Quad gallops as Australia thumbs nose at China’s BRI

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is getting fresh steam and may forge ahead in 2021 to formally emerge as the ‘Asian NATO’. Quad, which its prime mover America sees as an instrument to remain the world’s only superpower in the 21st century, got two fillips last week. One, the US-led West arm-twisted India (on the Covid-19 vaccine issue) to end its dilly-dallying and join the four-nation pressure group against Beijing, and two, Australia broke off deals with China’s Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI).

Like NATO, the US-led Quad is a group of four ‘democratic’ countries (USA, India, Japan and Australia), against a ‘dictatorial’ China. More members could be enrolled into Quad once it formalizes as ‘Asian NATO’.

The US attempts to pull in Australia and India as ‘active’ participants in the Quad have begun to bear fruit with Canberra’s decisive steps. Japan, which suffered the American nuclear attacks in 1945, is more cautious.

In the last few months, China has tried to keep India away from Quad. In February, it pulled back the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Eastern Ladakh. This month, it agreed to export Chinese vaccines to India to combat Covid-19, at a time America is trying to leverage its position.

On Australia, however, China is furious, and slammed Canberra’ decision, signalling a worsening of ties between the nations.

The Australian federal government scrapped both the Memorandum of Understanding and framework agreement signed between Victoria (Australia’s south-eastern state) and China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Beijing’s top economic planning body. Foreign Minister Marise Payne described the deals, signed in 2018-19, as “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations.”

Payne’s announcement, which included bans on two other deals between Victoria and the governments of Iran and Syria, is an indication how fast the US is drawing in Australia inside the Quad.

The BRI deals with Victoria, Australia’s small but second-most populous state, aimed to increase Chinese participation in new infrastructure projects.

Condemning the step, Beijing’s embassy in Canberra said it “is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China.” “It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations—it is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself.”

The Communist Party of China (CPC) mouthpiece Global Times quoted Chen Hong, Director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University in Shanghai, as saying that Australia has “basically fired the first major shot against China in trade and investment conflicts” and that “China will surely respond accordingly.”

In a stern representation lodged with Australia, China has reserved the right to take more action, media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin as saying on Thursday in Beijing.

Relations between Australia and its largest trading partner have been souring since 2020 when Canberra demanded an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic now known as Covid-19. Beijing has since reacted with trade reprisals, including imposing crippling tariffs on Australian barley and wine while blocking coal shipments. In retaliation, Australia has also made life difficult for Chinese students coming for education, apart from taking other steps.

The Australian move to scrap BRI deals is the first under the new laws passed by the national parliament in December 2020, empowering the Foreign Minister to stop new and previously signed agreements between overseas governments and Australia’s eight states and territories, and also with bodies such as local authorities and universities.

These laws allowed the federal government, currently led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to block or curtail foreign involvement in a broad range of sectors including infrastructure, trade cooperation, tourism, cultural collaboration, science, health and education, and university research partnerships.

Foreign Minister Payne said more than 1,000 arrangements had been made between foreign governments and Australia’s states and territories, local governments and public universities.

But China has still not lost all hopes. The new law may allow the federal government to review and overturn MoUs between Beijing and the state governments of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania in sectors ranging from investment, science cooperation and access to the Antarctic. “I will continue to consider foreign arrangements,” Payne said. “I expect the overwhelming majority of them to remain unaffected.”

Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China’s cabinet and founder of the Center for China and Globalization, described Australia’s move as unwise.

Victoria’s participation in the BRI was a “huge benefit” for Australia, and “if they abandon that, it’s going to take more time for China-Australia relations to recover.”

Last week, America dilly-dallied export of vaccines and their ingredients to India, which is severely affected with the second wave of Covid-19. This dilly-dallying is strategic, and a quid pro quo for New Delhi’s own dilly-dallying to sign up for whole-hearted participation in the Quad.

This story is unfolding…

Is Jack ma China’s own Mikhail Gorbachev?

By jacking down Jack Ma, the Dragon has started killing the geese that laid golden eggs for four decades since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began its four-pronged modernizations in the early 1990s, at a time the Soviet Union, as a superpower, was disintegrating.

In its quest to replace Moscow as the next superpower, Beijing failed to see the ironies: the USSR had  heavily invested beyond its pocket to match rival America’s Star Wars programme. It went bust soon. On the other hand, China, nearly broke by the 1980s, turned itself around at a breakneck speed as it followed its visionary leader Deng Hsiao Feng’s famous words: “It does not matter what the cat’s colour is, as long as it catches mice!”

Then came Deng’s nemesis: Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2013,and crowned himself President-for-Life five years later. He was inspired not from Deng or even Mao Zedong but from North Korea’s Lilliputian dictators.

Under him, China began to balloon out. Before him, Beijing had adopted a dual system: for Hong Kong and indigenous entrepreneurs, as it went the whole hog embracing capitalist economy. With Xi’s advent, China became expansionist overtly and covertly, collecting more enemies than friends; it tried to erase Hong Kong’s autonomy, crushed the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, unnecessarily provoked America, India, Japan and Australia, among others, and united them against itself.

On the socio-political front, Beijing shrunk within, like an atheistic version of Islamists. The PRC and the Arabs are both burdened by prosperity and ultra-conservatism and are the mirror images of each other.

That is why the way the Muslim world, torn between material prosperity and psychological poverty, is tearing apart, the PRC, too, is disintegrating.

