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The ‘Eurasian Corridor’: CPEC – Catalyzing Regional Connectivity and Integration

Irfan Shahzad Takalvi

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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) promises not only unprecedented dividends for development and progress of the two partner nations, but it is destined to be the most effective instrument yet for regional connectivity and integration as well.

The corridor – while not merely a passage – assumes pivotal significance for regional connectivity and cooperation as it comes on the back of China’s mammoth – in size, scale and scope – global connectivity strategy, i.e., Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The ‘Belt’ is Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) which aims at building road and rail linkages from China, through Central Eurasia, towards Eastern Europe and beyond. The ‘Road’ denotes 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), starting from China’s eastern and southern coasts and economic zones and heading towards South Asia, West Asia, Africa and Europe, through South China Sea, the Malacca Strait and the so-called Indian Ocean.

CPEC links the ‘Belt’ in the north and the ‘Road’ in the south, and thus becomes the most important feature of the whole strategy, although several other corridors are also part of BRI.

It is an undeniable fact that China is now the economic powerhouse of the world, not the US and EU as was the case in the second half of 20th Century, and Beijing is looking for establishing new global value chains, searching for new avenues of investment and aiming to tap wider markets. CPEC, undoubtedly, becomes significant in this whole scheme of things.

While many countries of the region as well as many developed nations of the ‘Global North’ have expressed interest in getting involved in and becoming a part of CPEC, both Pakistan and China have also made it clear that CPEC is by no means exclusive, and the main promise of such a corridor is to create a win-win situation for the entire region.

Here is how it may happen:

Central Asian Republics: CPEC provides unparalleled opening for the landlocked Central Asian Republics (CARs). Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have signed a quadrilateral ‘Traffic in Transit’ agreement since 1995 to facilitate transit traffic between these four nations, aiming at increased linkages and enhanced commercial cooperation. For past over two decades, however, the agreement is yet to see its effective implementation.

Tajikistan is presently not part of this transit traffic arrangement but Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan have since August 2016 initiated another four-nation cooperation mechanism – to collaborate in the fight against terrorism. The point in highlighting these arrangements is that the institutional basis for enhanced commercial cooperation through CPEC, between CARs, China and Pakistan, already exists since long which is further strengthened after Pakistan (along with India) assuming formal membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). SCO is working on its own set of initiates for enhanced commercial linkages between its members, multilaterally.

Thus, CPEC provides a catalyzing force to jump-start cooperation. These CARs – especially their areas adjoining China, which incidentally happen to be major population centers in case of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – can benefit from easy access to Pakistani ports through CPEC.

Afghanistan: Despite some issues in smooth flow of trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the former remains the largest trading partner of the latter.Sino-Afghan trade is also on the upswing and prospects for enhanced Chinese investment into the war-torn country are becoming brighter. Beijing is already a major investor in various sectors of Afghan economy, specially mining. In this background, CPEC infrastructure would only spur economic activity along Pak-Afghan border, and will provide impetus for Pak-Afghan as well as Afghan-China trade and commerce.

Besides, road linkages with China would be quite hard to be built through this peculiar terrain. A cargo train from China did reach Afghanistan after a long journey through CARs, but had to go back empty through the same route, due to security concerns of the transit providing state Uzbekistan. Hence, CPEC remains the most feasible route for China-Afghanistan trade as well. In addition, CPEC and Gwadar port provide Afghanistan easy and effective access to the rest of the world, despite the availability of India-backed Iranian Chabahar port as an alternative.

Iran: The news that President Rouhani of Iran expressed his interest to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – in their meeting in New York, in September 2016, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session – to get involved in CPEC, was taken with great interest in Pakistan.Thereafter, Iranian diplomats and officials have also expressed their country’s interest. Yes American sanctions have been and remain an issue to be dealt with but a number of countries of the region have found ways to work with Iran despite these sanctions. The size and scope of Iran-China commercial and investment linkages, despite US sanctions, also necessitate cooperation in and through CPEC.

