Decoding the hypersonic Putin on a day of remembrance

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November 14, 2018Decoding the hypersonic Putin on a day of remembrance

Sitting alongside French President Macron during the 100th anniversary to commemorate the end of World War I, Putin and Trump stole the show in Paris

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

The Elysee Palace protocol was implacable. Nobody in Paris would be allowed to steal the spotlight away from the host, President Emmanuel Macron, during the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day marking the end of World War I.

After all, Macron was investing all his political capital as he visited multiple World War I battlefields while warning against the rise of nationalism and a surge in right-wing populism across the West. He was careful to always place the emphasis on praising “patriotism.”

A battle of ideas now rages across Europe, epitomized by the clash between the globalist Macron and populism icon Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister. Salvini abhors the Brussels system. Macron is stepping up his defense of a “sovereign Europe.”

And much to the horror of the US establishment, Macron proposes a real “European army” capable of autonomous self-defense side by side with a “real security dialogue with Russia.”

Yet all these “strategic autonomy” ideals collapse when you must share the stage, live, with the undisputed stars of the global show: President Donald  Trump and President Vladimir Putin.

So the optics in Paris were not exactly of a Yalta 2.0 conference. There were no holds barred to keep Trump and Putin apart. Seating arrangements featured, from left to right, Trump, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron, his wife Brigitte and Putin. Neither Trump nor Putin, for different reasons, took part in a “walking in the rain” stunt evoking peace.

And yet they connected. Sir Peter Cosgrove, the governor general of Australia, confirmed that Trump and Putin, at a working lunch, had a “lively and friendly” conversation for at least half an hour.

No one better than Putin himself to reveal, even indirectly, what they really talked about. Three themes are absolutely key.

On the Macron-proposed, non-NATO European army: “Europe is … a powerful economic union and it is only natural that they want to be independent and … sovereign in the field of defense and security.”

On the consequences of such an army: It would be “a positive process” that would “strengthen the multipolar world.” On top of it, Russia’s position “is aligned with that of France.”

On relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Washington: “It is not us who are going to withdraw from the INF Treaty. It is the Americans who plan to do that.” Putin added that Moscow has not scheduled military drills near NATO borders as an attempt to appease an already tense situation. Yet Russia has “no issue with” NATO drills and expects at least a measure of dialogue in the near future.

Enter the Avangard

Vast sectors of the US Deep State are in denial, but Putin may have been able to impress on Trump the necessity of serious dialogue due to an absolutely key vector: the Avangard.

The Avangard is a Russian hypersonic glide vehicle capable of flying over Mach 20 –  24,700km/h, or 4 miles per second – and one of the game-changing Russian weapons Putin announced at his ground-breaking March 1 speech.

The Avangard has been in the production assembly line since the summer of 2018, and is due to become operational in the southern Urals by the end of next year or early 2019.

In the near future, the Avangard may be launched by the formidable  Sarmat RS-28 intercontinental ballistic missile and reach Washington in a mere 15 minutes, flying in a cloud of plasma “like a meteorite” – even if the launch is from Russian territory. Serial production of Sarmat ICBMs starts in 2021.

The Avangard simply cannot be intercepted by any existing system on the planet – and the US knows it. Here is General John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command:  “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”

Iran as the new Serbia?

I wish I had been in Paris – my home in Europe – to follow these concentric World War I–related plots live. But it was no less fascinating to follow them from Islamabad, where I am now, back from the northern part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The British Empire used 1.5 million to 2 million Indian colonial subjects to fight, and die, for empire in that war. Quite a few were Punjabis, from what is now Pakistan.

As for the future, Trump is certainly aware of Russia’s hypersonic breakthroughs. Trump and Putin also talked about Syria, and might have touched on Iran, although no one at the working lunch leaked anything about it.

Assuming the dialogue continues at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires at the end of November, Putin might be able to impress on Trump that just as Serbia catalyzed a chain of events that led great powers to sleepwalk into World War I, the same could happen with Iran leading to the terrifying prospect of World War III.

Team Trump’s obsession on strangling Iran into economic submission is a no-go, even for the Macron-Merkel-led European Union. On top of it, the Russia-China strategic partnership simply won’t allow any funny – reckless – games to be played against a crucial node of Eurasia integration.