Jack Ma may well become the PRC’s own Mikhail Gorbachev, not only the whistle-blower but also the magnet that would attract reformers trying to get rid of the Communist Party’s ‘ultra-Islamic’ rule.  

The signs are appearing.

In six months, China has undone the work of millions of ambitious and starry-eyed Chinese youth who pushed their pauperised country to make it the world’s most enviable economy.

So what has China done? It has just punished its best-known entrepreneur and only the second best known Chinese, globally, after a revanchist President Xi Jinping. Jack Ma’s crime? He wanted the PRC to shed its archaic ways and modernize its outlook.

In October 2020, the Xi Gang cracked the whip against Jack Ma. It first stopped Ma-led Alibaba’s $35 billion IPO, the world’s biggest, and almost house-arrested him for months. Then it slapped a record $2.8 billion fine on Albaba Group Holding Ltd which, the government claimed, was abusing its monopolistic market dominance! Ironically, it is not Jack Ma but the Communist Party which has a monopolistic dominance not only over economy, but also in socio-political-academic-cultural narratives in the PRC.

With this hammer, the PRC may have readied its own coffin.

For, the miracle that is China today is not due to its fossilized Communist leadership but because of the innovations, hard work, and sacrifices made by millions of Chinese entrepreneurs who managed to create over 800 billionaires in four decades. Jack Ma is only one of them, though the most successful.

With his wings being clipped—or so China thinks!—the glorious era of China’s technology and financial giants is over.

In aping Moscow, Beijing forgot one crucial thing: despite facing challenges from America and its own socio-economic-political crises, the Soviets innovated a lot in both theoretical and practical science and technology, won multiple Nobel Prizes, even as they curbed political rebels. China, on the other hand, did little in theoretical and practical science and technology, followed corrupt practices, and shunned serious innovations that made both Moscow and Washington great powers for decades.

In contrast, China’s global ‘influence’, which began with Xi Jinping’s coronation in 2013, came to end in 2020 with its suspected role in a global biological warfare via the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, Beijing has lost trust even of unofficial Islamabad!

The full implications of China’s breakneck moves against Jack Ma’s internet empire would soon begin to manifest as other billionaires, suffocated in their country’s archaic policies within and geopolitical blunders without, gang up in rebellion: simply by doing nothing noteworthy any further!

This possibility is emerging after they witnessed how Beijing went against not only Jack Ma’s Alibaba but also ordered an overhaul of Ant Group Company’ It regulators summoned 34 of the country’s largest companies, including Tencent Holdings Ltd and Tiktok owner ByteDance Ltd, warning them all that “the red line of laws cannot be touched.”

As the world struggled with coronavirus, China managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, not only within but also without—against India, for example. Because the message Ma and other entrepreneurs got was that the decades of unfettered expansion, that created challengers to Facebook and Google, had ended.

Henceforth, China’s technology companies would shun innovation and move far more cautiously, what with their limbs tied up. Their international forays would also stop and their exponential growth will become subject of world lore. China’s billionaires, who elevated the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese people, will now enjoy the fruit of their labour rather than taking any more risks via-a-vis their unelected dictatorial government.

Growth of startups, modern era’s economic miracles, may also come to a halt. The likes of Alibaba and Tencent, who became Chinese industry’s kingmakers by investing billions of dollars into hundreds of startups, may hardly show any interest in continued investment in new startups.

With individual entrepreneurship and enthusiasm being suspected, these billionaires have also learnt a hard lesson in the last few months. The unprecedented series of regulatory actions has proved that Beijing will go all out to rein in its internet and fin-tech giants who have already seen how $200 billion were wiped off Alibaba’s valuation since October 20

This week, media reported that Chinese titans from Tencent to Meituan are next up in the cross-hairs because they’re the dominant players in their respective fields. “The days of reckless expansion and wild growth are gone forever, and from now on the development of these firms is likely going to be put under strict government control. That’s going to be the case in the foreseeable future,” said Shen Meng, a director at Beijing-based boutique investment bank Chanson & Co.

“Companies will have to face the reality that they need to streamline their non-core businesses and reduce their influence across industries. The cases of Alibaba and Ant will prompt peers to take the initiative to restructure, using them as the reference.

The most amorphous yet dire threat lies in the simple principle implicit in regulators’ pronouncements over the past few days: that Beijing will brook no monopolies that threaten its hold on power.

Clearly, Xi is scared that Jack Ma might replace him as President of China!

How pandemics alter geopolitics, create new superpowers?

Pandemics are, perhaps, like Nature’s detergents that cleanse up clogged arteries of Organic Evolution by removing surplus population. These widespread diseases have often changed the course of world history.

Nothing cripples human societies the way diseases do. Pandemics have triggered the collapse of empires, weakened contemporary powers, and institutions, caused social upheavals and ended even wars. They have altered geopolitics, pushed up new players, and unveiled superpowers

Thus, these scourges have had great influence in shaping human society, civilizations, geopolitics, and national politics throughout history.

We can list here some of these pandemics and how they reshaped our known history.

The Justinian Plague was among the deadliest pandemics ever recorded. It broke out in the sixth century in Egypt and spread fast to Constantinople, the capital of the then Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine), at the peak of its imperial glory. The plague was named after the then Byzantine’s Christian Emperor Justinian (482-565 AD). The outbreak spread from Constantinople to both the East and West, and killed an estimated 25 to 100 million people.

