February 09, 2019

Biotechnology and Human Augmentation: Issues for National Security Practitioners

Strategy Bridge 

 February 5, 2019

Mick Ryan and Therese Keane

Over the last decade, military theorists and authors in the fields of future warfare and strategy have examined in detail the potential impacts of an ongoing revolution in information technology. There has been a particular focus on the impacts of automation and artificial intelligence on military and national security affairs. This attention on silicon-based disruption has nonetheless meant that sufficient attention may not have been paid to other equally profound technological developments. One of those developments is the field of biotechnology.

There have been some breathtaking achievements in the biological realm over the last decade. Human genome sequencing has progressed from a multi-year and multi-billion dollar undertaking to a much cheaper and quicker process, far outstripping Moore's Law. Just as those concerned with national security affairs must monitor disruptive silicon-based technologies, leaders must also be literate in the key biological issues likely to impact the future security of nations. One of the most significant matters in biotechnology is that of human augmentation and whether nations should augment military personnel to stay at the leading edge of capability.


Military institutions will continue to seek competitive advantage over potential adversaries. While this is most obvious in the procurement of advanced platforms, human biotechnological advancement is gaining more attention. As a 2017 CSIS report on the Third Offset found most new technological advances will provide only a temporary advantage, assessed to be no more than five years. In this environment, some military institutions may view the newer field of human augmentation as a more significant source of a future competitive edge.

Biological enhancement of human performance has existed for millenia. The discovery of naturally occurring compounds by our ancestors has led to many of the cognitive and physical enhancements currently available. In the contemporary environment, for example, competition in national and international sports continues to fuel a race between creation of the next generation of performance enhancements and regulatory bodies developing detection methods. One example of this is the use of gene doping to hone the competitive edge in athletes, an off-label use of gene therapies originally developed for the treatment of debilitating genetic and acquired diseases. Despite the possibility of cancer and a range of other lethal side effects, some athletes consider these an acceptable risk. Might this not translate to adversaries adopting any possible advantage without equal disregard for ethics and safety considerations?

Gene Doping (Ralf Hiemisch)

It cannot be safely be assumed all states will share  the same ethical, moral, legal, or policy principals as Western democratic societies. Based on developmental trajectories to date, contemporary military institutions should anticipate that all forms of human enhancements, whether relatively benign or highly controversial, will continue to evolve. For contemporary strategic leaders, the key is to anticipate how these developments may potentially impact on military institutions.


Theoretically, future advances in biotechnology may permit the augmentation of cognitive performance. However, given the challenges of biocompatibility of silicon, significant enhancements to human performance in the near future are likely to be found in prosthetics, wearable computing, or human teaming with artificial intelligence. In the longer term, some forms of gene therapy may obviate the need for implants. Noting this, a selection of likely challenges are explored below.


A first order issue will be group cohesion. Military institutions have deep experience integrating newcomers into their ranks. Fundamental to effective future teaming will be evolving this approach to establish trust and group cohesion between normal humans and those who are augmented. The degree to which military leaders can and should trust augmented personnel to make decisions about saving and taking lives is likely to be an evolutionary process. It also remains to be seen whether or not teams comprised of augmented and non-augmented humans are capable of developing trust. Experimentation and trials are needed to establish whether augmented people will bias away from decisions and input from non-augmented people and vice versa. While institutions can learn from historical integration challenges, there is one essential difference with augmented humans. Previously, integration of new groups into the military  dealt with human beings. If augmentation using neurotechnology significantly enhances cognitive function, this may represent a separate and distinct group of future Homo sapiens.

The second challenge will be accessibility. Military institutions will need to decide what proportion of its forces will be augmented. Given that early generations of this biotechnology may be expensive, it is unlikely an entire military institution can be augmented. If so, who will be augmented and why? Military institutions will need to develop a value proposition to ensure physical and cognitive augmentation produces superior outcomes to the use of un-augmented personnel. Yet another question to ask is whether military personnel will be de-augmented on leaving the service. The transition of augmented personnel into a largely unaugmented populace may be traumatic for military personnel, and for society more broadly. Even more severe in its repercussions may be transitioning de-augmented personnel into a populace where augmentation is ubiquitous.

The Role of Humans in the Age of Robots (The Luvo)

The third challenge will be conceptual. One Chinese scientist, writing in 2006, has proposed military biotechnology offers the chance to shift to a “new balance between defence and attack, giving rise to a new concept of warfare, a new balance of military force, and new attacking power.” While the emphasis of this particular article was on a more merciful form of warfare—about which we should be skeptical—it nonetheless highlights the requirement to rethink what biotechnology and human augmentation means for how military institutions develop warfighting concepts. When humans arrive with cognitive enhancement, a range of tactical, operational, and strategic concepts may become irrelevant. Strategic thinking, using a combination of biological and silicon-based technologies could take organisations in very different directions than is presently the case. It also bears examining whether those with augmentation will enable greater diversity of performance (particularly in the intellectual realm) or if it will lead to increased homogenisation of physical and cognitive performance.

The fourth challenge is obsolescence. A fundamental challenge for humans waging war is that, despite technological advances, one of the weakest links is the physical capacity of the human. As Patrick Lin was written, technology makes up for our absurd frailty. Therefore, might normal humans without augmentation become irrelevant in a new construct where military institutions possess large numbers of physically and cognitively augmented personnel? It remains to be seen whether unaugmented humans might able to compete with physically and cognitively augmented military personnel. The augmentation of humans for different physical and cognitive functions may also drive change in how military institutions operate, plan, and think strategically.

A fifth challenge is military education and training. Traditional military training emphases the teaching of humans to achieve learning outcomes and missions as individuals and teams. In an integrated augmented/non-augmented institution, training methods must evolve to account for the different and improved capabilities of augmented personnel and to blend the capabilities of augmented and non-augmented personnel. Similarly, education for military leaders currently seeks to achieve their intellectual development in the art and science of war. If humans augmented with cognitive enhancements are present, both institutional and individual professional military education will also need to evolve. Learning delivery, as well as key learning outcomes, will have to be re-examined to account for the enhanced physical and cognitive performance of this new segment of the military workforce. Even issues as basic as fitness assessments must be re-examined. Potentially, military organisations could drop physical assessments by automatically augmenting people to the institutionally desired level of performance.

The sixth challenge is one of choice. Command structures demand a reduction in an individual’s free will to refuse such that informed consent is not quite the same as for the general population. And when experimental augmentation options progress to become approved interventions, can we equate a parent considering whether to choose an approved cognitive augmentation option for their child to a soldier contemplating the same when operating alongside augmented peers where the stakes are orders of magnitude greater? How much choice will military personnel have in the augmentation process? Will this be on a volunteer basis or by direction, and what are the moral, legal, and ethical implications of these stances? Speculation that augmentation may become mandatory for some professions may also apply to the military.

The final issue addressed in this article is one of ethics. Research communities are grappling with the ethical and moral implications of augmentation for society as a whole. While the first concern in evaluating the military applications of biotechnology is international humanitarian law, bioethics must also be considered. Ethical considerations pervade almost every aspect of human augmentation, and there are ethical considerations threaded through the other challenges raised in this article. For example, beyond the first order questions of whether we should augment soldiers are issues such as how much augmentation should be allowable. Military institutions should also assess the cumulative effects of multiple augmentations and the consequences of converging augmentation. There may also be a point at which a highly augmented human may cross the human-machine barrier, as well as a range of unanticipated capabilities that emerge from different augmentation combinations.


