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Afghan crisis: Changing geo-economics of the neighbourhood

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The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has caused a rapid reshuffle in the geo-economics of South, Central and West Asia. While the impact on the Afghan economy has been profound, triggering inflation and cash shortage, it’s bearing on Afghanistan’s near neighbourhood has wider far-reaching consequences. The US spent almost $24 billion on the economic development of Afghanistan over the course of 20 years. This together with other international aid has helped the country to more than double its per capita GDP from $900 in 2002 to $2,100 in 2020. As a major regional player, India had invested around $3 billion in numerous developmental projects spanning across all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Indian presence was respected and valued by the ousted Afghan dispensation. With the US, India and many other countries deciding to close their embassies in Afghanistan and the US deciding to freeze Afghanistan’s foreign reserves amounting to $9.5 billion, the economy of the country has hit a grinding halt. IMF too has declared that Kabul won’t be able to access the $370 million funding which was agreed on earlier. The emerging circumstances are ripe for China and Pakistan to cut inroads into the war-torn country as the rest of the world watches mutely.

Beijing’s major gain would be the availability of Afghanistan as a regional connector in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) linking the economies of Central Asia, Iran and Pakistan. Afghanistan is already a member of the BRI with the first Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016. Only limited projects were conducted in Afghanistan under the initiative till now due to security concerns, geographic conditions and the government’s affinity towards India. Chinese officials have repeatedly expressed interest in Afghanistan joining the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), a signature undertaking of the BRI. CPEC is a $62 billion project which would link Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province to China’s western Xinjiang region. The plan includes power plants, an oil pipeline, roads and railways that improves trade and connectivity in the region.

China also eyes at an estimated $1 trillion mineral deposits in Afghanistan, which includes huge reserves of lithium, a key component for electric vehicles. This mineral wealth is largely untapped due lack of proper networks and unstable security conditions long-prevalent in the country. Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted Taliban representatives in late June in Tianjin to discuss reconciliation and reconstruction process in Afghanistan. Taliban reciprocated by inviting China to “play a bigger role in future reconstruction and economic development” of the country. After the fall of Kabul, China has kept its embassy open and declared it was ready for friendly relations with the Taliban. It had also announced that it would send $31 million worth of food and health supplies to Afghanistan to tide over the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Pakistan, a close ally of China, has on its part has sent supplies such as cooking oil and medicines to the Afghan authorities. Pakistan having strong historical ties with the Taliban will possibly play a crucial role in furthering Chinese ambitions..

The immediate economic fallout of the crisis for Iran is its reduced access to hard currency from Afghanistan. After the imposition of US sanctions, Afghanistan had been an important source of dollars for Iran. Reports suggest that hard currency worth $5million was being transferred to Iran daily before the Taliban takeover. Now the US has put a freeze on nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to Afghan Central Bank and stopped shipment of cash to the country. The shortage of hard currency is likely to affect the exchange rates in Iran subsequently building up inflationary pressure. Over the years, Afghanistan had emerged as a major destination for Iran’s non-oil exports amounting to $2billion a year. A prolonged crisis would curb demand in Afghanistan including that of Iranian goods with a likely reduction in the trade volume between the two countries. In effect, Iran would find itself increasingly isolated from foreign governments and international financial flows.

India had been the wariest regional spectator watching its $3 billion investment in Afghanistan go up in smoke. Long-standing hostility with Pakistan has prevented land-based Indian trade with Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republic’s (CAR’s). Push by India and other stakeholders for setting a common agenda for alternate connectivity appears susceptible at the moment. India has been working with Iran to develop Chabahar port in the Arabian sea and transport goods shipped from India to Afghanistan and Central Asia through the proposed Chabahar-Zahedan-Mashhad railway line. India is also working with Russia on the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200 km long multi-mode network of ship, rail and road routes for freight movement, whereby Indian goods are received at Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar, moves northward via rail and road through Iran and Azerbaijan and meets the Trans-Siberian rail network that will allow access to the European markets. According to the latest reports, the Taliban declined to join talks with India, Iran and Uzbekistan on Chabahar port and North-South Transport Corridor, which has cast shadow on the Indian interests in the region. India’s trade with Afghanistan had steadily increased to reach the US $1.5 billion in 2019–2020. An unfriendly administration and demand constraints may slow down the trade between the two countries.

With the US withdrawal, the CARs would find their strategic and economic autonomy curtailed and more drawn into the regional power struggle between China and Russia. While China has many infrastructure projects in Central Asia to its credit, Russia is trying to woo Central Asian countries into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), though so far it was able to rope in only Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. CARs would need better connectivity through Afghanistan and Iran to diversify their trade relations with Indo-Pacific nations and to have better leverage to bargain with Russia and China. Uzbekistan, the most fervent of the CARs to demand increased connectivity with South Asia, expressed its interest in joining the Chabahar project in 2020, which was duly welcomed by India. The new developments in Afghanistan would force these countries to remodel their strategies to suit the changed geopolitical realities.

The fact that Iran is getting closer to China by signing a 25-Year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership cooperation agreement in 2020 adds yet another dimension to the whole picture. India’s hesitancy to recognize or engage with the Taliban makes it unpredictable what the future holds for India-Afghan relations.