Putin won’t even need to go hypersonic to make his case to Trump.

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Under the Pakistani volcano

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Via The Saker

November 04, 2018Under the Pakistani volcano

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

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

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

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

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

Xi’s financial lifeline for Khan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan juggles China, Iran, Saudi, Turkey

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

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

Of course, myriad challenges lie ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Go legal – or else…’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Taliban Godfather’ killed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Jungle

October 31, 2018

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with Consortium News by special agreement with the author)

A troubling new era has begun in Brazil with the election on Sunday of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro as president, writes Pepe Escobar.

It’s darkness at the break of (tropical) high noon.

Jean Baudrillard once defined Brazil as “the chlorophyll of our planet”. And yet a land vastly associated worldwide with the soft power of creative joie de vivre has elected a fascist for president.

Brazil is a land torn apart. Former paratrooper Jair Bolsonaro was elected with 55.63 percent of votes. Yet a record 31 million votes were ruled absent or null and void. No less than 46 million Brazilians voted for the Workers’ Party’s candidate, Fernando Haddad; a professor and former mayor of Sao Paulo, one of the crucial megalopolises of the Global South. The key startling fact is that over 76 million Brazilians did not vote for Bolsonaro.

His first speech as president exuded the feeling of a trashy jihad by a fundamentalist sect laced with omnipresent vulgarity and the exhortation of a God-given dictatorship as the path towards a new Brazilian Golden Age.

French-Brazilian sociologist Michael Lowy has described the Bolsonaro phenomenon as “pathological politics on a large scale”.

His ascension was facilitated by an unprecedented conjunction of toxic factors such as the massive social impact of crime in Brazil, leading to a widespread belief in violent repression as the only solution; the concerted rejection of the Workers’ Party, catalyzed by financial capital, rentiers, agribusiness and oligarchic interests; an evangelical tsunami; a “justice” system historically favoring the upper classes and embedded in State Department-funded “training” of judges and prosecutors, including the notorious Sergio Moro, whose single-minded goal during the alleged anti-corruption Car Wash investigation was to send Lula to prison; and the absolute aversion to democracy by vast sectors of the Brazilian ruling classes.

That is about to coalesce into a radically anti-popular, God-given, rolling neoliberal shock; paraphrasing Lenin, a case of fascism as the highest stage of neoliberalism. After all, when a fascist sells a “free market” agenda, all his sins are forgiven.

 

Bolsonaro: Leader of trashy jihad.

The Reign of BBBB

It’s impossible to understand the rise of Bolsonarism without the background of the extremely sophisticated Hybrid War unleashed on Brazil by the usual suspects. NSA spying – ranging from the Petrobras energy giant all the way to then President Dilma Rousseff’s mobile phone – was known since mid-2013 after Edward Snowden showed how Brazil was the most spied upon Latin American nation in the 2000’s.

The Pentagon-supplicant Superior War College in Rio has always been in favor of a gradual – but surefire – militarization of Brazilian politics aligned with U.S. national security interests. The curriculum of top U.S. military academies was uncritically adopted by the Superior War College.

The managers of Brazil’s industrial-military-technological complex largely survived the 1964-1985 dictatorship. They learned everything about psyops from the French in Algeria and the Americans in Vietnam. Over the years they evolved their conception of the enemy within; not only the proverbial “communists”, but also the Left as a whole as well as the vast masses of dispossessed Brazilians.

This led to the recent situation of generals threatening judges if they ever set Lula free. Bolsonaro’s running mate, the crude Generalito Hamilton Mourao, even threatened a military coup if the ticket did not win. Bolsonaro himself said he would never “accept” defeat.

This evolving militarization of politics perfectly meshed with the cartoonish BBBB (Bullet, Beef, Bible, Bank) Brazilian Congress.

Congress is virtually controlled by military, police and paramilitary forces; the powerful agribusiness and mining lobby, with their supreme goal of totally plundering the Amazon rainforest; evangelical factions; and banking/financial capital. Compare it with the fact that more than half of senators and one third of Congress are facing criminal investigations.

The Bolsonaro campaign used every trick in the book to flee any possibility of a TV debate, faithful to the notion that political dialogue is for suckers, especially when there’s nothing to debate.