The scourge returned, again and again, in waves, in different countries, until 750 AD, paving the way for Islam to replace a weakened Christianity as the dominant faith. The Byzantine army weakened as it failed to recruit new soldiers or maintain military supplies to battlegrounds. It lost one province after another…By the time the plague ended, the empire had lost vast tracts of Europe to the new forces like Germanic-speaking Franks and Syria and Egypt to Islam…

Another pandemic, the deadliest in our recorded annals, which changed the course of history in the medieval era, was the Black Death, or pestilence. It hit Europe and Asia in the 14th century and was estimated to have killed between 75 and 200 million people. In the early 1340s, the scourge struck India, China, Egypt, Syria and some other countries before arriving in Europe in 1347 where it killed about 50 percent of the total population.

It also had lasting economic and social consequences. The pandemic led to large-scale persecution of the Jews in Europe as the Christians blamed the community for spreading the diseases…it continued until the Jews returned to Israel after the Second World War in the mid-20th century.

But the Black Death was also a great leveler. It began to dismantle the old feudal system, improved the wages for workers due to their dwindled numbers, and gave a strong voice to the underprivileged…which led to the emergence of democracy. It also weakened the hold of the Church on the Christians some of whom broke away to form Protestant denominations—and virtually shifted the global power of Christianity to America.

In the early 20th century, the ‘Spanish flu’ we now know as influenza impacted likewise. The pandemic broke out in the last phase of the First World War (1914-18), killing up to 50 million people worldwide. From Europe, it spread to America and Asia. It weakened the war machine of the Germans and Austrians, and dismantled the last Muslim Empire of the Ottomans. India was the worst-hit; it lost about 6 percent of the population, up to 18 million people, crippling the British Empire and its Indian soldiers, and paving the way for the rise of anti-colonial movement, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Similarly, in the early 21st century, Covid-19 has unfolded to reshape geopolitics…in 2021, we are apprehensive of what could happen next. While the pandemic is still unfolding in waves, ebbs and flows, and will take years to settle down with a ‘new normal’, we can make some intelligent guess about its long-term impact.

Some experts have suggested the following three-phased progression: (1) The end of the globalized liberal order; (2) A resurgence of authoritarianism, as in the 1930s; and (3) a China-dominated New World Order.

But this appears simplistic, based as it is on the previous scenarios. Of course the past can guide us to explain the present and push us towards the possible future, we should know that the past would have stayed on if it was perfect.  A study of history can make us historian, not history-maker!

We can make history if learn from past errors and innovate for the future.

Covid-19 can help us understand the emerging scenario.

The fear that we have come to the end of the globalized liberal order appears unfounded; in our world of globalization of economies and internationalization of civilization, this is not possible—even dictatorships promise democracy! No country, not even North Korea or Myanmar, for example, can live in isolation for long, sitting as they are on their own volcanoes; they will have to come to terms with modernity and join the mainstream, or disintegrate and disappear.

Similarly, the authoritarianism of the 1930s cannot return, except in some areas. No country, not even Saudi Arabia, can afford to ignore the calls of modernity. And no country can import only the consumer products of the West but not its socio-political value systems that had created those products in the first place. Science and democracy are Siamese twins.

Which brings us to the ‘belief’ that China can replace America as the sole superpower.

Of course the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has risen phenomenally as an economic powerhouse, but its ancient socio-political infrastructure is unable to absorb so much wealth; it is like a beggar burdened with a jackpot! Internal pressures will eventually prise open the Communist-controlled dying socio-political infrastructure and create a new one.

There is a major difference between China and America; the former is almost entirely full of native population while the latter is almost full of immigrants of different varieties and generations. In the US, the people run the government; in the PRC, it is the other way round.

So China can flaunt its riches and huge population, America is likely to remain ahead of it due to its controlled population constantly requiring immigrants who come with innovations. Thus America will, in all likelihood, continue to remain the planet’s hub of innovations while China will have to make do with its moniker of world’s factory.

Huge population has huge surpluses and it is no longer an asset, but a liability, where it is China or India. What matters is a continuous inflow of working and innovating population, something that made America the world power in the last century.

But America may outsource its powers to the new group, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) it is trying to set up with India, Japan, and Australia, as a remote-control over China.

These democracies will be the real challenge to China in the 21st century.

And this will perhaps be the contribution of Covid-19 to geopolitics.

From President-to-Prophet: Xi Jinping emerging as China’s Muhammad!

Across the Muslim world, believers, including children, are taught to follow what Prophet Muhammad, and those close to him, did back in the seventh century. The Hadiths (Traditions) detail how the ideal Muslims’ daily life and beliefs should be like.

Something similar is being attempted in China, where President-for-Life Xi Jinping has emerged almost as a home-grown prophet in a country that has long boasted of atheism.

China has for long been trying to eradicate alien global religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. In Tibet, it tried to erase Buddhism; in Xinjiang and elsewhere, it has been taking tough measures against Islam and Muslims; elsewhere, particularly in Hong Kong, Beijing has made life difficult for Christians.

Quoting Karl Marx, Being called all these religions ‘opiate’ of the masses.

But now China is trying to establish its own “religion”, with Xi Jinping as the First Prophet.

Media reports this week indicated that Chinese schoolchildren are being prompted to study Xi Jinping’s “teachings” ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s centennial celebration in July 2021.

