As per ‘Pakistan Today’ daily newspaper, dated May 08, 2017, Pakistan on Monday sought clarification from Chinese officials over content of Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui’s address at the United Service Institution(USI of India), an Indian think tank, on Friday, when the text was released by the Chinese Embassy on Monday.
With only four days to go before the Commencement of OBOR Summit in Beijing, Pakistan appears to be nervous of the Ambassador’s remark “Even we can think about renaming the CPEC” as reported extensively by Indian Media.(Refer URL’s attached).
If Pakistan’s media is to be believed, Officials from the Ministry of Planning and Development had written a letter to Chinese officials at the China Embassy in Islamabad over a controversial statement in New Delhi by Chinese official. This as per media reports was followed by deletion of those remarks from his Transcript copy posted on the Chinese embassy website. However Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mr Geng Shuang during his Press Conference on May 09, 2017, showed ignorance about any such communication from Pakistan.
From the media reports and rhetoric, and open source information, few trends emerge out, which are worth noticing :-
- Pakistan is quite possessive about CPEC. It will be quite nervous of even a talk about any goodwill/ concession/mutual adjustment offer, which China may ever extend to India on the issues of connectivity/OBOR/CPEC.
- India has been able to drive home the point that the Sovereignty Issue of POK, which is Integral part of India, is extremely sensitive, and unlikely to be compromised. The Sovereignty Issue of POK over rides the isolation threats, commercial concerns, opportunity cost of skipping it, hence it needs to be addressed. The Foreign and Defence Minister of India has already clarified it many times (Times of India Reports).
- It proves that India follows an independent foreign policy, to protect its core interest, even if it amounts to being absent/ insignificant representation in a large Summit like OBOR. Participation by Indian Scholars ( As mentioned by Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mr Geng Shuang) can not be assumed as Indian participation, unless appointed by Ministry of External Affairs of India. As per the information in open sources, No European Head of State is expected (British Prime Minister is yet to confirm). Japan attendance by high officials is an unexpected entry, perhaps for economical reasons. The presence of North Korean delegation will put the sincerity of sanctions of China on North Korea, under suspect.
- CPEC definitely gives warm water access and connectivity benefits to Western Region of China, and some economic benefits to Pakistan is well understood by all. A lot of writers in Pakistan find it exploitative leading the country towards debt trap, cost prohibitive energy and greater internal disturbances due to inequitable benefits to various parts of Pakistan. Some other countries which are participating echo similar thoughts, while some are quite enthusiastic about better connectivity.
- What surprises most is that Pakistan, despite being accused of harboring and nurturing terror machinery, and exporting terror, by three neighboring countries (India, Afghanistan, and Iran) is being favored by China. China is fully aware that terror groups like ETIM, working against them are also supported by Pakistan based terror groups. The expected inroads of ISIS into this region(including China) is also expected through Pakistani region. The policy of appeasement of militants by actions like supporting JeM Chief does not support the narrative of peaceful region and inclusive growth sounded by Chinese Foreign Ministry (SeeURL below). The fact that militants are loyal to no one, only the future will tell whether the policy of appeasement of militants will work for China or otherwise.
If OBOR is viewed purely from connectivity perspective, the connectivity along most routes already exists in some form, which needs to be improved for global traffic. In case of BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar), India has already negotiated connectivity through Bangladesh and work is in progress. The roads in Northeastern states are being developed by India, and connectivity to Myanmar is being negotiated bilaterally, hence China driven BCIM has very little to charm India.
OBOR is a natural connectivity growth which will progress in any case, as process of natural global growth and evolution, however the synergy can make it faster. The strategic intent, increase of strategic influence by creation of this dual use facility (Civil and Military) is also worth giving a thought, as it may lead to unrestricted deployment of labor force, military force of the country creating the facility in that segment of OBOR.
Regarding Indian participation in OBOR Summit, we will have to wait and see for three more days, but the principle followed has to be ‘India First’.
The views expressed in the post are personal views of the author and do not represent any organisation.
The author can be reached in Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter as Shashi Asthana, and website http://www.usiofindia.org as Chief Instructor
The future of the Chinese-financed, US$3.6 billion ($4.77 billion) Myitsone hydropower dam project, remains a troublesome issue for discussion during President U Htin Kyaw’s visit to Beijing on 11 April, due to its domestic opposition in Myanmar. Beijing seems to be inclined for a convenient bargain with concessions on preferential access to the strategic Kyaukpyu port on the Bay of Bengal and proposed development of several smaller hydro power dams.