These issues must be informed by those within the biotechnology community, but they alone cannot solve them. Broader involvement by senior military, government, and community leaders is required. One expert in biotechnology has written that “clearly the new forms of power being unleashed by bio-technology will have to be harnessed and used with greater wisdom than power has been used in the past.” If military institutions are to demonstrate wisdom in their investments in biotechnology, they must explore societal impacts as well as effects within military institutions.


It is likely some augmentation will be—at least initially—expensive.  It may be beyond the means of most people in society and, potentially, many government and corporate institutions. If only military personnel might be augmented, what are the impacts on civil-military relationships, and who would make this decision? In this construct, it could be unethical to deny the benefits of augmentation to wider society. However as Yuval Harari has noted, this may see a differentiation in how society views augmented and non-augmented people—“Splitting humankind into biological castes will destroy the foundations of liberal ideology. Liberalism still presupposes that all human beings have equal value and authority.” In Western democracies, this poses profound questions about conferred advantage, societal sense of fairness and equality, and the value of individuals within society.

In Western democratic systems, development of regulation, policy, and legal frameworks is not keeping pace with the current tempo of complicated technological advancements. It cannot be assumed other states are allowing these deficits to slow their efforts in biotechnology, not to mention the unregulated efforts of non-state actors. While the focus of the fourth industrial revolution remains predominantly on technologies, perhaps for Australia (and other democracies) it is also these areas which require a complementary revolution in the Whole of Nation enterprise so as to keep up with the pace of change and facilitate systematic assessment of human augmentation implications.


The potential to augment the physical and cognitive capacity of humans is seductive. There will be some who will not demonstrate responsible behaviour in taking advantage of these new technologies. Humans have demonstrated in the past the capacity to responsibly manage disruptive technologies such as flight, atomic weapons, and space-based capabilities. This means thoughtful academics, national security practitioners, and people from wider society must be part of the discussion on why and how biotechnology might be used in future. It is vital for the future of global security, and for the human race, that mechanisms for responsible ethical and legal use of biotechnology are considered and developed. This must occur in parallel with the scientific endeavours to develop new biotechnologies.

Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer, and Commander of the Australian Defence College in Canberra, Australia. A distinguished graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the USMC Staff College and School of Advanced Warfare, he is a passionate advocate of professional education and lifelong learning. Therese Keane is a scientist with the Defence Science and Technology Group. Although with a background in mathematics now expanding into biotechnology. The views expressed are the authors’ and do not reflect the official position of the Australian Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

February 08, 2019

Jammu & Kashmir has more freedom than Pakistan, says US report


The report also labelled PoK as “not free” in terms of freedom and the functioning of local institutes.

By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, ET Bureau | Updated: Feb 08, 2019, 09.50 AM IST

The US was rated 86 on the index, closely followed by India at 75.

US-based independent watchdog Freedom House has asserted that the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir enjoys more freedom than Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) contrary to allegations levelled by Imran Khan-led government in Pakistan.

In its recently-released annual report, Freedom in the World 2019, the watchdog said Jammu & Kashmir scored 49 on the 100-point Freedom House Index, while Pakistan scored 39 and PoK a paltry 28. The report also labelled PoK as “not free” in terms of freedom enjoyed by its residents and the functioning of local institutes.


The US was rated 86 on the index, closely followed by India at 75.

Germany and France scored higher than the US as Freedom House expressed concern over the state of affairs in America.

Interestingly, Somaliland scored 43 on the scale and was ahead of Pakistan.


While the report termed Pakistan as “partly free”, it labelled India a “free” country along side the US, several European nations, Japan, Australia, South Africa and several Latin American countries.

"Pakistan’s elections were more competitive... influence over the media... was widely thought to have tilted the contest in favour of Imran Khan, who took office as prime minister," the report said.


"Pakistan holds regular elections under a competitive multi-party political system. However, the military exerts enormous influence over security and other policy issues, intimidates the media, and enjoys impunity for indiscriminate or extralegal use of force. The authorities impose selective restrictions on civil liberties, and Islamist militants carry out attacks on religious minorities and other perceived opponents," the Freedom House had said in its report in 2018, highlighting malice in Pakistan's polity.

The Freedom House report with focus on “democracy in retreat” said in 2018, freedom in the world recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Domestic attacks on key institutions—the judiciary, the media, and electoral mechanisms—are undermining the foundations of democracy, the report said.

It said at the same time, a global assault on the norms of democracy, led by an increasingly assertive China, challenges their spread around the world. Only by strengthening democracy at home and standing together in its defence around the world can democracies protect their values and preserve their ability to expand freedom globally, the report said.

It also said that the internet and other digital technologies have become ubiquitous as a means of accessing information, communicating, and participating in public debates. Consequently, technology and social media companies play an increasingly important role in sustaining—or weakening—democracy.

Trading with Iran via the special purpose vehicle: How it can work


Iran sanctions mini-series

Ellie Geranmayeh, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj
07th February, 2019

AFP - ©

On 31 January, Germany, France and Britain announced the establishment of a special purpose vehicle aimed at facilitating legitimate trade with Iran

Following weeks of speculation, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany (the E3) have formally registered a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to help facilitate trade with Iran – trade that the return of US sanctions has significantly hampered. This comes after months of technical coordination between member states led by the European External Action Service. While reactions in Tehran have been mixed, this is a significant demonstration of Europe’s commitment to preserving the Iran nuclear deal after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it.

Follow the ECFR sanctions series:

In this series of commentaries, ECFR assesses the likely impact of US sanctions on economic ties between Europe and Iran, covering strategically important areas such as trade in essential goods, energy, and banking. The series examines how European governments can minimise the fallout of their attempts to maintain Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal.

Part 1: Trump’s Iran sanctions: an explainer on their impact for Europe

Part 2: Iran: The case for protecting humanitarian trade

Part 3: Can Iran weather the oil-sanctions storm?

Part 4: Bankless task: can Europe stay connected to Iran?

Part 5: Iran oil exports: 8 waivers and the upcoming OPEC meeting

The E3’s foreign ministers issued a joint statement with a brief overview of this new mechanism, called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), but have provided little clarity on the details of how it works. This is understandable given that they must finalise several technical aspects of INSTEX before it becomes operational. INSTEX will initially focus “on the sectors most essential to the Iranian population – such as pharmaceutical, medical devices and agri-food goods”. This means that, for now, INSTEX will avoid a direct clash with the White House, since US sanctions permit these categories of trade due to their humanitarian nature.

But the exact method INSTEX uses will be the first instance in which Europe tries to mitigate the effects of US secondary sanctions on what it sees as legitimate trade. Companies in Europe and Iran are eager to know if the system can be of practical use. The assessment below lays out INSTEX’s likely structure.

Sovereign shield

An important element of the mechanism is its sovereign backing from the E3. The supervisory board of INSTEX will include senior European diplomats such as UK Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Simon McDonald; Miguel Berger, head of the economic department at the German Foreign Office; and Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, secretary-general of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. The E3 governments are also shareholders of INSTEX.

The E3 have gone to great lengths to create a diplomatic shield around INSTEX and to share risk among the biggest economies in Europe. With the E3 having stuck their necks out, several other European countries are also considering joining the SPV as shareholders. While this does not eliminate the risk of US pressure on the mechanism, it does substantially raise the stakes for Washington should it seek to directly sanction or otherwise coerce a sovereign European entity or its senior management board – as it has with the European private sector.

