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The Silk World Order

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Get ready for ground shattering geopolitical changes. At the crossroads of Asia and Europe, it has been decided that the Russian city of Ufa will be the point of convergence for all the initiatives and projects of the Silk World Order of trade and integration that China and Russia are spearheading.

Ufa, which is the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan, is being used to simultaneously host an extraordinary summit for both the BRICS—which has increasing become an alternative forum to that of the G7—and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) respectively from July 8 to 9 and from July 9 to 10, 2015.

The Coming Together of Eurasia and Beyond

The joint BRICS and SCO summit in Ufa has been organized by Moscow as the simultaneous holder of both the rotating chairmanships of the BRICS and the SCO. It is no coincidence, however, that the Seventh BRICS and Fifteenth SCO summits have been amalgamated as one large international summit. The Kremlin has used the opportunity to bring Russia’s partners together. This is part of the integration process of the Silk World Order. There will be joint BRICS and SCO sessions and many important exchanges and discussions about a new archetype for the world.

One informal session at Ufa will not only include all the members of the BRICS and the SCO, but will also include all the members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), according to information disclosed by Russian President Putin’s aide Yury Ushakov to the Russia media days before the summit in Ufa. Aside from Brazil and South Africa, since all the members of the BRICS and the SCO are located in Eurasia, the Kremlin saw it as pertinent that the EEU be involved in some type of discussion about the development of the Eurasian space. In essence this means that Armenia will be attending the joint BRICS and SCO summit in Bashkortostan, since all the other members of the Eurasian Economic Space are either full SCO members or, in the case of Belarus, an SCO dialogue partner. According to the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin, which asserts that the BRICS-SCO-EEU talks are «a sign that Russia is aiming for political block-building,» the Republic of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan will also take part in informal meeting of the BRICS, SCO, and EEU. [1]

The Eurasian and global convergences in Ufa are clear. Using the links that already exist between the two, China’s New Silk Road and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union will begin a roadmap to fuse together in Bashkortostan as the pivotal axis of rotation in the Eurasian space. This is a continuation of the high-level discussions that were announced by both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin on May 8 on the Xi Jinping’s arrival to Moscow, ahead of the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, 2015.

After failed attempts at different venues, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rohani will finally meet in Ufa. India and Iran are rekindling their strategic bonds that had been neglected by the government of Modi’s predecessor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The use of the Iranian port Chabahar by India for gaining access to Russia and Central Asia through the North-South Corridor will definitely be discussed by Indian and Iranian officials at Ufa.

The Coming Silk World Order Being Unveiled in Ufa

While the New Silk Road and the EEC come together in Ufa, the BRICS will put together a development map while the SCO will outline its expansion plans for new full members. The applications of India, Iran, and Pakistan for full membership will be addressed. Moreover, Egypt and several other countries have applied to join the SCO in come context.

Ufa is being used to stamp out a roadmap for the «Eurasian Century» and a Silk World Order that goes beyond Eurasia, which includes everything from a transcontinental mega railroad network connecting the Iberian Peninsula to the South China Sea and to what has been dubbed as the «modern city of the Eurasian continent» in Belarus.

The US is clearly worried about the Silk World Order that is emerging. It has begun to pull out all the stops, from courting Brazil on the eve of the summit in Ufa to calls for the European Union to not join China’s banking project. The Pentagon’s 2015 Military Strategy that addresses the possibility of confrontation with an updated «Axis of Evil» composed of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea is catered to Washington’s proclivity to confront the countries that are challenging a US-dominated international order.

While Washington and NATO are making a general call to arms, the Chinese are busy building trade infrastructure and transport networks. In Belarus, the Chinese are building the first «modern city of the Eurasian continent» in the forests next to the Minsk National Airport as part of what Bloomberg calls «a manufacturing springboard between the European Union and Russia.» [2] Upon completion, the new export-oriented city in Belarus, which is being built on the route of the European highway that links Berlin, Warsaw, Minsk, and Moscow, will be the largest manufacturing and industrial park in Europe.

The US Dollar and Bretton Woods are Finished

The Silk World Order that is being shaped in Ufa will see the existing Bretton Woods financial architecture of the world unraveled and replaced by one that is no longer dominated by the trilateral grouping of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. The monopoly of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which has benefited Washington, is at its end. The US dollar as a currency in bilateral and multilateral trade is being scraped by the BRICS, SCO, and EEU— Washington’s flooding of oil markets was partially aimed at derailing this by forcing renewed dependence on the US dollar for energy trade.

The BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), the first institution of the BRICS, is being launched by Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa. It is joined by the SCO Development Bank and by the recently launched Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in the assault on Bretton Woods.

Gone are the days of unchallenged US domination. The architecture of the post-Second World War or post-1945 global order is now in its death bed and finished. With or without Washington, a Silk World is emerging and its coming is being trumpeted from Ufa as the SCO strengthens and the BRICS institutionalizes itself as the cornerstone of a new multi-polar world order.