The western route of CPEC in Pakistan’s Balochistan will practically be aligned along Pak-Iran border. It is positive to note that making Gwadar and Chabahar two complementing ports is now on the agenda of both the countries. In this backdrop, Iran emerges as one of the key future partners for Pakistan and China, in CPEC. The Corridor also provides an opportunity for Iran to reach out to CARs’ eastern territories, and let us not lose sight of CPEC becoming an energy transportation route between Iran and China, a long-term goal of both the producer and the buyer.

Russia: We have also witnessed several expressions of interest by Russian leadership, officials and diplomats intending to become involved in this mega initiative, in energy and other infrastructure projects. In recent years, Pakistan and Russia have moved ahead with mutual arrangements in strategic, political and commercial arenas promising a new wave of potentially large scale collaborative projects. The opportunities for utilization of CPEC for mutual benefit are bound to increase.

GCC Countries: It is very well known fact that China imports bulk of its crude oil requirements from the countries of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which have to traverse a long way through Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), reaching China’s south and east before it is then transported through land routes to China’s central and western, relatively less developed parts. CPEC provides the shortest route to transport oil from GCC countries – as is the case with Iran’s oil – towards China’s western and center; regions.

Not only the transportation of oil (and gas), but robust trade and investment relations between China and GCC countries – which are bound to increase further in the wake of  GCC countries’ maneuvers to diversify their oil-dependent economies – also enhance the potential role of CPEC as a possible avenue between these two sides.

India – the Opportunity and the Challenge: It is needless to stress that after China, India is a very fast developing large-sized economy of the world, not only this region. India also needs energy, at a fast growing demand, from Iran as well as CARs – in addition to GCC countries, which are at present the main suppliers. India is also looking for access to Afghanistan and CARs, and the fastest as well as most feasible routes pass through the territory of Pakistan.

CPEC infrastructure will provide India with potential linkages to Afghanistan, CARs, and China’s Xinjiang, much better than any other possible route. Pakistan has repeatedly signaled that CPEC provides an opportunity for Islamabad and New Delhi to join hands. Nonetheless, it also goes without saying that smooth transport linkages between Pakistan and India, and through Pakistan for India, face the obstacle of overall relationship between the two countries.

While Pakistan and India’s case is a particular one, connectivity overall in the entire region is being hampered by, and will continue to face the challenges of various forms and manifestations of instability in addition to terrain, technological and financial constraints.

However, would not be wrong to say that despite these challenges, CPEC provides a very favorable route of regional connectivity and resultantly enhanced economic cooperation as well as wide-spread people-to-people linkages in the region encompassing South, West and Central Asia.

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Economy

COVID-19, major shifts and the relevance of Kondratief 6th Wave

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Covid-19 has changed the global strategic equations, it has impacted each part of human life so has it let us to ponder upon the Kondratieff cycles, as with Covid-19 there has started a new debate about sixth wave, which is about the importance of health sector, especially the biotechnology which is crucial for progress of society in future.

Henceforth, the countries that are working on these sectors know that the most important engine for our economic and social development will be health in the 21st century. For example we have USA that focused on these and now has created around 2/3rd of its jobs in health sectors along with that has invested about $3,500 billion on health sector back in 2017. Also a 2008 report said about 4,700 companies all across worked in  field of biotechnology whereby 42% were in North America, and 35% in Europe, which depicts these states long-term understanding of the emerging scenario as seen from the emergence of Coronavirus. But then the on the other side if we look into the health structure of underdeveloped states, we can easily conclude that these states will suffer the most if a global health issue emerges, and in the contemporary world it has emerged in the form of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has brought changes in the political and economic arrangement. It has not limited itself to the China from where it has been started but has impacted the whole world. The virus that is itself unseen has shaken the structure, with severe consequences for all states. No matter if it’s the USA that is the super power or any small states, the pandemic has divulged the capability and integrity of all in their response to the Covid-19. With some having the capabilities to deal with it, but most lacking in these sectors which resulted in huge loss not only of human life but also of resources. Time has come when the world is criticizing globalization at one hand because globalization is the reason for the spread of COVID-19. This has marked the end of one era with the emergence of a new one.