It is important that the Iranian government now establishes another SPV to mirror INSTEX inside Iran. To persuade European companies to use the SPV, the Iranian entity will need to meet high standards of transparency in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulations. Thus, the E3 would prefer that the Iranian SPV was either a new company or operated under an Iranian bank that has not been subject to US secondary sanctions. This is likely to reduce the risk that the US administration will apply pressure to INSTEX’s operations.

In theory, Iran should establish its SPV more quickly than the E3 did their mechanism, given that Tehran will not need to balance the interests of several countries. However, it is inevitable that this issue will be caught up in extensive political debate in Iran. To speed up this process, Tehran should carefully consider offers from the European Union and the E3 on technical assistance in launching an Iranian SPV.

How INSTEX could work in practice

INSTEX is best understood as an international trade intermediary that provides services to ease trade between Europe and Iran. Although the new company is not a bank, it will have a role in coordinating payments relating to trade with Iran. This coordination is necessary. Iranian importers have struggled to purchase and receive euros from the Central Bank of Iran on time – as is necessary to make payments to European suppliers. Even when they do acquire euros, Iranian importers struggle to make payments to suppliers, as European banks remain hesitant to accept funds originating in Iran. This holds true even for humanitarian trade that is formally exempt from sanctions: several exporters of food and medicine to Iran have reportedly experienced disruptions in recent months, contributing to troubling shortages and sharp price increases.

INSTEX will seek to facilitate Europe-Iran trade while reducing the need for transactions between the European and Iranian financial systems. It will do this by allowing European exporters to receive payments for sales to Iran from funds that are already within Europe, and vice versa. For example:

A European exporter with an order for medicine from an Iranian importer provides INSTEX with the relevant documentation on the transaction. This will include evidence that the importer has practised reasonable due diligence in relation to the Iranian buyer and the end user. Crucially for European companies, INSTEX will not provide the requisite due diligence service.Once it has approved the sale, INSTEX will register it on a ledger of trade.INSTEX will examine its ledger to identify an instance in which a European importer has registered a purchase of pistachios from an Iranian exporter.INSTEX will then approve a payment from the European importer of pistachios to the European exporter of medicine, meaning that the payment can be made from one European bank to another without using funds that originated in Iran.To complete the process of trade intermediation, the Iranian counterpart to INSTEX will coordinate a similar payment from the Iranian importer of medicine to the Iranian exporter of pistachios. These funds will remain within Iran.

While it is novel for European governments to establish a state-owned company that performs this function, the basic mechanism at work here will not be new to international companies active in Iran. The innovative aspects of the new mechanism are its scale and the backing it receives from European countries rather than companies.

These transactions will not always match up perfectly, individually or in aggregate. This is particularly so given the European companies have stopped purchasing Iranian oil. Even companies in Greece and Italy that received US waivers to continue importing Iranian oil have reportedly not used them. Overall, European trade in food with Iran is roughly balanced: according to data from Eurostat, in the first eleven months of 2017, the EU’s food exports to Iran totalled €298m and its imports of similar goods from the country totalled €292m. The bloc’s trade in medicine and medical devices is far more imbalanced, with exports totalling €851m and imports just €27m in the period. As such, there will likely be greater demand for the new mechanism in facilitating sales to Iran than purchases from the country.

INSTEX will need to find a way to balance payments within both overall trade flow and at an operational level, so that payments can be settled in timely fashion – ideally, within 60 days. In balancing overall trade, European policymakers should attempt to maximise Iranian food exports to Europe through the mechanism.

Additionally, as has been suggested by European and Iranian officials, it may be possible to invite non-European countries to join the new mechanism. The SPV is more likely to succeed if it links with revenues related to Iran’s oil exports to countries such as China, India, and Japan.

INSTEX will expand gradually, accepting clients in a way that maintains a general balance in the ledger. At times, INSTEX may need to step in to top up the funds available to pay European exporters. To do so, the mechanism will need working capital. It could raise this capital either through contributions from European countries that are, or are becoming, shareholders in it. INSTEX could also charge a commission fee for the use of its services, thereby creating reserves that it can use to balance trade within a given payment period. Currently, banks that facilitate payments to and from Iran typically charge 2-3 percent of the transaction’s value, a high fee. INSTEX could reasonably charge a similar fee, thereby generating cash flow.

Speedy implementation required

It is hard to tell how much trade will flow through the mechanism. Ideally, normal correspondent banking channels should continue to facilitate a large portion of Europe-Iran humanitarian trade. INSTEX will step in to facilitate trade that might otherwise not occur given the currency and banking restrictions outlined above. On this basis, the initial version of the mechanism will have been a success if it eventually facilitates trade in the order of tens of millions of euros each year, perhaps intermediating around 5 percent of the total value of European exports to Iran. In this scenario, Europe could then consider expanding the mechanism to a wider range of trade.

Both Iran and the E3 should expect a teething period while the mechanism adjusts to best serve commercial actors. For European treasury managers and compliance officers tasked with finding workable financial channels with Iran, complexity has long been the norm. If the INSTEX channel proves reliable, companies are likely to use its services.

The E3 should undertake the necessary technical arrangements to operationalise INSTEX as quickly as possible. The new managing director of INSTEX will need to tour Europe to meet business executives and policymakers. They will need to engage in extensive outreach with European operators to persuade them to use the SPV – and, more importantly, with European banks that are instrumental to it – by settling accounts between European companies. The European External Action Service should be closely involved in this coordination effort across Europe.

By acting swiftly, Europe will boost its credibility with Iran, where the government is scrambling to manage the economic fallout of the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and is increasingly under pressure to reduce compliance with the agreement. This will also increase the E3’s leverage with the US administration by demonstrating that they have substantive resilience against US sanctions.

Ellie Geranmayeh is Senior Policy Fellow and Deputy Head of the MENA Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj is the founder of the media company Bourse and Bazaar and has spent the last five years working on business diplomacy projects between the West and Iran.

February 07, 2019

PAKISTAN: Govt to pay Rs3.6 trillion on defence, debt servicing

Govt to pay Rs3.6 trillion on defence, debt servicing

By Shahbaz Rana

Published: February 7, 2019

Finance Minister Asad Umar. PHOTO:AFP

ISLAMABAD: The federal government would pay a whopping Rs3.6 trillion on account of defence and debt servicing that is equal to 68.2% of the current fiscal year’s revised budget, the centre on Wednesday sensitised the provinces about the grave fiscal situation that has thrown the country into a debt trap.

After excluding debt servicing and defence related obligations, the net federal revenues for fiscal year 2018-19 are negative Rs632 billion, Federal Secretary Finance Arif Ahmad Khan briefed the four provinces during the first meeting of the ninth National Finance Commission (NFC).

The NFC meeting included a detailed presentation by the federal finance secretary, focusing on the country’s overall current fiscal position.

The federal government’s total gross revenues are estimated at Rs5.5 trillion. Out of this sum, the provinces will get Rs2.581 trillion as their share in the federal divisible pool. This leaves the net federal revenues at Rs3 trillion but the cumulative spending on just two heads – debt and defence – is Rs3.62 trillion.

Since the debt and defence spending are equal to 121% of the net federal revenues, the finance ministry borrows to pay salaries, pensions, run hospitals, schools and build roads. Every penny that the centre spends on development is borrowed from the banks and foreign lenders.

Pakistan’s debt and liabilities surge to Rs31 trillion

Compared with negative Rs632-billion revenue of the federal government, the net revenue, after excluding interest payments of the provinces, is positive Rs583 billion for this fiscal year. Under the existing constitutional arrangement, defence is the responsibility of the centre.