On Wednesday, the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC)’s Central Committee issued new guidelines to accelerate ideological education among the Chinese Young Pioneers, a national youth organization affiliated to the party.

According to these guidelines, all children in primary school and the first two years of secondary school should have at least one weekly class to carry out Young Pioneers activities, and the core training materials for the teaching staff should be what it claims to be “Xi Thought”.

Members of the Young Pioneers should be taught to “firmly bear in mind” the teachings of Xi, and “do what Xi has instructed,” the guidelines said.

In China, everyone from diplomats to executives to even science fiction writers are under pressure to incorporate the broad, often fuzzy tenets of “Xi Thought” into their policies, part of an effort to elevate it alongside Maoism and help consolidate the President’s effort to further cement control, media said.

The guidelines directed that the children be taught that “today’s happy life comes ultimately from the correct leadership of the Party” as well as “from the superiority of our socialist system.”

Strengthening “political enlightenment and forming of values” among children is of strategic importance to make sure the “red genes are passed down from generations to generations,” party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, said Thursday, citing the guidelines.

Another state-backed newspaper, the China Daily, cited the guidelines in an article, “Cultivation of Children Seen as Strategic,”, stating that kids are the country’s and the party’s future. The CPC had always made cultivating the country’s in a good manner a “strategic” and “fundamental” task.

The CPC’s guidelines came after Xi’s visit to a village in the south-western Guizhou province which, the state media claimed, had successfully eradicated poverty. Posing for photos with local people from the Miao ethnic minority, Xi greeted the Chinese ahead of the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on February 11. This is significant because, in 2020, millions of Chinese were banned from celebrating the New Year amid the outbreak of “Chinese virus”, COVID-19, at Wuhan.

The Chinese Young Pioneers was founded in 1949 and includes almost all children in China between the ages of six and 14. It has played an “irreplaceable role” in guiding generations of children to follow the instructions of the party, the guidelines claimed.

The guidelines also called for the promotion of exchanges between Young Pioneers in the mainland and children’s’ organizations in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, so as to enhance the “national, ethnic and cultural identity of youth in these areas.”

Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), had also become a cult figure in the 1940s-1970s. His “policies” killed millions of Chinese in different disasters, including the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution.” His “Little Red Book” had become a Bible for Communists across the world.

The Xi Thought is an attempt to put it on the same pedestal as the Red Book. So much so that Xi Thought and his “philosophy” are invading even science fiction and weather and earthquake predictions.

The “Xi Thought” is being compiled in one place, although the three-volume “Xi Jinping: The Governance of China”, a collection of his speeches, writings, sayings and ideas, is already out. More than 20 applications of Xi Thought on everything from economic management and military reform to controlling the media and the arts that have appeared in state media since 2018.

While ‘Mao Zedong Thought’ stressed toward adapting Marxist-Leninism to a pre-industrial society, Xi Thought is all about maintaining the CPC’s strong control at a time when China is being pilloried as an international villain, and facing the Hong Kong heat spreading all over the country.

Bottom of Form

Barring Mao, no other Chinese leader has had his ideology raised to the level of “thought,” which carries a special meaning in the CPC propaganda. Ultimately, Xi Thought can be whatever Xi thinks he needs to ensure his own rule.

“It seems quite obvious from all signals, that he wants to serve beyond 10 years, perhaps for 20 years,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies, who has authored numerous books on Chinese politics. “To remain in power for that long, he needs to consolidate his power base.”

Merchant of Wuhan wears three albatrosses: COVID-19, CPEC, and India

Just when China was plotting to dislodge America to emerge as the world’s first supreme power and used different tactics in different countries to buy them off, it finds being weighed down by the three albatrosses of its own creations in 2020, now haunting it in 2021.

Despite denying role as the epicenter of the “China virus” and claiming success in ‘containing’ the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the Dragon has only Pakistan and North Korea for ‘friends’. It has antagonized almost the entire world, reminiscent of the isolation of Nazi Germany in the early 1940s—like Beijing, Berlin also had only two friends in Rome and Tokyo. Each of China’s action or statement is now suspected and thoroughly scrutinized by the world. Beijing’s carefully built reputation lies in tatters.

Many importers from China, until 2019, mocked only its substandard products; in South Asia, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, China became a byword for everything fake. Now these countries mock Beijing as the manufacturer of its only genuine export: COVID-19!

The pandemic is still spreading across the world in newer variants and wreaking havoc in one country after another. It has already claimed 1.85 million lives and infected over 85.5 million others. China has been unable to convince the world about its claims on the pandemic. And this mistrust is now showing.

Suspicious countries now think multiple times before they import from China—goods, services, assurances or debt— lest Beijing start arm-twisting them like a barbarian Shylock in neo-Shakespearian Merchant of Wuhan. Many have cancelled new orders, or cancelled the old ones. Reports indicate that fresh contracts for supplies are steadily slowing down, leaving huge industrial capacities increasingly redundant in China. Each country is now discovering alternate supply chains, and rejecting Beijing as international business pariah.

After a year-long arrogance, and foolishly uniting its enemies, China now realizes its basic folly: even if it rules the world, how would it force the colonized, pauperized people to buy its products and protect “communism” in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)? It cannot force the world to import and keep communism in power at the same time.

Clearly, COVID-19 is the noose the Dragon is increasingly tightening around its own neck.

