April 21, 2018

10 Takeaways from the Fight against the Islamic State

23/03/2018 Michael Dempsey Conflict

Image courtesy of DMA Army -Soldiers/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 12 March 2018.

Nearly three years on from the Islamic State’s high water mark in the summer of 2015, there are several lessons that the United States and its allies can discern from the terrorist group’s meteoric rise to control large parts of Iraq and Syria to the loss of its physical caliphate late last year. The steady decline in ISIL’s fortunes is striking given the palpable fear its rise in the summer of 2014 sparked across Washington, when a common question circulating within the policy community was whether Baghdad itself might fall. Many of these takeaways will be relevant to U.S. policymakers as they attempt to prevent the group from reconstituting itself in the coming months.

ISIL is Hurting Without a Safe Haven

Since the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, ISIL’s external operations have been sharply curtailed, and its communications have been greatly reduced (almost three quarters of the group’s media outlets have fallen silent since late last year). Absent its control of territory in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is now focusing primarily on trying to grow its eight overseas branches and inspire lone wolf operations abroad. It’s clear that denying the Islamic State its physical caliphate has been deleterious to the group’s operations. As such, denying the Islamic State control of physical terrain anywhere in the world should be job number one for those who want to see this group defeated decisively.  

The Islamic State Still Gravitates Toward Chaos

The Islamic State loves a vacuum. After rising again to prominence in the wake of the Syrian civil war and the political dysfunction of Iraq under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, today the group is making its greatest inroads in troubled areas from the Sinai and Libya to Yemen and parts of Southeast Asia. In Yemen alone, the Pentagon estimates that the Islamic State’s presence has doubled over the past year. Across the globe, the Islamic State has proven itself skilled at exploiting the erosion or collapse of local government authority and legitimacy, and at appealing to Sunni populations that feel threatened by growing Shia political power. The movement is also continuing to gain energy (and recruits) from the turmoil caused by the ongoing Iranian-Saudi conflict, which today shows no sign of abating and which is instead fueling the destructive war in Yemen.

The Islamic State is Hard to Oust from Cities

For most of the past two years, the bulk of U.S. and coalition military efforts against ISIL have been focused on ousting the group from cities under its control. This has frequently required block-to-block fighting by U.S. coalition allies backed by American airpower in scenes reminiscent of World War II combat. For example, in Sirte, Libya, progress in ousting the Islamic State was, for months, measured by the number of city blocks seized by the Misratan militia each day. Similar scenes played out in both Mosul and Raqqa.

In these cities, ISIL adopted a common tactical playbook, which included trapping and using civilians as human shields, cleverly using smoke to mask movements and obscure coalition airpower, destroying key transportation arteries into the cities, using tunnels to move personal and equipment, deploying suicide car bombs, and concentrating its forces in heavily booby-trapped buildings. Taken together, these tactics contributed to fights that devastated local infrastructure and triggered a wave of refugees—many of whom have yet to return home. It’s clear the Islamic State recognizes the utility of operating in cities, so U.S. policymakers and their coalition allies should expect more of that in the future.

The Islamic State is Adapting its Battlefield Tactics

In light of recent setbacks, ISIL fighters are increasingly focusing on suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations, and are avoiding large-scale battles with coalition forces. On 19 February, ISIL fighters ambushed a Shia militia group near Hawija, Iraq, the deadliest such attack since Hawija was wrested from ISIL control last October. In recent months, ISIL has used drones to target U.S. and coalition forces operating near both Raqqa and Mosul, reflecting the group’s intent to inflict as much harm as possible on its enemies while minimizing its own casualties. And in January, the group’s media wing announced that the group last year had conducted nearly 800 suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria, strongly suggesting that its leaders view this tactic as their best battlefield option for the foreseeable future.

The Islamic State is Also Shifting its Narrative

In recent monthsthe group’s public messaging campaign has, for obvious reasons, abandoned its emphasis on the physical caliphate and the religious obligation of Muslims to support it, Instead, it focuses almost exclusively on military conflict. As Charlie Winter wrote late last year in Wired UK, “92 percent of the group’s propaganda now revolves around war, and war alone.” The Islamic State’s desire to inspire as many lone wolf attacks around the world as possible dramatically increases the burden on governments and the private sector to identify ways to monitor those susceptible to the jihadist group’s new pitch, stay ahead of the Islamic State’s shifting online messaging efforts (which are not bound by the cyber norms followed by state actors), and develop effective counter-radicalization strategies.

Don’t Overlook the Islamic State’s Deep-Rooted Vulnerabilities

Because of the Islamic State’s notoriety, it’s easy to focus only on the group’s strengths. But, in reality, the group continues to suffer from many of the same shortcomings that have plagued the group since its creation in Iraq more than a decade ago. On the battlefield, the Islamic State has never found an effective way to counter U.S. and coalition air power, which has undercut its ability to mass forces and concentrate resources. In terms of governance, the Islamic State has demonstrated administrative skill when in control of territory, but it’s primarily adept at extracting natural resources and exploiting existing businesses and has proven far less capable of actually creating anything. In its branding, the Islamic State’s reliance on extreme violence, including in its propaganda videos showing bloody footage from attacks claimed by ISIL, continues to alienate virtually the entire Muslim community. And in its leadership approach, the Islamic State’s practice of entrusting only high-level foreign fighters with key leadership positions (a pattern practiced by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq more than a decade ago) continues to alienate local communities. A common complaint expressed by disillusioned recruits is that the Islamic State goes to great lengths to protect its leaders while allowing local residents and ill-trained, low-level foreign volunteers to bear the brunt of the fighting.

Don’t Underestimate Local Security Forces

As ISIL seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq three years ago, it became commonplace in the West to bemoan a lack of reliable military partners on the ground. Indeed, I participated in numerous White House meetings and congressional hearings at the time in which the level of frustration with America’s lack of credible military partners was unmistakable. It’s certainly true that in the summer of 2014, the Iraqi military largely melted away in the face of ISIL’s offensive, largely owing to the dysfunctional leadership it had experienced in the preceding years under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it’s also true that with intensive U.S. military training, including by forward based U.S. special operations forces, increased U.S. close air support, and vastly improved political and military leadership in Baghdad, the Iraqi armed forces (particularly its special operations forces) performed admirably and played a critical role in driving ISIL from the territory it once held in Iraq.

Similarly, in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (the U.S. backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters) deserve great credit for driving ISIL out of thousands of square miles of territory it once claimed. The Syrian Democratic Forces also played a lead role in assaulting the capital of ISIL’s caliphate, Raqqa. While there is no doubt that the U.S. military’s assistance, especially through close air support, in both Iraq and Syria underpinned the success of both the Iraqi military and the Syrian Democratic Forces, it’s clear that local forces did a lot of the fighting and dying, and that they proved up to the challenge when properly led and supported.

Competing Interests Abound

While the U.S.-led counter-ISIL coalition is more than 70 nations strong, it’s also true that from the beginning of the conflict several major countries have pursued divergent agendas. For example, Ankara’s ongoing military operations against the Kurdish enclave in Afrin, in northwestern Syria, is threatening to derailKurdish support for the broader counter-ISIL campaign. And while Russia purportedly entered the Syrian conflict in 2015 to target ISIL, it has spent most of its energy in Syria in combatting other groups who oppose Bashar al-Assad’s regime. So, while many of the countries fighting in Syria and Iraq, including Iran, are genuinely worried about the danger ISIL poses and the broader extremist threat, it’s also apparent that they are pursuing their own self-interests in such a way that has often trumped cooperation against ISIL when necessary.

The United States Needs a Focal Point

From nearly a standing start in 2014, the U.S. policy community organized an integrated strategy that laid the groundwork for the successful counter-ISIL campaign of the past three years. Central to that effort was the appointment of a special envoy to help organize this effort, currently veteran diplomat Brett McGurk, who became the government’s focal point and chief interlocutor with the counter-ISIL coalition. In my view, the special envoy’s efforts have been critical in focusing the inter-agency on core military and diplomatic requirements, and in presenting a unified message to America’s coalition partners. There are rumors floating around Washington that this special envoy position may be eliminated soon, but, in my view, it’s vital that there remain one central entity and official charged with coordinating all of the U.S. government’s (and the coalition’s) disparate counter-ISIL efforts. The progress achieved in recent years in formulating a unified response to the threat of the Islamic State has been remarkable, and U.S. policymakers may want to proceed cautiously in altering an approach that has worked so well.