Mention below are some of the major shifts which Covid-19 has resulted in economic sectors in both the developed and the underdeveloped states, along with the major political shift that has led many to debate about the new structure of world after the crisis would be over.

The Covid-19 that was first reported in China, in November has changed the world completely and resulted in a lot of economic and political changes all across. For example the global economy due to Covid-19 crisis have a setback of $590 trillion. Apart from this many people lost their jobs, the household incomes have reduce, moreover World Bank report say nearly 49 million people will move into extreme poverty because of pandemic. Then World largest real estates are having economic problems, the Tourism industry has declined. An estimate showed the loss of about $1.2 to $3.3 trillion in this area of tourism all over world. Also report of International Air Transport Association predicted a loss of $63-$113billion. Moreover the oil sector also faced problem as it was for the first time that its price has gone negative. Henceforth, it can be predicted that once the pandemic is over the world will have a lot to calculate.

The impact of this crisis is seen in both core and periphery states. In core states like the US and china COVID-19 has brought huge economic impact but along with this also a question of who will act as the world saviour. As Chinese economy is expected to decline by 13% in February also the Belt and toad initiative is at halt, but still apart from the economic problem this pandemic has helped a core state like china to use the situation and move towards the status of Global power. Thus this struggle of Global saviour resulted in US and China at odds with each other. Indeed, COVID-19 has brought political repercussions along with economic consequences. When it comes to Europe the industrial production decline by 17%. Likewise USA is also effected by COVID-19 as by this pandemic about 39 million American have lost their jobs, also US economy seen to decline by 20% so US health sector has been in the eye of analyst for its failure to curtail the coronavirus. Then covid-19 has more devastating impact on peripheral states as there health care facility is not well developed. For example the GDP of Bangladesh fell by 1.1%, then many African states that look for tourism as a source of economy faced a loss of about $50 billion. Also 29 million in Latin America fell into poverty. Though they have been exploited in past but the need of the hour is that the world must help them.

Global dynamics are showing transformation amid coronavirus. The pandemic has shown how China is using its trump cards to transform the contemporary situation in its favour while bolstering its image as the “global saviour”. China’s emergence from the sick man of Asian to the positing of global saviour has opened the prospect of a tilt in the global status of Hegemon from US towards China. The question is that will the Chinese strategy amid COVID-19 will hinder the prestige of US who instead of acting as the global leader has shown a deterioration in its role in global governance.

The future of China’s pre-eminence in the global spectrum has been widened by the pandemic. All of this has been further bolstered by the broad rejection of Trump to engage in Europe and elsewhere. COVID-19 not only emerged as an impetus to shift the global dynamic but has helped China to strengthen its position. In response to the confident play by China, US hasn’t come up with any convincing tactics to prevent the increasing role of China in achieving its interest. Recently, a move by Trump administration to withhold US funds of around $400million will surely leave a gap, moreover will be an opportunity for china to bolster its position in WHO. Taking backseat in its global role amid pandemic, then the withdrawal from global treaties, and withholding of funds from WHO shows a pattern which will further create a vacuum for China to take advantage of the prevailing situation. 

The current international order set by US will be subject to testation as the changing shifts in the geopolitics have to be catalyzed by the COVID-19. For it is now the right time for us all to ponder the relevance of Kondratieff 6th wave in current scenario of Covid-19. As now the focus has diverted towards the health care system and biotechnology since the world has in current situation saw a blame game between states with few called corona virus as naturally occurring but some regarded it as ‘Chinese virus’. This has led to the realization that that warfare scenario has entered into discussion over biotechnology. So after the Covid-19 pandemic, the policy makers of both periphery and core state will work on new technological area which has the Medical technologies, Nanotechnologies, Biotechnologies etc. for the improvement in health sector will be crucial for the progress in future.

Conclusively, the current COVID-19 as a bioweapon has resulted in a clear impetus and will definitely bring a shift in the states attitude towards medical research and the multiple fields of technology in future, this is so because COVID-19 has created a ground for relevance of Kondratieff 6th wave.