Another albatross is the ultra-ambitious, USD 65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the USD 200 billion Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) conceived by President-for-Life Xi Jinping. It is proving a white elephant for China. A comatose investment.

The much-delayed CPEC’s most-challenging part passes through the Pakistan Army-controlled and terror-infested Baluchistan, Pakistan’s biggest and restive province. With rapidly changing geopolitical equations in the Muslim world, and divided opinion in Pakistan itself, Beijing is cautiously waiting-and-watching efficacy of the whole project afresh.

The progress on CPEC has, therefore, slowed down due to the economic downturn, and restrictions by the IMF’s bail-out programme on fresh borrowings, besides the pandemic, which have all forced Beijing to halt  or slowdown new projects on the CPEC.

The third albatross around China’s neck is India. In May 2020, Beijing tried to divert world attention from the pandemic to the Himalayas. In a quick military action aimed at quicker victory, it tried to redraw the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and push the international border into Indian (and then Nepalese) territories.

But it found something it had not bargained for: it discovered a resistant and tough India delivering a befitting reply, and ended up its acolyte Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli announcing elections in mid-2021! China has also ‘successfully’ united India, the US, Australia, and Japan against Beijing—and more countries are set to join the Quadrilateral (Quad) group in the Indo-Pacific region, the first step towards an ‘Asian Nato’.

In 2021, China is set to reap the fruits of its ‘investments’ in 2020!

As China tries to colonize Pak, it slows down CPEC!

Even after subtly entangling Pakistan in a debt-trap, China may have realized the humungous cost of colonizing Islamabad, the global terror czar, and has begun slowing down on the USD 60 billion commitment to the ongoing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’s flagship project called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

But this does not mean Beijing will let slip Pakistan away from its vice-like grip: for all practical purposes, Islamabad is now China’s slave.

China has already arranged to take over two Pakistani islands off Karachi—Buddhoo and Bundal— presumably for its new military and naval bases in South Asia, and pressurised Islamabad to hand-over the indirect control of the CPEC to the Chinese officials through the direct control of Pakistan Army generals.

But, for now, Beijing has slowed down on making investments for the CPEC whose “future is not only clouded by China’s apparent new, more conservative lending policy but also Pakistan’s over borrowing, which is fast driving the country toward a debt crisis. Pakistan’s debt to GDP ratio is now at a high 107% of GDP,” analyst FM Shakil wrote in Asia Times last week.

Pakistan has slipped into a debt trap due to the government’s failure to bring reforms, and also weak fiscal management, he said.

According to the Boston University researchers, the overall lending by the state-backed China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China declined from a peak of USD 75 billion in 2016 to just USD 4 billion in 2019. Provisional 2020 figures show that the amount shrunk to around USD 3 billion in 2020, it said.

Several reasons are being attributed to China’s slow down on the CPEC projects. Firstly, the global epidemic of COVID-19 has overturned China’s many plans across the world. Beijing’s global prestige has nosedived and it is now seen as an international bully one would better keep at an arm’s length.

Secondly, the amount of investments in the CPEC is no longer commensurate with the profit it would likely begin paying back in the required time-frame due to plummeted demand and other market forces in the wake of the COVID-19.

Thirdly, the fast-changing geopolitical scenario, including a realignment of Arab versus non-Arab blocs in the Muslim world, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, respectively, have created uncertainty about the shape of things to come in terms of energy supply from the Middle East, for which the CPEC was being primarily developed.

With the CPEC becoming increasingly unviable at present, China is slowing down on the mammoth project.

Other reasons behind a rethink are Beijing’s trade war with the US and rampant corruption by the Chinese companies involved in the CPEC.

In other words, the much-trumpeted CPEC is now being seen by some as a white elephant both in China and Pakistan which may become a ticking dynamite for both the militarist and expansionst regimes.

A number of projects planned under the BRI are now stalled or are running behind schedule due to lack of financing. Of 122 announced CPEC projects, only 32 have been completed as of the third quarter of this fiscal year, the report said.

Under the CPEC, Beijing planned to build eight Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in four provinces of Pakistan. Of them, seven SEZs are either still in a pre-feasibility or post-feasibility stages with no tangible development seen on the ground.

Chinese activity is visible only in the Gwadar zone, the Allama Iqbal Industrial City in Punjab, and Rashakai Economic Zone in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Earlier, China was reluctant to invite non-Chinese companies to invest in the SEZs. But the situation has changed with finance drying up. In principle, Beijing has agreed to allow Pakistan to form a new joint venture mechanism with companies other than Chinese state-owned or private enterprises to stimulate the CPEC project progress, including on a multi-billion dollar railway upgrade, the report said.

That is why Pakistan Railways (PR) globally advertised for tender openings to modernize its rail system.

To overcome Beijing’s reluctance to fund it Pakistan recently introduced a bill in parliament to give the army to take near-total control of the CPEC.

China is also concerned about terror attacks being launched by rival factions sponsored by Islamabad but under no control of the Pakistan Army. The Baluchis have also intensified their attacks on the CPEC projects and Chinese nationals working on them, raising the security costs and political risks of the projects.

Shakil said the government’s move to give the military more control over the CPEC aims at mollifying China’s rising security concerns.

Initiated in 2013, the USD 1 trillion BRI is a gargantuan plan of President-for-Life Xi Jinping to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime trade networks to create new routes for China’s strategically vulnerable fuel imports shipped by sea mostly from the Middle East..