The Fight Isn’t Over

Given the rapid progress America and its partners have achieved in eliminating the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, it would be easy to believe that this fight is winding down. Indeed, a decision to shift America’s military focus from the Islamic State would be understandable given the North Korean standoff and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. But while ISIL is clearly on its heels, it remains a wily and determined foe capable of inflicting grievous harm if given the chance, and of reconstituting itself if the underlying conditions that fueled its rise are not addressed. If nothing else, the past three years should have taught U.S. policymakers that there is no single solution to defeating the Islamic State, and that what’s required is a multi-pronged, multi-year campaign with several key elements. First, to maintain steady military pressure on ISIL remnants in both Iraq and Syria. Second, to prioritize the fight against the Islamic State’s most important nodes, especially in the Sinai and Libya. Third, to increase financial investment and loans to help rebuild shattered communities (especially vulnerable Sunni ones) in Iraq and Syria. Fourth, to expand diplomatic efforts to help reduce Iran-Saudi tensions, especially by reaching an agreement to help resolve their proxy conflict in Yemen. And finally, to increase cooperation between the U.S. government and the private sector to counter online radicalization.

In the end, perhaps the most important lesson of the past three years of this fight is that while America and its coalition allies have made remarkable progress against ISIL, there is still considerable work left to do.

About the Author

Michael P Dempsey is the National Intelligence Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellowship sponsored by the US government. He is also the former acting US Director of National Intelligence

Russia´s Propaganda War about Syria: How Pro-Kremlin Twitter Accounts Manipulate the West

13/04/2018 Sophie Eisentraut Social Media

Image courtesy of Walkerssk/Pixabay

This article was originally published by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in March 2018.

Moscow is keen to exploit the conflict in Syria in its information war against the West. Russian messaging on Syria is meant to help expel Americans from the country. It is also aimed at discrediting the liberal ideas that have long defined the West.

Since Russia directly entered the Syrian war in 2015, the Kremlin has been keen to exploit Syria for domestic propaganda purposes. Most importantly, Moscow seeks to portray its involvement as proof that Russia’s great power status has finally been restored. By shifting Russians’ focus to Moscow’s foreign policy adventures, the Kremlin also attempts to distract its citizens from serious domestic problems, chiefly the dire economic outlook for the country.

Yet the war being waged in Syria not only chimes with the Kremlin’s domestic propaganda goals, it is also a dominant motive in the disinformation war with which Moscow is targeting the West. In this regard, most public attention has been paid to Moscow’s aggressive attempts at globally discrediting the White Helmets, the volunteer organisation engaged in rescue work in Syria.

Yet Russian messaging about the war in Syria is much more nuanced. This is apparent in data harvested by the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), a transatlantic initiative housed at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Since summer 2017, the ASD has been monitoring pro-Kremlin Twitter accounts linked to influence operations in the United States (via its Hamilton 68 dashboard) and in Germany (via its Artikel 38 dashboard). Data collected for this article from both dashboards over the past six months reveal that in contrast to other topics promoted by the pro-Kremlin networks, stories and narratives related to Syria are often Russian-produced, with RT (Deutsch) and Sputnik (Deutschland) being referenced particularly often. The data also suggest that Russian-linked Tweets intended for Western audiences rely on two primary messaging tactics.

First, the narratives promoted support Russia’s more immediate goals in Syria, most importantly the goals to undermine Western engagement in the country and to increase Russia’s (and Bashar al-Assad’s) leverage over the conflict resolution.

The stories and headlines promoted in pro-Kremlin Tweets are clearly aimed at increasing pressure on the Americans and their allies to abandon their engagement in Syria. Syria, these stories claim, is mostly restored to normality, suggesting that the only impediment to lasting peace is the continuing US military presence. One story recently pushed to the pro-Kremlin network’s US audience claims that the Syrian peace process is essentially being stymied by the Americans, who harbour radical militants in their garrison at al-Tanf, from which jihadists then launch attacks.

By amplifying reports about the military advances of Assad’s and Vladimir Putin’s troops, the Russian- linked Tweets seek to generate the impression that there is no alternative to Assad – and certainly none to talking to Moscow. Stories promoted by the networks that describe the “rhythm in which the Syrian army and Russian forces […] progress its irreversible military victory [sic]” thus buttress Putin’s desire to control any peace process and to avoid Assad’s removal at all costs.

Yet the messaging tactics deployed by pro-Kremlin accounts include a second, more long-term thread in Russia’s information war against the West: using Syria to broadly discredit Western stabilization efforts in foreign countries, sow doubt about the motives for Western foreign engagement, and subvert the very idea of humanitarian interventions and aid – all despite the fact that the West is neither officially engaged in a “stabilization mission” nor in a “humanitarian intervention” in Syria.

To this end, the narratives pushed by the networks shrewdly exploit pre-existing resentments about Western interventionism among audiences. Most importantly, the networks draw parallels with America’s war in Iraq, recycling motives that may easily arouse anti-American sentiments, including the US lust for oil and fabricated evidence used to justify foreign occupation. In sum, their messaging suggests that the war in Syria is not the result of a domestic revolution but was stoked by the West. Rather than fight terrorists, the West launched a “war of aggression” against the legitimate Syrian regime. By allying with terrorists to topple Assad, the US and its allies inflicted serious harm upon Syrians, “unleashing” a “wave of terrorism” against which the Syrian regime is now defending its people.

Pro-Kremlin Tweets suggest that in order to help the West realize its plans “to control the oilrich Middle East” Western media disguise the occupation as a “humanitarian intervention”, fabricating evidence of atrocities that the Syrian regime allegedly committed against its own people. In response to the massacre of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, one recently promoted story referred to “a disgusting, emotive propaganda game over the Syrian war” played by the West, accusing it of falsely blaming Assad and the Russians. Other headlines designed to discredit Western media reporting include “Syria: The absurdities of Western war propaganda” and “The Guardian journalist who takes ‘afternoon tea’ with ISIS and survives”.

Among the most prominent conspiracy theories fed by pro-Kremlin Tweets is the claim that Americans fund and equip Syrian terrorists, employing headlines like “US orders Al-Qaida to attack Syrian troops in Idlib” and “Bombshell report confirms US coalition struck a deal with ISIS”.

By feeding these interrelated narratives, Moscow hopes to upend patterns of Western foreign engagement (in Syria and elsewhere) that the Kremlin loathes. Just as importantly, it is intent upon undermining Western societies’ commitment to the liberal ideas that have long defined the West.

About the Author

Sophie Eisentraut is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs’ Global Security Research Programme

April 20, 2018

A two-way street: why China is not just a student departure lounge anymore


A two-way street: why China is not just a student departure lounge anymore

Posted on Apr 20, 2018 by Chris ParrPosted in Analysis, under Asia.
Tagged with China, Student mobility.
Bookmark the permalink.

Mainland China has long been known as something of a student departure lounge. Between 1978 and 2016, it is estimated that more than 4.5 million Chinese studied outside their home country, to the huge cultural and financial benefit of the universities in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and beyond.

China is seeing significant bilateral student traffic. Photo: Reisefreheit_eu/Pixabay

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About Chris Parr
Chris Parr is a freelance education journalist based in London. He was formally a reporter and digital editor at Times Higher Education, and writes regularly for a range of national education titles.

It is well on course to meet its self-imposed target of hosting 500,000 international students by 2020

It has not always been a two-way street. According to The New York Times, just 20 years ago there were only 3.4 million students studying in China.

Today, however, it is thought that more than 26 million people are enrolled in Chinese universities, and nearly 490,000 of them are from overseas.

“China wants to be seen as a major player internationally in terms of higher education”

Times, it seems, are changing. China wants to be seen as a premier higher education destination – and some would argue it already is.

Indeed, the country is now behind only the US and the UK in terms of the total number of international students on its campuses, and has been for several years.

It is well on course to meet its self-imposed target of hosting 500,000 international students by 2020 – a figure that, based on current numbers, would see it leapfrog the UK in that particular league table.

“Last year we had the highest number of international students we have had over the last five years,” says Iris Yuan, director of international affairs at The Sino-British College, an international university college established by the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and nine British universities.

“International student numbers have increased 45% in that time, [and] here is the rationale. China wants to be seen as a major player internationally in terms of higher education. The government wants to boost the internationalisation for our universities as part of a ‘soft power’ policy to project China internationally.”

More than 489,000 international students were studying in China between in 2017, a 10% rise compared to 2016. According to Ministry of Education data, there has been a 299% increase since 2004.

