العراق ساحة المواجهة المقبلة ونصر الشام يرسم معادلات العالم الجديد

يناير 14, 2019

محمد صادق الحسيني

تتقدّم موسكو بخطوات ثابتة ودقيقة متعكزة على محور المقاومة بهدف الارتكاز على سواحل المتوسط والاستحمام في مياهه الدافئة في تحوّل استراتيجي مهمّ كانت ترنو إليه منذ قرون.

لا شك في أنّ قرار روسيا بالتدخل العسكري المباشر، في الدفاع عن الدولة الوطنية السورية والمحافظة على وحدة البلاد وسيادتها، لم يكن يهدف لا إلى حماية الرئيس الأسد لأجل ذاته، ولا طمعاً في خيرات سورية وثرواتها الطبيعية مهما كانت مغرية.

إذ إنّ روسيا العظمى، التي تبلغ مساحتها سبعة عشر مليون كيلو متر مربع، ليست بحاجة الى خيرات أحد، وهي التي تملك احتياطيات هائلة من كلّ المواد الخام اللازمة لها ولغيرها، ولا هي تقيم علاقاتها مع الدول على أساس مواقفها من هذا الرئيس أو ذاك.

فلقد اتخذ قرار التدخل انطلاقاً من هدفين استراتيجيين هما:

أولاً: التصدي لسياسة سيطرة القطب الواحد على العالم، التي تمارسها الولايات المتحدة، والتي أدّت الى نشر الفوضى والقتل والدمار في أنحاء العالم كله وليس في بلد واحد منه، الى جانب تجاهل الولايات المتحدة لنصوص القانون الدولي، التي تمنع أي دولة في العالم من التدخل في شؤون الدول الاخرى الا اذا طلبت منها الدولة المعنية ذلك التدخل، وهو ما حصل في الحالة السورية بين الدولة الوطنية السورية وكلّ من روسيا وإيران.

ثانياً: الدفاع عن أسوار موسكو والأمن القومي الروسي انطلاقاً من حماية المصالح الاستراتيجية للاتحاد الروسي على صعيد العالم كله، ومن ثم للدول التي تتعاون أو تتحالف معها، كالصين وإيران وسورية وغيرها من الدول العربية وغير العربية في العالم، وذلك من خلال تعزيز التمركز العسكري، وبالتالي الدبلوماسي والسياسي، الروسي في منطقتنا العربية والاسلامية بشكل عام وعلى سواحل شرق المتوسط بشكل خاص. أيّ تعزيز تمركزها العسكري في سورية كقاعدة ارتكاز استراتيجية، لعمل الاسطول الروسي في الخاصرة الجنوبية لحلف شمال الأطلسي، أي في البحر المتوسط، والذي يشكل مسرح عمليات للسفن الحربية التابعة لدول حلف الأطلسي، ومن بينها سفن الاسطول السادس الأميركي الذي تتمّ قيادته، الى جانب الوحدات البحرية لدول الحلف الأخرى، من القاعدة البحرية الأميركية في مدينة نابولي الإيطالية.

وبالنظر الى السياسات العدوانية للولايات المتحدة الأميركية، تجاه روسيا وحلفائها في الصين وإيران بشكل خاص، إضافة الى سورية طبعاً، فإن واشنطن تواصل العمل على ما يلي:

أولاً: استكمال الحشد العسكري، ذي الطبيعة الاستراتيجية، على حدود الصين الغربية وفِي بحار الصين والمحيط الهادئ، الى جانب مواصلة واشنطن حشد العديد والعتاد على حدود روسيا الغربية، بهدف تطويقها وتهديدها استراتيجياً. علماً أنّ هذه الحدود الغربية لروسيا تمتدّ من استونيا، شمال شرق بحر البلطيق وبالقرب من مدينة لينينغراد الروسية، عبر دول لاتفيا ولتوانيا وبولندا وسلوفاكيا ورومانيا وبلغاريا، وجميعها أعضاء في حلف شمال الأطلسي، الى تركيا التي تشارك بلغاريا ورومانيا وأوكرانيا وجورجيا في شواطئ البحر الأسود. وهي دول معادية لروسيا، حتى لو كان بعضها ليس عضواً في الأطلسي كجورجيا وأوكرانيا.

ثانياً: تنفيذ مشاريع سكك حديدية، تمتدّ من حيفا في فلسطين المحتلة وحتى عُمان، وذلك في إطار الاستعدادات الأميركية لاحتمال قيام إيران بإغلاق مضيق هرمز وقيام الجيش اليمني واللجان الشعبية بإغلاق مضيق باب المندب، ما يعني وقف الملاحة عبر قناة السويس، الأمر الذي يجعل البحث عن بديل لهذه الممرات البحرية أمراً ذا أهمية استراتيجية عالية. وهو ما دفع الولايات المتحدة للتفكير بمشروع السكك الحديدية، وطرحه للتداول عبر الشريك الإسرائيلي هنا تظهر أهمية المخلب الصهيوني الذي رمي أخيراً على سلطنة عُمان !

وفِي ضوء كلّ هذه التطورات المتسارعة، على الصعيدين «الإقليمي» والدولي، وعلى الرغم من تحسّن العلاقات الروسية التركية، والنمو المتسارع لعلاقاتهما الاقتصادية والتجارية، وحتى الأمنية والعسكرية، في حدود تنحصر في معالجة مشاكل إقليمية، تتعلق بالوضع السوري على وجه الخصوص، وفِي ضوء ان تركيا هي الدولة ذات السيادة على مضائق البوسفور والدردنيل، التي تربط البحر الأسود بالبحر الابيض المتوسط، وذلك بموجب اتفاقية مونتري Montreux بلده في سويسرا الموقعة بتاريخ 20/7/1936 بين الدول المعنية وهي تركيا واليونان ويوغوسلافيا والاتحاد السوفياتي ورومانيا وبلغاريا وإيطاليا وفرنسا وبريطانيا واليابان، نقول إنه وفِي ضوء إعطاء السيادة الكاملة على هذه المضائق لتركيا، ورغم وجود نظام محدد يحكم حركة الملاحة، بما فيها السفن العسكرية، في هذه المضائق، فلا بد لروسيا أن تفكر دائماً في بديل لإمداد أسطولها العامل في البحر المتوسط والذي يتم حالياً من قواعدها في البحر الأسود عبر المضائق المشار إليها اعلاه. كما أن عليها أن تتخذ الإجراءات اللازمة لضمان تدفق الإمدادات لقواتها الجوفضائية العاملة في سورية أيضاً، بخاصة أن تفاصيل تنظيم حركة السفن التجارية والحربية، للدول المشاطئة وغير المشاطئة للبحر الأسود، وعلى ارضية سيادة تركيا الكاملة على تلك المضائق، فإنّ تركيا تتمتع بهامش كبير جداً في التحكم بحركة وحرية العبور في فترات الحرب.

وعلى الرغم من استبعاد حصول أية حروب بين تركيا وروسيا في المدى المنظور، وعلى الرغم من العلاقات الأخرى المتنامية، إلا أنّ تأمين طريق إمداد بديل، للقوات الروسية في المتوسط وسورية، يبقى أمراً استراتيجياً هاماً جداً وذلك في ضوء أن يقوم طرف ثالث، في حالة وقوع نزاع دولي مسلح، بإغلاق تلك المضائق او تقييد حرية الملاحة فيهما وخاصة السفن الروسية.