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How U.S.’s Response to Covid-19 Could Precipitate 2nd Great Depression

Eric Zuesse

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On March 10th of this year, there were 290 daily new U.S. cases of Covid-19 (coronavirus-19).

On March 13th, U.S. President Donald Trump declared a pandemic national emergency, because the number of daily new cases was now suddenly doubling within only three days. However, no lockdown was imposed. The policy-response was instead left to each individual. This is in accord with America’s libertarian idelogy. Trump even announced that “he was allowing his health secretary to bypass certain regulations to provide more flexibility to doctors and hospitals responding to the outbreak” — outright reducing, insead of increasing, federal regulations, this being his way to address the matter. That’s the libertarian response.

Covid-19 (coronavirus-19) cases started soaring in the U.S., from 600 daily new cases on March 13th, to 25,665 on March 31st. Americans were scared to death, and facemask-usage soared, and independent small businesses started laying people off en-masse. (Restaurants, hair salons, travel agencies, inns, dental offices, etc., were hard-hit.)

Immediately, the alarming rise in new cases halted on April 4th (at 34,480), and the daily new cases remained approximately flat, but slightly downward, from March 31 to June 9th (when it reached bottom at 19,166), but then soared yet again, to 78,615, on July 24th.

But, then, it again declined, so that, on September 8th, it was at only 28,561. This was already returning to around what the new-cases rate had been back on March 31st. So: despite peaking again on July 24th, the rate of daily new cases was little changed between March 31st and September 8th. And, all during that 5-month period, people were coming back to work.

The key immediate and direct economic variable affected by Covid-19 is the unemployment rate. Here, that economic effect is clearly shown:

U.S. unemployment: March 4.4%, April 14.7%, May 13.3%, June 11.1%, July 10.2%, August 8.4%

Though the daily-new-cases rate went down after March 31st and after July 24th, the unemployment rate progressed far more gradually downward after March 31st: the small businesses that had been panicked by the explosion of new cases during March were now gradually re-opening — but they remained very nervous; and, so, unemployment still was almost twice what it had been during March.

Here, that experience will be compared with two Scandinavian countries, starting with Denmark, which declared a pandemic national emergency on March 13th, just when Trump also did. “Starting on 13 March 2020, all people working in non-essential functions in the public sector were ordered to stay home for two weeks.” The daily new cases fell from the high of 252 on March 11th, down to the low of 28 on March 15th, but then soared to 390 on April 7th, and gradually declined to 16 (only 16 new cases) on July 9th. Then it peaked back up again, at 373, on August 10th, plunged down to 57 on August 26th, and then soared yet again back up to 243 on September 8th. The new-cases rates were thus irregular, but generally flat. By contrast against the experience in U.S., Denmark’s unemployment-rate remained remarkably stable, throughout this entire period:

Denmark: March 4.1, April 5.4, May 5.6, June 5.5, July 5.2

Sweden’s Government pursued a far more laissez-faire policy-response (“The government has tried to focus efforts on encouraging the right behaviour and creating social norms rather than mandatory restrictions.”), and had vastly worse Covid-19 infection-rates than did the far more socialistic Denmark, and also vastly worse death-rates, both producing results in Sweden more like that of the U.S. policy-response than like that of the Danish policy-response, but far less bad than occurred on the unemployment-rate; and, thus, Sweden showed unemployment-increases which were fairly minor, more like those shown in Denmark:

Sweden: March 7.1, April 8.2, May 9.0, June 9.8, July 8.9

That was nothing like the extreme gyration in:

U.S.: March 4.4%, April 14.7%, May 13.3%, June 11.1%, July 10.2%, August 8.4%

Why was this? 