Source: Ministry of Education / Center for Strategic and International Studies

Much of this recent growth is arguably down to the One Belt One Road Initiative, one of the largest overseas investment drives ever launched.

It is, primarily, an infrastructure project. Some $900 billion has been allocated to initiatives that will boost both land (the ‘Belt’) and sea (the old ‘Silk Road’) trade routes which run West, to Europe, via Asia. China says its aim is to usher in a ‘new era of globalisation’ that will benefit not only itself, but all countries in the region.

“The One Belt, One Road strategy is aimed not only at strengthening exchanges between China and the rest of the world, but also at ensuring the development of Asia,” explains Yuan. “Education is the one of the most important aspects of this strategy.”

The number of China-based African students increased 26-fold to around 50,000 between 2003 and 2015

Wang Huiyao, founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, an influential Beijing-based think-tank, agrees. “We are still lagging behind by the US on soft power,” he said at the launch of a CCG report on international student mobility earlier this year.

“There are more than 300 world leaders including presidents, prime ministers and ministers around the globe that graduated from US universities, but only a few foreign leaders that graduated from Chinese universities, so we still need to exercise effort to boost academic exchange and educate more political elites from other countries. The Belt and Road initiative is a good chance to achieve this goal.”

It appears to be paying off. The number of students heading to China from India, Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan and Thailand – all countries affected by the initiative – has increased more than 20% on average from 2016 to 2017.

The CCG speculates that because One Belt One Road has created jobs for people in these countries, local people are more motivated – and financially more able – to study in China.

However, it is not just countries along the Silk Road that China see as fertile ground for student recruitment. The number of China-based African students increased 26-fold to around 50,000 between 2003 and 2015, according to the Unesco Institute for Statistics. This puts China second only to France in terms of the number of students it attracts from the African continent.

“The number of English taught programmes has increased by 63% in the last five years”

Numbers from countries with more established and prestigious higher education systems are on the up too. There were twice as many US origin students studying in China in 2015 (12,790) compared to 2005 (6,391), for example, while the number of UK students studying there is reported to have tripled over the same period. One of the drivers of this rise has been a proliferation in courses taught in English.

“Most of universities in China are offering a good number of English taught programmes now,” Yuan explains. “The number of English taught programmes has increased by 63% in the last five years.”

The recruitment drive in the English-speaking world was evident at this year’s Student World exhibitions in the UK – recruitment fairs profiling study abroad opportunities.

At the 2018 events in Manchester and London, 36 Chinese institutions booked exhibition space. This is a significant increase over the two previous years, when only one Chinese institution had exhibited at the events.

University of Shanghai, library. Photo: YULIN Peng/Wikimedia Commons


“There are so many misconceptions about studying in China”

The type of course that China’s international students are studying once they arrive in China is changing too. According to the Washington-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in 2016 more than 40% of foreign students in China are studying the Chinese language.

This figure represents a 15% drop compared with 2012. Conversely, the number of students on non-language courses is on the up, and the number of international PhD and Master’s students has jumped 49% and 28% respectively (see table).

Another reason for the soaring popularity of study in China is the number of scholarships on offer. In 2017, some 58,600 international students received a government scholarship compared to just 8,500 in 2006.

“There are so many misconceptions about studying in China,” says Richard Coward, chief executive of China Admissions, which assists international students wanting to study in China. “Things are changing so fast. You’ve really got to be here to see it.”

“Foreigners are coming to get a high-quality education at an affordable price… and more and more are taking full degrees, whereas before they were mostly on more short-term programmes. It is becoming a serious study destination.”

In addition to stepping up efforts to attract international students, China is also taking steps to encourage these students to remain in the country after graduation.

In 2017, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security decreed that international students who had obtained a master’s degree or above from a Chinese institution within the last year were eligible for work permits of up to five years. There are other examples too, such as the Science Innovation Center in Shanghai, which offers a two-year residence permit for international students who work or do an internship.

Why Chinese students are staying put

Although China remains the world’s top place of origin for international students, the increase in the number of Chinese opting to study abroad has been slowing in recent years. According to China’s Ministry of Education, in 2016 a total of 544,500 Chinese went abroad to study. Although this is 4% higher than 2015, the growth rate went down by about 10% on the previous year.

Security is one of the main concerns for Chinese students considering an international higher education

Between 2016 and 2017, the number of international students admitted to US higher education institutions fell by 3.7%, year on year, according to IIE, while in the UK, there was relative stability.

Security is one of the main concerns for Chinese students considering an international higher education. Specifically, the CCG cites the case of Yingying Zhang, a female Chinese student who disappeared in June 2017 in the US, as one high profile case that may have deterred a number of would-be overseas students.

Figures from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that between 2014 and 2016, the number of Chinese students overseas making requests for consular assistance leapt from 932 to more than 6,100 – another part of the narrative that might deter would-be international students from heading overseas.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, and the relatively conservative, inward-looking nature of his administration, may have acted as a deterrent. In fact, the number of US F1 visas issued to students from mainland China in 2016 was 148,000 –  drop of 46% when compared with the previous year. This drop continued in 2017, though was less steep.

In addition, the reputation of China’s own higher education institution is steadily rising. In 2015, China announced the “Double First-Class initiative”, which aims to increase the global standing of its higher education system.

By the end of 2049 – the 100-year anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic – China intends to have 42 “world class” universities.

This agenda, combined with the sheer number of Chinese students who have studied overseas, means the competitive advantage gained by having a foreign degree may not be as highly prized.

Image: Anthonychong/Pixabay

According to government data, 45% of returnees have a starting monthly salary of below 6,000 yuan ($910), and only about 6% can boast a monthly income of over 20,000 yuan. When the expenses of studying abroad are factored in, the attractiveness of international study may be understandably dampened.

“China is the future, and to study there means you can get a good degree for cheaper than the UK or the US”

As a departure lounge, then, China’s future seems less certain. While its young people are still heading to overseas universities in record numbers, the striking growth charts may tail off.

In arrivals, though, the future seems much clearer. From the very top of government, the intention is to push China as a destination for students, and to further its reputation for quality higher education.

“China is the future, and to study there means you can get a good degree for cheaper than the UK or the US, and also learn the language,” says Kate, a 16-year-old attending the Student World exhibition in London. “I’m seriously considering it.”

According to recent trends, she is most certainly not alone.

Fun on Friday: Zucked!


Fun on Friday: Zucked!

APRIL 13, 2018  BY SCHIFFGOLD   0   1

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg experienced the big-boy version of getting called into the principal’s office this week. He spent about 10 hours testifying before Congress after news came out that a data firm accessed Facebook user information.

The iconic image from the hearing was Zuckerberg perched on a booster cushion. He looked like Dennis the Menace sitting in front of an entire room full of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson clones.

On a side-note, it was funny seeing Zuck in a suit. I wonder where he rented that? I have this image in my head of a hoodie hanging on a coat rack outside the Senate chamber.

Anyway, Congress roasted Zuckerberg and dropped some hints that they might just regulate Facebook if he’s not careful. I find it a bit ironic that the “deliberative body” that oversees and “authorizes” the most invasive, systematic and far-reaching surveillance state in the world spent 10 hours grilling the CEO of a social media site about privacy.

It also kind of amuses me because these people don’t understand the internet.

It reminds me a little of my late grandfather. He was 92 when he died, but he was extremely spry up until the end of his life. My grandfather was a retired Army colonel who enlisted just before World War II and served through the Vietnam War. I share this information just to give you an idea of his personality. He was old-school Army all the way. Before he passed away, we met for lunch about every other week. Now, my grandfather was curious about the world, but it had clearly passed him by. He used to show up to Wendy’s with a Post-It note tucked in his shirt pocket. During lunch, he would whip it out and regale me with questions he’d come up with over the last few days. “What is a tweet?” “What is Bitcoin?” “How do you save pictures on your phone?” “Why in the hell is the clock on my DVD player blinking.”

You get the idea.

The all-time best Gramps question was, “What is twerking?”

Picture for just a moment me explaining twerking to my at-the-time 91-year-old grandfather. God rest his soul.

At any rate, Gramps didn’t understand a lot about the modern world. But here’s the thing – he didn’t pretend to. That’s the difference between my grandfather and these dopes in Congress. He recognized the limits of his knowledge. The political class doesn’t possess that kind of self-awareness. Not only do these clowns fail to understand most of what goes on in the real world – they think they have the competence and divine right to control it.