من هنا، وفي ضوء التحركات العسكرية الأميركية المريبة، في العراق بشكل عام وفِي محافظة الأنبار بشكل خاص، ومواصلة البنتاغون محاولات إقامة قواعد ونقاط قيادة وسيطرة أميركية في المنطقة الممتدة من التنف السورية وحتى مدينة القائم العراقية، بهدف قطع التواصل الجغرافي البري بين موسكو ودمشق، أي قطع طريق الإمداد الروسي البديل هذا والمبيَّن اعلاه، فإن روسيا ومعها إيران وسورية وقوى المقاومه في العراق ولبنان لا يمكن لها أن تتخلى عن هذا التواصل البري وجاهزيتها لأن تمنع الجيش الأميركي من السيطرة على تلك المناطق حتى لو بالقوة العسكرية، وهي التي لن تتوانى عن الانتقال الى استخدام ذلك لهزيمة المحتل الأميركي وإجباره على الانسحاب منها. أي من شرق سورية وغرب العراق وذلك لإفشال مخططاته في ربط محافظات العراق الشمالية والتي يطلق عليها البعض «إقليم كردستان العراق»، مع «إسرائيل»، عبر الاْردن الذي يعجّ بالقواعد العسكرية الأميركية والأوروبية والمنفتح، تنسيقاً وتعاوناً مباشراً، على الكيان الصهيوني.

وخير دليل على ذلك ما يتمّ تسريبه عبر الدوائر الاستخبارية ووسائل الإعلام الاسرائيلية عن زيارة عدة وفود عراقية لفلسطين المحتلة في الآونة الأخيرة. بالاضافة الى القرار الذي أصدره وزير المالية الإسرائيلي، كحلون، يوم أمس ألغى فيه كون العراق دولة معادية وسمح بالتالي بسفر الإسرائيليين الى العراق وإقامة علاقات تجارية في هذا البلد!

وهو الأمر الذي سبق أن عمل على تحقيقه المدعو خالد سلام / أو محمد رشيد / الكردي الأصل، والذي كان عميلاً «إسرائيلياً» اعتقلته الجبهة الديمقراطية لتحرير فلسطين في بيروت سنة 1977، بهذه التهمة وسجنته في بئر في بلدة الدامور جنوب بيروت لمدة ثلاثة أشهر، ثم أفرج عنه في ظروف غامضة. الى أن أصبح يطلق على هذا الشخص لقب المستشار الاقتصادي للرئيس الفلسطيني ياسر عرفات حتى نهاية سنة 2003 عندما انقلب عليه، بناء على أوامر مشغّليه، وانتقل الى العمل في أربيل وقام بإنشاء العديد من الشركات بالتعاون مع مسعود برازاني وابنه وبتوجيه مباشر من الموساد «الإسرائيلي»!

وبالعودة إلى الأهمية الاستراتيجية لحماية التواصل البري الاستراتيجي بين موسكو ودمشق، فإننا نذكّر بقيام دول الحلفاء باحتلال إيران، خلال الحرب العالمية الثانية، لتأمين الإمدادات الحيوية لجيوش الاتحاد السوفياتي، عبر بحر قزوين ونهر الفولجا الروسي. تلك الجيوش التي كانت تقاتل ما مجموعه 67 من الجيوش الألمانية كاملة وعلى جبهة تمتدّ من ستالينغراد في الجنوب حتى لينينغراد في الشمال على بحر البلطيق .

وعلى أهمية هذا التواصل البري، من الناحية الاستراتيجية عسكرياً، إلا أن أهميته الاقتصادية والسياسية لا تقل في حجمها عن تلك العسكرية إطلاقاً.

اذ انّ هذا التواصل، وبالنظر الى تحسن العلاقات الاقتصاديه التركية الروسية ونظراً الى الإمكانيات الهائلة، من موارد طبيعية وثروة مالية وتكنولوجيا متقدمة وعدد سكان كبير، يصل الى حوالي 400 مليون مواطن، لكلّ من روسيا وتركيا وإيران، الى جانب إمكانيات العراق الكبيرة والسوق السوري الواعد، والذي سيسجّل أعلى نسبة نمو في العالم لسنة 2019، حسب تقديرات الجهات الدولية المختصة، نقول إنه بالنظر الى هذه الوقائع فإن توجهات روسيا وقوى حلف المقاومة، مضافةً اليها الصين ومشروعها المعروف بمشروع الحزام والطريق، ستشكل منعطفاً استراتيجياً غاية في الأهمية لتعزيز الثقل الاقتصادي وبالتالي السياسي لهذه المجموعة في العالم، ما سيؤدي الى تغير جذري في موازين القوى الدولية وفِي تراجع دور سياسة الهيمنة الأميركية والسيطرة الاحادية الجانب، المستندة الى قانون الغاب وليس الى القانون الدولي…!

أخيراً على أميركا وأذنابها واتباعها الذين خاضوا في دماء شعوبنا لسنوات طوال أن يعرفوا بأن الاندماج الاقتصادي، وليس الحروب والدماء، هو الطريق الذي تبحث عنه قوى حلف المقاومة والصديقة روسيا وهو الطريق الوحيد القادر على ضمان الاستقرار والنمو الاقتصادي في منطقتنا والعالم، وهو الكفيل بأن يقودنا الى مزيد من التطور والتقدّم.

فيما التمترس وراء أوهام، أو حتى أهداف لا تتحقق إلا بالوسائل العسكرية وبالعدوان، كما هو موقف تركيا بالمقابل لا سيما نوع تعاطيها مع القضية السورية بوجه عام ومع مسألة الأكراد بوجه خاص، لن يقود إلا الى مزيد من التوتر والتصعيد والدمار…!

نقولها ونحن في خواتيم القضاء على أحلامهم الإمبراطورية والجهنمية بأن الحل لكل القضايا المتعلقة بالخلافات على الحدود او حقوق الأمم والشعوب وتقرير المصير لا يكمن إلا في احترام سيادة الدول وإقامة تعاون مشترك على هذه القاعدة.

وأخيراً وليس لا آخرا لا خلاص ولا أمن ولا استقرار ولا نجاح لكل ما تقدم من مشاريع الا بتفكيك القاعدة العسكرية الأميركية المزروعة على ارض فلسطين والمسماة «إسرائيل» وترحيل كل عديدها ومعداتها مع سائر قواعد الطغيان والعدوان الأميركي الأخرى لأنها اصل البلاء وبذرة الشر المطلق.

قيامتنا تقترب بزوال هذه الغدد السرطانية.

وشرط نجاح كل مشاريع السلم والتعاون لدينا رهن بذلك.

بعدنا طيبين، قولوا الله.

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A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

December 30, 2018

A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

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

The new Great Game on the Roof of the World

On top of the graceful Baltit Fort, overlooking the Hunza Valley’s Shangri-La-style splendor, it’s impossible not to feel dizzy at the view: an overwhelming collision of millennia of geology and centuries of history.

