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Khashoggi crisis highlights why investment in Asia is more productive than in the Middle East

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Growing Western political and corporate reluctance to be associated with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the suspected killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi spotlights fundamentally different investment strategies and environments in the bulk of Asia and the oil-rich Gulf states, the continent’s most western flank.

The Khashoggi crisis highlighted the fact that much of investment in the Gulf, irrespective of whether it is domestic, Western or Chinese, comes from financial, technology and other service industries, the arms industry or Gulf governments. It is focused on services, infrastructure or enhancing the state’s capacities rather than on manufacturing, industrial development, and the nurturing of an independent private sector.

The crisis has put on display the risks Gulf governments run by adopting policies that significantly tarnish their international reputations. Technology, media, financial and other services industries as well as various European ministers and the US Treasury Secretary have cancelled, in the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely killing while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, their participation in Davos in the Desert, a high-profile investors’ conference in Riyadh later this month.

By contrast, the military industry, with US President Donald J. Trump’s encouragement, has proven so far less worried about reputational damage.

Sponsored by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is suspected of being responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s likely murder, the conference was intended to attract investment in his Vision 2030 plan to reform and diversify the Saudi economy.

In highlighting differences in investment strategies in the Middle East and the rest of Asia, the fallout of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance goes beyond the parameters of a single incident. It suggests that foreign investment must be embedded in broader social and economic policies as well as an environment that promises stability to ensure that it is productive, contributes to sustainable growth, and benefits broad segments of the population.

In contrast to the Gulf where, with the exception of state-run airlines and DP World, Dubai’s global port operator, the bulk of investment is portfolios managed by sovereign wealth funds, trophies or investment designed to enhance a country’s international prestige and soft power, major Asian nations like China and India have used investment to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, foster a substantial middle class, and create an industrial base.

To be sure, with small populations, Gulf states are more likely to ensure sustainability in services and oil and gas derivatives rather than in manufacturing and industry. Nonetheless, that too requires enabling policies and an education system that encourages critical thinking and the freedom to question, allow one’s mind to roam without fear of repercussion, and grants free, unfettered access to information – categories that are becoming increasingly rare in a part of the world in which freedoms are severely curtailed.

China’s US$1 trillion, infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative may be the Asian exception that would come closest to some of the Gulf’s soft power investments. Yet, even so, the Belt and Road initiative, designed to alleviate domestic over capacity by state-owned companies that are not beholden to shareholders’ short term demands and/or geo-political gain, contributes to productive economic growth in the People’s Republic itself.

Asian nations, moreover, have been able to manage investors’ expectations in an environment of relative political stability. By contrast, Saudi Arabia damaged confidence in its ability to reform and diversify its oil-based economy when after repeated delays it suspended indefinitely plans to list five percent of its national oil company, Saudi Arabian Oil Company or Aramco, in what would have been the world’s largest ever initial public offering.

The Khashoggi crisis and the Aramco delay followed a series of political initiatives for which there was little equivalent in the rest of Asia. These included the Saudi-United Arab Emirates military campaign in Yemen causing the world’s worst post-World War Two humanitarian crisis; the 16-month-old diplomatic and economic embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt; the detention and failed effort to force Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign; and the diplomatic Saudi spat with Canada in response to a tweet criticizing the kingdom’s human rights record. As a result, foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia last year plunged to a 14-year low.

All of this is not to say that the rest of Asia does not have its own questionable policies such as Chinese claims in the South China Sea or the Pakistani-Indian feud, and questionable business practices such as China’s alleged industrial espionage. However, with the exception of China’s massive repression of Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang, none of these are likely to fundamentally undermine investor confidence, derail existing social and economic polices that have produced results or produce situations in which avoidance of reputational damage becomes a priority.

At the bottom line, China is no less autocratic than the Gulf states, while Hindu nationalism in India fits a global trend towards populism and illiberal democracy. Nevertheless, what differentiates much of Asia from the Gulf and accounts for its economic success are policies that ensure a relatively stable environment and are focused on social and economic enhancement rather than primarily on regime survival. That may be the lesson for Gulf rulers.

A version of this story was first published by Syndication Bureau

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Friend-shoring: India’s rising attractiveness for an emerging partnership

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There are numerous forces currently affecting investment flows in the global climate for foreign investment. Investor concern has been caused by the many geopolitical issues, which had repercussions even as countries were recovering from the pandemic. Businesses are being forced to re-evaluate the global business environment and potential fault lines as a result of these disruptions. India has constantly improved the business environment (EoDB). It may now advance by utilising the advantages to strengthen its place in the global economy and fulfil the ambitions of its sizable, primarily young population. The country’s business and investment climate has significantly improved as a result of the fast and steady pace at which reforms have been implemented.