The hasty US exit has caused rapid reorientation in the geopolitical and geo-economic status-quo of the region. Most countries were unprepared to handle the swiftness of the Taliban takeover and were scrambling for options to deal with the chaos. The lone exception was China which held talks with the Taliban as early as July, 28 weeks before the fall of Kabul, to discuss the reconstruction of the war-torn country. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also took a high-profile tour to Central Asia in mid-July which extensively discussed the emerging situation in Afghanistan with Central Asian leaders. Since the West has passed the buck, it’s up to the regional players to restore the economic stability in Afghanistan and ensure safe transit routes through the country. Any instability in Afghanistan is likely to have harrowing repercussions in the neighbourhood, as well.

Masters student in public policy at Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth in Kerala, India, specializing in finance and international relations. I tweet at @ArulKurian. I can be contacted at royalpebbles27[at]gmail.com

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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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The Theatrics of the US Debt Ceiling: Fiscal Austerity or Political Brinkmanship?

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It amazes me sometimes how pointless some discussions are to begin with, yet the hype they garner is just outrageous compared to relatively pressing issues in the mainstream spotlight. I am no Democrat supporter or even a backer of Mr. Biden – as my columns would effectively relay. But I am also no fan of idiocy when I see it (also apparent in my writings). And the ongoing tensions lacing the US polity, unfortunately, qualify that criterion by a long shot. While the debate around the debt limit is neither novel nor unprecedented, the preachy statements posited in the US Congress to justify the GOP posturing are downright ridiculous. But even if we don ignorance and accept their premise as is, I fail to see any alternative path toward economic balance and prosperity – assuming that is actually the end goal of the Republican lawmakers.

Before even delving into the nitty-gritty of the debt ceiling saga, let’s get some ambiguities clear and out of the way. The debt limit is a statutory cap on the total amount of money the US federal government is authorized to borrow. Currently, that amount stands at $31.4 trillion – already reached about two weeks ago. However, breaching that limit is well-nigh avertable: All the US Congress needs to do is raise that limit higher, and the chaos would disappear overnight. No risking the smooth functioning of the money markets, no pressure on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, and no uncertainty while the world grapples with demons on geopolitical and economic fronts. But what about fiscal responsibility? Since 2001, the United States has consistently rolled around with budget deficits year after year and filled the gap with excessive borrowing to meet its financial obligations. In that period, the US has accreted about $20 trillion in national debt; debt held by the public as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has roughly tripled from 32% to 94%. Even for an economy as omnipotent as the United States, that’s prohibitive. But we need a thorough comparison to realize the underlying trends – both on the macroeconomic and political scale.

The US last enjoyed a fiscal surplus during the presidency of a Republican. Mr. George W. Bush. But you rarely witness a vociferous detour around that nook of history by any GOP members. It is perhaps because he squandered that surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy. Or on the invasion of Iraq. While one led to more inequity in an already lopsided social demography, the latter ushered those resources to decimate a foreign land on bogus pretenses. Another manifestation of the ‘Trickle-Down economic principle (apparently notorious for the Conservative fractions on both sides of the Atlantic) was during the Trump tenure. Mr. Donald Trump ran through another profligate tax-cutting regime to do good for the US economy. But ironically, the debt ceiling got raised three times during his own term, sans the drama we witness whenever the Republican Party holds either of the chambers of the US Congress but not the presidency. At this point, some people won’t need any more evidence to gauge the true intentions of the right-wing bloc baying for fiscal austerity. But let us sieve through the Democratic rule for a non-partisan outlook.

During the past two decades, only two episodes stand out apropos of record debt as a function of the US economy: the Great Recession 2007-09 and the Covid-19 pandemic. While I admit Mr. Biden’s nearly $2 trillion worth of American Rescue Plan helped (in large part) fuel the current inflation, it also helped avoid a devastating recession and jumpstart a speedy recovery. It kept businesses running, people employed, and spending buoyed. Notwithstanding that the unemployment rate in America is still at a multi-decade low, the economy could very well trip into another recession as the Fed moves aggressively to blunt the pain of price increases. But insofar as projections go, it appears that the American economy would brush past a prolonged recession and manage a relatively softer landing. According to recent estimates, annualized inflation has slowed consistently for the past six months, dipping to 6.5% from a summer peak of 9%. While the Republicans tried effortlessly to channel their narrative around the economy, their embarrassing rout during the Midterm elections was a testament to the facetious nature of their claims. 

Then there was the infamous standoff in 2011. We all know how the markets got rattled; borrowing costs spiked; and why the S&P downgraded the credit rating of US debt, even though we didn’t actually breach the limit. But we rarely ask: Why did the Obama administration end up with a debt of such mammoth magnitude? The answer is obvious. The Great Recession dried up tax receipts as the economy plunged into turmoil; the social safety net programs swelled, especially as spending on unemployment benefits soared. In 2008, the federal budget deficit stood at $458.6 billion, which staggered to $1.4 trillion in the subsequent year. Despite that, it took roughly eight years for unemployment to return to normality. Had the government raised taxes or cut spending drastically, the US would have witnessed something like Great Britain.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, while America sustained spending to bolster the economy via borrowing, the Tory-led British government embarked on an austerity drive: Annual expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, was cut from 46% to 36%; spending on health infrastructure dragged down by half over the last decade. In hindsight, the difference is remarkable. While American wages have just stagnated over the course of the past 15 years, real wages in Britain have declined over the same period. While the US still contends with a rousing China for global economic superiority, Britain got recently supplanted by India (its former colony) as the fifth-largest economy in the world. The story couldn’t be any more lucid. 