We are at the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, or – as legend rules, the Roof of the World. This is an area about 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) crammed with spectacular mountain ranges and amidst them, secluded pristine valleys and the largest glaciers outside of the Polar region.

The location feels like vertigo. To the north, beyond the Batura Glacier, is the tiny northeast arm of Afghanistan, the legendary Wakhan corridor. A crest of the Hindu Kush separates Wakhan from the regional capital Gilgit. Xinjiang starts on Wakhan’s uppermost tip. Via the upgraded Karakoram highway, it’s only 240 km from Gilgit to the Khunjerab Pass, 4,934 meters high on the official China-Pakistan border.

What used to be called the Russian Pamir, now in Tajikistan, can be seen with naked eyes from one of the peaks of the Karakoram. To the east, past Skardu and an arduous trek that may last almost a month, lies K2, the second highest peak in the world, among a mighty group north of the Batura Glacier (also known as Baltoro), which is 63km long.

Receding Hopper Glacier

The receding Hopper Glacier in northern Pakistan. Photo: Asia Times

To the south lies Azad (“Free”) Kashmir and slightly to the southeast what locals define as Indian-occupied Kashmir. The former King of Kashmir agreed to be part of India after Partition in 1947 but troops were airlifted to the northern state and after a year of fighting, India went to the UN. A temporary ceasefire line was established in 1948 and runs down from the Karakoram towards the Nanga Parbat – the killer mountain, dividing Kashmir into two virtually sealed halves.

Massive mountain ranges

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

original Silk Road, parallel to K’koram hwy

The ancient Silk Road is seen above the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

The Himalayas start in Gilgit and then run southeast through a cluster of high peaks, including the Nanga Parbat, directly on the Islamabad-Gilgit air route (flights by turboprop only take off if weather around the Nanga Parbat allows).

Strategically, this is one of the top spots on the planet, a protagonist of the original Great Game between imperial Britain and Russia. So it’s more than appropriate that here is exactly where a protagonist of the New Great Game, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), actually starts, linking western China’s Xinjiang to the Northern Areas across the Khunjerab Pass.

Karakoram politics

CPEC is the supreme jewel in the Belt and Road crown, the largest foreign development or investment program in modern China’s history, loaded with way more funds than years of US military aid to Islamabad.

And we are indeed in Ancient Silk Road territory. Looking at the millenary trail parallel to the Karakoram, lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Development Foundation, it’s easy to picture the great Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang traversing these heights in the 7th Century, and naming them Polo-le. The Tang dynasty called it Great Polu. When Marco Polo trekked in the 14th Century, he called it Bolor.

Early last month, I was privileged to drive on the upgraded Karakoram Highway along CPEC all the way from Gilgit to the Khunjerab, and back, with multiple incursions to valleys such as lush, pine-forested Naltar, Shimshal (manufacturers of sublime yak wool shawls), Kutwal and receding glaciers, such as Hopper and Bualtar.

The Karakoram Highway was originally conceived in the 1970s as an ambitious political-strategic project able to influence the geopolitical balance in the subcontinent, by expanding Islamabad’s reach into previously inaccessible frontiers.

Now it’s at the heart of a trade and energy corridor from the China-Pak border all the way south to Gwadar, the port in Balochistan in the Arabian Sea a stone’s throw from the Persian Gulf. Gwadar looks likely to be a crucial springboard to China becoming a naval power – active from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and on to the Mediterranean, while CPEC, slowly but surely, aims to change the social and economic structure of Pakistan.

Previous Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the controversial “Lion of the Punjab”, was an avid CPEC supporter after he won the 2013 elections. At the time current Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, winner of elections held in July, had already polled second nationwide and rose to power in the strategic Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province – straddling the area between Islamabad and the tribal belt.

Sharif, in June 2013, when he was about to enter negotiations with the Chinese, was lauding what would become CPEC as an infrastructure scheme that “will change the fate of Pakistan”. So far that has translated mostly into new hydroelectric dams, coal-fired power stations, and civil-nuclear power. The China National Nuclear Corporation is building two 1,100 MW reactors near Karachi for nearly $10 billion, 65% financed by Chinese loans. This is the first time that the Chinese nuclear industry has built something of this scale outside of their country.

More than a dozen CPEC projects involve power generation – Pakistan is no longer woefully energy-deprived. These projects may not be as sexy as high-speed rail and pipelines, which could arrive much later; after all CPEC in its planned entirety runs to 2030.

Of course, monumental business decisions will have to be addressed; the staggering cost – and state of the art engineering – involved in building a railway parallel to the Karakoram; and the fact that oil pumped via a pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang might cost five times more than via the usual sea lanes all the way to Shanghai.

A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

What Imran wants

Imran Khan is way more cautious than Sharif, who had a “China cell” inside his office and commanded the Pakistani Army to set up a 10,000-strong security force to protect China’s CPEC investments.

But Khan knows well about the firepower behind CPEC: the Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), CITIC, Bank of China, EXIM, China Development Bank. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) projects that BRI could mobilize as much as $6 trillion in the next few years. What Khan wants is to negotiate better terms for Pakistan.

China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, never tires to stress that Pakistan’s serious debt problem relates to the initial phase of CPEC, due to the massive import of heavy machinery, industrial raw materials and services.

As I learned in Islamabad in various discussions with Pakistani analysts, Khan actually wants to expand CPEC and prevent it from leading Islamabad towards an unsustainable debt trap. That would mean tweaking CPEC’s focus away from too much infrastructure development to technology transfer and market access for Pakistani products. Financing for agriculture projects, for instance, could come via CPEC’s Long Term Plan, which unlike the so-called Early Harvest Plan does not come with a price tag attached and can be negotiated freely between Islamabad and Beijing.

According to a 2016 IMF report, $28 billion in projects included in Early Harvest will be completed by 2020: $10 billion to develop road, rail and port infrastructure, and $18 billion in energy projects via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with Chinese firms using commercial loans borrowing from Chinese banks.

CPEC though is an extremely long-term endeavor. Other CPEC investments in energy and transportation infrastructure financed by China will be finished only by 2030.

A new CPEC emphasis on industrialization via technology transfer would allow Pakistan to produce some of what China imports. That would imply reneg otiating the Pakistan-China Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), getting to the level of preferential treatment that China offers to ASEAN. Essentially, this is what Imran Khan is aiming at.

Hail the Ismailis

Gilgit-Baltistan is the safest place in the whole of Pakistan. Here, there’s no “terror threat” by the Pakistani Taliban or dodgy al-Qaeda or ISIS spin-offs. Major spoken languages are Shina and Burushaski, not Urdu. The population is overwhelmingly composed of Ismaili Shi’ites – like Karim Shah, an encyclopedia of Central and South Asian history and culture reigning over a cave of wonders in Gilgit where anything from authentic heads of Gandhara Bodhisattvas to 18th Century silk Qom carpets from a Persian royal family can be found.

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

We spent hours talking about Khorasan, the original Kipling-esque Great Game, Col. Durand (who drew the Durand Line separating Pashtuns on both sides of an artificial border), the Kashmir question, the astonishingly complex geo-eco-historical system of the Northern Areas, and of course, China.