After all, Bolsonaro’s top economic advisor, Chicago Boy Paulo Guedes – currently under investigation for securities fraud – had already promised to “cure” Brazil by bearing the usual gifts: privatize everything; destroy social spending; get rid of all labor laws as well as the minimum wage; let the beef lobby plunder the Amazon; and increase the weaponizing of all citizens to uber-NRA levels.

No wonder The Wall Street Journal normalized Bolsonaro as a “conservative populist” and the “Brazilian swamp-drainer”; this fact-free endorsement ignores that Bolsonaro is a lowly politico who has only passed two pieces of legislation in his 27 lackluster years in Congress.

WhatsApp Me to the Promised Land

Even as large misinformed masses progressively became aware of the massive Bolsonaro campaign manipulative scams on WhatsApp – a tropical post-Cambridge Analytica saga; and even as Bolsonaro pledged, on the record, that opponents would have only two options after Sunday’s elections, jail or exile, that was still not enough to arrest Brazil from inexorably slouching towards a dystopian, militarized BET (Banana Evangelical Theocracy).

In any mature democracy a bunch of businessmen – via black accounting – financing a multi-tentacle fake news campaign on WhatsApp against the Workers’ Party and Lula’s candidate Haddad would qualify as a major scandal.

WhatsApp is wildly popular in Brazil, much more than Facebook; so it had to be properly instrumentalized in this Brazilian remix of Cambridge Analytica-style Hybrid War.

The tactics were absolutely illegal because they qualified as undeclared campaign donations as well as corporate donations (forbidden by the Brazilian Supreme Court since 2015). The Brazilian Federal Police started an investigation that now is bound to head the same way of the Saudis investigating themselves on the Pulp Fiction fiasco in Istanbul.

The fake news tsunami was managed by the so-called Bolsominions. They are a hyper-loyal volunteer army, which purges anyone who dares to question the “Myth” (as the leader is referred to), while manipulating content 24/7 into memes, viral fake videos and assorted displays of “Bolso-swarm” ire.

Consider Washington’s outrage at Russians that may have interfered in U.S. elections allegedly using the same tactics the U.S. and its comprador elites used in Brazil.

Smashing the BRICS

Crushing the BRICS (Russian presidency)

 

On foreign policy, as far as Washington is concerned, Reichskommissar Bolsonaro may be very useful on three fronts.

The first one is geo-economic: to get the lion’s share of the vast pre-salt reserves for U.S. energy giants.

That would be the requisite follow-up to the coup de grace against Dilma Rousseff in 2013, when she approved a law orienting 75 percent of oil wealth royalties towards education and 25 percent to health care; a significant U.S.$ 122 billion over 10 years.

The other two fronts are geopolitical: blowing up the BRICS from the inside, and getting Brazil to do the dirty work in a Venezuela regime change ops, thus fulfilling the Beltway obsession on smashing the Venezuela-Cuba axis.

Using the pretext of mass immigration from Venezuela to the Brazilian stretch of the Amazon, Colombia – elevated to the status of key NATO partner, and egged on by Washington – is bound to count on Brazilian military support for regime change.

And then there’s the crucial China story.

China and Brazil are close BRICS partners. BRICS by now essentially means RC (Russia and China), much to the disgust of Moscow and Beijing, which counted on Haddad following in the footsteps of Lula, who was instrumental in enhancing BRICS geopolitical clout.

That brings us to a key point of inflexion in the rolling Hybrid War coup, when the Brazilian military became convinced that Rousseff’s cabinet was infiltrated by agents of Chinese intel.

Still, China remains Brazil’s top trade partner – ahead of the U.S., with bilateral trade reaching $75 billion last year. In parallel to being an avid consumer of Brazilian commodities, Beijing has already invested $124 billion in Brazilian companies and infrastructure projects since 2003.

Chicago Boy Guedes has recently met with Chinese diplomats. Bolsonaro is bound to receive a top Chinese delegation right at the start of his mandate. On the campaign trail, he hammered that “China is not buying in Brazil, China is buying Brazil”. Bolsonaro might attempt to pull a mini-Trump sanction overdrive on China. Yet he must be aware that the powerful agribusiness lobby has been profiting immensely from the U.S.-China trade war.