This exchange between Zuckerberg and Sen. John Kennedy (courtesy of CNN) reveals the level of ignorance most of the Senate displayed.

Kennedy: “Are you willing to go back and work on giving me a greater right to erase my data?”

Zuckerberg: “Senator, you can already delete any of the data that’s there or delete all of your data.”

Kennedy: “Are you willing to expand my right to prohibit you from sharing my data?”

Zuckerberg: “Senator, again, I believe that you already have that control….”

Kennedy: “Are you willing to give me the right to take my data on Facebook and move it to another social media platform?”

Zuckerberg: “Senator, you can already do that….”

Some senators even made crap up. Sen. Deb Fischer asked “how many data categories” Facebook stores. Zuckerberg basically replied, “What in the f— is a data category you raving moron?” Of course, he didn’t put it that way. It’s hard to be belligerent when you’re sitting on a booster cushion. But I’m pretty confident that’s a reasonably accurate representation of what he was thinking.

Here’s the takeaway, these people have absolutely no clue how Facebook works, but by-golly they know how to regulate it! And millions of Americans think this is a great idea!

This is pretty much modus operandi for Congress. Politicians don’t generally know much about anything – other than how to get votes. And yet the vast majority of your fellow citizens trust these people to make them safer, richer and happier.

And then they wonder why they are not safer, richer nor happier.

Historian Kevin Gutzman summed things up beautifully in a Facebook post that was published at the Tenth Amendment Center.

The Senate committee members’ grilling of Zuckerberg put on full display what seems intuitive: that there is no way a legislative body can have adequate knowledge to manage every element of a society of 325,000,000 people (let alone the entire world).

These people are comparably ignorant of any particular issue or “policy area” that comes to mind: management of federal lands, the economy for agricultural products, the effect of illegal immigration on rural Texas towns, the Constitution’s implications concerning private firearms ownership, funding of urban schools, welfare’s effects on family formation, the consequences of easy access to capital for college funding…

So yes. Let’s put these people in charge of everything!

Or how about this. Let’s not.

Turkish President Fires Another Shot in an Escalating War Against the Dollar

Turkish President Fires Another Shot in an Escalating War Against the Dollar

Source: schiffgold.com 


Turkey went on a gold-buying spree in 2017and that trend continued in the first two months of 2018.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likes gold and it’s pretty clear the president has been pushing Turkey’s central bank to buy gold and reduce foreign currency reserves in an effort to move away from dependence on the dollar and euro.

On April 16, Erdoğan got a little more overt in his apparent quest to dethrone the dollar, suggesting international loans should be made in gold instead of greenbacks in order to prevent exchange rate pressure on economies.

I made a suggestion at a G20 meeting. I asked, ‘Why do we make all loans in dollars? Let’s use another currency.’ I suggest that the loans should be made based on gold.”

According to a Turkish newspaper, Erdoğan confirmed making the suggestion at the G20 meeting during a speech at the opening ceremony of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul. Turkey’s president inferred that global dependence on the dollar was a “tool of oppression.”

With the dollar, the world is always under exchange rate pressure. We should save states and nations from this exchange rate pressure. Gold has never been a tool of oppression throughout history.”

Turkey is experiencing that exchange rate pressure firsthand. The Turkish lira hit a record low of 4.1920 against the dollar on April 11. According to the Hurriyet Daily, the lira lost 7% of its value last month, making it the second-worst performing currency in the world behind the Russian ruble.

Erdoğan has been trying to boost Turkish currency for months, and gold has played an important role in his strategy. Last year, the president urged Turks to use gold instead of dollars to help stem a drop in the lira. London-based Metals Focus Ltd. consultant Cagdas Kucukemiroglu said at the time that the president is also likely pushing the country’s central bank to buy gold.

The president has always been pro-gold and is against the dollar, and that’s informing the central bank’s decision as well.”

Turkey isn’t the only country working to dethrone the dollar. China recently launched yuan-based oil contract to directly compete with the petrodollar. Last June, China took the first step toward establishing a “petroyuan” when it launched a direct trade relationship with Russia, allowing oil purchases to be made strictly in the Chinese currency. Yuan-based oil contracts began trading in Shanghai in March. As  a Bloomberg report put it, “China’s hoping the yuan could challenge the dominance of the greenback in international trade.”

There have been reports that China may back some yuan-based oil contracts with gold. Last fall, the Chinese announced the launch of a gold-backed, yuan-denominated oil futures contract.  These contracts would be priced in yuan, but convertible to gold. As Alasdair Macleod, head of research at Goldmoney, told the Asian Review, including an option to have the contract paid in physical gold would ease some of the wariness oil exporters have about the yuan.

Dollar-dominance has given the US a great deal of leverage over other countries. Moves by Turkey, Russia, China and other countries with rocky relationships with the US to diminish their dependence on the dollar and even undermine its position as the global reserve currency makes sense. It also makes sense that gold would make up part of their plans. As we’ve reported in the past, Gold plays a key role in both China and Russia’s plans for economic independence. Gold cannot be easily controlled and manipulated like fiat currencies.

Erdoğan’s comments about using gold as the basis for international loans seem to be another shot in the escalating war against the dollar.

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Is PTM an ‘engineered protest’?

by Mir Mohammad Ali Talpuron 20 Apr 20181 Comment

A statement from the Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said on April 12 that “engineered protests” would not be allowed to reverse the gains of counterterrorism operations and cautioned the nation against forgetting the sacrifices of “real heroes”. He, without naming the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), blamed it as something which was not indigenous but was being supported and guided by the usual suspects they have been accusing of guiding and supporting the Baloch (and the Bengalis in the past) for protesting against the injustices and the state terror being perpetrated against them.


The Baloch have been always labelled as agents of India and Afghanistan, though the injustices that they protest against are perpetrated by those who label them such. Oddly, often times these crimes of disappearances and mutilated bodies of Baloch people have been imputed against India and others.


Interestingly, on 19 December, 2016, in the session of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control, the Senate panel’s chairman, Rehman Malik (former Interior Minister), said he knew that the uniforms of law enforcement agencies were being used by RAW operatives, who abduct and kidnap people in Balochistan in order to bring a bad name to the forces and destabilize Pakistan. “It is no more a secret that RAW is actively working in Balochistan to incite sectarian and ethnic violence to replicate an East Pakistan-like situation,” he claimed.


So what can one say about the efficiency of their intelligence agencies or their blatant lies when they put the blame of all their evil work on others and proclaim their innocence.


But this is not the only instance that this preposterous excuse has been used to cover up their crimes. In May 2012, during a hearing by the Supreme Court on the issue of missing persons in Balochistan, a CCTV video of Frontier Corps personnel abducting a Baloch youth was shown to then Inspector General Frontier Corps, Major General Obaidullah Khan, who was dismissed for corruption in April 2016. Despite this irrefutable evidence the then IGFC denied the charge, saying that there existed the possibility that FC uniforms were being misused by unknown people.


They lie unashamedly to put the blame on RAW and others and expect people will believe them. They have maligned the Baloch so long and so often that many believe their version of events, and now they have started this maligning campaign against the PTM and hope that people will overlook the injustices that the PTM is protesting against and start accusing them of being an ‘engineered movement’.


Mama Abdul Qadeer Baloch and Farzana Majeed, with half a dozen Baloch women, 10-year-old Ali Haider, nine-year-old Beauragh Baloch, son of Mir Jalil Rekei, and four young men of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons Long March, walked braving cold and rain from Quetta to Karachi and then from Karachi to Islamabad in 106 days. They faced threats and hardships of not knowing where they would be spending the night, were accused of being agents of RAW and being funded by it. I had the honour of being with them for 26 days during this historic March.


Mama Qadeer refused to accept any donation from even the most ardent supporters and those who wanted to show support and goodwill. He didn’t want it to be tainted by allegations that it was an exercise in making money. But this did not stop the state and its supporters to allege that this was an ‘engineered protest’.


On March 1, 2014, the day the march ended in Islamabad, Air Vice Marshal Shehzad Chaudhry, quite blatantly lied on Capital TV program when he said that Mama Abdul Qadeer, the leader of the VBMP Long March, has a Thuraya satellite phone and that he wouldn’t be surprised if there were there three or four Land Cruisers with them. To put the record straight, Mama had a cheap Nokia phone and the only vehicle accompanying the marchers was an ambulance provided by the Edhi Foundation.