Even though Sweden’s policy-effectiveness was more like America’s than like Denmark’s at keeping down the percentages of the population who became infected, and who died from Covid-19 (i.e., it was not effective), Sweden’s policy-effectiveness at keeping down the percentage of the population who became unemployed was more like Denmark’s (i.e., it was effective, at that). Unlike America, which has less of a social safety-net than any other industrialized nation does, Sweden had, until recently, one of the most extensive ones, and hasn’t yet reduced it down to American levels (which are exceptionally libertarian). Therefore, whereas Swedes know that the Government will be there for them if they become infected, Americans don’t; and, so, Americans know that, for them, it will instead be “sink or swim.” Make do, or drop dead if you can’t — that is the American way. This is why Swedish unemployment wasn’t much affected by Covid-19. When a Swede experienced what might be symptoms, that person would want to stay home and wouldn’t be so desperate as to continue working even if doing that might infect others. Thus, whereas Sweden’s unemployment-rate rose 27% from March to May, America’s rose 202% during that same period. Americans were desperate for income, because so many of them were poor, and so many of them had either bad health insurance or none at all. (All other industrialized countries have universal health insurance: 100% of the population insured. Only in America is healthcare a privilege that’s available only to people who have the ability to pay for it, instead of a right that is provided to everyone.)

On September 9th, Joe Neel headlined at NPR, “NPR Poll: Financial Pain From Coronavirus Pandemic ‘Much, Much Worse’ Than Expected”, and he reported comprehensively not only from a new NPR poll, but from a new Harvard study, all of which are consistent with what I have predicted (first, here, and then here, and, finally, here), and which seems to me to come down to the following ultimate outcomes, toward which the U.S. is now heading (so, I close my fourth article on this topic, with these likelihoods): 

America’s lack of the democratic socialism (social safety-net) that’s present in countries such as Denmark (and residual vestiges of which haven’t yet been dismantled in Sweden and some other countries) will have caused, in the United States, massive laying-off of the workers in small businesses, as a result of which, overwhelmingly more families will be destroyed that are at the bottom of the economic order, largely Black and/or Hispanic families, than that are White and not in poverty. Also as a consequence, overwhelmingly in the United States, poor people will be suffering far more of the infections, and of the deaths, and of the laying-off, and of the soon-to-be-soaring personal bankruptcies and homelessness; and, soon thereafter, soaring small-business bankruptcies, and ultimately then big-business bankruptcies, and then likely megabank direct federal bailouts such as in 2009, which will be followed, in the final phase, by a hyperinflation that might be comparable to what had occurred in Weimar Germany. The ceaselessly increasing suffering at the bottom will ultimately generate a collapse at the top. Presumably, therefore, today’s seemingly coronavirus-immune U.S. stock markets, such as the S&P 500, are now basically just mega-investors who are selling to small investors, so as to become enabled, after what will be the biggest economic crash in history, to buy “at pennies on the dollar,” the best of what’s left, so as to then go forward into the next stage of the capitalist economic cycle, as owning an even higher percentage of the nation’s wealth than now is the case. Of course, if that does happen, then America will be even more of a dictatorship than it now is. Post-crash 2021 America will be more like Hitler’s Germany, than like FDR’s America was.

The Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, is just as corrupt, and just as racist, as is the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. And just as neoconservative (but targeting Russia, instead of China). Therefore, the upcoming November 3rd elections in the U.S. are almost irrelevant, since both of the candidates are about equally disgusting. America’s problems are deeper than just the two stooges that America’s aristocracy hires to front for it at the ballot-boxes.

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

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Democracy in the doldrums

Samudrala VK

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It is clear that during the COVID-19 pandemic  times, Democracy has gone pear shaped throughout the world. Power and Political activity are considered as alpha and omega of the modern day democracy.
The Modern state(political authority),which is based on legitimacy and a tool to deliver political, economical and social justice, has been rendering yeoman service to
corporates, both domestic and foreign. The ruling dispensations all around the globe have resorted to authoritarianism under the guise of health emergency. In addition, the topsy turvy of Democracy, through excessive centralisation and the iron curtain imposed on political activities during this pandemic, has left minimal space to raise the concerns of the urban poor. The pandemic, a bolt from the blue, has caught our health systems off guard. In India, the labour class has caught between the devil and the deep sea, thanks to the recent twin moves of the central government, privatization and the helter-skelter lockdown. The pernicious effects of the lockdown are yet to hit the masses. Seemingly, the rudderless policies of central government have created enough space to further pauperization of masses, mostly have-nots.
Now, the federal governments of third world countries have to walk on razor edge by meeting the fiscal deficit targets on one hand and by connecting the welfare dots on the other.It is not surprising to say that the big corporates are making good fortunes with the relaxation of tax rates and new labour codes. As unemployment is hanging like the sword of domacles over the working class, the corporate class would expect this surplus labour to be at their beck and call.The early warnings of intelligentsia on the consequences of disastrous lockdown  were remained as the voices crying in the wilderness. The ruling elite has been trying to enshroud the general despondency among the civic force by shifting the propaganda machinery to sensitive elements like religion, hyper nationalism and sloganeering-not to mention self aggrandizement.