Shah imparted the impression – confirmed by other traders – that the local population may see some tangible CPEC-related benefits, but does not know exactly what Beijing wants. Chinese visitors – engineers, bureaucrats – are remote; tourism has not picked up yet, as in the case of the Japanese, who have been Northern Areas enthusiasts for decades. Thus, an improvement in Xi Jinping’s “people-to-people exchange”, a key component of BRI, seems to be in order.

Legend rules that Hunzakuts, the inhabitants of the glorious Hunza Valley, are descendants of three soldiers of Alexander the Great who married beautiful Persian women of high aristocracy. While Alexander campaigned along the Oxus, the three couples traveled across the Wakhan corridor, discovered the marvelous valley, and settled down.

The tolerant Islam they came to practice centuries later is impervious to Gulf proselytizing. When I crossed an austere village by the Karakoram, visibly out of place, my Ismaili driver Akbar noted that these were “Sunni Wahhabis”.

Finding Gandhara art in Gilgit made perfect sense. Gandhara historically formed a sort of fertile and irrigated triangle between the Iranian plateau, the Hindu Kush and the first peaks of the Himalayas. Between the 6th Century BC and the Islamic invasions, it was the crossroads of three cultures: India, China and Iran. And it was here that an extremely original Greco-Buddhist art and culture flourished, way after Greek power had waned.

Gandhara Bodhisattva head, Gilgit cave of wonders

A Gandhara Bodhisattva head in Karim’s shop in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

The Kashmir question

As a new 21st Century crossroads, CPEC faces stern challenges – from geology (constant landslides and floods in Gilgit-Baltistan) to wobbly security in Balochistan, threatened by a combination of separatist and religiously or politically manipulated movements. I was not able to visit Gwadar and the south of CPEC even though contacts in Islamabad supplied military sources with an application for a NOC (No Object Certificate, as it is known on Pakistan) weeks in advance. The military response: too “sensitive”, as in dangerous, for a lone Western journalist, especially in the aftermath of the Aasia Bibi case.

China will need to find a way – perhaps via negotiations inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – to mollify India on CPEC’s route straddling Kashmir.

In 1936 the British made a deal with the Maharaja of Kashmir, getting Gilgit on lease for 60 years. But then came Partition. At the time the Kuomintang – in power in China, before Mao’s victory – was engaged in secret negotiations to restore Hunza’s fabled independence as a new state allied with China. But the Mir of Hunza finally decided to join the newborn Pakistani nation.

Few may remember that, during the 1950s, way before the India-China border war in 1962, there was trouble on the China-Pakistan border, when Beijing seized 3,400 square miles of Kashmir, including parts of old Hunza, whose Mirs always recognized Chinese suzerainty. When the British had first seized Hunza in 1891, the Mir actually fled to China.

Zhou EnLai visits Baltit Fort in early 60s

This puts into perspective some fabulous documents preserved at Baltit Fort, like China-Baltistan trade agreements and a picture of Zhou EnLai visiting the fort in the early 1960s.

It’s also fascinating to remember that at the time Zhou Enlai already thought about Karachi – no Gwadar at that time – connecting to an “ancient trade route, lost to modern times, not only for trade but for strategic purposes as well”. Xi Jinping has definitely read his Zhou EnLai thoroughly.

China Baltistan trade agreements

Historic trade agreements between China and Baltistan. Photo: Asia Times

Nowadays, the President of Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, always stresses that “unlike Indian propaganda”, the Pakistani side is “thriving politically and economically”, and CPEC could also be beneficial for Indian Kashmir. As it stands, this remains a red line for New Delhi.

Once in a lifetime chance

At the National Defense University in Islamabad, I was shown a paper by Li Xiaolu, from the Institute of Strategic Studies at the National Defense University of the PLA detailing how Beijing hopes that “by opening China’s west to Central and South Asia, building better transportation infrastructure, and by encouraging trade with South and Central Asian countries, the development of manufacturing, processing and industrial capacities in Western China can be promoted”.

Now compare it with road and rail infrastructure improved across Pakistan being able to turn the whole nation into an actual trade corridor, while the Pakistani Navy improves its defense in deep-sea waters with Gwadar positioned as a third naval base and offering support for Chinese ships across sea lanes close to the Middle East and Northern Africa.

No wonder Chinese analysts share a virtual consensus about traditional Chinese wisdom favoring unity for prosperity – a key plank of CPEC and BRI – and prevailing over containment and confrontation.

For CPEC to work, Beijing needs three things: a political solution for Afghanistan, which is already being worked out inside the SCO, with China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran (as an observer) directly involved; stable relations between India and Pakistan; and certified security across Pakistan.

Beijing is actively encouraging closer connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the Quetta-Kandahar railway and the Kabul-Peshawar highway. CPEC is actually expanding from the Karakoram to the Khyber Pass, trespassing the artificial Durand line along the way.

In contrast, multiple factions in Washington continue to twist all possible faultlines to thwart these projects, with a propaganda campaign designed to portray BRI as a swamp of corruption, incompetence, a “debt trap” and “malign” Chinese behavior.

Yet among all BRI corridors, material progress across CPEC is more than self-evident. I saw every village in the Northern Areas with electricity and most of them linked by fiber optics, a stark contrast to when I traveled a severely dilapidated Karakoram, twice, two decades ago.

Pakistan now has a once in a lifetime chance to harness its geographical location – with borders intertwining centuries of history and culture with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East – to set itself up as a key bridge between the Middle East and both the Mediterranean and Western China.

Rumors abounded in Islamabad that Imran Khan is aiming for an international standard university in the capital, positioned as a center of study and research tracking the new mosaic of an emerging multipolar world. Young people power will be more than available, like Jamila Shah, currently at the National Defense University, doing a masters in Peace and Conflict Studies, and working with an NGO, the International Rescue Committee. Jamila, from Hunza, in Gilgit-Baltistan, is the face of Pakistan’s future.

Jamila Shah

Jamila Shah. Photo: Asia Times

Still hostage to a corrupt oligarchy, cartelized industries, falling exports (60% of which are textiles), and with almost half of their youths aged from five to 16 out of school, Pakistan faces a Sisyphean task.

Economist Ishrat Husain has correctly noted that Pakistan’s model of “elitist growth” must be replaced by “shared growth”. Enter a modified CPEC opening the path ahead, hopefully like those cargo trucks defying the slippery, snowy Khunjerab full blast.

CPEC trade Pak style

Trade on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Asia Times

Up next: On the road in the Karakoram 

On the road in the Karakoram

On the Pakistani side, a wooden house serves as a small customs office fronted by “the highest ATM in the world” – though you try a foreign credit card at your peril. The Chinese side boasts an intimidating, metal-plated James Bond-esque structure with no humans in sight.

This is ground zero of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the point where the revamped, upgraded Karakoram Highway – “the eighth wonder of the world” – snakes away from China’s Xinjiang all the way to Pakistan’s Northern Areas and further south to Islamabad and Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea.

From here it’s 420 kilometers to Kashgar and a hefty 1,890 km to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. But going south is where the fun really begins.

highest ATM in the world

World’s highest ATM. Photo: Asia Times

Traveling the Karakoram from Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Areas, to the Khunjerab and back is an exhilarating road trip along CPEC and its spin-offs. And it’s a crazy carousel.