The TV One channel ran a ticker that Rs 2 million were being given to the marchers daily and that food for them came from five-star hotels. The fact was that the marchers ate whatever food was available from wayside hotels and quite a few times, in Sindh as well as Punjab, the owners refused to accept money for the food or tea taken.


The core group of marchers numbering 16 was housed for the night by different individuals who were friends of supporters and provided whatever dinner and breakfast they could manage. These individuals had to face harassment of the intelligence agencies for playing host to the marchers. Aslam Verraich, an artist and political activist, played host to them at his residence in Wazirabad for six nights. Mama Qadeer and other marchers stayed with me and my friends for six nights in Sindh.


The supposedly informed analysts and some TV channels lied unashamedly to malign the march and its participants because this march had taken the battle to the establishment’s heartland. The PTM has moved the Pashtun protest from the hinterlands of FATA to the establishment’s heartland and that is what is causing concern in all quarters of the establishment.


The maligning campaign against the PTM has just begun; we weren’t surprised when they maligned us because we knew that this is what they had done when Bengalis wanted their rights and protested against the establishment and elite of West Pakistan, which denied them their rights. Here, either you accept the injustices quietly without a murmur or be ready to face a vicious maligning campaign. The more potent your protest is, the more vicious and vociferous will their propaganda be, so the PTM will face even more viciousness and suppression now that the Army Chief has spoken against them.


This tirade should be considered as accolade for it means that the PTM is denting the narrative that has long been fed to people - that it is the Pashtun who are to blame while the Army and State are innocent. The PTM has challenged and changed the narrative and that is why it is being challenged and will be challenged even more viciously by the State in coming days and they should be prepared to face whatever is thrown at them, for without braving the odds, victories are hard to achieve.


A word of advice from this old man to Manzoor Pashteen and all the supporters of the PTM, who mostly seem to be young like Manzoor Pashteen himself: this will be a long struggle, so do not expect quick unhindered victory or daily victories for, as they say, the party has just begun. You should always keep in mind what Friedrich Nietzsche said is the defining quality of great men: “It is not the strength but the duration of great sentiments that makes great men”.  To put this in a practical perspective, take the example of South Africa and its Apartheid and its opponents. There must have been many who intensely hated Apartheid and there must have been many who struggled hard, but lost heart after a few years, a decade. However, it was Madiba Nelson Mandela who refused to give up despite 27 years of incarceration and it is he who eventually defeated the Apartheid.


You, my dear friends, will have to be steadfast, consistent and persistent if you want to win. The Baloch have been struggling since March 27, 1948 and will continue their struggle. Victories which change fates of Nations come at a much higher price than the price exacted by other struggles.


My respected father very often used to quote a couplet which saw me through a lot of difficult and desperate times in my life. Maybe it would be of some utility to those of PTM who struggle for their rights.


Insaan nahin woh jo darr jaaye, iss daur kay khooni manzar say

Jis haal main jeena mushkil ho, uss haal main jeena lazim hai


Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur ranks among the few who raise the issue of “missing people” or victims of enforced disappearances in Balochistan


Clingendale Silk Road Headlines

Source: Louis Vest/flickr

 According to the German newspaper Handelsblatt, the embassies in Beijing of EU member states have compiled a joint report that criticizes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) [EU ambassadors band together against Silk Road]. Of the 28 EU countries, Hungary was the only one whose ambassador to China has not signed the report. Handelsblatt quotes the report as stating that BRI “runs counter to the EU agenda for liberalizing trade and pushes the balance of power in favor of subsidized Chinese companies.” It is unclear what the status of the joint report is and for what purpose it has been written, as it is not publicly available. The fact that nearly all EU ambassadors are said to support the report is remarkable, since most countries in the eastern half of the European Union have signed a memorandum of understanding with China on BRI cooperation - a symbolic sign of support for the Chinese initiative. Interestingly, several Western European leaders who visited China in recent months - including Macron of France, May of the UK and Rutte of the Netherlands - have refused to sign similar MoU’s in spite of invitations from the Chinese government to do so [Netherlands keen on Chinese investment but wants belt and road to benefit foreign companies].

Meanwhile, the European Commission is preparing an EU strategy on ‘Europe-Asia connectivity’ which is likely to be perceived by many as a European answer to BRI. This new connectivity strategy will be aimed at contributing to greater economic integration across Europe and Asia, and cooperating with Asian countries to do so, while defining and promoting relevant EU interests and values. As such it appears to be an effort to counterbalance Chinese influence - in particular what the EU regards as the undermining of liberal economic norms - in the Europe-Asia economic sphere. After the European Commission’s proposal of September 2017 for an EU-wide investment screening framework, which is said to have been triggered primarily by Chinese investments in the EU, the connectivity strategy may turn out to be a further sign of growing worries in the EU about the rise of Chinese economic power. To which degree this is the case remains to be seen as the strategy will not be publicly available until later this year.

Frans-Paul van der Putten

This week's Silk Road Headlines

EU ambassadors band together against Silk Road [Handelsblatt]

Is China waging “Debt Trap Diplomacy” Against Its Neighbors? [China US Focus]

Poland Designated as Home to New BRI East European Logistics Hub [HKTDC]

Can a small German city reinvent itself as a gateway between Europe and Asia?[Belt and Road Blog]

Attracting foreign funding to build the BRI would be a capital idea [East Asia Forum]

Netherlands keen on Chinese investment but wants belt and road to benefit foreign companies [SCMP]

China and the EU in the Horn of Africa: competition and cooperation?[Clingendael]

Iran Planning Super-Highway to Connect with Mediterranean [Silk Road Briefing]

HSBC names veteran banker head of Asia belt and road initiative [Reuters]

Leadership in a Multipolar World: Can the United States Influence Cooperation between China and Russia? [NBR] 

To increase awareness of and facilitate the debate on China's Belt and Road Initiative, the Clingendael Institute publishes Silk Road Headlines, a weekly update on relevant news articles from open sources

China tries to enlist European allies in Trump's trade war


China tries to enlist European allies in Trump's trade war

Macron and Xi in China during a state visit by the French president. Photo: Mark Schiefelbein, Pool/Getty Images

While Beijing is courting the European Union for support in a trade war, European officials are sounding the alarm on China's ambitions in their countries.

Why it matters: If the U.S. starts closing off its market to the Chinese, Beijing needs the EU to remain neutral and stay open to business with China, but the Europeans are increasingly frustrated with China's behavior and wary of its ever-growing influence.

Show less

The backdrop: This week, Beijing's top trade official, Fu Ziying, met with several European ambassadors as trade disputes with the U.S. escalate, per Reuters. Days later, German news outlet Handelsblatt reported that 27 of the 28 European Union ambassadors co-signed a report criticizing President Xi Jinping's trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure plan that pulls in Europe.

Why China needs the EU

The EU is Beijing's biggest trading partner, per the European Commission, and they trade over $1 billion in goods and services a day.The EU is also the biggest investor in China. At the end of 2015, the value of European investments in China was about $207 billion, compared to about $84 billion from the U.S. at that time.Behind the numbers: A hefty portion of Europe's direct investment comes from factories which manufacture high-end appliances in China that come with a European label, Yukon Huang, an expert on China's economy at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, tells Axios.

The bottom line: The trade and investment relationship between China and the EU is strong enough that China can survive loss of access to the U.S. market if the EU remains open for business, Huang says.

Europe's concerns

China's Belt and Road Initiative includes ports in European waters and railroads that cut through EU nations, and while some countries welcome the infrastructure — paid for and built by the Chinese — others fear it'll give China broad influence in the more politically unstable Central and Eastern European nations.

The EU ambassadors' report says the Initiative "runs counter to the EU agenda for liberalizing trade and pushes the balance of power in favor of subsidized Chinese companies," according to Handelsblatt.The only ambassador who didn't sign its contents was Máté Pesti of Hungary, a nation which relies heavily on Chinese investment. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in January, ""Central Europe has serious handicaps to overcome in terms of infrastructure ... If the European Union cannot provide financial support, we will turn to China."Western European nations are concerned about weaker countries getting close to Beijing. On a state visit to China in January, French President Emmanuel Macron sounded the alarm:

"For China, the new Silk Roads are also a tool to promote new international standards, rules and norms that are different from those currently used by France and other European countries ... By definition, these roads can only be shared. If they are roads, they cannot be one-way."