A mighty cliffhanger is guaranteed to come at the 2019 BRICS summit, which will take place in Brazil: picture tough guy Bolsonaro face to face with the real boss, Xi Jinping.

So what is the Brazilian military really up to? Answer: the Brazilian “Dependency Doctrine” – which is a true neocolonial mongrel.

On one level, the Brazilian military leadership is developmentalist, geared towards territorial integration, well-patrolled borders and fully disciplined, internal, social and economic “order.” At the same time they believe this should all be carried out under the supervision of the “indispensable nation.”

The military leaders reason that their own country is not knowledgeable enough to fight organized crime, cyber-security, bio-security, and, on the economy, to fully master a minimal state coupled with fiscal reform and austerity. For the bulk of the military elite, private foreign capital is always benign.

An inevitable consequence is to see Latin American and African nations as untermenschen; a reaction against Lula’s and Dilma’s emphasis on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and closer energy and logistical integration with Africa.

Can’t Rule Out Military Coup

Despite this there is internal military dissent – which could even open a possible way towards the removal of Bolsonaro, a mere puppet, to the benefit of the real thing: a general.

When the Workers’ Party was in power, the Navy and the Air Force were quite pleased by strategic projects such as a nuclear submarine, a supersonic fighter jet and satellites launched by Made in Brazil rockets. Their reaction remains to be seen in the event Bolsonaro ditches these techno-breakthroughs for good.

The key question may be whether there is a direct connection between the cream of the crop of Brazilian military academies; the “dependency generals” and their psyops techniques; different evangelical factions; and the post-Cambridge Analytica tactics deployed by the Bolsonaro campaign. Would it be a nebula congregating all these cells, or is it a loose network?

Arguably the best answer is provided by war anthropologist Piero Leirner, who conducted deep research in the Brazilian Armed Forces and told me, “there’s no previous connection. Bolsonaro is a post-fact. The only possible connection is between certain campaign traits and psyops.” Leirner stresses, “Cambridge Analytica and Bannon represent the infrastructure, but the quality of information, to send contradictory signals and then an order resolution coming as a third way, this is military strategy from CIA psyop manuals.”

Brazilian Military: Keeping an eye on Bolsonaro. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are cracks though. Leirner sees the arch of disparate forces supporting Bolsonaro as a “bricolage” which sooner or later will disintegrate. What next? A sub-Pinochet General?

Why Bolsonaro is not Trump

In The Road to Somewhere; The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, David Goodhart shows that the driving force behind populism is not the fascist love of an ultra-nation. It’s anomie – that feeling of a vague existential threat posed by modernity. That applies to all forms of Right populism in the West.

Thus we have the opposition between “Somewheres” and “Anywheres”. We have “Somewheres” that want their nations’ democracy to be enjoyed only by the “home” ethnicity, with the national culture not contaminated by “foreign” influences.

And we have “Anywheres” who inhabit the roootless postmodern vortex of multiculturalism and foreign travel for business. These are a demographic minority – but a majority within political, economic, educational and professional elites.

This leads Goodhart to make a crucial distinction between populism and fascism – ideologically and psychologically.

The standard legal distinction can be found in German constitutional law. Right populism is “radical” – thus legal. Fascism is “extreme,” thus illegal.

Trump being labeled a “fascist” is false. Bolsonaro in the West has been labeled “The Tropical Trump.” The fact is Trump is a Right populist – who happens to deploy a few policies that could even be characterized as Old Left.

The record reveals Bolsonaro as a racist, misogynist, homophobic, weaponizing thug, favoring a white, patriarchal, hierarchical, hetero-normative and “homogenous” Brazil; an absurdity in a deeply unequal society still ravaged by the effects of slavery and where the majority of the population is mixed race. Besides, historically, fascism is a radical bourgeois Final Solution about total annihilation of the working class. That makes Bolsonaro an outright fascist.

Trump is even mode moderate than Bolsonaro. He does not incite supporters to literally exterminate his opponents. After all, Trump has to respect the framework of a republic with long-standing, even if flawed, democratic institutions.

That was never the case in the young Brazilian democracy – where a president may now behave as if human rights are a communist, and UN, plot. The Brazilian working classes, intellectual elites, social movements and all minorities have plenty of reasons to fear the New Order; in Bolsonaro’s own words, “they will be banned from our motherland.” The criminalization/dehumanization of any opposition means, literally, that tens of millions of Brazilians are worthless.