Psychedelic Pakistani trucks, Chinese container road warriors – some trying to subdue the Khunjerab without chains on their tires – packed minivans plying the Hunza-Xinjiang route, Silk Road motels, the smell of curry interfacing with the best apricot juice in the world, roadside butchers, shacks advertising themselves as “Silk Road Investment & Credit Society Ltd,” many a Pak China Gateway Hotel, checkpoints consisting of a roadside table and a bunch of papers kept from flying away by pebbles, stashes of yuan crisscrossing rupees and dollars and messy, multi-level “people to people exchanges.”

Chinese container truck up the Khunjerab with no chains on tires

A Chinese container truck ploughs over the snow without chains on its tires. Photo: Asia Times

It’s one of the greatest road trips on earth. And in geopolitical terms, it may be the greatest.

Mind the yaks

Karakoram North starts at the environmentally protected Khunjerab National Park, where yaks roam freely on the road and ibex and marmots are easily spotted nearby. But there are no Marco Polo sheep, much less snow leopards. (Though local Ismailis insist a few dozen reside in the park.)

The Yak and Sheep Highway

Yak and sheep roam the highway. Photo: Asia Times

The first serious pit-stop in the Karakoram is Sost, which used to be the Pakistani border in the old days – as when I traveled the road, twice, 20 years ago by jeep from Kashgar. Now, the bustling trade entrepot is the HQ of the Silk Road Dry Port Sost. Chinese lorries unload their cargo and Pakistani trucks take up the relay to transport the merchandise all across the nation. It appears modern and well-organized. Everything proceeds smoothly.

entrance to the dry port at Sost

Entrance to the dry port at Sost. Photo: Asia Times

Snaking south, we pass right under the spectacularly receding Passu Glacier. In a nearby village, a funeral is in progress, with the crowd taking over the road alongside yaks and buffalos and interrupting traffic at will.

The receding Passu glacier by the Karakoram

The receding Passu Glacier by the Karakoram. Photo: Asia Times

The upgraded Karakoram is an apotheosis of Pak-China Friendship Tunnels – all exhibiting the obligatory commemorative billboard extolling a geopolitical friendship soaring “higher than the highest mountain.”

One of many Pak-China tunnels

One of the many Pak-China tunnels. Photo: Asia Times

This is CPEC in effect. It is astonishing when compared to the recent past. Between the Hunza and Gilgit rivers flowing parallel to impeccable asphalt worthy of an autobahn, a fiber optic cable runs all across the Northern Areas.

Chinese engineering has performed miracles. Around 160km south of the Khunjerab we drive around Attabad Lake, which totally submerged the road after a landslide in January 2010. For over five years there was simply no China-Pakistan overland trade, although some went via Kashgar-Gilgit flights. The solution by the China Road and Bridge Corporation had to be a tunnel – completed in 2015.

Attabad lake, now negotiated via a tunnel

Attabad Lake, now negotiated via tunnel. Photo: Asia Times

Trade along the Karakoram is bound to pick up – after years at less than 10% of total China-Pak trade, which tends to flow especially from Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, not Xinjiang. Some stretches of the highway remain prone to constant landslides, rockslides or floods, which require a number of 24/7 rescue and maintenance teams. These are Pakistani, while the SUVs of the police in the Northern Areas have been supplied by China.

The heart of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects are road and railway lines. These do not cost a fortune per se; the expense is in the construction costs for bridges and tunnels. Russia spent over $4 billion on its Kerch Strait bridge to the Crimea. New Silk Road costs will be exponentially higher. Tunnels can be way more expensive than bridges.

Where the Himalayas rise

From the Karakoram it’s sometimes possible to catch a glimpse of the formidable Nanga Parbat – Kashmiri for “Naked Mountain,” later nicknamed the “Killer Mountain.” It has never been climbed in winter, and is actually a series of ridges which anchors the western Himalaya range, culminating in an ice crest at 8,126 meters above sea level. That is the ninth highest peak in the world and the second in Pakistan after K2.

Glimpse of the mighty Nanga Parbat

Heading into the mighty Nanga Parbat (on the right). Photo: Asia Times

As we approach Gilgit, the road signs – in English, Mandarin and Russian – say 468 km to Abbottabad (site of the Osama bin Laden endgame) and 583 km to Islamabad. Way down south, in less mountainous terrain, I’m told the odd rockslide gives way to occasional floods.

South of Gilgit, the Chinese once again are in frantic building mode, attacking the road starting from the Karakoram to the strategic Mecca Skardu. The road, according to local Ismailis, should be ready before 2020.

meeting of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and Himalayas

Where the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas meet. Photo: Asia Times

And then, on a bend of the revamped highway, the intersection of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan mountain ranges – bordering the confluence of the Gilgit River with the Indus, now flowing south all the way to the Arabian Sea – spreads before us. Nearly 85% of the Indus discharge happens between May and September, out of snow and glacial melt, propelling the monsoons. Abdul, the painter of the Karakoram, is applying the finishing touches to a white-clad viewing point.

Abdul, painter of the Karakoram

Abdul: Painter of the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

The China-Pak embrace

The building of the original Karakoram – an engineering tour de force – took no less than 27 years and claimed the lives of over 1,000 Chinese and Pakistani workers.

The Karakoram Highway is much more than a road; it’s a rolling, graphic emblem of the China-Pakistan geopolitical embrace, surmounting all manner of economic, cultural, geological and security barriers over decades to the benefit of a strategic objective. And the strategic objective now is CPEC as the flagship BRI project.

At the recent opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where he was guest of honor, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described CPEC, including the Karakoram highway, as a “vital link” for China and Pakistan with the Middle East and Central Asia. “CPEC is a mechanism to connect China, the Middle East and Central Asia that also opens ways for fresh investment and paves the way for new markets,” he said.

Khan also reassured his hosts – as well as domestic public opinion – that his new government is engaged in deep, meaningful reforms to ensure transparency and accountability; virtual ghosts as far as Pakistani business is usually concerned.

“Pakistan has an array of resources, minerals and renewables amidst the most diverse landscape,” Khan said, adding that his country is a leading exporter of sports goods, medical instruments and IT products, and has promising, 100 million-strong human resources under the age of 35. So, the potential is immense.

Islamabad is all in on completing CPEC up to 2030, with projections of up to 3% added to annual GDP growth, as industrial output is bound to rise with more electricity courtesy of CPEC investments and more production coming from Chinese-style Special Economic Zones.

CPEC’s Long-Term Plan (2017-2030), released one year ago, defines four priorities in Pakistan: Gwadar Port; energy projects; transport infrastructure (as in upgrading of the Karakoram); and industrial cooperation. Imran Khan’s government (see Part 1 of this report) is aiming for Pakistan to position itself, via CPEC, as the key hub uniting the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.

The big plan

This implies, geopolitically and economically, an even stronger, trans-regional, China-Pakistan alliance in contraposition to India and Washington. The US reaction to BRI in 2018 was to unleash a whispering campaign to try to discredit it. Beijing, for its part, expects India and Pakistan to at least discuss their political differences inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

From now on, China’s far west and south – Xinjiang and Yunnan – have to become the top drivers of the Chinese economy. Upgrading their road, rail and energy infrastructure and closely linking them to South Asia and Southeast Asia is essential for China to keep growing – all that boosted by crucial energy connectivity via a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, an oil pipeline from the Caspian in Kazakhstan, further massive gas shipments from Siberia, and, further down the road, a possible gas pipeline from Gwadar port to Xinjiang parallel to the Karakoram.

