know nothing of substance about the existential “threats” posed by Russia and China.

The report ‘Course Correction: Toward an Effective and Sustainable China Policy‘ was written in collaboration with the 21st Century Chinese Center at the University of California, San Diego. Orville Schell, one of the chairs of the Task Force Report, should be seen as one of the least biased among an uneven basket of self-declared US experts on China.

Still, he frames the report as trying to find a way between “confronting China” and “accommodating China.” That does not include “respecting” China – considering all the nation’s achievements 40 years after the reforms launched by Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping.

Then Schell admits his experts are left “wondering what’s going on in the upper reaches of the leadership in China.” That’s even more serious, implying no intel on the ground.

So we’re left with China-bashing. We learn of devious attacks against the “rules-based global order” – which is always not so subtly equated with the “interests and values of the United States;” China’s “mercantilist zero-sum policies;”and the “lavishly funded state-led effort to build China into a high-tech superpower” – as if no country in the Global South should be allowed to go high-tech.

On foreign policy, the report warns about “expansive claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea,” which is a de facto regurgitation of the Pentagon’s master narrative.

Earlier this week, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that US-China competition represents “two incompatible visions of the future”, and that China is the “greatest long-term strategic threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to the United States.”

What about BRI?

The full report is here. The Asia Society is promoting it as the most comprehensive analysis of the state of play between the US and China – the result of two years of work. Yet it walks and talks more like a summary of the frantically repetitive news cycle always focusing on China’s “hegemonic” designs on 5G, the suspicious, technology-stealing Made in China 2025, attacks on “freedom of navigation” and China’s insidious nationalism.

As if the Trump administration was not applying myriad forms of economic pressure – and not only on China – ranging from exercises of sovereignty to unabashed protectionism.

The report recommends applying more pressure and exercising more control to “correct” Chinese behavior. So, it’s easy to imagine how this condescending, exceptionalist-based attitude is totally dismissed by Beijing.

When one looks at the signatories of the report, it’s easy to see why.

Among them, there’s Winston Lord, a former US ambassador to China and former right-hand man to Henry Kissinger; Kurt Campbell, the man who invented the “pivot to Asia,” sold it to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who convinced President Obama about it; former trade negotiator and Clinton acolyte Charlene Barshevsky; and David Shambaugh from George Washington University, who used to be reliable but has recently veered toward a Sinophobic path.

Instead of “confronting” or “accommodating” China, what passes for the upper reaches of the US intellectual elite could do worse than trying to understand China. And that means understanding the scope of an actual policy; the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative.

BRI is the de facto foreign policy developed for a geoeconomic superpower all the way to 2049, based on trade, investment and internationalization of what is bound to become a major currency, the yuan.

Up to the end of last year, the China Development Bank, Exim Bank, the Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB) set up by the major emerging economies had invested at least $460 billion in myriad BRI projects.

BRI is already a global band. For all the 24/7 demonization, the absolute majority of BRI-related investments accrue China’s power projection, soft power included. That’s visible all across the Global South. Fine tunings, as in Malaysia or Sri Lanka, are inevitable. This is a massive work in progress – and it’s just beginning.

Until US elites understand what Belt and Road is all about, economically and geopolitically, expect think tank-concocted containment and accommodation strategies to flounder in irrelevance.

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