Against the stated defence budget of Rs1.1 trillion, the finance ministry told the NFC that by the end of fiscal year 2019, Rs1.676 trillion would be spent on defence that is equal to 31.5% of the federal budget. This is the second biggest charge on the budget after debt servicing.

The Rs1.676-trillion defence expenditures are inclusive of pensions, strategic nature expenses and special military packages, according to the finance ministry’s presentation.

Similarly, against Rs1.842-trillion budgeted cost of debt servicing, the finance ministry told the provinces that the debt servicing would consume minimum Rs1.95 trillion, or 36.6%, of the total budget. The central bank’s decision to increase interest rates also put additional burden of roughly Rs500 billion on the finance ministry due to high cost of borrowing.

Pakistan to pay China $40b on $26.5b CPEC investments in 20 years

The cumulative spending on these debt and defence has been projected at Rs3.621 trillion, or 68.2%, of the budget by the finance ministry.

Such an alarming situation of the federal fiscal operations showed that the centre was not in a position to surrender any amount out of its 42.5% share in the federal divisible pool. But the provinces want to increase their pie.

The finance ministry has projected the size of the budget at Rs5.38 trillion for this fiscal year and showed the federal fiscal deficit at Rs2.4 trillion or 6.3% of GDP.

“Until resources are increased, neither the provinces nor the centre can achieve its targets,” said Finance Minister Asad Umar after the NFC meeting.

Punjab’s technical member NFC Dr Salman Shah said the overall debt has increased to Rs30 trillion and this carried huge implications for the federal government as someone has to finance it.

The finance ministry took a position in the NFC that the fiscal sustainability was at the heart of the economic and social management. It was of the view that imprudent fiscal management led to worsening external account, unsustainable economic growth and increase in prices and accumulation of debt.

In its presentation, the Ministry of Finance projected the FBR’s revenues at Rs4.417 trillion while the other revenues were shown at Rs1.15 trillion. The gross revenue receipts that were equal to 12.1% of GDP in 2012 have now increased to Rs14.8% of GDP.

But the stick and inelasticity in expenditures, like defence and debt servicing, kept the budget deficit towards the higher end. The total federal expenditures that were Rs3 trillion or equal to 15.2% of GDP in 2012 have now increased to Rs5.4 trillion.  The high debt and defence servicing adversely impacted the federal development spending that was Rs317 billion, or 1.6%, of GDP in 2012 will now go down to 1.5% of GDP at the end of this fiscal year. In absolute terms, the finance ministry has projected the federal development spending at Rs575 billion in this fiscal year.

Total gross revenues of the four provinces have been projected at only Rs654 billion in this fiscal year. The four provinces have been projected to pay Rs71 billion in interest payments, leaving their net revenues, excluding interest payments at Rs583 billion.

But Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Wednesday blamed the FBR for this poor fiscal performance. He was of the view that the provinces showed 26% growth in collection of sales tax on services during the past five years, which was double the growth rate in collection of sales tax on goods by the FBR.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2019.


February 06, 2019

Venezuela, e-voting and Western money

7 February 2019


This week, the disinformation world’s attention was focused on Venezuela. Venezuela has dominated Russian portals, Russian newspapers and also Twitter this week, as analysis from our new data tool shows. 

A link to a story about the French President supporting the opposition in Venezuela but not at home received more than 4500 engagements on social media. Ignoring the fact that the last presidential elections in Venezuela were not free, fair or credible and also lacked democratic legitimacy, this is how the social media saw things:

According to the BBC, this account has been pushing many conspiracy theories about Syria. It boasts 154 000 followers and the aforementioned tweet received more than 1300 retweets and in excess of 2100 likes. The pro-Kremlin TV channels also followed the coordinated narrative to create a link between Venezuela and France.

Amongst links popular on Twitter and created by pro-Kremlin media outlets was also a story drawing on parallel accusations of US meddling in Venezuela and in Ukraine, falsely arguing that in 2014 the US and its EU allies pulled off a coup d’état in Kiev. This story received more than 2700 reactions on Facebook and Twitter.

As the Bank of England withheld Venezuelan gold reserves, some accounts on social media suggested that this was the work of Rothschilds, but the pro-Kremlin media brought out the “America is behind everything” argument and stated that it was because the UK is under the thumb of the US. This is a thumb so large it covers German foreign policyGerman media, the European Parliament and Russia’s accordance with the INF Treaty.

In addition to the American thumb, pro-Kremlin media also pointed to the US trigger finger, headlining that President Trump ordered the Colombian mafia to assassinate Nicolas Maduro. No proof was provided, but the link was still shared more than 600 times.

While Venezuela was a topic for RT and Sputnik in all available languages, it was their Spanish outlets that were the most impactful: since 1 December 2018 there have been 310 000 tweets about Venezuela that contain a link to RT or Sputnik, and more than three quarters were in Spanish. For example the pro-Kremlin narrative that the US is supporting the opposition leader Juan Gaido only because of oil interests was reinforced with the hashtag YankeesGoHome – it continues to occupy the top 10 hashtag list.

On Spanish RT’s Twitter account, there are posts that have been retweeted thousands of times. The absolute record belongs to Inna Afinogenova – her video on Spanish RT’s Twitter account including jokes on social media that focus on Juan Gaido has been watched 856 000 times and counting.

Whereas the European elections are still some months away, Estonia is now preparing for its parliamentary elections. This time the pro-Kremlin media compared apples to oranges and made unsubstantiated claims about e-voting benefitting only right-wing parties.

And even though the disinformation world’s attention was focused on Venezuela, some outlets found time and space to devote to alleged Western activities in other parts of the world.

Belarus and Georgia, for instance, were portrayed as life rafts for the EU. Belarus – through being absorbed by the EU and thus rescuing it from collapsing. As for Georgia the claim is that the funds provided by the EU are in exchange for accommodating unwanted migrants from Germany.

Also, a case of the UK interfering in Ukrainian elections might raise some eyebrows, as, contrary to previous stories, it allegedly planned to bring to power an anti-Western president. How does that go with the well-known claims of the West meddling in Ukrainian elections and preparing a Ukraine-like scenario for Belarus? It’s hard to tell, but consistency was never a strong suit of pro-Kremlin disinformation.

Click here for the FULL COLLECTION of recent stories repeating disinformation.


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Your City Is Not a Brand

Corporations are trying to take over our civic identity. Don't let them.

By Dan Hancox


Jan 18 2019, 7:15pm

Photo by Dan Hancox

In 2019, everything has its price, its brand, its audience, and its overpaid marketing consultants – including places.

“Place-branding” is a rapidly growing industry, and a practice beloved of property developers, tourist boards and councils. The Local Government Association describes it as a “storytelling tool” used to enhance an area’s competitiveness, and attract interest from investors, property developers and regeneration wonks; all the cool kids. They actually tell councils how to deploy “the tool that you need to successfully tell the story of your place” in nine easy steps.

Place-branding is avowedly not just “a logo and a strapline”, they say. It’s about a strong, optimistic narrative, about authenticity, about a “range of assets” across multimedia. Following a decade of ruinous cuts to their budgets under the Tories, councils are desperately competing with one another to attract new businesses, jobs, investment and tourism. “Those places with a clear sense of identity and a strong, confident story to tell will have a huge advantage in that competition.”