Talk to Nietzsche

The sophisticated Hybrid War rolling coup in Brazil that started in 2014, had a point of inflexion in 2016 and culminating in 2018 with impeaching a president; jailing another; smashing the Right and the Center-Right; and in a post-politics-on-steroids manner, opening the path to neo-fascism.

Bolsonaro though is a – mediocre – black void cipher. He does not have the political structure, the knowledge, not to mention the intelligence to have come so far, our of the blue, without a hyper-complex, state of the art, cross-border intel support system. No wonder he’s a Steve Bannon darling.

In contrast, the Left – as in Europe – once again was stuck in analog mode. No way any progressive front, especially in this case as it was constituted at the eleventh hour, could possibly combat the toxic tsunami of cultural war, identity politics and micro-targeted fake news.

They lost a major battle. At least they now know this is hardcore, all-out war. To destroy Lula – the world’s foremost political prisoner – the Brazilian elites had to destroy Brazil. Still, Nietzsche always prevails; whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The vanguard of global resistance against neo-fascism as the higher stage of neoliberalism has now moved south of the Equator. No pasarán.

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030. Follow him on Facebook.

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Who profits from the end of the mid-range nuclear treaty?

October 26, 2018

Who profits from the end of the mid-range nuclear treaty?

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

The US move to shelve the Intermediate-range Nuclear-Forces treaty could accelerate the demise of the whole post-WWII Western alliance, and herald a bad remix of the 1930s

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its Doomsday Clock to only 2 minutes to midnight. It might be tempting to turn this into a mere squabble about arrows and olives if this wasn’t such a terrifying scenario.

US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, secretary-general of the USSR, signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987.

The Arms Control Association was extremely pleased. “The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification.”

Three decades later, the Trump administration wants to unilaterally pull out of the INF Treaty.

Earlier this week President Trump sent his national security adviser John Bolton to officially break the news to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

As they were discussing extremely serious issues such as implications of a dissolving INF Treaty, the perpetuation of anti-Russia sanctions, the risk of not extending a new START Treaty and the deployment, in Putin’s words, of “some elements of the missile shield in outer space”, the Russian President got into, well, arrows and olives:

“As I recall, there is a bald eagle pictured on the US coat of arms: it holds 13 arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other as a symbol of peaceful policy: a branch with 13 olives. My question: has your eagle already eaten all the olives leaving only the arrows?”

Bolton’s response: “I didn’t bring any olives.”

A ‘new strategic reality’?

By now it’s clear the Trump administration’s rationale for pulling out of the INF Treaty is due, in Bolton’s words, to “a new strategic reality”. The INF is being dismissed as a “bilateral treaty in a multipolar ballistic missile world”, which does not take into consideration the missile capabilities of China, Iran and North Korea.

But there is a slight problem. The INF Treaty limits missiles with a range from 500 km to 5,000 km. China, Iran and North Korea simply cannot pose a “threat” to the United States by deploying such missiles. The INF is all about the European theater of war.

So, it’s no wonder the reaction in Brussels and major European capitals has been of barely disguised horror.

EU diplomats have told Asia Times the US decision was a “shock”, and “the last straw for the EU as it jeopardizes our very existence, subjecting us to nuclear destruction by short-range missiles”, which would never be able to reach the US heartland.

The “China” reason – that Russia is selling Beijing advanced missile technology – simply does not cut it in Europe, as the absolute priority is European security. EU diplomats are establishing a parallel to the possibility – which was more than real last year – that Washington could nuclear-bomb North Korea unilaterally. South Korea and Japan, in that case, would be nuclear “collateral damage”. The same might happen to Europe in the event of a US-Russia nuclear shoot-out.

It goes without saying that shelving the INF could even accelerate the demise of the whole post-WWII Western alliance, heralding a remix of the 1930s with a vengeance.

And the clock keeps ticking

Reports that should be critically examined in detail assert that US superiority over China’s military power is rapidly shrinking. Yet China is not much of a military technology powerhouse compared to Russia and its state of the art hypersonic missiles.

NATO may be relatively strong on the missile front – but it still wouldn’t be able to compete with Russia in a potential battle in Europe.