NOTES

[1] Gabriel Domínguez, «What to expect from the SCO, BRICS summits in Russia,» Deutsche Welle, July 6, 2015.

[2] Aliaksandr Kudrytski, «China Builds EU Beachhead With $5 Billion City in Belarus,» Bloomberg, May 26, 2013.

Under the original title: The US Dollar and Bretton Woods are Finished: The BRICS/SCO Summits in Ufa Mark the Start of a “Silk World Order”, this article was first published by the Strategic Culture Foundation on July 10, 2015.

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Mosul’s recovery moves towards a circular economy

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Five years since the end of the ISIL(so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) conflict in 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), with funding from the Government of Japan, has established a debris recycling centre in Mosul. After its initial use, the centre has now been handed over to Mosul Municipality for its continued, sustainable operation.

“On behalf of the Iraqi Government, the Ministry of Environment expresses its gratitude to the Government of Japan for generously supporting this important project and to UNEP and IOM for enabling the sustainable management of the huge quantities of conflict debris and restabilization of the liberated areas in an environmentally sustainable manner,” said Iraq’s Minister for Environment, Dr. Jasim Abdulazeez Humadi.

The handover of the Mosul debris recycling centre marks a significant step in the sustainable management of the huge volumes of debris — an estimated 55 million tonnes — created by the ISIL conflict. It also opens the way for the recycling of routine construction and demolition waste, contributing to ‘building back better’ and an increased circularity in Iraq’s development.

UNEP West Asia Regional Director, Sami Dimassi, emphasized that “by reducing waste, stimulating innovation and creating employment, debris recycling also creates an important business opportunity.” Indeed, construction companies in Mosul have expressed interest in purchasing the recycled aggregate, thereby underscoring the longer-term sustainability of debris recycling.

“This project supports recovery and livelihoods by drawing on principles of a circular economy, wherein waste and land pollution is limited through production processes that reuse and repurpose materials for as long as possible,” explained IOM Iraq Chief of Mission, Giorgi Gigauri. “Collaboration and sustainability are key priorities in IOM’s work toward durable solutions to displacement, and we are pleased to have partnered with UNEP and the Government of Japan so that this is represented not only in the function of the plant itself, but also in its functioning, by supporting local authorities to be prepared to effectively operate the plant moving forward.”

On 28 July 2022, Mosul Municipality hosted an event to officially hand over the debris recycling centre, attended by senior government officials and academia, as well as representatives from IOM, UNEP and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Masamoto Kenichi, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of Japan to Iraq stated: “We are glad to know that the project funded by the government and people of Japan has contributed to cleanup of debris and reconstruction of Mosul. We would like to commend UNEP, IOM and the city of Mosul for their tremendous efforts of turning the legacy of ISIL’s devastation into building blocks of reconstruction”.

Through the rubble recycling project, nearly 25,000 tonnes of debris have been recovered and sorted, of which around half was crushed into recycled aggregate. Material testing of the recycled aggregate endorsed by the National Center for Structural Tests of the Ministry of Planning confirms its compliance with the Iraqi State Commission for Roads and Bridges design standards for road foundational layers and its suitability for several low strength end-use applications such as concrete blocks and kerbstones.

The project created 240 much-needed jobs through cash-for-work schemes targeting vulnerable persons, including 40 women.

Building on this experience, IOM has set up two other debris recycling operations in Sinjar and Hamdaniya in Ninewa Governorate, and a third in Hawija in Kirkuk Governorate, where a pilot phase using a mobile crusher was implemented in al-Buwaiter Village in 2021. In addition, two other conflict-affected governorates — namely Salah al-Din and Anbar — have  also shown a high-level of interest in replicating and scaling up debris recycling in their own regions. 

UNEP has been supporting Iraq in cleaning up the huge volumes of debris created by the ISIL conflict since June 2017. Initially, this included carrying out technical assessments and planning workshops with UN-Habitat, and subsequently designing and implementing debris recycling pilot projects to support returns in Mosul, Kirkuk and other conflict-affected areas in cooperation with IOM.

UNEP

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Digital Futures: Driving Systemic Change for Women

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Authors: Erin Watson-Lynn and Tengfei Wang*

As digital technology continues to unlock new financial opportunities for people across Asia and the Pacific, it is critical that women are central to strategies aimed at harnessing the digital financial future. Women are generally poorer than men – their work is less formal, they receive lower pay, and their money is less likely to be banked. Even when controlling for class, rural residency, age, income, and education level, women are overrepresented among the world’s poorest people in developing countries. Successfully harnessing digital technology can play a key role in creating new opportunities for women to utilise formal financial products and services in ways that empower them. 

Accelerating women’s access to the formal economy through digital innovations in finance increases their opportunity to generate an income and builds resilience to economic shocks. The recently issued ESCAP guidebook titled, Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in the Asia Pacific, highlights the fact that mechanisms to bring women into the digital economy are different from those for other groups, and that tailored policy responses are important for women to fully realise their potential in the Asia-Pacific region.