But the BRI is not moving as planned and its carefully-drafted plans have gone haywire.

The other reasons for reduced investments by China on the CPEC projects are “structural weaknesses” including opacity, corruption, over-lending to poor countries which led to debt traps, and adverse social, political, economic and environmental impacts.

The much-trumpeted 1,682-km-long Main Line (ML-1) railway project between Karachi and Peshawar is moving at a snail’s pace due to China’s reluctance to fund it at a meagre 1 percent return on investment. Beijing is also unhappy with Islamabad’s decision to curtail the project cost from USD 8.2 billion to USD 6.2 billion due to its rising debt load, according to media reports.

According to media reports, Humayun Akthar Khan, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader who runs the Institute of Policy Reforms (IPR), a Lahore-based think-tank, has revealed that “Pakistan has slipped into a debt trap due to the government’s failure to bring reforms and weak fiscal management.”

In a report, “Pakistan’s debt and debt servicing is the cause of concern…We are in a debt trap that is entirely of our own making. It is a risk to our national security. The government was borrowing to repay the maturing debt, which now seems to be a concern for all the political parties, businessmen and experts.”

Trump-plus-Biden on China: ‘May you live in interesting times’!

The Chinese are known to formulate timeless pearls of literature. For example, when they want to curse someone, they merely say: “May you live in interesting times!”

But they may actually be, as a nation, readying themselves to live in interesting times. Eleven days from now. As 2021 begins.

For, a number of countries have already come together to tame the Dragon, directly or indirectly.

And they are being pushed against a resurgent China by the United States. Irrespective of change of guards at the White House.

China has reason to be worried with what President-elect Joe Biden’s Administration, which will take office on January 20, 2021, is up to.

Last week, Biden signalled that he will follow Trump’s policy on China and Taiwan. His new National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, has called for the intensification of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) against China in the South China Sea (SCS), marking a potential escalation of Trump’s policy to thwart Chinese expansionist designs in the region, according to Asia Times.

“We should be devoting more assets and resources to ensuring and reinforcing, and holding up alongside our partners, the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” said Sullivan.

Biden’s top advisors have already called for more China-taming freedom of navigation operations and strategic support for Taiwan.

China has long been trying to control the region by launching provocative military and diplomatic offensives in the disputed SCS waters. In the last few years, an expansionist and colonizing Beijing has also gone against several countries in Asia and Africa. Its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is currently engaged in a military standoff against the Indian Army in the Eastern Ladakh sector where skirmished left many dead in mid-2020 when China tried to change borders.

But the real theatre of power-game in the coming years will be the SCS. American warships are now passing through the 12 nautical mile radius of Beijing-occupied islands and land features across the SCS. The frequency of annual FONOPs has increased.

The US has also decided to support the maritime claims of China’s neighbours in the SCS and stepped up assistance to Taiwan.

The outgoing Trump Administration cleared up to USD 5 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan this year. To counter Chinese expansionist design, America-led Quadrilateral Dialogue (Quad), including India, Australia and Japan, is emerging as the eastern version of NATO. Besides Japan, Britain, France and India have also started conducting FONOPs operations in the SCS and joint naval exercises.

Also, last week, Trump signed legislation to kick Chinese companies off U.S. stock exchanges unless American regulators can review their financial audits, a move likely to further escalate tensions between the two countries.

Trump’s parting kick could affect China’s corporate giants like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, and Baidu Inc. Already, Trump has taken strong measures against many a Chinese company, potentially impacting their businesses to the tune of two to three trillion dollars, media reported.

The outgoing US President has for long condemned China’s “unfair trade practices”, and slapped tariffs on billions of dollars in imports. In particular, he dubbed the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 as a “Chinese virus”, something he could not handle properly and which became a major issue against his re-election.

But his last attempt to get many Chinese companies de-listed won bipartisan support in the House of Representatives in December, seven months after the U.S. Senate had cleared it in May. This means that the ‘alien’ Chinese companies will no longer be able to get listed in the US or draw dollars as capital for their growth.

Reacting to this law, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying claimed that “It will undermine global investors’ confidence in the U.S. capital markets, its global standing, and hurt U.S. interests.”

Trump’s new law capped steps against China, including limiting travel visas for 92 million Communist Party members. Their 10-year visas would now be reduced to one month.

Reforming Islam: France, China take steps to tighten screws

Two countries that are taking firm steps to detoxify and reform Islam are France and China. Last week, they both took decisive steps, in their own different ways, at a time when Turkey is trying to resurrect the ghost of the Ottoman Empire-cum-Caliphate and the Arabs are doing everything, including befriending Israel, to ward off Ankara from recolonizing them.

Last week, the French government, led by President Emmanuel Macron, finalized a draft law targeting radical Islamism, called a law to “reinforce Republican principles”. This Bill will go the National Assembly, or Lower House of Parliament, in January 2021.

Prime Minister Jean Castex asserted that the proposed law is “not a text against religion, nor against the Muslim religion”, but against radical Islamism, whose objective is “to divide French people from one another.”

France, which has the largest Muslim community in Europe, has been forced to take this step after a series of terror attacks in recent years, particularly after the October beheading of a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty.

The new proposed law envisages stern measures, including school education reforms, to ensure that Muslim children do not dropout. It seeks stricter controls on mosques and preachers, and firm rules against hate campaigns online.