The story they are telling is usually something like this:

In Dudwich we’re dynamic, we’re creative and well-connected – come and build your luxury flats here! We have a rich history, an enterprising present and a sexy future, and we’re definitely not completely fucking desperate for funds after a decade of swingeing Tory austerity. Seriously, everything’s fine. Look, here’s a kid with a balloon! Here are some CGI trees! Here’s a woman in a power-suit drinking a coffee! Here’s an abandoned mine that’s been regenerated into a late-night street food market! Dudwich: come and taste the magic (bring your cheque book).

The unintended side effect of place-branding is that once you’ve turned a town or city into a marketable commodity, other people can start selling it too.

In the last year, three of the world’s biggest global corporations have been using city-branding to sell their wares. Last week HSBC launched a striking liberal-virtue-signalling, global-village, twee-remainer, Giraffe-restaurant-chain-cosmopolitan, Cameroonian-capitalist campaign, titled "We Are Not An Island".

There’s something especially apt about this concoction of badly rendered cliches (pearly queen? Sloane ranger? It’s not 1985) positioned in front of such normal, down-to-earth London places as the MI5 building, and some high-end luxury flats that nobody lives in. The line "open to all" directly echoes City Hall’s own huge place-branding campaign, London Is Open (run by the Mayor’s in-house place-branding agency, London & Partners).


Not content with co-opting the British capital in the name of big capital, HSBC have produced local equivalentsdedicated to Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. There’s also a more generic, UK-wide version.

Each piece of city-branding tries to sell HSBC by selling an idea of the city back to its public: using a tried and tested mixture of cobweb-strewn cultural references and co-opted subcultures: Manchester is commended for Pride, chip barms and Oasis; Birmingham for heavy metal, balti and its library; Leeds for the wool trade, Harry Ramsden’s and Kaiser Chiefs. London is where “cup champions” are celebrated (as opposed to “cup winners” which is what people actually say). Each of them screams "we are with you – we are a part of this city too"; in the Birmingham version, this is communicated by the gloriously unwieldy phrase “you’re our home”.

Why are brands using cities to sell their products? Because they have another image they want to correct: global, placeless, depersonalised – circling the globe like the ozone layer. Moving wherever labour is cheapest, wherever regulation is slackest. HSBC has repeatedly been fined billions – BILLIONS – of dollars for tax evasion and other bad financial practice, not to mention sacking 8,000 UK employees and moving their jobs overseas to save some pocket change, or moving 1,000 jobs out of the capital because of Brexit.

In a period of rising nationalisms, big capital finds itself adrift in international waters. Campaigns like this seek to give them the identity they lack, a simulacrum of groundedness, and humanity. So just remember that the Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation is as London as jellied chips, or Notting Hill Annual Music Festival. And you better believe it’s as Manchester as a big apple pie.


Tellingly, it’s not just HSBC lunging after the "proud citizen" pound. In February last year, Nike won plaudits and piles of attention for their "Nothing Beats a Londoner" advert; a fun three-minute canter through a different London to the city of postcard cliches. There’s Giggs in Peckham Morley’s, there’s Skepta in the corner shop, there’s J Hus in the barbers – it serves up a London of night-lit astroturf pitches and estate basketball courts. It was popular because it seemed to provide a daring articulation of what London really is, and who Londoners really are.

The advert was praised to the heavens for showing a more authentic London and “highlighting diversity”; as some voices gently pointed out, Asian, Arab and Latin Londoners – not to mention anyone over the age of 35 – were almost invisible.

You don’t have to be a Bill Hicks-quoting dweeb to think the gushing coverage of this Nike video as a news item was grim. This was a Fortune 500 sports brand valued at $29.6 billion using the saleability of black youth culture to make an advert to boost its shareholders’ millions. (Albeit an advert Nike eventually had to pull, amidst rumours they had infringed the trademark of activewear brand "LNDR" with their coinage, "LDNR".)

Evidently feeling they had missed a trick, Adidas’s marketing teams followed suit: "Calling all Londoners" with their own deployment of the idea of the city to sell trainers. And in September, in further evidence their ad execs were doing their lines off the same mood-board as Nike, Adidas held a pop-up launch for a new football boot in a fried chicken shop in Hackney, culminating with a performance by drill rapper Headie One.

On the 20th anniversary of Naomi Klein’s seminal book about branding No Logo, let’s not feign surprise at ad-land’s cynicism: it is their job to co-opt and exploit anything they can – from our deepest neuroses, to underground music and culture, to our entire civic identity. And like all parasites, they’ll keep doing it as long as they have a healthy host body. But let’s at least be a bit more confident in saying: HSBC, Nike, Adidas – we are London, but you are not.


This article originally appeared on VICE UK.



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The Chinese Are Buying Up London

A Regenerative Supernova is heading for the Newham borough of London, thanks to China and the Mayor. The plan is not about "modernizing" or "improving" a run-down area—it's about wiping it out in a "supernova" and rebuilding it into a gigantic mini...

By Dan Hancox


Apr 22 2014, 5:30pm


I recently came across two little-known PR artifacts that were produced a few years back by the Newham London Borough Council. The overcrowded, ethnically diverse east London borough is home to more unemployed people than any other in the capital, but taken together, the PR artifacts seem to prophesize London's future. One is a brochure, the other a three-minute promotional video—shared here after being briefly hosted by a website aimed at foreign investors.

Designed for the 2010 Shanghai Expo (theme: Better City, Better Life) and adorned with on-brand, shocking pink slogans, the two objects functioned as an investment prospectus, offering five and a half square miles of Newham land to foreign developers and businesses.

A (silent) section of Newham's video for foreign investors

“Look beyond your borders and find your place in the future of London,” the subtitles read. The capital, we are told, “is moving east”—east to Newham? Or to Shanghai?

In the video, the Regeneration Supernova starts in outer space, before zooming through the earth's atmosphere, down through the clouds, and coming to rest above humble Newham. Take a moment to chew over the words: “A Regeneration Supernova is currently exploding across Newham London.” Perhaps they were caught up in the excitement of selling off large chunks of the capital to overseas investors, but it seems the council has had a lapse in caution—a rare slip in the densely euphemistic argot of regeneration.

This is not about "modifying", "modernizing," or "improving" a run-down area. No. It is about wiping it out in a "supernova"—a brief moment of total and blinding destruction.

That's five and a half square miles to us on this side of the pond.

Nova = new. A supernova is caused by the collapse of a massive star—it is marked by an intensely luminous and catastrophic explosion, one that sends out a giant shockwave into space, sweeping up all dust and gas in the atmosphere. It is a cosmic detonation and its effects on the existing space around it are without limits. A policy of zero tolerance and maximum Giuliani. Blast clean the dust fragments of history, the uneven layers of messy urban sediment. No beach under the cobblestones, just reclaimed marshland.

What do the council see being left behind after the destruction of the Regeneration Supernova? That's revealed in another Newham Council slogan: an "Arc of Opportunity" running from the north to the south of the borough—a huge swoop of pink from Stratford and the Olympic site that reaches down to envelop what was formerly the Royal Docks, the hub of Britain's trade, the final destination for the plundered wealth of empire, which closed in the 60s. The scale of opportunity is five and a half square miles, we're told in the video.

CGI mock up of the "Asian Business Port"

In May 2013, it was announced that Newham had found a buyer for the Royal Albert Dock, the largest of the three royal docks. In a $1.6 million deal, a Chinese company called Advanced Business Park (ABP) won the right to turn the derelict 35 acre site into a European headquarters for hundreds of Chinese firms.