Will it work? The Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas have seen it all come and all go over multiple millennia. So why not? The upgrading of the greatest geological and geopolitical road trip on earth is a start.

Karakoram checkpoint

Karakoram Highway checkpoint. Photo: Asia Times.

CPEC and The New Great Game on the Roof of the World — Astute News

On top of the graceful Baltit Fort, overlooking the Hunza Valley’s Shangri-La-style splendor, it’s impossible not to feel dizzy at the view: an overwhelming collision of millennia of geology and centuries of history. We are at the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, or – as legend rules, the Roof of the World. This […]

via CPEC and The New Great Game on the Roof of the World — Astute News

How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

December 13, 2018How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

Russia is keen to push economic integration with parts of Asia and this fits in with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

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

The concept of Greater Eurasia has been discussed at the highest levels of Russian academia and policy-making for some time. This week the policy was presented at the Council of Ministers and looks set to be enshrined, without fanfare, as the main guideline of Russian foreign policy for the foreseeable future.

President Putin is unconditionally engaged to make it a success. Already at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2016, Putin referred to an emerging “Eurasian partnership”.

I was privileged over the past week to engage in excellent discussions in Moscow with some of the top Russian analysts and policymakers involved in advancing Greater Eurasia.

Three particularly stand out: Yaroslav Lissovolik, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club and an expert on the politics and economics of the Global South; Glenn Diesen, author of the seminal Russia’s Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia; and the legendary Professor Sergey Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and honorary chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who received me in his office for an off-the-record conversation.

The framework for Great Eurasia has been dissected in detail by the indispensable Valdai Discussion Club, particularly on Rediscovering the Identity, the sixth part of a series called Toward the Great Ocean, published last September, and authored by an academic who’s who on the Russian Far East, led by Leonid Blyakher of the Pacific National University in Khabarovsk and coordinated by Karaganov, director of the project.

The conceptual heart of Greater Eurasia is Russia’s Turn to the East, or pivot to Asia, home of the economic and technological markets of the future. This implies Greater Eurasia proceeding in symbiosis with China’s New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And yet this advanced stage of the Russia-China strategic partnership does not mean Moscow will neglect its myriad close ties to Europe.

Russian Far East experts are very much aware of the “Eurocentrism of a considerable portion of Russian elites.” They know how almost the entire economic, demographic and ideological environment in Russia has been closely intertwined with Europe for three centuries. They recognize that Russia has borrowed Europe’s high culture and its system of military organization. But now, they argue, it’s time, as a great Eurasian power, to profit from “an original and self-sustained fusion of many civilizations”; Russia not just as a trade or connectivity point, but as a “civilizational bridge”.

Legacy of Genghis Khan 

What my conversations, especially with Lissovolik, Diesen and Karaganov, have revealed is something absolutely groundbreaking – and virtually ignored across the West; Russia is aiming to establish a new paradigm not only in geopolitics and geoeconomics, but also on a cultural and ideological level.

Conditions are certainly ripe for it. Northeast Asia is immersed in a power vacuum. The Trump administration’s priority – as well as the US National Security Strategy’s – is containment of China. Both Japan and South Korea, slowly but surely, are getting closer to Russia.

Culturally, retracing Russia’s past, Greater Eurasia analysts may puzzle misinformed Western eyes. ‘Towards the Great Ocean’, the Valdai report supervised by Karaganov, notes the influence of Byzantium, which “preserved classical culture and made it embrace the best of the Orient culture at a time when Europe was sinking into the Dark Ages.” Byzantium inspired Russia to adopt Orthodox Christianity.

It also stresses the role of the Mongols over Russia’s political system. “The political traditions of most Asian countries are based on the legacy of the Mongols. Arguably, both Russia and China are rooted in Genghis Khan’s empire,” it says.

If the current Russian political system may be deemed authoritarian – or, as claimed in Paris and Berlin, an exponent of “illiberalism” – top Russian academics argue that a market economy protected by lean, mean military power performs way more efficiently than crisis-ridden Western liberal democracy.

As China heads West in myriad forms, Greater Eurasia and the Belt and Road Initiative are bound to merge. Eurasia is crisscrossed by mighty mountain ranges such as the Pamirs and deserts like the Taklamakan and the Karakum. The best ground route runs via Russia or via Kazakhstan to Russia. In crucial soft power terms, Russian remains the lingua franca in Mongolia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

And that leads us to the utmost importance of an upgraded Trans-Siberian railway – Eurasia’s current connectivity core. In parallel, the transportation systems of the Central Asian “stans” are closely integrated with the Russian network of roads; all that is bound to be enhanced in the near future by Chinese-built high-speed rail.

Iran and Turkey are conducting their own versions of a pivot to Asia. A free-trade agreement between Iran and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) was approved in early December. Iran and India are also bound to strike a free-trade agreement. Iran is a big player in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which is essential in driving closer economic integration between Russia and India.

The Caspian Sea, after a recent deal between its five littoral states, is re-emerging as a major trading post in Central Eurasia. Russia and Iran are involved in a joint project to build a gas pipeline to India.

Kazakhstan shows how Greater Eurasia and BRI are complementary; Astana is both a member of BRI and the EAEU. The same applies to gateway Vladivostok, Eurasia’s entry point for both South Korea and Japan, as well as Russia’s entry point to Northeast Asia.

Ultimately, Russia’s regional aim is to connect China’s northern provinces with Eurasia via the Trans-Siberian and the Chinese Eastern Railway – with Chita in China and Khabarovsk in Russia totally inter-connected.

And all across the spectrum, Moscow aims at maximizing return on the crown jewels of the Russian Far East; agriculture, water resources, minerals, lumber, oil and gas. Construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Yamal vastly benefits China, Japan and South Korea.

Community spirit

Eurasianism, as initially conceptualized in the early 20th century by the geographer PN Savitsky, the geopolitician GV Vernadsky and the cultural historian VN Ilyn, among others, regarded Russian culture as a unique, complex combination of East and West, and the Russian people as belonging to “a fully original Eurasian community”.

That certainly still applies. But as Valdai Club analysts argue, the upgraded concept of Greater Eurasia “is not targeted against Europe or the West”; it aims to include at least a significant part of the EU.

The Chinese leadership describes BRI not only as connectivity corridors, but also as a “community”. Russians use a similar term applied to Greater Eurasia; sobornost (“community spirit”).

As Alexander Lukin of the Higher School of Economics and an expert on the SCO has constantly stressed, including in his book China and Russia: The New Rapprochement, this is all about the interconnection of Greater Eurasia, BRI, EAEU, SCO, INSTC, BRICS, BRICS Plus and ASEAN.

The cream of the crop of Russian intellectuals – at the Valdai Club and the Higher School of Economics – as well as top Chinese analysts, are in sync. Karaganov himself constantly reiterates that the concept of Greater Eurasia was arrived at, “jointly and officially”, by the Russia-China partnership; “a common space for economic, logistic and information cooperation, peace and security from Shanghai to Lisbon and New Delhi to Murmansk”.