Neo-liberalism and corporatisation

The diktats of the world bank and the IMF(International monetary fund) on the third world nations like pruning the subsidies, roll back of welfare measures and the abatement of labour laws as an essential sina qua non for any sort of relief package during the crisis of BOP(Balance of payments) have left labour class of the thrid world nations in quandary. The US with the support of the WTO( World Trade Organization)had exhorted all these countries to provide untrammeled access its products. Apparently, the aims and paths of federal governments of these nations ,the WTO and the IMF are congruent with regard to free trade and the globalization of capital. The lawful protections for the working class under the labour laws have proved disastrous for the interests of the capitalist class and being viewed as shackles for the exploitation. The decades-long struggle to retain these labour rights in independent nation states has been ending in smoke due to weakened trade unions and the decline of social capital. The time has come to fight tenaciously and move heaven and earth to restore their rights which are otherwise go to the dogs. When the market space is being dominated by Monopoly or Duopoly or Tripoly, the free and fair competition which the unhindered market guarantee is an absolute sham. Extolling the virtues of Neo-liberalism, the modern nation states have centred their development agenda in and around urban centres. Economically, in the post-liberal era of India, the upward mobility is largely confined to a few sections of the urban middle class.

Welfare economics

It is wrong to mention that welfare economics is based on “Rob Peter to pay paul principle” when Peter has direct access to resources(natural, political, economical and social) vis-a-vis Paul. It is not the Peter but the Paul who is running from the pillar to post in search of opportunities. The notion of political equality of liberal ideological stream revolves around freedom and liberty of an individual and overlooks the core elements of equality like social and economical justice. The central governments all over the world have successfully repudiated the pro-poor agenda and this volte face from welfare state to pro-capitalist state has pushed the labour class out of the frying pan into the fire.

Nexus between political class and biggies

The unholy nexus between the political class  and corporates has been riding roughshod over the interests of poor. This alliance behooves the political class to safeguard the vested interests of corporate bigwigs. It is apposite to mention that representative democracy has been metamorphosing into a turncoat democracy. Back in the day, Politicians were known for their erudition, statesmanship and uncompromising ideological commitment. On the contrary, present day representatives are turning into snollygosters for their personal gains. There are several voluminous reports from different corners on rising economical disparities in the post-liberal era on which no political party is keen to act upon. As Michael Jackson, king of pop, penned in one of his famous tracks “All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us”-the lyrics are still relevant in this pandemic times.

Globalization and dependency

The South Asian nations have started their LPG (Liberalisation, privatization and Globalization) path at the same time, with the exception of Sri Lanka which had opened its economy by fits and starts.They had adjusted their economical apparatus with a new global integration process at a time when the global economical architecture was dominated by unipolar power, the US.
The lopsided globalization process has been converting many third world countries as dependents and in some cases almost to a level of aid recipients upon the erstwhile colonial powers or the US. Under the banner of global integration, all these nations were dragged into this complex whole, in most of the cases through persuasion. In the name of free trade, the Western powers have been  bleeding these nations white of their resources. The asymmetrical globalization has also challenged the sovereignty of these nations while the same has remained intact in case of developed nations. The US has been playing a rigged game of globalization under the auspices of the WTO, the world bank and other agencies. The time has come for these players to bury their hatchet and rise as a one voice to have a just order at the international sphere.

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