An astonishing 3.2 million square feet of office space is planned—though it won't be completed until 2023. It is ABP's first venture outside China, and it is a big deal in every sense—for Chinese expansion, for London, and for the current Conservative government. “This is going to be the very center of Britain,” declared Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to Reuters, in an acknowledgement that—like the Newham comms team—he believes the future lies to the east.

In ABP's new glossy brochure announcing the project, Mayor Boris Johnson promises the project will be both “a beacon for eastern investors,” creating tens of thousands of jobs, and a revival of London's waterways, “the throbbing arteries of UK trade and commerce.” It will be “a mini city for Asian companies,” operating 24 hours a day, housing its very own retail and leisure opportunities—this will be nothing less than “London's third financial district.” Canary Wharf both symbolized and hosted the boom and bust of the 2000s, the Lehman Brothers, and LIBOR fixers—and, if all goes according to plan, this could be global capitalism's newest fulcrum of financial power.

The CGI projections for what the area might look like feature, as always, white people drinking coffee at outdoor tables, talking on cell phones, sheltering in the shade of trees. The pixelated ghosts of future commercial expansion.

East London, Newham's video reminds us, is “historically London's gateway to the world.” But where is history's place in all this? Cities are supposed to be palimpsests; ever-evolving refinements of what has gone before, historical epochs written over the top of one another, medieval streets threaded through dazzling modern buildings. But not after the Regeneration Supernova in Newham. After that, we start from Year Zero, where the narrative begins with the computer-generated planning blueprints of an international property conglomerate.

The video—the version we have is silent, but adorned with Mandarin subtitles—is keen to welcome you to an international city: 300 languages are spoken here, it boasts; there are 27 million visitors a year. Because really, you're visiting a "hub," not a place—not a finite or definable locale, limited by fusty old 19th century borders. Elaborate infographics in the brochure show off Newham's “superb transport connectivity”—via City Airport, via Crossrail (coming soon! Probably!) and via DLR—London's metro system.

Listen guys, we know you're busy, you needn't stay long, it says—but look at where else you can get to from here, the Thames Gateway to the world. Once you've finished your business at Canary Wharf and walked through the gargantuan mall at Westfield Stratford, you can be on the first plane out of here, we promise. This is Newham London, “Where you can fly to NEW YORK. Where you can get the train to PARIS and beyond.”

The video ends with the injunction: “Take your place in the future of London” and the now-dead URL flashes up: www.newhamshanghaiexpo.com. The brand guidelines are clear: in its logo and all official communications, Newham is "Newham London" and it doesn't have a comma in the middle. This is more significant than it might seem: Southwark isn't "Southwark London." Brent's logo doesn't read "Brent London." Newham Council have attached the capital's name to the borough's to direct their taxpayer-funded communications strategy at people outside the borough, outside the capital—outside the UK, in fact.

The sales pitch seems to have worked. Johnson released a statement on the ABP deal that gave a clue as to how much London is already “moving east.” In the past five years, the capital has attracted 80 percent of all Chinese property investment in Europe. Even before this deal, London was the number one capital city for Chinese investment outside Asia in the last decade.

Part of the Royal Docks area (Photo by Chris Wood)

What's in it for China? At the time of writing, Newham remains a pretty unfashionable part of London. But after the Regeneration Supernova, it'll be a strong foothold in the West—in the heart of Europe's financial capital, in fact—with nice views and good vibes to boot. “The area benefits from a large waterfront,” reported the New York Times, “an advantage when attracting Chinese companies because of its importance in feng shui, which holds that water can help the flow of energy.”

I don't know what the ancient art of feng shui has to say about airport hotels, but I bet it's not good. On the approach to the DLR's Royal Albert stop, you traverse a gauntlet of grim, blocky, mid-level hotels, built to serve the ExCel conference center/City Airport nexus of transient salarymen.

The map outside the DLR station describes the vacant area that will house ABP as "Royals Business Park." It's a subtle warning from history, a marker of a failed previous coup—the Royals Business Park was a short-lived project stopped in its tracks by the global economic downturn. The nearby neighborhood of Beckton is home to the largest sewage works in Europe. 

The waterfront itself was mostly peaceful when I visited a few weeks ago—there were some gentle ripples in the Albert Dock when the planes took off, and the occasional moment of incredible noise from the jet engines. A few dog walkers, a few plane-spotters, and the occasional breeze blowing in from the North Sea.

The Central Offices and Buffet (Photo by Chris Wood)

The one new building on this open wasteland is a massive, showy glass box, a new-build statement of intent, a gleaming 3D plank of Newham Council's Regeneration Supernova strategy. This is Building 1000, and the council spent $187 million moving there in 2010, including $31.5 million on refurbishments, and designer light fittings that cost $3,000 each. It resembled, Local Government Minister Bob Neill said, “a glitzy West End nightclub.” Newham claimed the purchase of Building 1000 was motivated by efficiency, not vanity—bringing 26 different council departments together under one roof. The grim irony is that after only four years the council might be forced to leave already, because they can't offload the older, less glamorous premises they moved out of. In January of this year, it was announced that ABP will be moving in to the building, too. That sounds cosy.

As I strolled around the giant transparent walls, watching council officials have their meetings in soft-furnished "break-out areas," Building 1000 seemed voyeuristic and needy in its vanity, shameless in its sales pitch to the businessmen passing by every day. Building 1000's official entrance is on the north side, facing away from the docks, but it's the southern side—the one directly facing City Airport across the narrow stretch of water—that is surely the building's raison d'etre for Newham Council. Spread across this facade is a giant shocking pink billboard, measuring maybe 60 feet by 30 feet, emblazoned with the legend "Welcome to Newham London.".

A CGI mock up of the development on Newham's now defunct investors' website

Amid all the detritus scattered along the half mile site, two buildings remained standing. They used to be the Central Offices and Buffet—colloquially, just "the Central"—where the dockworkers used to feed and water themselves. Currently, the buildings lie empty and untouched. You'd hope that at least one awkward remnant of history could outlive the smiting hand of the developers.

It will surprise no one that the lessons of the 2008 crash, and Canary Wharf's role as “Wall Street's Guantanamo” (a lawless zone, free from such awkward encumbrances as government regulation and good practice), are being quite determinedly unlearned. In its official response to the ABP deal, the Mayor of London's office announcedthat it was looking into ways to make it “easier and cheaper for Asian businesses to set up and trade internationally from the Royal Docks... As an existing Enterprise Zone, the area already offers reduced business rates, a simpler planning process, and superfast broadband.”

How very accommodating! Boasting speedy internet connections seems almost comically trivial, at first glance, compared to the other concessions and genuflections made—but I guess it's almost like corporate hospitality, or the behavior of a luxury hotel: Here's the mint on your pillow.

ABP chairman Xu Weiping (center) and delegates look around the derelict site at Royal Albert Dock in May 2013

So who are the buyers? A profile of ABP and Xu Weiping on the Quartz website described the company and its chief as obscure and mysterious, with thinly disguised links to the Communist Party hierarchy. To date, ABP's only significant completed project anywhere is a "Silicon Valley of Beijing" on the outskirts of the city, which, according to Quartz, “raised questions about how Xu obtained rights to build such a massive project... despite having no history as a developer.” “One explanation for the firm’s quick ascension," Quartz continued, "could be close ties with the government, which is not unusual for businessmen in China but could be problematic given that London has billed ABP as a private company.”

Like all great empires, and target-setting Communists, APB are already thinking about their next goal. "We want to build the site far beyond the boundary of the current plans," Xu saidlast month. "That's what we want to see in east London and we're fully confident we will get it done. We want the community to support us and watch over us to make sure it will be done." The local community don't have a great deal of choice in the matter—if they are even allowed to remain locals, and not say, told by the council that they have to move to Hastings.