The concept of Greater Eurasia is, of course, a work in progress. What my conversations in Moscow revealed is its extraordinary ambition; positioning Russia as a key geoeconomic and geopolitical crossroads linking the economic systems of North Eurasia, Central and Southwest Asia.

As Diesen notes, Russia and China have become inevitable allies because of their “shared objective of restructuring global value-chains and developing a multipolar world”. It’s no wonder Beijing’s drive to develop state-of-the-art national technological platforms is provoking so much anger in Washington. And in terms of the big picture, it makes perfect sense for BRI to be harmonized with Russia’s economic connectivity drive for Greater Eurasia.

That’s irreversible. The dogs of demonization, containment, sanctions and even war may bark all they want, but the Eurasia integration caravan keeps moving along.

China: A New Philosophy of Economics

Global Research, November 16, 2018

China’s economic philosophy is a far cry from that of the west. 

The west consistently seeks to undermine the interests of their partners, be it for trade or political agreements; be it partners from the west, their smaller and weaker brothers; or from the east; or from the south – there is always an element of exploitation, of “one-upmanship”, of outdoing a partner, of domination. Equality and fairness are unknown by the west.

Or, when the concept was once known, at least by some countries and some people, it has been erased by indoctrinated neoliberal thinking – egocentricity, “me first”, and the sheer, all-permeating doctrine of “maximizing profits”; short-term thinking, instant gratification – or more extreme, making a killing today for a gamble or deal that takes place tomorrow. Futures trading – the epitome of manipulating economic values. Only in the capitalist world.

This has become a key feature of western commerce and trading. It’s manipulation and exploitation over ethics; it’s Profits Über Alles! – Doesn’t it sound like fascism? – Well it is. And if the partner doesn’t fall for the ruse, coercion becomes the name of the game – and if that doesn’t work the western military move in with bombs and tanks, seeking regime change – destroying the very country the west wants to dominate. That’s western brutal economics – full hegemony. No sharing.

China’s approach is quite different. It’s one of sharing, of participating, of mutual benefits. China invests trillions of dollars equivalent in developing countries – Asia, especially India and now also Pakistan, Africa, South America, largely for infrastructure projects, as well as mining of natural resources. Unlike the gains from western investments, the benefits of China’s investments are shared. China’s investment and mining concessions are not coerced, but fairly negotiated. China’s investment relationship with a partner country remains peaceful and is not ‘invasive’ and abusive, as are most of those of the west – which uses threats and guns to get what they want.

Of course, the west complains about Chinese investments, lying how abusive they are, when in reality the west is upset about Chinese competition in Africa and South America – Continents that are still considered part of the western domain, as they were colonized for about thousand years by western powers and empires – and as of today, African and Latin-American countries are neo-colonized, no longer (for now) with brute military force, but with even more ferocious financial strangulation, through sanctions, boycotts and embargos; all highly illegal by any international standards. But there aren’t any international laws that are upheld. International courts and judges are coerced to obey Washington’s dictates, or else… literally “or else”; and these are serious threats.

Take the case of West and Central Africa, former French colonies. The French West African zone includes eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo; and the French Central African area comprises six countries – Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. All 14 countries have a common currency, the CFA franc (CFA = Communauté financière africaine – African Financial Community). 

They are two separate currencies, though always at parity and therefore interchangeable. The Western and Central African monetary union have separate central banks, the Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, BCEAO, headquartered in Dakar, Senegal; and the Banque des États de l’Afrique Centrale, BEAC, in Yaoundé, Cameroun. Both currencies are guaranteed by the French treasury. This means in fact, that the economy of these 14 countries not only depends on France, but setting the value of the currency (at present one € = 655 CFA francs) is entirely the prerogative of the Banque de France (French Central Bank). This ultra-complicated setup between the two groups of former and new French colonies is not only a matter of French accounting, but foremost a means to confuse and distract the mostly innocent observer from a flagrant abusive reality.

With the French control over the West- and Central African currencies, the foreign trading capacity of these countries is reduced to what France will allow. France has a de facto monopoly on these countries’ production. Should France stop buying their “former-new” colonies goods, the countries go broke, as they have been unable to develop alternative markets under the French yoke. Thus, they are always at the mercy of France, the IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank. – From labor slaves up to the early 1960s, they have become debt slaves of the neoliberal age. 

In addition, to back this French Treasury guarantee, 85% of the countries’ foreign exchange reserves are blocked by the French Central Bank and may only be used by the respective counties against specific permission – and – as a loan. – Imagine! – The “former” French colonies have to borrow their own money from the French Central Bank. Similar debt enslaving is going on in former British and Portuguese colonies, though, none of them is as abjectly abusive as are the French. 

Big wonder that Chinese investors are highly welcome in Africa. And knowing western manipulating and deranged mindsets, no wonder that China is demonized by the west as exploiting Africa to the bones, when exactly the contrary is the case. But almighty western lie-propaganda media has the brainwashed western populace believe China is stealing African natural resources. Chinese fairness is indeed tough competition against the usual western trickery and deceit.

In Africa, China is not only focusing on buying and trading natural resources, but on training and using local African brainpower to convert Africa from a western slave into an equal partner. For example, to boost African autonomy, China is using an approach, Ghadaffy intended to apply – entering the wireless phone system, conquering some of the market with efficient batteries, and providing cheaper and more efficient services than the west, hence directly competing with the western exploited African telephone market. Chinese phones also come with their own browsers, so that internet may eventually be accessed in the remotest places of Africa, providing a top tool for education. Challenging the EU and US dominated multi-billion-dollar market, is just one of the reasons Ghadaffy was miserably murdered by French-led NATO forces. Of course, China’s presence is a bit more difficult to kick than was Ghadaffy’s. 

This is just one more signal that China is in Africa – and Asia and Latin America – not just for the legendary American Quick Buck, but for genuine investments in long-term economic development which involves developing transportation networks, efficient and independent financial systems which may escape the western SWIFT and FED / Wall Street banking system through which US sanctions are imposed. This may involve the creation of government controlled blockchain currencies – see also Venezuela’s hydrocarbon-backed Petro – and linking African currencies to the Yuan and the eastern SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) monetary system – freeing Africa from the dollar hegemony. With the help of China and Russia, Africa may, in fact, become the forerunner of crypto-currencies – and, in the case of west-and central Africa, the 14 countries would be able to gain financial autonomy, and to the chagrin of the French Central Bank, manage their own financial resources, breaking loose from under the little-talked about French yoke. It is quite conceivable that with Chinese development assistance Africa will become an important trading partner for the east, leaving western exploiting and abusing business and banking magnates behind in the dust.

The Overseas Private Investment Cooperation (OPIC), a US private lending as well as investment guarantee agency – is upset about US investors losing out to Chinese and wants US corporations to compete more aggressively – which is precisely what Africa rejects, America’s violent bombing approach to impose her trade and concession rules with the coercing help of the IMF and the World Bank. Africa is seeking – finally – sovereignty, deciding over her own financial and political destiny. This includes choosing investors and trading partners of their liking.