The law, when passed, would ensure increased surveillance of French mosques, including their financing. The government would supervise the training of Islamic preachers (imams), and shutdown mosques receiving public subsidies if they go against “republican principles” such as gender equality. It would also protect moderate community leaders targeted by extremists.

The existing secular laws, or laïcité, which ban state employees from displaying religious symbols like the crucifix or hijab, would now be extended to any sub-contracted public services as well, media reported.

Besides, the government would not allow home-schooling for children over age three. Doctors who routinely issue “virginity certificates” to females would be prosecuted. Polygamous applicants would not be granted residency permits. Officials would separately interview couples before their wedding to ensure that they have not been forced into marriage. Online hate-mongers would be severely punished.

While the French Muslims’ reaction to the proposed laws has been rather muted, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called it an “open provocation”. Also, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top cleric, has called President Macron’s views “racist”.

But the President is unperturbed. “I will not allow anybody to claim that France, or its government, is fostering racism against Muslims.”

Apparently, he is sure of getting re-elected in 2022 as the French people, by and large, are happy with his strong measures. Terrorism has claimed more than 200 lives in France since 2012. A recent nationwide survey revealed that nearly 80 percent of respondents thought that “Islamism is at war with France”.

Another important step against ‘Islamism’ was taken by Beijing, which Islamabad considers its “all-weather friend”.

That the petro-dollars had financed Islamism in Pakistan and made it a global nursery of terrorism since the 1970s is well-known.  Due to its increasing proximity with Turkey and Iran, the Arabs are no longer as Pakistan-friendly as they once were. In fact, the Arabs are forcing Pakistan to repay their debt and taking other measures to tame Islamabad.

This has forced Islamabad to embrace its ‘atheist’ GodFather more tightly, giving Beijing yet another opportunity to squeeze Pakistan.

China will now immediately provide $1.5 billion financing line to Pakistan to help it repay the $2 billion Saudi debt. But this time, Beijing has not sanctioned the loan from its State Administration of Foreign Exchange, commonly known as SAFE deposits, nor has it extended a commercial loan.

Instead, Beijing is providing this loan by augmenting the size of 2011 bilateral Currency-Swap Agreement (CSA), by an additional 10 billion Chinese Yuan or around $1.5 billion, media reports said. This has increased the size of the overall trade facility to 20 billion Chinese Yuan or $4.5 billion.

In other words, China is now Pakistan’s largest creditor and Beijing has successfully trapped Islamabad into an ever-tightening debt-trap.

The trade facility, originally meant to promote bilateral trade in their respective local currencies, has been foolishly used by Pakistan for paying foreign debt.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had, since assuming office in 2018, visited Saudi Arabia twice to secure fresh loans for survival of Islamabad’s tottering economy. The Saudis agreed to provide $ 6.2 billion worth of financial package to Pakistan for three years. This included $ 3 billion in cash assistance and $ 3.2 billion worth of annual oil and gas supply on deferred payments.

The Saudi cash and oil facility was meant for one year, extendable for three years. But, when Pakistan, together with Turkey and Malaysia, tried to set up a non-Arab bloc within the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2019, the angry Saudis claimed back their money ahead of the schedule and also suspended the oil facility.

This forced Pakistan to borrow from China in May this year to repay $ 1 billion out of the $3 billion to the Saudis.

A cash-strapped Islamabad has also been unable to get the suspended $ 6 billion IMF programme restored. Pakistan has been unable to get continued, uninterrupted, foreign inflows.

Lure of foreign money had trapped Pakistan into a vicious circle of terrorism; this same foreign money is set to dismantle the same terror-infrastructure down.

Pakistan will not realize it immediately. But China is sure to extract its pound of flesh by colonizing and deIslamizing Pakistan.

As commies fail, Nepal wants to restore Hindu monarchy

New Delhi: The utter failure of Nepalese Communists, as also other political parties, to deliver over the last few years has resurrected Hindu nationalism in the Himalayan nation where thousands of pro-monarchists joined a mass protest in the capital Kathmandu on December 5, demanding restoration of a constitutional monarchy and declaring the country as a Hindu nation.

Participants in the massive rally chanted slogans demanding the restoration of Nepal as a Hindu nation ruled by a constitutional monarchy for unity and well-being of the people.

“We want the restoration of our Hindu monarchy. We are not being driven by any impulsive feelings. The movement is being led by youths. We would fight for our objectives until we achieve our ends,” media reported, quoting  a demonstrator.

Saturday’s mass protest was the largest after a series of similar protests held in country over the last couple of months. The December 5 demonstration was held under the banner of Rashtriya Nagarik Andolan Samiti (National Civic Movement Committee).

On November 10, many people, under the banner that read “Nationalist Civic Society”, staged a demonstration in Jamal area of Kathmandu, shouting slogans for the restoration of constitutional monarchy and Nepal as a Hindu state.

On November 12 also, Nepal Scholars’ Council organized a demonstration in Biratnagar. A week later, on November 19, many people under the banner of “Independent Nationalist Citizens Far-West” demonstrated in Dhangadhi. It was followed by a protest in Pokhara on November 25 under the banners of “Western Nepali Citizens” and “Nepal Nationalist Group” in Janakpur of Nepal.

On November 29, a similar protest was held in Hetauda under the banner “Restoration of Constitution Movement” and yet another on November 30 in Kathmandu.