Cancellation of the Myitsone hydropower dam project could force Myanmar to repay the US$800 million ($1.06 billion) already invested by China, which may be nonviable for Myanmar. Alternatively, Beijing can seal the Kyaukpyu project deal in April to pump oil through 770 kilometers pipeline across Myanmar to Southwest China, as per Reuters. Caijing magazine reported that China will pay $13.6 million to Myanmar every year, with the Myanmar government expected to earn $1 for each ton of transported crude oil.
Myanmar is economically fragile, but geopolitically important for the Chinese “One Belt, One Road” policy. Gaining preferential access to the strategic deep port at Kyaukpyu is a worthwhile gain for China. The port is the entry point of a pipeline that, once operational, it is expected to carry oil from the Bay of Bengal to refineries in Yunnan. The pipeline is believed to be capable of transporting six per cent of Chinese crude oil imports. The security of the pipeline however will be an issue which both countries will have to deal, as it flows through Myanmar’s Shan state, which is insurgency prone.
According to the Chinese Global Times, a crude oil transmission agreement between the two countries was signed during the meeting and “consensus” was reached on the Myitsone Dam, but neither government has articulated what this entails. The consensus part may not sound too convincing because Myanmar does not have the economic muscles, and its dependency on China is so much that it really has no choice but to concede to China’s will. With the signing of the oil transmission agreement and preferential access to Kyaukpyu port, it is likely that the future of the dam may continue to remain uncertain. From Chinese perspective, the Myitsone Dam has already lost its economic value because Yunnan has adequate supply of electricity.
The above example brings to focus the apprehension of a number of countries that the ‘Purse Diplomacy’ or ‘Infrastructure Diplomacy’ of China including OBOR initiative can exploitative for the host countries, and may not be as beneficial as it seems to be. This is significant in light of OBOR summit in China in May 2017.
Sharing with friends my comments on the subject published in South China Morning Post on April 9,2017.
Two days back I had predicted the outcome in my comments published in SCMP, on the Topic ‘Why the Xi-Trump summit is a high-stakes gamble’ which are given after these comments. The old predictions stand vindicated, as the take-away from the visit are on expected lines as indicated in the link/Topic (Xi-Trump summit ‘beats expectations’ but N Korea still a big divide).
We also have to factor in the fact that US suddenly got involved in attack on Syrian airbase at the same time, which also diverted the focus of US President to some extent. North Korea, Trade imbalances, and currency valuation will remain an issue in China-US relationship. The attack on Syria also gives some indirect signalling not to rule out US unilateral action on North Korea, if not moderated.
General Asthana (April 9)
My old Comments/Predictions (April 7)
Notwithstanding the hype given to this summit by media and Diplomats, while this is an important summit which the world will be looking at, I personally feel that both sides should not be expecting any major takeaways, as both leaders will be meeting for the first time, and are likely to avoid any ‘Big Ticket Decision’.
Both sides have areas of some convergences and more divergences, will be looking for cooperation, without compromising their stated national positions, hence their strategic competition is likely to continue. While China will like to be treated at equal pedestal in terms of global power, but appreciating the unpredictability of new US leadership, some unexpected snubs can not be ruled out, especially in context of North Korea .
On April 04, 2017, the humanity was shamed when 86 civilians including innocent women and children succumbed to a tragic painful death, due to a chemical attack involving use of banned Sarin gas. As per US, the culprit was Assad regime; hence it felt justified to attack the Syrian airfield allegedly used for air attack discharging chemical weapons and punished Syrian Regime, without waiting for any UN Security Council Resolution or UN Investigation Report. As per U.S. officials a total 59 Tomahawk missiles were launched from destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross from the Mediterranean Sea on April 06, 2017. The strikes were aimed at the Shayrat Air Base in Syria, which has been one of Russia’s main airfields in Syria. The Syrians claimed to have lost six people dead and several injured, besides “big material losses.” in this attack. The incident, seemingly small in military dimension, has many serious global implications, which are worth analysis.
What it means for US?
Most of the US allies have supported it for various reasons. Although no sane mind will dispute that the guilty must be punished, however this attack throws up certain difficult questions, the answers of which will emerge as time goes by, to decide whether the action was appropriate, or a premature strategic error. Let me enumerate some of them.
- Who decided that Assad Regime was the culprit? In absence of any UN investigation Report, the unilateral verdict of US to hold Syrian Regime responsible is likely to be viewed with suspicion. The US has been trying a regime change in Syria for a long time; hence it may be a good excuse to shake them, by such a prompt action, even without congressional approval.
- Has the Trump Administration grabbed a good opportunity to prove to American voters that he is not pro- Russia? (An allegation he has been battling with, post elections).
- Is US reminding the world that they have not given up the role of ‘Global Policeman’?