Many African and South American countries prefer China’s yuan-investments, rather than Washington’s US-dollar investments. Its ‘softer’ money coming from the Chinese. For China it’s also a way of diverting the world from the US-dollar, providing incentives for countries to divest their dollar reserves into yuan reserves. That’s is already happening at accelerating speed. 

China’s outlook at home and abroad is nothing less than spectacular. On the home front, they are building cutting-edge technology transport infrastructure, such as high-speed railways, for example, connecting Shanghai and Hangzhou, cutting travel time from one and a half hour in half. China’s high-speed bullet train connects for the first time Hong Kong with the mainland, cutting travel time Hong Kong to Beijing from 24 hours to 9 hours.

In October 2018, after nine years construction, President Xi Jinping opened the world’s longest sea crossing bridge, linking Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai. The bridge is 55 km long – about 20 times the length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. In urban development, existing and new multi-million people cities are planned, expanded and stamped out of the ground in less than a generation.

China has just built a US$ 2.1 billion AI (Artificial Intelligence) industrial park, and is not sleeping either on the environmental protection and development front, investing billions in research and development of alternative clean energies, especially solar power and its storage potential, next generation beyond lithium batteries, ranging from lithium solid state to electrolyte materials to graphene batteries and eventually to copper foam substrate. And that’s not the end of the line. Each battery technology offers increased capacity, safety and charging and discharging speed.  

On the domestic and international front, the Belt and Road (B and R) Initiative – the New Silk Road – is China’s President Xi’s phenomenal geo-economic initiative to connect the world from China with several transport routes and develop in a first step Western China, Eastern Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe – all the way to the frontiers of western Europe. This massive economic development program includes industrial parks, trade and cultural interchanges, research and development through existing universities and new science and learning centers. Maritime routes are also foreseen entering Africa through Kenya and Southern Europe and the Middle East via the Greek port of Piraeus and Iran – a southern route is also planned to enter the southern cone of Latin America.  

The endeavor is so huge, it has recently been inscribed into the Chinese Constitution. It will mobilize in the coming decades and possibly century trillions of yuan and dollar-equivalent of investments, mostly from China, Russia, the other SCO countries, as well as European partners  – and foremost the Beijing-based AIIB (Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank) which has already 70 member countries, among them Australia, Canada, Western European nations and close to 20 prospective new countries; but not the United States of America.

This giant project, is of course, not without challenges. While the need for proof of “credit worthiness” by being tied to the IMF and World Bank of the eighties and nineties had since long faded into oblivion, China is still bound to the IMF and WB. – Why? – In my opinion it proves two things, The People’s Bank of China – the Chinese Central Bank – is still controlled by the FED and BIS (Bank for International Settlement, alias, central bank of all central banks), and a strong Fifth Column that doesn’t yield an inch of their power. The Chinese leadership could implement the necessary changes towards full financial sovereignty – but, why is that not happening? – Western threats and their secret services have become ever more sophisticated abduction and “neutralizing” machines over the past 70 years. 

The next question is what’s the Chinese lending limit to countries who have already or will subscribe to the Belt and Road Initiative to help them repay western debt and integrate into the new eastern economic model and monetary system? The question is relevant, because China’s money supply is based on China’s economic output; unlike western currencies which are purely fiat money (hot air). 

Also, how will ownership of foreign assets, i.e. infrastructure funded and perhaps built, dealt with? – Will they become Chinese property, increasing China’s capital base and flow of money? – Or would they be negotiated as long-term concessions, after which a country may repay to acquire sovereign ownership, or transfer part or all of the assets to China as a shareholder. These are relevant considerations, especially with regard to the huge B&R investments foreseen in the coming years. These decisions should be made autonomously by Chinese leadership, totally outside the influence of western monetary czars, like IMF and WB. 

Another issue which is steadily and increasingly cropping up in the west, of course to demonize China and discourage “western civilized” (sic) countries to associate themselves with socialist China – is China’s concept of “Social Credits”. It is largely based on what the west calls a dictatorial, freedom-robbing surveillance state – with cameras and face-recognition everywhere. Of course, totally ignoring the western own Orwellian Big Brother Surveillance and lie apparatus which calls itself democracy – and in fact is a democracy for then the elite of the plutocrats, gradually and by heavy propaganda brainwashing converting what’s left of ‘democracy’ into outright fascism – we, in the west, are almost there. And this, to the detriment of the “Silent Lambs” – as per Rainer Mausfeld’s latest book, in German, “Why are Lambs Silent” (German Westend-Verlag). Yes, that’s what we have become: “Silent Lambs”.

It is too easy to demonize China for attempting to create a more harmonious, cohesive and peaceful society. Granted, this surveillance in China as in the west, demolishes to a large extent individualism, individual thinking, thereby limiting human creativeness and freedom. This is a topic which the Chinese socialist government, independent of western critique, may have to address soon to keep precisely one of the key principles of Chinese society alive – ‘social cohesiveness’ and a sense of equality and freedom. 

What is the “Social Credit” system? – It is a digital footprint of everything the Chinese do, as private citizens, as corporate managers in production as well as banking, workers, food sellers, in order to basically create an ambiance of full transparency (that’s the goal – far from having been reached), so as to establish citizens’ and corporations’ “creditworthiness”, in financial terms, but also assessing crime elements, political inclinations, radicalism, to prevent potential terror acts (interestingly, in the case of most western terror acts, officials say the ‘terrorists’ were known to the police – which simply leaves you to conclude that they acted in connivance with the forces of order); and to enhance food safety in restaurants and by other food sellers. 

In other words, the aim is to establish corporate and individual “score cards” which will work as a rewards and punishment system, a “carrot and stick” approach. Depending on the crime or deviation from the rule, you may be reprimanded and get ‘debits’ – which you may wipe out by changing your behavior. Living under the spell of debits may limit, for example, your access to comfortable or speedy travel, better and speedier trains, air tickets, certain cultural events and more.

Yes, the idea of creating a stable domestic society has its drawbacks – surveillance – demolition of much of individualism, creativity, by implanting conformity. The government’s axiom is “we want a society where people don’t desire to break the rules, but the earliest stage is that they are afraid to break the rules.”  

In the end, the question is, will the “Social Credits” approach to societal living, meaning a total surveillance state with every data recorded into a network of total control, be beneficial or detrimental for the Chinese goal to push ahead with her extraordinary and mostly egalitarian economic development approach, transport and industrial infrastructure, scientific research and cultural exchange – called Belt and Road, alias the New Silk Road? – Only the future will tell; but the Chinese are not alone. They have solid partners in the SCO – and long-term economic development endeavors never work in linear values, but with the unknown of dynamics to which humans are uniquely adapted to adjust. 

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Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a water resources and environmental specialist. He worked for over 30 years with the World Bank and the World Health Organizationaround the world in the fields of environment and water. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for Global Research; ICH; RT; Sputnik; PressTV; The 21st Century; TeleSUR; The Vineyard of The Saker Blog, the New Eastern Outlook (NEO); and other internet sites. He is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed – fiction based on facts and on 30 years of World Bank experience around the globe. He is also a co-author of The World Order and Revolution! – Essays from the Resistance. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

Featured image is from NEO

“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.

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.

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