Capitalism almost destroyed the docks once before, a century ago. Back in 1909, the government-run Port of London Authority monopoly was formed out of necessity, because the ferocity of competition between rival dock companies was ruining them all. This time, the people of Newham, one of the most deprived boroughs in London, are being promised 20,000 jobs—a figure, one suspects, plucked entirely out of the air—as a result of the Regeneration Supernova and the Asian Business Port's $1.7 billion arrival. As ever with regeneration, it is not the act of investment, modernization or construction in and of itself that is a problem—it's who benefits from the regeneration. Will we ever be Royals? I wouldn't hold your breath.

The striking thing about a supernova is the paradox of its purported novelty—it is newly bright, and newly spectacular—and it does totally transform the space around it. It's a star that appears brighter than ever before, emitting enough radiation to outshine an entire galaxy. But because the luminosity is a result of the star's fatal implosion, what appears to be a dazzlingly bright star is in fact just a dazzlingly bright ghost. The star, you see, is dead.

Follow Dan Hancox on Twitter

China runs into Belt and Road barriers in South Asia

Illustration by Eric Chow



Countries try to slow Beijing's advance without provoking hostility

MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR, Asia regional correspondentFEBRUARY 05, 2019 16:12 JST

COLOMBO -- For about three months, confidants of Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih have been holed up in an oceanfront building in Male, sifting through mountains of documents to answer an urgent question: How much money, exactly, does the region's smallest country owe China?

After years of pushing into South Asia with multibillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure projects, China is encountering real pushback. Larger nations, too, are having second thoughts and signaling to Beijing that it will no longer be business as usual.

In the Maldives, the uncertainty over the obligations stems from a frosty exchange between Chinese Ambassador Zhang Lizhong and Mohamed Nasheed, a former president and now an adviser to Solih. It reportedly happened a few weeks before Solih's inauguration in November, after his surprise victory over pro-China incumbent Abdulla Yameen.

As Nasheed tells it, Zhang presented the incoming leadership with a note saying the Maldives owed China $3.2 billion -- more than double the $1.3 billion worth of Chinese loans on the official books.

China's Foreign Ministry dismissed the whole story as an "untruth." Either way, those are staggering numbers for an economy that amounts to only $3.6 billion.

"They have huge piles of paper, a foot high, to go through," said a Maldivian source familiar with the investigation of the money trail. The projects under review include a landmark bridge, the expansion of an international hospital, and roads -- all part of a Chinese-funded infrastructure boom in the archipelago known for bright blue waters and luxury resorts.

Underscoring the challenge of determining the true amount, the Maldives' attorney general on Jan. 29 announced the government was seeking foreign help to examine the records. The Ministry of Finance, meanwhile, has set up its own task force to investigate the contracts signed by Yameen, who was swept out of power by voters outraged over alleged corruption.

The Maldivian government is investigating the deals that led to the China-funded Sinamale Bridge, originally called the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.   © Reuters

Yameen's downfall was just one sign that the tide is turning against China in South Asia.

In Pakistan -- home of the largest Belt and Road projects in the region -- domestic frictions, an ethnic insurgency and revelations of billions of dollars in debt above previous estimates are all getting in Beijing's way.

In Sri Lanka, which is caught in an external debt crisis, a government elected based partly on hostility to two major Chinese-backed projects is now actively courting support from Japan and India.

And in Bangladesh, there is a quieter undercurrent of unease over the $24 billion pledged -- but not yet disbursed -- for Belt and Road projects. Some sources say India is urging Dhaka to be cautious about borrowing from China; others say the resistance is coming from fiscal conservatives in the finance ministry, who are loath to let the country's external debt swell.

A suicide bombing wounded three Chinese engineers last August in Balochistan Province, the heart of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.   © AFP/Jiji

The pushback in Pakistan is the most strident. Jam Kamal, the chief minister of Balochistan, amended laws to freeze the sale of land to Chinese companies in Gwadar, a port city that is the starting point for a $62 billion series of infrastructure projects known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The trouble erupted in December, after the Balochistan provincial government was briefed about the CPEC, which will cut through the sparsely populated southern area. Local leaders were shocked to find that their region would see few of the spoils from the Chinese mega project.

"Gwadar is not for sale," Aslam Bhootani, a political leader from the port city, said in a fit of pique.

Baloch insurgents, already locked in a separatist war with Pakistani troops, have essentially declared war on the CPEC as well. Two deadly strikes were directed at Chinese targets in late 2018 -- first a suicide attack on Chinese engineers, then a storming of a Chinese consulate.

China has gambled heavily on the endeavor, and for good reason: The network of roads, railways, power plants and a port will give it coveted direct access to the Indian Ocean. But analysts say Beijing misread conditions on the ground, failing to see how the development would fan existing tensions between the central government in Islamabad and the provincial authorities in Balochistan. Now, the sidelined Baloch are demanding their price.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center in the U.S., said Pakistan and China must ensure that vulnerable communities in Balochistan, Sindh, and other marginalized areas are rewarded through employment, basic services, and natural resources stemming from the projects.

"Islamabad and Beijing," he said, "will need to take concrete and actionable steps to address the negative reactions to CPEC."

Chinese-backed land reclamation off Colombo is one of two major projects that have stirred controversy in Sri Lanka. (Photo by Yuji Kuronuma)

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, is attempting a particularly difficult balancing act.

The parliamentary election in 2015 was a highly charged campaign that questioned two huge Belt and Road ventures: The $1.5 billion Hambantota Port on the southern coast, which is now in Chinese hands after a controversial debt-for-equity swap, and the $1.4 billion Port City, a 269-hectare area of land reclaimed from the waters off Colombo.

Four years ago, Sri Lankans took to the streets to protest the projects, and that wave of anger helped carry the current coalition government to power. Today, there are still pockets of resistance from coastal communities and environmental groups, but even the government has softened its line.

Instead, Sri Lanka seems to be trying to keep China in check by diversifying its development partnerships.

Colombo announced plans in early January for a $1.85 billion light rail system in the capital, to be built by Japan with Japanese concessional loans. Weeks later, India stepped in, offering a new set of trains as part of a commitment to upgrade Sri Lanka's railways through $1.3 billion in concessional financing.

"Money for infrastructure is only available in Asia, so we want to tap all sources"

Malik Samarawickrama, Sri Lanka's minister of development strategies and international trade

Sri Lankan officials deny these moves are meant to counter China. Malik Samarawickrama, minister of development strategies and international trade, said they are "not a pushback" but an attempt to broaden the island's sources of funding.

"Money for infrastructure is only available in Asia, so we want to tap all sources," he said, noting the need to "avoid dependence on one source."

Still, there is a widespread perception in Colombo that a predatory Beijing lured Sri Lanka into a debt trap. Chinese infrastructure development loans to the country stand at $9.2 billion.

"The criticism is unavoidable, but it is nonsense," said Luo Chong, head of the political section at the Chinese Embassy in Colombo. Luo contends that China is misunderstood and that "loans for infrastructure funded by the Export-Import  Bank of China are given at 2% interest."

But some financial insiders in Sri Lanka contradict Luo on the 2% interest rate. Sources familiar with the government's negotiations with China said loans for infrastructure projects have come with interest as high as the benchmark London Interbank Offered Rate plus 6%.