Overwhelmingly, the evidence tells us that how women utilise their finances can have a beneficial impact on the broader community. When women have bank accounts, they are more likely to save money, buy healthier foods for their family, and invest in education. For women who receive Government-to-Person (G2P) payments, there is significant improvement in their lives across a range of social and economic outcomes. Access to safe, secure, and affordable digital financial services thus has the potential to significantly improve the lives of women.

Despite the enormous opportunity, there are numerous constraints which affect women’s access to financial services. This includes the gender gap in mobile phone ownership across Asia and the Pacific, lower levels of education (including lower levels of basic numeracy and literacy), and lower levels of financial literacy. This complex web of constraints means that country and provincial level diagnostics are required and demands agile and flexible policy responses that meet the unique needs of women across the region.

Already, across Asia and the Pacific, governments are implementing innovative policy solutions to capture the opportunities that come with digital finance, while trying to manage the constraints women often face. The policy guidebook provides a framework to examine the role of governments as market facilitators, market participants and market regulators. Through this framework, specific policy innovations drawn from examples across the region are identified which other governments can adapt and implement in their local markets.  

A good example of how strategies can be implemented at either the central government or local government levels can be found in Pakistan. While central government leadership is important, embedding tailored interventions into locally appropriate strategies plays a crucial role for implementation and effectiveness. The localisation of broader strategies needs to include women in their development and ongoing evaluation. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 50,000 beneficiary committees comprising local women at the district level regularly provide feedback into the government’s G2P payment system. The feedback from these committees led to a biometric system linked to the national ID card that has enabled the government to identify women who weren’t receiving their payments, or if payments were fraudulently obtained by others.

In Cambodia and the Philippines, governments have implemented new and innovative solutions to support remittance payments through public-private-partnerships and policies that enable access to non-traditional banks. In Cambodia, Wing Money has specialised programs for women, who are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of remittance payments. Creating an enabling environment for a business such as Wing Money to develop and thrive with these low-cost solutions is an example of a positive market intervention. In the Philippines, adjusting banking policies to enable access to non-traditional banking enables women, especially those with micro-enterprises in rural areas, to access digital products.

While facilitating participation in the market can yield benefits for women, so can regulating in a way that drives systemic change. For example, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and India, different mechanisms for targets are used to improve access to digital financial products. In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the central government through its national strategy, introduced a target of a 9 per cent increase in women’s access to financial services by 2025. In India, their targets are set within the bureaucracy to incentivise policy makers to implement the Digital India strategy and promotions and job security are rewarded based on performance.

These examples of innovative policy solutions are only foundational. The options for governments and policy makers at the nexus of market facilitation, participation and regulation demands creativity and agility. Underpinning this is the need for a baseline of country and regional level diagnostics to capture the diverse needs of women – those who are set to benefit the most of from harnessing the future of digital financial inclusion.

*Tengfei Wang, Economic Affairs Officer

This article is the second of a two-part series based on the findings of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Policy Guidebook: Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in Asia and the Pacific, and is jointly prepared by ESCAP and the Griffith Asia Institute.source: UNESCAP

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Empowering women-led small businesses in Nepal to go digital

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People walk down a street of shops in Kathmandu, Nepal. (file) photo World Bank/Peter Kapuscinski

Authors: Louise Anne Sophie Lavaud and Mitch Hsieh*
Throughout the years, Laxmi Shrestha and her husband saw the opportunities that opening an online shop could bring to her family business.

“Looking at the trend of TikTok and other sites, we thought selling online could help us but we weren’t technically sound,” said Laxmi, the owner ofLaxmi Hastakala Store, in Banepa, Nepal, and part of a family of artisans.

As she learned about selling online, she picked up on how to market her shop digitally and, according to Laxmi: “It has surely given our business a push we always wanted. Recently we started selling our products online and we also receive payments online.”

Laxmi Hastakala Store is among the 1,800 women-led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Nepal being trained on digital and financial literacy by Sparrow Pay – one of the winners of the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund launched in 2019 by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

Sparrow Pay has created a local digital marketplace where women-led MSMEs can offer products and services to its existing 800,000+ digital payment service users. Additionally, Sparrow Pay is supporting these women entrepreneurs in adopting digital payments and creating a payment history to support access to additional financial services.

MSMEs are a vital source of employment and a significant contributor to a country’s GDP. However, more than 45 per cent of MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific are constrained from accessing finance and other support for their businesses. Socio-cultural norms mean women-led enterprises have to overcome gender-specific barriers to access institutional credit and other financial services.

ESCAP and UNCDF aim to encourage easy access to digital finance for MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific, break the financial barriers surrounding women-led enterprises and support entrepreneur-centric growth and inclusiveness throughout the region. Initiatives by the 10 winning fintech companies are currently supporting more than 9,000 women-led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.

Just like Laxmi, these women business owners plan on successfully growing their companies in the digital area.

The Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme “Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” which seeks to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific by enabling a policy environment for such business owners, providing them with access to finance and expanding the use of ICT for entrepreneurship.

*Mitch Hsieh Chief, Communications and Knowledge Management Section

UNESCAP

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