A similar protest was planned by Rastriya Prajatantra Party in Jhapa, hometown of incumbent Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.

Political observers in Kathmandu say these movements for the restoration of a constitutional monarchy and a Hindu state have arisen due to failure of  various political parties to deliver what they promised.

“When democratic forces don’t live up to expectations– both ruling and opposition parties– then it`s inevitable that some alternative force will try to take its place. That is how I see the revival of this protest,” Biswas Baral, current affairs commentator in Kathmandu, told a news agency.

“Many people are unhappy with the working of the current government. It failed to control the Covid-19 pandemic and prevailing corruption. It also failed to implement federalism. So, there is general disillusionment amongst people. This mass protest could be an expression of that,” he said.

An important symbol of the latest mass movement was an attempt to return to the roots. Protestors displayed placards carrying a photo of Prithivi Narayan Shah, the founding father of modern Nepal, along with national flags. They chanted slogans against the Federal Democratic Republican system that Nepal adopted in 2008 after the abolition of the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy.

Nepal transitioned into a federal democratic republic after the promulgation of a new constitution in 2015.

The first General Election of 2017 brought in the Communist factions to power. However, they not only failed to deliver but also pitted China against the country’s natural and traditional ally, India.

This year, under the incumbent PM Oli, Nepal has virtually become a vassal state of China and turned a Nelson’s eye to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s land grab on Nepalese territory along Nepal-China borders.

This has infuriated a large number of Hindu Nepalese.

Their demonstration against the Communists is only a beginning…

How to control a mosque Israel may gift to the Saudis?

It is an emotional issue for 100 million Jordanians–and, of course, the legitimacy of their King who traces his dynasty to none other than the Hashemite clan of Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam.

They have reasons to be worried.

For, in the 21st century, the Islamic world is witnessing unprecedented developments. The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is splitting into Arab versus non-Arab Muslim nations, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, respectively; Turkey is making efforts to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, which died in the 1920s, and reintegrate the Sunni Arab nations once again; the Arabs are signing peace accords with their age-old enemy, Israel, to the chagrin of non-Arab Muslims.

Even Saudi Arabia, which is Custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, is inching closer to Jerusalem: only last week, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin-Salman (MbS) had a not-so-secret meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saudi soil.

Now has come reports on how Jordan is trying to reaffirm its own custodianship of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. As soon as the Sunday night meeting between MbS and Netanyahu became known, Jordan became apprehensive that Jerusalem could ‘gift’ the al-Aqsa mosque as well to the Saudis as part of the peace deal.

Amman is mighty concerned about the fate of Islam’s third holiest sites which it thinks could be up for grabs in a normalisation deal between MbS and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The November 22 confabulations between MbS and the Israeli PM alarmed Jordanian leaders who were already unnerved by Riyadh’s regional posturing, particularly after the two Saudi acolytes—the UAE and Bahrain—signed the “Abraham Accords” with Jerusalem in September in the US where President Donald Trump was their host.

Now they fear al-Aqsa could be gifted away to the Saudis by Israel by the outgoing Trump Administration. So concerned is Jordan about this possible deal that its foreign ministry released a statement last Wednesday challenging any “attempts to alter the historical and legal status quo” of the al-Aqsa mosque. Its spokesman said: “The kingdom will continue its efforts to protect and care for the holy mosque, and preserve the rights of all Muslims to it in compliance with the Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites.”

Apparently concerned about Trump digging the pitch for him in the Middle East, President-elect Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. It was after this call that Amman’s foreign ministry released the statement reminding that Jordan continued to be custodian of the al-Aqsa mosque.

The Jordanian royal dynasty claims its origins to the Hashemite clan of Prophet Muhammad. The King has governed the Jerusalem sites, known as Haram al-Sharif, since 1924, the same year the Saud dynasty was given control of Mecca and Medina upon the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

The Muslim world believes in the legitimacy of the ruling Hashemite King due to his guardianship of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock  for a century. In fact, this custodianship pre-dates the creation of Jordan and Israel who had agreed to continue this arrangement in their peace deal in their October 1994 peace treaty.

Jordan now apprehends that if Israel gifts away custodianship of the Haram al-Sharif to the Saudis as a quid pro quo for a peace deal, it could ‘delegitimize’ claims of the King being a descendant of the Prophet.

In other words, the deal could seal the Saudis’ leadership of the Muslim world, particularly the Sunnis who constitute nearly 80 percent of the Muslim population globally. This brilliant move could torpedo Turkey’s attempts to resurrect the Ottomans’ Empire as well as the Caliphate.

That is, the Saudis could then decide whom they considered “Muslims”, deny pilgrimage rights to the “non-Muslims” and even excommunicate the latter—as Riyadh would then have custodianship of all three holiest Islamic shrines!

There is also the Iran angle to the possible al-Aqsa deal. Tehran and Riyadh have often been at each other’s throats on many issues. If the peace deal goes through, the Saudis will be protected by the Israeli nuclear umbrella against any possible Iranian attack. In such an eventuality, the Saudis could excommunicate Iran and its friends from Islam.

The Hashemite dynasty of Jordan had controlled Mecca for centuries until it was conquered in 1924 by the House of Saud. Both Mecca and Medina became part of Saudi Arabia, while al-Aqsa remained under Hashemite control. Ever since, the two dynasties have been engaged in a struggle for influence, increasingly dominated by the Saudis.