Either way, Sri Lanka and its South Asian neighbors are in a precarious position. They would clearly prefer to keep China at arm's length, but they still want the development funding and other benefits from the Belt and Road.

And those much-needed project funds have been increasingly flowing into Asia, outpacing funding for Africa -- another Belt and Road realm. Of the 115 countries the initiative encompasses in some way, Asia accounted for 39% of the contract value from January 2014 to June 2018, higher than Africa's 30%, according to Moody's Investors Service.

The benefits of the Belt and Road are not a mirage, some Asian analysts insist. They see a bias in criticism of the investment drive, shaped by the logic of Western governments and companies that tend to measure success after five years.

When it comes to large and risky projects, one should consider the return on investment over a time frame of "one or two decades, rather than three to five years," said Yan Hairong, an academic specializing in the Belt and Road program at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University. "Chinese companies can think in [longer] terms because they are not pressed by the requirement to maximize shareholder value."

The Chinese Embassy's Luo presented a similar defense. "The projects are planned with a longer vision, over many decades," he said.

Skeptics argue China is seeking not only financial profits but political gains from the infrastructure drive, with its state-owned enterprises leading the way. And the actions of some Chinese companies -- the World Bank blacklisted two big contractors over dodgy business practices -- have not exactly dispelled suspicions over their intentions.


Sri Lanka seeks regional bailout as balance of payments crisis looms

These missteps have provided useful fodder for anti-corruption campaigners in countries like the Maldives, helping them pressure governments for more transparency with regard to Chinese-funded projects.

Yet, analysts in Pakistan say the resistance to Chinese projects is outweighed by the sheer advantages for developing countries with pressing infrastructure needs.

The economic corridor initiative, they say, sways opinion in its favor in three ways: energy generation, foreign investment and job creation. Chinese-backed power projects have, quite simply, brought light to parts of Pakistan once plagued by blackouts.

For the countries now linked to the Belt and Road, the challenge is to bask in the light while mitigating the initiative's dark side.

Contributing writer Adnan Aamir in Quetta, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

February 05, 2019


Jan 31, 2019




Zahid Shahab Ahmed

Silada (Lydia) Rojratanakiat

 , Soravis Taekasem (Sora)

“Higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey” is a popular slogan used by Beijing and Islamabad to describe diplomatic relations between China and Pakistan.

China, however, seeks to go beyond the state-to-state relations by reaching the hearts of the people in Pakistan–a country that is central to its mega Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Since the start of the CPEC, China has invested heavily in public diplomacy to promote its goodwill in Pakistan. Through analysis of the CPEC in the Twittersphere, we argue that official sources representing China and Pakistan have been using Twitter as a tool to promote positive aspects of the CPEC.

The ubiquity of the Internet and the immediacy of social media have made it more difficult for countries to use public diplomacy to manage international public opinion. Public diplomacy is about an ability to frame desirable reality, and the projection of reality is easier with traditional media because the number of actors to engage with passive audiences are limited. Social media, on the other hand, breaks the limitation as it encompasses elements such as citizen journalism, participatory media and user-generated content. Now, anyone can be an actor to engage with active audiences. A message can be defined and debated, which means it is unpredictable, and the online audience has shown to be opinionated, volatile and powerful. In the social media sphere, governments may have lost their positions as the primary architects of grand narratives, but many governments are catching up to gain more prominence in social media.

Considering the scope of this article, we focus on Twitter. In a transnational public sphere called the Twittersphere, there are numerous actors including foreign governments, media outlets and ordinary citizens who compete to be the narrators of CPEC stories. It is not just because of the geopolitical and geo-economic competition between the U.S. and China, but also because of the nature of the CPEC, which makes it controversial even within South Asia. India is the most prominent actor in South Asia and naturally views the CPEC with skepticism. Through analysis of tweets on the CPEC, we aim to understand the overall sentiment about China’s BRI project in Pakistan. The data was collected for the period between January 2015 and October 2018.

Foreign publics control country reputations, not the country itself.

Out of 46 months, positive percentage outweighed neutral percentage in 37 months. This can be seen through the data shown in the image below. The number of tweets tended to rise in any month that a CPEC-related event occurred, such a summit and expo in August 2016 and the May 2017 Belt and Road Summit in China. The Expo in August 2016, which was held at the Pakistan-China Friendship Centre, was aimed at promoting CPEC awareness, as well as celebrating the signing of a $46 billion CPEC program. Back then, Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif announced that the real value of CPEC was long lasting and much higher than $46 billion. The Belt and Road Summit also played a crucial role in generating a national consensus in Pakistan, as the chief ministers of the country’s four provinces accompanied the PM.

Chart courtesy of the authors

The top five Twitter accounts that posted the most over a 46 month-period are either “Pakistani” personal or institutional Twitter accounts: Pakistan-China Institute (@CPEC_Official), Ministry of Planning, Development, Reform of Pakistan (@PlanComPakistan), Amjad Farooq Ch. (@CPEC15), Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (@RadioPakistan) and Ahsan Iqbal (@better_pak). It is important to mention that the most prominent accounts belong to either Pakistani ministries directly dealing with the CPEC, such as the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, or relevant officials, such as the former minister Ahsan Iqbal. These accounts actively constructed the image of CPEC in the Twittersphere due to their volume of tweeting.

Furthermore, social media success and effectiveness are also measured by engagement such as retweets and likes. A retweet is a mechanism to extend an idea beyond the direct followers of a tweet owner, and a retweet is an act of endorsement. Four of the top five tweets that were retweeted the most are from Pakistani personal accounts. They are the accounts of an activist (@Arslan_Sadiq), an anchorperson (@ARYSabirShakir), a TV journalist Kamran Khan of Geo TV (@AajKamranKhan) and a spokesperson of Pakistani military media wing (@OfficialDGISPR). The remaining one is a Twitter account of New Delhi Times (@NewDelhiTimes) from India.

Chart courtesy of the authors

The number of likes is a direct reflection of preferences or a user that shares the same opinion with a tweet. The five tweets that got liked the most are all from Pakistani personal Twitter accounts of Kamran Khan (@AajKamranKhan), Major General Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR), Sabir Shakir (@ARYSabirShakir), Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, who is the current Federal Minister for Information (@fawadchaudhry), and Shehryar Khan Afridi who is the current Minister of State for Interior (@ShehryarAfridi1).

Many studies have shown that China has extended its efforts to promote the country’s reputation in many parts of the world, but that it still lags behind in its public diplomacy especially in social media diplomacy. Although China has invested tremendous resources on the construction of CPEC projects, it has not paid as much attention to how the CPEC looks on the Twittersphere. However, the sentiment has been satisfactory, and it is not the result of Chinese social media diplomacy. The effort that China put in the CPEC is sufficient, and the extra effort for social media diplomacy is not necessary. Twitter accounts that actively feed CPEC stories and engage are from “Pakistani” sides, so it has been almost effortless for China because China is not the primary author of CPEC narratives.

For China, it is a great success that some key officials and government institutions are promoting China’s goodwill through Twitter and other mediums. The Chinese officials in Islamabad have been actively using Twitter and other media outlets to promote China’s image in Pakistan, but it doesn’t seem that they are overdoing it, as their accounts are not the top ones tweeting about the CPEC.

Nevertheless, no country can control its reputation. A country only has the perception of control because it does not hear negative words from people. While the country can motivate international audiences to talk about it positively, ultimately the audiences are the ones who control the message. Foreign publics control country reputations, not the country itself. In this case, China’s reputation in the context of the CPEC appears to reside in the positive region thanks to some key Pakistani officials and government offices.