- With similar logic the US and its allies attacked Iraq, alleging it to have ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. Later after innumerable casualties, regimes change (one of their Agenda), they could not find WMD’s and realized that the peace in the region disappeared, and the region got pushed into the most dangerous form of terrorism to include the caliphate of IS. Wasn’t it a strategic error in hindsight?
- Is Trump Administration signaling the display of will to use military power to some global players like China and Russia, and countries like North Korea and Iran, which are uncomfortable to US? Is it to gain its ‘Sole Superpower’ status back?
What it means for Russia?
Russia and few more countries like Bolivia have opposed the unilateral action in the emergency UN Security Council Meeting on April 07, 2017. President Putin considers American strikes on Syria an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international norms, and under an invented pretext,” Peskov was reported saying by Russian agencies. In retaliation Russia has suspended an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating over Syria. They have also announced to boost air defence of Syria, and place Frigate in Syrian port in Mediterranean Sea, . This is not a good sign for world peace and may amount to further heating of cold war. China has also been supporting Russian view in Syrian conflict through vetoes.
What it means for Syria and IS?
Syria has been bearing the brunt of US annoyance from the time Assad came to power, but they have been able to bear it with support from Russia. An action of this kind to weaken Syria may embolden ISIL to gain some lost ground. Will it make US citizens and it’s diaspora safer or otherwise? only future will reveal. The war in Syria might turn hotter with US and Russians targeting groups, which are pro or against Assad respectively, shifting their joint focus away from IS, which is dangerous for the world .
What it means for UN, Global Community and India
The relevance of UN and Security Council once again comes under question, with one more unilateral action after Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen (Saudi Arabia), Ukraine/Crimea etc. It may encourage other powers like China to follow. India also needs to rethink that its struggle for becoming a permanent member of Security Council is really of some use or otherwise.
I am sure that everyone sympathizes and solidarity with the innocent people who were killed in chemical attack will demand the strictest possible action against the culprits, but the debate on its methodology will continue to be a subject of debate for a long time.
(You can connect with the author on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter as Shashi Asthana)
I am sharing my comments published in South China Morning Post, today on the topic published yesterday with URL given below.
Capital control may be one reason for delay of BRI projects, but that is not the only reason. The insecurities of host countries, trust deficit of some countries viewing OBOR exploitative, and security concerns of China and some host countries are also reasons for delay, to name a few.
The excitement and urge of Private Companies to utilize their over-capacities, and make their trade surpluses commercially profitable is understandable from business point of view, but connectivity being a dual use facility will always be affected by other strategic, diplomatic and security concerns also.
The strict check on financing in view of questionable valuation of currency and anticipated ‘Trade War’ with US, under new administration is on expected lines. The hesitation of some of the financial institutions beyond Beijing’s control is also a factor worth consideration.
Sharing an interesting video as received.
Take a look at the video link below and watch it in full-screen. A Russian has created a remotely controlled quadroto-copter fitted out with a 100 round machine gun.
Watch him as he has fun blowing up mannequins and cars. It’s all done with a touch of humor, but the reality is that this fellow has created a very lethal killing machine
that could be remotely controlled and come into your yard, or house and kill everyone there. It can fly away or be self-destructed. These types of robots have so much ‘stealth’ killing power. It can also destroy a car as can be seen.
Such a simple innovation can well be made for Indian Armed Forces at low cost, in India, by DRDO or any other agency, and can be suitably used in counter- terror and other operations.
The United States rebuffed a proposal from China to “apply the brakes” to an escalating standoff with North Korea, to engage with the “irresponsible” Kim Jong Un (Washington Post, March 09,2017). The plans to deploy the missile system by the end of this year have angered not only North Korea, but also China and Russia, which see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat (as per South China Morning Post March 07,2017), and China vows ‘resolute’ measures as US deploys first parts of THAAD missile system to South Korea. North Korea firing four ballistic missiles few days back into the sea may not threaten US ( because of range and capabilities), but it certainly keeps South Korea and Japan on their toes, besides signalling US ( With / without the consent of China?). This stance of China along-with the statement of Chinese Defence spokesman Ren Guoqiang to indicate that China will take the “necessary measures” to safeguard national security in the event of the collapse of the neighbouring North Korean regime (South China Morning Post, February 23, 2017), clearly proves the extent to which China has been supporting North Korea as its ‘Frontline state”, and how far it can go to help it, in case the recent crisis of alleged assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam, showing alleged North Korean connections and use of banned nerve agent VX, flares up to threaten the stability of North Korea. This concept of North Korea being used as a ‘Frontline state’ against US and its ally South Korea, dates back to Korean War, when China entered the War with an aim to avoid US/South Korea to be its neighbour, as a permanent military threat.