— Emmanuel Macron

What to watch:

There's an EU–China summit coming in July where these issues are sure to be on the table.European companies have a lot to lose in a U.S.–China trade war, and European leaders have been reluctant to take sides in the dispute. But the EU could soon become Trump's next target, the Wall Street Journal's Simon Nixon writes.Germany, in particular, has been on President Trump's radar in the past. The U.S. had a $68 billion trade deficit with Germany in 2016, it's second-largest deficit behind that with China

April 19, 2018

The Belt and Road Initiative: Visegrad Four’s Chinese dilemma


The Belt and Road Initiative: Visegrad Four’s Chinese dilemma

By Adéla DenkováEdit ZgutKarolina ZbytniewskaLukáš Hendrych and Marián KoreňEURACTIV.czEURACTIV.plEURACTIV.sk and Political Capital

 Mar 22, 2018 (updated:  Mar 28, 2018)

A Chinese dragon dancer performs to celebrate the arrival of the first direct freight train from China to the UK in Barking, London, on 18 January 2017. [EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA]

Languages: Deutsch


China has used the international economic crisis to elbow its way towards a dominant position on the global market. Its New Silk Road is seen as an attempt to create a massive, multi-national zone of economic and political influence, including in Central Europe. EURACTIV Poland/Czech Republic/Slovakia and Political Capital report.

In that context, it is logical that the Central European region should be an important part of Beijing’s Go Global outlook, as it is seen as a “side door” to the richer Western European markets. But Beijing’s flagship initiative has so far failed to attract significant attention in the Visegrad countries, though analysts believe its appeal may grow.

In 2012, China launched the so-called 16+1 framework – a platform for China-CEE cooperation – as a final landmark decision of the outgoing PRC premier Wen Jiabao. It comprises 16 Eastern European countries including all four Visegrad states (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and 11 EU member states altogether.

Since the current president Xi Jinping announced in 2013 the flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as the New Silk Road), 16+1 has focused mainly on infrastructure to match this cooperation with Beijing’s general global strategy.

But the Visegrad group is also trying to work out the well-known “Chinese dilemma”: Is the opening up to the Chinese presence in the region a unique economic opportunity or a threat?

An umbrella for Chinese activities

The underlying goal of the BRI, with 16+1 as one of its elements, has been to “re-orient the entire economy of Afro-Eurasia toward China as its centre. But the hard economic statistics show that there’s not much in BRI for V4 to get excited about,” according to Salvatore Babones, a professor at the University of Sydney. China is still poorer than all four Visegrad countries, and its modest spending on BRI is diluted among dozens of partners hungry for investment.

Ivana Karásková, a research fellow at Association for International Affairs (AMO), a Prague-based think tank, said the initiative’s main aim is to export Chinese overproduction overseas.

“The New Silk Road is just an umbrella for Chinese activities in Europe, Asia and Africa and does not have any concrete features,” Karásková told EURACTIV adding that it is hard for regional stakeholders to imagine anything particular under the BRI. AMO has launched a website, Chinfluence, dedicated to analysing the Chinese impact in the region.

Despite the quick and significant rise in Chinese foreign direct investments (FDIs) in the Visegrad countries, their volume also remains minor and focuses on mergers and acquisitions, lacking significant infrastructure projects.

In terms of infrastructure investment in the 11 EU members of the 16+1, “cooperation on infrastructure remains close to zero, despite intensive political contacts with China,” due to the incompatibility of the Chinese offer with the EU law (assuming state aid and the lack of open tenders), as Jakub Jakóbowski and Marcin Kaczmarski from the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) explained.

The only exception is the flagship Belgrade-Budapest 336-kilometre rail line investment which ended with the EC’s probe into the Hungarian part of the project and with a final change of cooperation conditions on Budapest’s side.

China's new Silk Road risks unravelling in Hungary

China’s planned railway link between Greece and Central Europe has hit difficulties after the project was accused of flouting EU rules on public procurement in Hungary. EURACTIV’s partner Italia Oggi reports.

Opportunity to diversify export markets

However, the Visegrad governments consider the BRI a major opportunity to strengthen trade flows from both sides. Currently, the relatively small V4 economies run a drastic deficit with China.

“If we are looking for ways to diversify our trade portfolio and reduce our dependency on the European market, this may be one of the solutions, although not the only one,” Czech MEP Jan Zahradil (ECR) toldEURACTIV.

When the first trial train with containers from Dalian – the largest port in eastern China – arrived in Bratislava last year, the Slovak Government’s deputy for the Silk Road project, Dana Meager, described it as “one of the most important pillars of further development of the national economy”.

All V4 governments want to deepen mutual cooperation and attract more foreign direct investment to widen the array of financing and investment opportunities provided by the EU.

If the new EU multiannual financial framework reduces funding possibilities for V4 countries, be it as a result of Brexit and/or reshuffling of financial priorities, “then China’s offer could automatically become more attractive,” warned Jakub Jakóbowski and Marcin Kaczmarski from the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW).

But Chinese foreign direct investment in V4 countries is not really growing and has, in fact, decreased in some of them.

“The old model of globalisation is over”

Czech MEP Jiří Pospíšil (EPP) thinks that the whole project is more of an instrument of Chinese propaganda and a reinforcement of Chinese influence.

“If one party is to benefit from the cooperation, it is China and Chinese companies,” he adds.

For example, when joining the BRI in 2015, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán indicated that he is completely unmoved by the reigning political system in China. “The old model of globalisation is over, ‘the East has caught up to the West’, and a large part of the world has had enough of being schooled on, for instance, human rights and the market economy by developed nations,” he stressed.

Moreover, Beijing certainly values political gestures, such as when Hungary, together with Greece and Croatia, blocked a joint resolution on the South China Sea in 2016, as well as the fact that Hungary stopped the EU from signing a declaration standing up for lawyers and human rights activists being tortured in China.

Strengthening cooperation between China and European countries may also be a problem for the EU “because many EU members prevent the adoption of common position towards China, e. g. in the area of human rights, investments screening or a market economy status,” said Karásková.

But analysts also stressed that several other high-level politicians – with Czech president Zeman as the most striking example – as well as officials and the media help the Chinese government expand its power in Europe.

However, most analysts are convinced that political destabilisation in V4 countries is not in the Chinese interest and thus poses no threat to the unity of the European Union.

“I firmly believe that the main aim of China’s influencing efforts is Western Europe and not Central and Eastern Europe,” said Tamás Matura, an expert on China and a professor at Corvinus University in Budapest.

“There is no doubt that the 16+1 initiative will increase Chinese influence in CEE, but it also creates a win-win situation and brings new opportunities to develop the region,” the former Hungarian Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy told Political Capital

What India and China can do to build bridges


New Delhi cannot restrict itself to anyone camp and should try to harness opportunities, as and when they arise.


 |   Long-form |   19-04-2018



The 5th India-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, was held in Beijing at an interesting time. In the past few months, both India and China, despite their deep divergences on strategic and economic issues, and the strains caused as a consequence of the Doklam standoff in 2017, are trying to put relations back on track by increasing the level of engagement at the governmental level.

Significantly, this dialogue, the first after the Doklam standoff -which led to the freezing of dialogue between the two countries in 2017 - was held days after the Boao Forum, where Chinese President and leader for life, Xi Jinping, made an interesting address articulating his vision on a myriad of important, but complex issues, such as globalisation, and geopolitics, especially the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Strategic and Economic Dialogue

At the dialogue, India was represented by Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman Niti (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog, while China was represented by He Lifeng, chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

Apart from bilateral issues - trade, investment, infrastructural cooperation and economic connectivity - the trade dispute between US and China, and possible impact, including opportunities, for India-China relations, also figured in the discussions.

Economic issues

On the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington DC, India was unequivocal, that it would remain neutral in the dispute. India did suggest to China, that it should consider importing soya and sugar from India. China's imports of agricultural commodities, from the US, are to the tune of $20 billion.

Possible Chinese investments in India

For long, both sides have also been discussing the possibility of China setting up special clusters in India. During the dialogue, this issue was discussed again, with the Indian delegation stating that there is great scope for China to set up special clusters in areas such as textiles, food processing, electronic components and pharmaceuticals. It may be pertinent to point out that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was first signed in June 2014 between Indian state governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana and Chinese agencies) for the setting up of industrial parks. So far, not much has been achieved.

In the area of infrastructure, cooperation was sought to be explored in the area of railways (specifically for increasing the speed of the Chennai-Bangalore railway corridor, and upgradation of Agra-Jhansi railway stations). India also invited China to invest in the Housing for all program by 2022.