The supreme danger, in Doomsday Clock terms, is the obsession by certain US neocon factions that Washington could prevail in a “limited”, localized, tactical nuclear war against Russia.

That’s the whole rationale behind extending US first-strike capability as close as possible to the Russian western borderlands.

Russian analysts stress that Moscow is already – “unofficially” – perfecting what would be their own first-strike capability in these borderlands. The mere hint of NATO attempting to start a countdown in Poland, the Baltics or the Black Sea may be enough to encourage Russia to strike.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov starkly refuted Trump and Bolton’s claims that Russia was violating the INF Treaty: “As far as we understood, the US side has made a decision, and it will launch formal procedures for withdrawing from this treaty in the near future.”

As for Russia’s resolve, everything one needs to know is part of Putin’s detailed intervention at the Valdai Economic Forum. Essentially, Putin did not offer any breaking news – but a stark reminder that Moscow will strike back at any provocation configured as a threat to the future of Russia.

Russians, in this case, would “die like martyrs” and the response to an attack would be so swift and brutal that the attackers would “die like dogs”.

The harsh language may not be exactly diplomatic. What it does is reflect plenty of exasperation towards the US conservatives who peddle the absurd notion of a “limited” nuclear war.

The harsh language also reflects a certainty that whatever the degree of escalation envisaged by the Trump administration and the Pentagon, that won’t be enough to neutralize Russian hypersonic missiles.

So, it’s no wonder that EU diplomats, trying to ease their discomfort, recognize that this, in the end, is all about the Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine and the necessity of keeping the massive US military-industrial-surveillance complex running.

Even as the clock keeps ticking closer to midnight.

What sanctions on Russia and China really mean

Via The Saker

October 18, 2018

What sanctions on Russia and China really mean

The Pentagon may not be advocating total war against both Russia and China – as it has been interpreted in some quarters

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

A crucial Pentagon report on the US defense industrial base and “supply chain resiliency” bluntly accuses China of “military expansion” and “a strategy of economic aggression,” mostly because Beijing is the only source for “a number of chemical products used in munitions and missiles.”

Russia is mentioned only once, but in a crucial paragraph: as a – what else – “threat,” alongside China, for the US defense industry.

The Pentagon, in this report, may not be advocating total war against both Russia and China – as it was interpreted in some quarters. What it does is configure the trade war against China as even more incandescent, while laying bare the true motivations behind the sanctioning of Russia.

The US Department of Commerce has imposed restrictions on 12 Russian corporations that are deemed to be acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the US.” In practice, this means that American corporations cannot export dual-use products to any of the sanctioned Russian companies.

There are very clear reasons behind these sanctions – and they are not related to national security. It’s all about “free market” competition.

At the heart of the storm is the Irkut MC-21 narrow-body passenger jet – the first in the world with a capacity of more than 130 passengers to have composite-based wings.

AeroComposit is responsible for the development of these composite wings. The estimated share of composites in the overall design is 40%.

The MC-21’s PD-14 engine – which is unable to power combat jets – will be manufactured by Aviadvigatel. Until now MC-21s had Pratt & Whitney engines. The PD-14 is the first new engine 100% made in Russia since the break up of the USSR.

Aviation experts are sure that an MC-21 equipped with a PD-14 easily beats the competition; the Airbus A320 and the Boeing-737.

Then there’s the PD-35 engine – which Aviadvigatel is developing specifically to equip an already announced Russia-China wide-body twinjet airliner to be built by the joint venture China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corp Ltd (CRAIC), launched in May 2017 in Shanghai.

Aviation experts are convinced this is the only project anywhere in the world capable of challenging the decades-long monopoly of Boeing and Airbus.

Will these sanctions prevent Russia from perfecting the MC-21 and investing in the new airliner? Hardly. Top military analyst Andrei Martyanov convincingly makes the case that these sanctions are at best “laughable,” considering how “makers of avionics and aggregates” for the ultra-sophisticated Su-35 and Su-57 fighter jets would have no problem replacing Western parts on commercial jets.

Oh China, you’re so ‘malign’

Even before the Pentagon report, it was clear that the Trump administration’s number one goal in relation to China was to ultimately cut off extended US corporate supply chains and re-implant them – along with tens of thousands of jobs – back into the US.