Apart from the fact that India is one of the largest economies in the world with the quickest rate of growth, the government’s emphasis on infrastructure and manufacturing, strong consumption patterns, digitization, and a burgeoning services sector all contribute to this optimism. The persistent efforts of the Indian government to lower regulatory hurdles are also fuelling MNCs’ favourable opinion of India. However, India’s expanding domestic consumer base and digital economy are the greater draws. After the US and China, the estimated actual growth in consumption is the third-highest. Given that all of these markets are sizable but relatively saturated and growing at a slower rate, India presents a particularly good opportunity for MNCs seeking growth opportunities in the ensuing ten years.This has acquired more traction in the US context as it has become clear that the nation cannot overcome all production issues on its own and that cooperation with friendly or ally nations is essential for all-around development. The term “friend-shoring,” a hybrid of the terms “onshoring” and “near shoring,” refers to forming business alliances with people who have similar principles and interests.

In a world driven extensively by globalisation, it is inevitable to not just make ally’s or create partnerships that are not only strategic and synergistic, but also facilitate a purpose driven iterative connection between two nations. A strategy used by the US to persuade companies to relocate their sourcing and manufacturing operations to friendly shores—often back to the same shores in the case of the US—is known as friend-shoring or ally-shoring. And the goal is to protect their supply networks against countries with less compatible policies, like China. But is it the best course of action? Global supply chains have changed production by enabling businesses to produce things wherever it is most affordable, thanks to decreased tariffs, lower transportation, and communication costs. This typically means that low-end production shifts to emerging markets and developing countries, while high-value-added inputs (such as research and development, design, advertising, and finance) are provided from established economies.

A commitment to cooperate with nations that “have a strong adherence to a set of norms and values about how to function in the global economy and about how to govern the global economic system” was described as “friend-shoring” in Secretary Yellen’s statements of April 13, 2022. But is it the best course of action? Any type of protectionism will worsen the already shaky global supply chain after the years-long Covid-19 shutdown has had an impact on the world economy. Despite its political unrest, China has been devoting its resources to manufacturing since the 1990s, and many businesses have already established manufacturing operations there since their suppliers are all nearby.

Even though Vietnam, India, and Thailand are also known for their low-cost manufacturing, moving the manufacturing sites could be expensive and risky for businesses because they would need to reorganise their entire supply chain for all materials required. In addition, other Asian countries might not have the full infrastructure needed to support manufacturing in some sectors. The world of today is at its best because of international cooperation. Each country’s disadvantage is made up for by having it use its greatest asset to boost global economic growth. Although there are many differences and even disagreements between nations and we are still far from full globalisation, offshoring does not seem like a good answer for a better future for the global supply.

USA is believed to pursue the “friend-shoring” strategy of deepening economic integration with dependable trading partners like India to diversify away from nations that pose geopolitical and security risks to supply chains. This is in response to an “extremely challenging” global economic outlook and geopolitical instability. She claimed that some economies’ debt loads were becoming unmanageable due to the Russia-Ukraine war-related spike in food and energy costs, and that steps to reduce these debt loads would need to be explored. Countries that already have well-established production and business service networks are those that are seen as friendly partners in the US context. India is attempting to draw MNCs that are moving their subsidiary supply chain networks and activities in this wave of supply chain restructuring and diversification of their specialised ecosystems.

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Pakistan’s elite and the current economic crisis

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Former Pakistan Finance Minister Miftah Ismail in a media interview made some very interesting points. While Ismail lashed out at his successor and current Finance Minister Ishaq Dar saying that the latter’s Anti International Monetary Fund (IMF) approach was one of the key reasons behind the current economic crisis in Pakistan. He also underscored some other points.

 First, he said that if countries like Bangladesh and India have left Pakistan behind, there are some serious deficiencies in Pakistan’s governance model.

Second, Ismail stated that different forms of government – democracy, parliamentary democracy, dictatorship – have been tried out, but the country is invariably ruled by a small elite, and this is amongst the key reasons for the numerous challenges the country is facing today.

In recent years, has been increasing criticism of Pakistan’s foreign policy and its excessive economic dependence upon other countries for its economic survival.  While earlier strategic commentators and analysts questioned the skewed nature of Pakistan’s ties with the US, in recent years several strategic commentators have begun to question the excessive dependence upon Islamabad and the terms and conditions of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and the lack of transparency of the project.

If one were to look at the current economic crisis which has engulfed Pakistan, there have been a series of opinion pieces critical of domestic policies, the country’s dependence upon external sources for aid not just the US, but also Gulf Countries and China and how the IMF rescue program would impact certain sections of the population more than others.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani diplomat, and a prominent writer and commentator, in a hard hitting article titled Elite Politicsfor Dawn (December 5, 2022)argues:

‘The availability of external resources as a result of Pakistan’s foreign policy alignments during the Cold War and beyond created a habit of dependence on ‘outside help’. This habit urged successive governments — representing rural and urban elites — to avoid economic reform, mobilise adequate revenue or tax its network of influential supporters’. 