Connectivity and Belt and Road Initiative

On issues like BRI, differences between both sides persisted, with China stating that Bangladesh China India and Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor was one of the important corridors of the BRI. New Delhi disagreed, and stated that the BCIM project began way before the idea of BRI was conceived.

India also stated that at this point of time, India was more focused on projects such as the Asean trilateral highway project (India-Myanmar-Thailand), which would boost its "Act East Policy".

Even on India's concerns with regard to CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), there was no real progress with China not paying enough attention to India's concerns, that CPEC passes through disputed territory and it is a major sovereignty issue. After the Chinese president's speech at the Boao Forum, some in India had believed that China may be more sensitive to addressing India's concerns on BRI. Commenting on the BRI, President Xi said:

"China has no geopolitical calculations, seeks no exclusionary blocs and imposes no business deals on others."

Interestingly, China did take note of India's Act East Policy and infrastructural projects being upgraded in India's North Eastern Region.

The issue of "soft power" also came up during the discussions with India suggesting that in addition to the current working groups, and additional one be set up on culture. Of late, Indian movies have been doing very well in China, with the latest success being Hindi Medium, whose box-office collection was nearing Rs 200 crore as of April 14. Earlier movies like Secret Superstar (Rs 450 crore) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (Rs 300 crore) had won Chinese heart. Indian film star Aamir Khan, also one of the producers of both Dangal and Secret Superstar has a large number of fans on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website, and has also expressed interest in working with Chinese actors.

Even strained ties between both countries have not been an obstacle to the success of Hindi movies in China. In fact, the success of Bollywood movies in China receives extensive coverage in Chinese media.

Challenges for both sides

Amid US president's insular economic policies, and intransigence on issues pertaining to climate change, there is space for India and China to cooperate.

For any meaningful progress, however, a few steps need to be taken:

China needs to genuinely address Indian concerns on BRI. Indian ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, in an interview to South China Morning Post, while commenting on India's apprehensions had said:

"If a project meets those norms, we will be happy to take part in it. One of the norms is the project should not violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country. Unfortunately, there is this thing called CPEC, which is called a flagship project of BRI, which violates India's sovereignty and territory integrity. Therefore, we oppose it,"

At the same time, New Delhi should also have a more pragmatic vision towards BRI. While New Delhi should not give up its stance on the "sovereignty issue", synergies should not be ruled out, New Delhi should be open to the BCIM corridor, which seeks to connect Kunming in China to Kolkata in India.

While New Delhi is working jointly with Japan in projects like the Africa Asia Growth Corridor and even countries in the Indo-Pacific have spoken in terms of strengthening connectivity projects, New Delhi should look at all options. If Japan and China are willing to work jointly on connectivity projects, (during a meeting between foreign ministers of both countries in Tokyo, this issue was discussed) both, there is no reason why New Delhi should be totally closed to the BRI. Considering the fact, that China is planning to extend CPEC till Afghanistan, New Delhi cannot afford to be excessively rigid to participating in the project.

Second, in areas like investments, infrastructure and agriculture, it is important to get Indian state governments and Chinese provinces onboard by rotation.

The Fourth Strategic Dialogue in October 2016, where India was represented by then vice chairman of Niti Aayog, Arvind Panagariya and China, by Xu Shaoshi, chairman of National Development and Reform Commission, People's Republic of China witnessed the participation of India's Coastal Provinces and presentations by them on possible investment opportunities. It was also decided that greater cooperation between both sides in manufacturing is needed. The minutes of the Dialogue are as follows:

"... representatives of different states, viz., Gujarat, Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and CEO, Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Ltd. made presentations in the Working Group… The State Government representatives gave presentations on the opportunities in the above sector in the coastal regions of India… Mr Li Xuedong (Deputy Director General NDRC) stressed that the Statement of principles on Manufacturing and Industrial Capacity between NDRC, China and NITI Aayog, India to be signed on October 7 by two Chairmen of the 4th India China SED, would mark the good beginning of manufacturing and industrial capacity cooperation between the two sides. With active participation of Chinese local governments and Indian states….

Since in recent years, a number of states and provinces which were not pro-active in the relationship have begun to play a role in the bilateral relationship. Off late for instance, China has shown an interest in Eastern India (especially West Bengal) due to interest in the BCIM project.The Chinese side can also include provinces, like Jiangsu, which have done well in agriculture, and states like Punjab have sought to build linkages with them. While the India-China Forum of State Provincial Leaders has not been able to enhance the participation of states and provinces in the bilateral relationship to the degree possible and feasible, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue should seek to make Indian states and Chinese Provinces important stakeholders.

Third, while China needs to address India's concerns and cannot afford to be dismissive of India's apprehensions, New Delhi needs to move beyond a 'security' mindset. Building a constructive economic relationship will be very tough without a degree of flexibility from both ends. If both sides are not genuinely flexible, the bilateral relationship will not move beyond platitudes and MoUs. China also needs to deliver on its commitments of investment in India. President Xi during his visit in 2014 had said that India would invest $20 billion over a five-year period, official estimates show that till last year, Chinese investments were a little over $1.5 billion.

Fourth, basic issues such as a more realistic - if not relaxed - visa regime, increased connectivity, and more direct flights between both countries are essential for progress in all spheres.

In conclusion, the current geopolitical and economic scenario is interesting, albeit challenging and complex, and India cannot restrict itself to anyone camp, it should try to harness opportunities, as and when they arise.

It is also important for both sides to distinguish between short-term goals, and a long-term vision, which needs to be more holistic

Survival of the European maritime technology sector depends on a firm stance from the EU


Survival of the European maritime technology sector depends on a firm stance from the EU

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"The European Commission needs to adopt a strong industrial and manufacturing policy based on reciprocity, otherwise our European maritime technology industry won't survive competition from Asian shipyards," warned Marian Krzaklewski, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on the LeaderSHIP strategy, adopted at its plenary session on 19 April. 

The EESC urges the Commission to step up the LeaderSHIP 2020 strategy's roll-out and put forward key recommendations for the sector's new LeaderSHIP 2030 strategy.

"Europe needs a specific approach for the shipbuilding and marine equipment manufacturing industry. Like China, the US, Japan and South Korea, European decision-makers must treat it as a strategic sector in Europe's economy", underlined co-rapporteur Patrizio Pesci.

In the EESC's view, such an approach must include

In terms of trade:

Efforts to conclude a comprehensive OECD agreement – including China – which would set out rules on subsidies, potentially also pricing discipline;Reciprocity between Europe and third countries as a guiding principle in both bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, and issues linked to market access. "Protectionist measures need to be countered with the same means," says the EESC;In terms of financing:

Since the shipbuilding industry requires large amounts of capital, but access to financing is becoming increasingly difficult, the Commission should consider introducing a specific financial instrument that would enhance investment in this capital risk-intensive sector.In terms of development (research/skills):
Environmental protection, safety and security, as well as digitalisation, automation, cybersecurity or the internet of things pose major challenges for the European MT sector but also offer interesting opportunities, provided sufficient capacity for researchdevelopment and innovation is available. The Commission therefore needs to promote and - also financially - support investments in the European MT sector in the area of RDI.Furthermore, there is a strong need to rectify skills shortages. Therefore the Commission should provide substantial support to the social partners in the shipbuilding sector enabling them to continue their work at the European Skills Council for the Maritime Technology Sector.In terms of strategy:
The Commission should ensure that the maritime defence industry forms one of the pillars of the follow-up to the LeaderSHIP strategy.

The European maritime technology (MT) sector is a key industrial sector for Europe and – despite the many difficulties the sector has been confronted with, especially since the economic crisis – it is in relatively good shape. However, 2016 had not been a good year on the order book globally and even worse may still come, as a result of both protectionist policies from East Asian competitors and financial support for their own industry.

In its recent official documents ("Made in China 2025"), China has announced its ambition to become the world's leading producer of high-end ships, including cruise ships and high-tech marine equipment – currently a branch where European shipbuilders and maritime equipment manufacturers are market leaders. This will put even more pressure on one of Europe's key industrial sectors.


The European maritime technology industry sector includes all businesses involved in the design, construction, maintenance and repair of vessels and other maritime structures. There are around 300 European shipyards which have an annual turnover of approximately EUR 31 billion and employ 200 000 people.

Some 22 000 large, small and medium-sized companies produce and supply marine equipment, generating an annual turnover of approximately EUR 60 billion. They directly employ over 350 000 people. Their share of the global market is about 50%.