This radical reorganization of global capitalism may not be exactly appealing for US multinationals because they would lose all the cost-benefit advantages that seduced them to delocalize to China in the first place. And the lost advantages won’t be offset by more corporate tax breaks.

It gets worse – from the point to view of global trade: for Trump administration hawks, the re-industrialization of the US presupposes Chinese industrial stagnation. That explains to a large extent the all-out demonization of the high-tech Made in China 2025 drive in all its aspects.

And this flows in parallel to demonizing Russia. Thus we have US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke threatening no less than a blockade of Russian energy flows: “The United States has that ability, with our Navy, to make sure the sea lanes are open, and, if necessary, to blockade … to make sure that their energy does not go to market.”

The commercial and industrial demonization of China reached a paroxysm with Vice-President Mike Pence accusing China of “reckless harassment,” trying to “malign” Trump’s credibility and even being the top US election meddler, displacing Russia. That’s hardly attuned to a commercial strategy whose main goal should be to create US jobs.

President Xi Jinping and his advisers are not necessarily averse to making a few trade concessions. But that becomes impossible, from Beijing’s point of view, when China is sanctioned because it is buying Russian weapons systems.

Beijing also can read some extra writing on the trade wall, an inevitable consequence of Pence’s accusations; Magnitsky-style sanctioning of Russian individuals and businesses may soon be extended to the Chinese.

After all, Pence said Russia’s alleged interference in US affairs paled in comparison with China’s “malign” actions.

China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, in his interview with Fox News, strove for his diplomatic best: “It would be hard to imagine that one-fifth of the global population could develop and prosper, not by relying mainly on their own efforts, but by stealing or forcing some transfer of technology from others … That’s impossible. The Chinese people are as hard-working and diligent as anybody on earth.”

That is something that will be validated once again in Brussels this week at the biennial ASEM – Asia Europe – summit, first held in 1996. The theme of this year’s summit is “Europe and Asia: global partners and global challenges.” At the top of the agenda is trade, investment and connectivity – at least between Europe and Asia.

Washington’s offensive on China should not be interpreted under the optics of “fair trade,” but rather as a strategy for containing China technologically, which touches upon the absolutely crucial theme: to prevent China from developing the connectivity supporting the extended supply chains which are at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

We don’t need no peer competitors

A glaring giveaway that these overlapping sanctions on Russia and China are all about the good old Brzezinski fear of Eurasia being dominated by the emergence of “peer competitors” was recently offered by Wess Mitchell, the US State Department Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs – the same post previously held by Victoria “F*ck the EU” Nuland.

This is the original Mitchell testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And this is the redacted, sanitized State Department version.

A crucial phrase in the middle of the second paragraph simply disappeared: “It continues to be among the foremost national security interests of the United States to prevent the domination of the Eurasian landmass by hostile powers.”

That’s all the geopolitics Beijing and Moscow need to know. Not that they didn’t know it already.

The new Silk route on rails

The new Silk route on rails

October 06, 2018

By Nat South for The Saker Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new Silk route on rails

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

The key railway projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

The Russian link

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Deeper inland hubs

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

 

Here comes the 30-year trade war

 

September 24, 2018Here comes the 30-year trade war

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

Trade tensions between the US and China could drag on for decades but China’s focus on its Belt and Road Initiative could provide relief

Alibaba’s Jack Ma has warned that the ongoing US-China trade war could last at least 20 years. As we’ll see, it’s actually more like 30 – up to 2049, the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Steve Bannon always boasted that President Trump was bound to conduct a “sophisticated form of economic warfare” to confront China.

The logic underpinning the warfare is that if you squeeze the Chinese economy hard enough Beijing will submit and “play by the rules.”

The Trump administration plan – which is, in fact, trade deficit hawk Peter Navarro’s plan – has three basic targets:

  1. Displace China from the heart of global supply chains.
  2. Force companies to source elsewhere in the Global South all the components necessary for manufacturing their products.
  3. Force multinational corporations to stop doing business in China.

The overarching concept is that unending confrontation with China is bound to scare companies/investors away.

There’s no evidence South Korean or German conglomerates, for instance, would withdraw from the vast Chinese market and/or production facilities.

And even if the Flight Away from China actually happened, arguably the American economy would suffer as much, if not more, than China’s.