Touqir Hussain in an article An underwhelming foreign policy written for The News (November 23, 2022) highlights how Pakistan’s dependency upon China could harm the bilateral relationship. Says Hussain:

‘Because of the dependency syndrome, even the China connection has become ever more important for Pakistan, and not for all the right reasons. It is fomenting a popular view that with China at its back Pakistan does not need to care about other relationships, inciting anti-Americanism which has become in the public mind a badge of ‘independent’ foreign policy’.

S Akbar Zaidi in an article IMF as Saviour for the Dawn (January 26, 2023) makes an interesting point about how the unequal impact of the IMF program and how the elite would not just be able to deal with it but also benefit in the long run. Says Zaidi:

‘A fistful of dollars coming in, prices being upwardly adjusted, an exchange rate which is supposedly ‘market-driven’, will offer false hope to our elite while it grumbles about the tough measures of the IMF’. 

There has also been a suggestion to rethink Pakistan’s approach towards India and focus more on geo-economics. Shahzad Chaudhry, a prominent strategic commentator, in an opinion piece published in Express Tribune praised India’s foreign policy for managing to balance ties between the US and Russia, in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. While praising India for having been able to strike a balance he dubbed this as diplomatic coup. Chaudhry also said that Pakistan should rethink its foreign policy vis-à-vis India and focus on ‘geo-economics’.

Pakistan PM, Shehbaz Sharif in an interview to Al Arabiya TV (a Dubai based channel) had himself stated that Pakistan could not afford another war with India and had also alluded to his willingness to resume talks (The Pakistan PMO however said that Pakistan would only resume talks with India if the latter reversed the decision to revoke Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir).

In conclusion, while Pakistan clearly has its task cut out if it is able to realize the pitfalls of excessive dependence upon external countries will it be able to put its economy firmly back on track. It is also important for Pakistan to strengthen economic ties with neighbours in South Asia rather than looking at the outside world. For this it will require Pakistani leaders to think out of the box.

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Guangdong special economic zones at China

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Guangdong Province in southern China is distinguished by the economic development. The sign been approached by “Made In Guangdong” is becoming so famous globally, besides the Guangdong industries and its unique culture.

  Guangdong represents one of the most important provinces of China for a number of political, economic, social and natural reasons. Indications of the success of the openness experiment pursued by China since the late seventies of the last century are evident in it.

Guangdong special economic zones have made great achievements. As the province with the largest economic output in China, south China’s Guangdong Province has achieved tremendous economic development in the past 40 years, thanks to the establishment of special economic zones.

 According to my information, the Guangdong region has established the “Zhuhai Doumen” intelligent manufacturing economic development zone recently, after the Guangdong Provincial Government officially approved the establishment of the “Zhuhai Doumen intelligent manufacturing economic development zone”, which will implement the existing provincial-level economic development zone policy.  It is the third regional economic development zone in “Zhuhai” after “Foshan Industrial Park and Liangang Industrial Zone”.

 Guangdong Province is an economic powerhouse in southern China, and the province will promote high-quality development this year by fostering new engines of growth and strengthening cooperation and communication in the regions of (Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay) to deepen reform and opening up.

 Guangdong Province, a major part of China’s foreign trade and industrial hub, accounts for about one-tenth of China’s GDP and is the largest of all Chinese provinces.

 Guangdong Province pays close attention to the progress of China’s modernization and the overall picture of reform and opening-up and major national strategic planning. It firmly attaches importance to the reform and opening-up policy by strengthening cooperation between the province and the “Hong Kong and Macao” regions, aligning the development of Guangdong with the “Northern Metropolis” plan of Hong Kong and the economic diversification strategy of Macao, implementing the “Greater Bay Area Connection” project in a more in-depth way, and working with “Hong Kong and Macao” together to build a world-class bay area, injecting vigor and strong impetus into its modernization efforts”.

 It Is remarkable that most of the cities of Guangdong Province are crowded with visitors from all over the world, especially Arabs and Africans, who come to them for the purpose of trade and search for investment. The province is considered one of the regions characterized by the diversity of its industries, quality and attractive prices, as well as commercial activities in various fields.

 It Is also distinguished by the beauty and sophistication of its buildings, which embody the aesthetics of modern Chinese architecture, as well as the spread of green spaces and vibrant squares throughout the day. It is also distinguished in terms of weather, with its atmosphere that resembles the tropical atmosphere with heavy rain, and the various cities of Guangdong Province are also characterized by easy access to it from different parts of the world throughout the day, as well as ease of movement between its various cities, thanks to the presence of an infrastructure that makes most of the cities of the province at the forefront of attractive cities for investment globally.

  Due to the existence of the commercial ports, Guangdong has a long experience in terms of commercial exchanges regionally and globally.

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