Ultimately, the GOP political mumble of “adding guardrails” and “fiscal reforms” to bend the debt curve might be politically splendid, but to an economic mind, it is frankly garbage! And I have no doubt that regardless of cogent reasoning, the hardline Republicans would hold the government paralyzed – as was evident when they scrapped concessions from Mr. McCarthy in barter for his post as the House speaker. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that regardless of your disposition – Democrat or Republican, pro-spending or pro-austerity – the debt ceiling is, as aptly verbalized by Senator Ron Wyden, “not about adding new spending,” but “it’s about paying debts that the government [already] owes – debts that were incurred under presidents of both parties.”

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The Prolongation of BRICS: Impact on International World Order and Global Economy

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BRIC, coined by an economist Jim O’Neil in 2001 as an acronym for the four countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa joined in 2010 and this organization turned into BRICS. The prime goal of BRICS was to the formation of the diplomatic and economic assistance framework, and the challenges to western influence in the global economic order. The Western cordially welcomed BRICS with the earnestness. The BRICS, five major emerging economies, together represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area, inhabitant of 2.88 Billion people which is about 42% of the world’s population and accounted for a quarter of the global GDP. The enlargement of BRICS was talked on June, 2022 at the groups summit which took place in Beijing. The 2023 summit will take place in South Africa. 

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov stated that Algeria, Argentina and Iran have already applied for joining in BRICS. In contrast, Saudi Arabia, Turkey , Egypt have declared their intense interest for becoming the member of BRICS and they are already engaged in the membership process. Now the question is what outcomes or impacts may be happened in the International world order and global economy in order to the expanding of BRICS?

Russia is the second largest producer of crude oil among OPEC+ members. Russia is a self-contained of its oil production. Because of Russia-Ukraine War, America and its European allies imposed sanctions on Russia and some European countries minimized their dependency on Russian oil. China imports its oil from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, Oman, Brazil and Kuwait. China increases at 21% its imports crude oil from Russia in 2022. The  member of OPEC+ decided to reduced their oil production by 2Million barrels per day two month before and it will continue in the end of 2023. The U.S.A and other western countries aggravated. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest crude oil exporters, 11% of the world’s petroleum liquid production and has 15% of the world’s oil reserves. Recently it has declared that it will take initiatives to boost its oil production from 10 to 13 Million barrels per day. Egypt is a prominent petroleum producer and exporter. Egypt exports cotton and textiles, raw materials, chemical products and petroleum products. Egypt is a dialogue partner to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran is the world’s largest hydrocarbon Reserves in the world. Western world impose sanctions again and again. Iran is also the member of OPEC+ and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Algeria, 10th largest natural gas reserver and 6th largest gas exporter. It is also a member of OPEC+. Turkey exports motor vehicles and their parts, gold and petroleum oil. It is the world’s 7th exporters of cotton. Argentina is a major exporter of wheat and corn. 

If Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Argentina, Turkey become the member of BRICS, it will enormous impact on the World order and global economy. 

1. The sphere of influence of the oil producer countries will be strengthen. The structure of oil market in the global economy will be changed. 

2. Lula da Silva, President of Brazil suggested to make a common currency for the BRICS countries. If it takes place, a more stable currency will be created. 

3. As China, Russia, Iran have a rivalry with the U.S.A, they will make more alliances to combat the U.S.A influence in the world. 

4. As the U.S dollar is the world’s dominant currency in the global financial and monetary system, and it is the Centre of U.S.A global leadership, the monopolistic influence of Dollar will be undermined. If BRICS countries will reach an agreement to continue their trade through a common currency, De-dollarization will be accelerated. 

5. As Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others have already shown their interest to join BRICS, it will accelerate to boost BRICS global influence. Russia, China will lead collectively in the world order. 

6. Most of the countries reserve crisis will be resolved. 

7. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brazil will be able to export their oil collectively to China, India, Egypt and Turkey. China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner with more than $50 Billion. 

8. The investment of China and Russia in African continent will be extended. China is the largest trading partner of South Africa. South Africa is more advanced than any other countries of Africa because of its natural wealth and location. 

9. De-Dollarization will deteriorate the U.S.A capability to alter the behavior its opponents. If BRICS continuously expand, China will easily promote its agenda and grand strategy in the world. 

10. According to World Bank, BRICS grew at an average of 6.26 percent in 2021. On the contrary, G7 grew at 5.15%. If BRICS continues to attract other countries to join, it will emerge as a powerful force of the global leadership. The GDP is hoped to double to 50% of global GDP by 2030.

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