The latest US tariff volley may lower China’s GDP by only 0.9 percentage points, according to Bloomberg Economics. But China may still grow a healthy 6.3% in 2019.

This is a decent overview, with numbers, of what the trade war might cost China.

What’s certain is that Beijing, as confirmed by a rash of editorials in Chinese state media, will not just play defense.

Beijing sees the trade war as “protracted.” A Commercial Cold War 2.0 atmosphere is now in effect but China is fighting the ideological war on two fronts. At home, Beijing is using strong language to define its position against the US but taking a significantly softer approach in the international arena.

It’s extremely helpful to understand how the current situation has arisen by examining the work of Wang Hui, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Tsinghua University, top essayist and the star player of China’s New Left.

Hui is the author of the significant The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought, published in 2005 and still without an English translation.

Some of Hui’s key conclusions still apply 13 years later, as he explains how Chinese society has not yet adapted to its newfound status in international relations; how it has not solved the “accumulated contradictions” during the breathtakingly fast process of marketization; and how it still has not mastered the inherent risks in the globalization drive.

Hui’s analysis is echoed in many a Chinese editorial including delicious throwback lines such as the “sharpening of internal contradictions” in international relations. After all “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” as codified by Deng Xiaoping and renewed by Xi Jinping, excels in exploiting and bypassing “internal contradictions.”

It’s all about BRI

Jack Ma, also hinted at a bigger picture, when he said that to counter the trade war, China should focus exports across the New Silk Roads/Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), specifically mentioning Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

Five years after President Xi launched BRI – then named One Belt One Road (OBOR) – in Astana and then Jakarta, it’s only natural that Ma concentrates on what I have emphasized to be the primary Chinese foreign policy strategy for the next three decades.

It’s never enough to stress that BRI’s six main connectivity corridors, spanning up to 65 nations, according to the original timetable, are still in the planning stage up to 2021. That’s when actual implementation starts, all the way to 2049.

Ma alluded to BRI expansion across strategically positioned nations of the Global South, including Central, South and Southeast Asia as well as Africa and Eastern Europe.

Quite a few of these nations have been extremely receptive to BRI, including 11 that the UN describes as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), such as Laos, Djibouti and Tanzania. BRI projects – and not World Bank projects with strings attached – represent the solution to their infrastructure woes.

Thus we see Beijing signing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for BRI projects with no less than 37 African nations and the African Union (AU).

As BRI is closely interlinked with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the bank will handle financing for BRI projects in Indonesia.

And the US-China trade war extrapolates to third countries such as Brazil profiting in terms of its commoditiesexports.

China is slowly but surely attempting to master the fine-tuning of financing complexities for projects in multiple connectivity corridors – including those in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar and Kazakhstan. At the same time, Chinese companies keep an eye on a political deal that will have to be brokered by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to unlock the BRI integration of Afghanistan.

In cases of nations excessively exposed to Chinese investment – such as Laos, Djibouti, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – China is deploying a range of financing options from debt relief to clinching long-term contracts to buy natural resources. Whether China will leverage financing of strategic deep-water ports in Myanmar and Djibouti to build a “string of pearls” dotting the Indian Ocean supply chains is pure speculation.

A key vector to watch is how Germany and France approach BRI’s inroads in Central and Eastern Europe, for instance, via the Budapest-Belgrade high-speed rail linked, BRI-style, to Piraeus port in the Mediterranean. Italy is in – the Adriatic is connected to BRI. Germany is in with arguably BRI’s key European terminal in the Ruhr valley. France, however, dithers.

Russia is also in. Nearly 70 projects are being co-financed by BRI and the Eurasia Economic Union  (EAEU). The Vladivostok forum once again proved the Russia-China strategic partnership, and its BRI/EAEU extension is in full effect.

A flimsy developed strategy by the Quad (US, India, Japan, Australia) has no potential to derail BRI’s reach, complexity, wealth of capital and human resources.

For all the financial/soft power challenges, BRI participant nations, especially across the Global South, are locked on their side of the Chinese infrastructure investment “win-win” bargain. The current, relentless BRI-bashing is not only myopic but irrelevant, as BRI, constantly fine-tuned, will keep expanding all the way to 2049. What it will certainly face is a 30-year trade war

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