Earlier this month the renewed missile test besides isolating Pyongyang, has put China in Tight spot, for not putting enough pressure on them. China’s announcement last week to suspend all imports of coal from North Korea for the rest of the year, to deprive them financially (Coal exports makes up about 35 percent of North Korea’s economy. 90 percent of its trade is with China which is based on coal export) is being viewed as ‘Too little and too late’ because it is also estimated that China’s trade with North Korea has increased tenfold over last 15 years, including some major infrastructure projects, despite China claiming to support UN sanctions, and opposing nuclear tests by North Korea .North Korea continued nuclear misadventure, and despite China being party to UN Resolution is being looked upon to put more pressure on them, being their economic lifeline. The continuation of nuclear adventure by North Korea means either China does not have enough leverage on North Korea, or China is deliberately not putting pressure on them, to use them as front line state against influential zone of US including South Korea. Now China is also worried about deployment of THAAD in South Korea, after reassurance by General Mattis, the Secretary of Defence in Trump Administration, during his visit, arguing that the system could be used to spy on Chinese missile flight tests, hence some actions against North Korea are in sight.
Why North Korea continues Nuclear Misadventure and acts like alleged assassination of people closer to Hierarchy?
Washington Post in its article “These 5 things help make sense of North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launch” had brought out five basic reasons, as possible logic for nuclear misadventure by repeated nuclear tests in Southeast Asia. Basically it all amounts to Kim Jong-un trying to retain unhindered autocratic use power, and demonstrating his strength to his countrymen, keeping his ‘Nuclear program’, and ‘Hate America tag’ as a rallying point for his leadership, generating faith in him, and generating spirit of nationalism and anti-American sentiments. The alleged assassination is also being linked to a possibility of eliminating any future contender for power as media reports of last two days suspect a link up with North Korean intelligence agency RGB. The non cooperation of their diplomats in investigation to an extent that Malaysia said on Saturday it would issue an arrest warrant for a North Korean diplomat wanted for questioning over the murder of Kim Jong-nam, if he doesn’t voluntarily cooperate with the police (SCMP, February 24), although North Korea later dismissed it citing heart attack as cause of death, a narrative at variance with Malaysia If these allegations get proved, it might have a backlash and internal disturbance in North Korea.
How Frontline State Theory of China affects India?
Applying the same logic as applicable to North Korea, China finds an ‘All weather Friend in Pakistan’ which can be used as a ‘Frontline State’ to keep Indian Army engaged, without getting directly involved. It can be used for warm water access through CPEC, and most importantly, attempt to deny the strategic space of Pakistan to US by making it a ‘Frontline State’, although this may not be that easy as Pakistan has some critical dependencies on US and so far Pakistan has been able to calibrate its relations with both, getting the best from both, although the balance is now tilting in favor of China.
Why Pakistan continues to dream Kashmir?
I wish to draw a similarity of this model towards Pakistan Army’s logic to continue to be the strongest power-center, using Kashmir Issue as a rallying point, and perceived Indian threat, as a logic for holding the reins of power, even if a notional democratic Civil Government is in place. The numbers of military coups in Pakistan bear a testimony to that. In Pakistan every political party has to tow the line of the Army to have Kashmir as an agenda, and use it as a rallying point to muster votes and support, besides remaining in good books of the Pakistan Army. Today neither US nor China can put enough pressure on Pakistan to move away from this narrative, as they know that it is fully engrained into their DNA.
The agenda of Kashmir is being misused to generate the spirit of perceived nationalism, and arouse anti-India sentiments, even if it amounts to misadventures like proxy war, helping terrorists, creating stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons, continued missile tests, and having an ambition of having the largest nuclear arsenal in South Asia. Despite such similarity in these models of North Korea and Pakistan, it is surprising that the whole world rightly criticises North Korea, but not many eyebrows are raised on aiding Pakistan, although the risk of tactical nuclear/dirty bomb sneaking to militants are much more from Pakistan. Apparently its geographical location, strategic importance, usability and amenability to major powers helps in overlooking a grave eminent danger of militancy.
One of the Takeaways’s for India is that with two nuclear powers on its flanks, India should also build a THAAD system of the capability matching the system which South Korea and Japan are trying to install. We need to look way beyond the existing systems, which will take time and the clock is already clicking. Secondly, with CPEC in progress the stakes of China in Pakistan are increasing manifold, hence in future clashes, China may not remain as neutral as it has been in past.
Major General S B Asthana,SM,VSM (Retd)
(Connect with author on Facebook, Linkedin,and Twitter as Shashi Asthana)
Older version of the article published in Indian Defense Review, 27 February, 2017.