The European maritime technology sector invests 9% of its profits from sales in research, development and innovation – the highest rate of investment in RDI to be found in Europe.



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Related bodies:

Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI)

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534th Plenary session, 18-19 April 2018

Five ways China's past has shaped its present


Five ways China's past has shaped its present

By Prof Rana MitterUniversity of Oxford

2 hours ago

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

To understand today's headlines about China's approach to issues such as trade, foreign policy or internet censorship, turn to its past.

The country is perhaps more aware of its own history than any other major society on earth. That remembering is certainly partial - events like Mao's Cultural Revolution are still very difficult to discuss within China itself. But it is striking how many echoes of the past can be found in its present.


China remembers a time when it was forced to trade against its will. Today it regards Western efforts to open its markets as a reminder of that unhappy period.

The US and China are currently in a dispute over whether China is selling into the US while closing its own markets to American goods. Yet the balance of trade hasn't always been in China's favour.

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In Beijing, there are long memories of a period, nearly a century and a half ago, when China had little control over its own trade.


Britain attacked China in a series of Opium Wars, starting in 1839. In the decades that followed, Britain founded an institution called the Imperial Maritime Customs Service to fix tariffs on goods imported into China.

It was part of the Chinese government, but it was a very British institution, run not by a mandarin from Beijing, but a man from Portadown.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionSir Robert Hart was the inspector-general of China's Imperial Maritime Custom Service from 1863 to 1911

Sir Robert Hart ended up becoming inspector-general of the Customs of China, which became a fiefdom for Brits for a century afterwards. Hart was honest and helped to generate a great deal of income for China.

But the memories of that time still rankle.

It was very different in the Ming dynasty, in the early 15th Century, when Admiral Zheng took seven great fleets to South East Asia, Ceylon and even the coast of East Africa to trade and show off China's might.

Image copyrightALAMYImage captionZheng He's exploits are recorded all over South East Asia, such as on the wall of this shrine in Penang, Malaysia

Zheng He's voyages were partly about making an impression. Few other empires could boast the massive fleets that it sent out across the oceans, and it was also an opportunity for strange and wonderful items be brought back to Beijing - such as China's first giraffe.

However, trade was also important, particularly in other parts of Asia. And Zhen could, and did, fight when he wanted to, defeating at least one ruler of Ceylon. Yet his voyages were a rare example of a state-driven maritime project. Most of China's overseas trade for the next few centuries would be unofficial.

Trouble with the neighbours

China has always been concerned to keep states on its borders pacified. That's part of the reason it deals so warily with an unpredictable North Korea today.

This is not the first time that China has had problems with those on its borders.

In fact, history reveals it has had worse neighbours than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who recently made a surprise visit to Beijing, his first known foreign trip since taking office in 2011.

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During the Song dynasty in 1127, a woman named Li Qingzhao fled her home in the city of Kaifeng. We know her story because she was one of China's finest poets, and her works are still widely read. She went on the run because her state was under attack.

A people from the north, the Jurchen, had burst into China after a long period of uneasy alliance with the ruling Song dynasty's emperor. The elite of China's civilisation had to spread themselves across the country as cities burned.

Li Qingzhao saw her beloved art collection scattered between various cities. Her dynasty's fate was an object lesson that appeasing the neighbours may work for only so long.

For some time, the Jin dynasty ruled Northern China, and the Song founded a new realm in the south. But in the end, both fell to a new conqueror, the Mongols.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionFounded by Genghis Khan in the 13th Century, the Mongol empire would become the largest contiguous empire in history

The shifting lines on the map show that the definition of China has changed over time. Chinese culture is associated with certain ideas such as language, history and ethical systems like Confucianism.

However, other peoples, including Manchus and Mongols from the north, have taken China's throne at various points, ruling the country using the same ideas and principles upon which their ethnic Chinese counterparts relied.

These neighbours did not always stay put. But sometimes they embraced and exercised Chinese values just as effectively as the people from whom they took them.

Information flow

Today China's internet censors politically sensitive material, and those who utter political truths deemed problematic by the authorities may be arrested or worse.

The difficulty of speaking truth to power has long been an issue. China's historians have often felt they had to write what the state wanted rather than what they thought was important.

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But Sima Qian - often dubbed China's "grand historian" - chose a different path.

Image copyrightALAMYImage captionDespite his disgrace, Sima Qian's works have been extremely influential

The author of one of the most important works chronicling China's past, in the 1st Century BC, he dared to defend a general who had lost a battle. In doing so he was held to have snubbed the emperor, and was sentenced to castration.

Yet he left behind a legacy which has shaped the writing of history in China to this day.

Find out more:

Professor Rana Mitter presents Chinese Characters on BBC Radio 4, a series of 20 essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalitiesYou can listen to the programmes on the BBC Radio 4 website, or download the Chinese Characters podcast

His Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) mixed different types of sources, critiqued figures from the historical past, and also used the techniques of oral history to find out directly from participants what had actually happened.

All of this was a very new way of doing history, but it set a precedent for later writers: if you were willing to risk your safety, you could write history "warts and all", rather than censoring yourself.

Freedom of religion

Modern China is much more tolerant of religious practice than in the days of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution - within limits - but past experience makes it cautious about faith-driven movements which could potentially spiral out of control and pose a challenge to the government.

Records show that openness to religion has long been part of Chinese history.

Image copyrightALAMYImage captionDuring her 7th Century reign, Empress Wu Zetian embraced and promoted Buddhism

At the height of the Tang dynasty in the 7th Century, the Empress Wu Zetian embraced Buddhism as a way of pushing back against what she must have regarded as the stifling norms of China's Confucian traditions.

In the Ming dynasty, the Jesuit Matteo Ricci arrived at court and was treated as a respected interlocutor, although there was perhaps more interest in his knowledge of Western science than his slightly wan attempts to convert his listeners.

But faith has always been a dangerous business.

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In the late 19th Century, China was convulsed by a rebellion started by Hong Xiuquan, a man who claimed to be Jesus's younger brother.

The Taiping rebellion promised to bring a kingdom of heavenly peace to China but actually led to one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, killing as many as 20 million people, according to some accounts.

Government troops initially failed to tame the rebels, and had to allow local soldiers to reform themselves before they eventually put down the Taiping with great cruelty in 1864.

Image copyrightALAMYImage captionThe Taiping rebellion was eventually defeated with the help of British and French forces

Christianity would be at the centre of another uprising some decades later. In 1900, peasant rebels calling themselves Boxers would appear in north China, calling for death to Christian missionaries and converts, the latter being characterised as traitors to China.

At first, the Imperial Court backed them, which lead to the death of many Chinese Christians, before the uprising was eventually put down.

Through much of the following century, and to the present day, the Chinese state has veered between tolerance of religion, and the fear that it may upend the state.


Today China seeks to become a world hub for new technology. A century ago it went through an earlier industrial revolution - and women were central to both.

China is a world leader when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), voice recognition, and big data.

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A large number of the smartphones around the world are built with Chinese-made chips. Many of the factories which manufacture them are staffed by young women who often endure horrific conditions of work, but who are also finding a place in the industrial market economy for the first time.

They have inherited the experience of the young women who came 100 years ago to the factories that sprang up in Shanghai and the Yangtze delta.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

They were not making computer chips, but silk and cotton threads.

Work was hard and likely to cause lung disease or physical injury, and conditions in the workers' dormitories were spartan.

Yet the women also recalled the pleasure of having their own wages, however, small, and the ability to visit a fair or theatre on a rare holiday.

Some made the journey to look - probably not buy - at the shiny new department stores in central Shanghai, one of the ultimate symbols of modernity.

Today, on Nanjing Road in that city, you can still see China's new working and middle class enjoying a wide range of consumer goods as part of China's contemporary tech-driven economy.

The view from future historians?

We are living through another significantly transformative era for China. Future historians will note that a country that was poor and inward-looking in 1978 became - within a quarter of a century - the second biggest economy in the world.

They will also note that China was the most important country to push back against what had seemed like an inevitable tide of democratisation.

Perhaps other factors such as the one-child policy (now ended) and the use of AI surveillance may catch future writers' attention. Or maybe it will be something else to do with the environment, space exploration or economic growth, which is not yet even obvious to us.

One thing is almost certain - a century from now, China will still be a place of fascination for those who live there and those who live with it, and its rich history will continue to inform its present and future direction.

About this piece

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.

Prof Rana Mitter is professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, and is director of the University China Centre.