Pakistan PM Imran rejects CPEC’s criticism as ‘nonsense’


Anwar Iqbal January 24, 2020

In an interview with CNBC, Prime Minister Imran Khan explained that his government was now creating special economic zones to attract investment. — Screengrab courtesy CNBC

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan has rejected the criticism of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as ‘nonsense,” insisting that the project “is really helping” the country.

In an interview to a US news channel CNBC, shown on Wednesday night, Mr Khan also urged US President Donald Trump and the United Nations to mediate between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.

When the Chinese came to help us with this Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and CPEC, we were really at the rock bottom,” said the prime minister when the interviewer, Hadley Gamble, asked if the project was a debt-trap for Pakistan.

So, we are really grateful to the Chinese that they came and rescued us,” he added.

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They came and pumped in, not just they gave us loans – and the loans, by the way are barely five or six percent of the total portfolio,” said Mr Khan, rejecting the suggestion that the CPEC was a debt-trap. “This is nonsense.”

Terms Kashmir far more serious a problem than people realise

The Chinese, he said, actually helped Pakistan with investment and because of them the country now “has an opportunity to attract foreign investment”.

The prime minister explained that his government was now creating special economic zones to attract investment. “We just opened two and we are opening more where we are giving special concessions to industries,” he said.

Mr Khan said the CPEC was “beyond BRI as China was also helping Pakistan in technology transfer. They are especially helping us in agriculture because Chinese technology (can boost) development (in this sector) much better than Pakistan’s as “our productivity is very low”.

The CPEC, he said, was also teaching Pakistanis the skills they needed to benefit from the CPEC projects. “They are building skill centers in Pakistan. So, they are helping us and we are grateful,” the prime minister said.

Earlier this week, senior US diplomat Alice Wells once again urged Pakistan to rethink its wholeheartedly embrace of China’s economic initiative. Speaking at a think-tank in Islamabad, she alleged that there was no transparency in the CPEC projects, and warned that the country’s debt burden was growing due to the Chinese financing.

Both Chinese and Pakistani officials have rejected the US criticism as misleading but the prime minister’s remarks further cemented the impression that Islamabad remains committed to the CPEC.

The prime minister spoke with CNBC in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the annual summit conference of the World Economic Forum.

When the interviewer asked how useful could the US president be in settling the Kashmir dispute, Mr Khan said: “I can’t say what would be the outcome but for me it is important to try my best because Kashmir is a far more serious problem than people realise.”

This is serious because there are two nuclear-armed countries,” the prime minister said. “That’s why I want President Trump, head of the most powerful country in the world — he should intervene right now. United Nations, or President Trump through the UN at least.”

Mr Khan explained that the possibility of an India-Pakistan conflict had increased because “India has been taken over by an extremist ideology, which is called Hindutva or the RSS.”

The prime minister said that the founding fathers of RSS were “inspired by the Nazis” and the Nazi concept of “racial purity” and “believed in ethnic cleansing, of Muslims.”

Mr Khan said that the ideology which was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the group that was declared a terrorist organisation three times by previous Indian governments had now taken over India.

Responding to another question, he said the people of Kashmir, through a referendum could decide whichever country they wanted to join.

Now, that disputed territory has been annexed by India, and, they are trying to change the demography of (the) people of Kashmir, which according to the fourth Geneva Convention is a war crime,” he added.

The prime minister also expressed concern about ongoing protests in India over a controversial citizenship bill passed last December that many say is set to disproportionately affect Muslims.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2020

Source: DAWN “Imran rejects CPEC’s criticism as ‘nonsense’

Note: This is DAWN’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


China sees Myanmar as stepping stone to Indian Ocean, energy security


Chinese President Xi Jinping will begin a two-day trip to Southeast Asian nation on Friday with hopes high he can help finalise details of a US$1.3 billion deal to develop Kyaukpyu port

But China’s growing presence in Indian Ocean is fuelling concerns in New Delhi

Laura Zhou

Published: 5:18pm, 15 Jan, 2020

Updated: 7:26pm, 15 Jan, 2020

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming trip to Myanmar is expected to help Beijing boost its presence in the Indian Ocean, especially if a deal can be finalised on the development of the China-funded Kyaukpyu port.

China’s ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai, said on Sunday that Xi was expected to oversee the signing of several deals during a two-day visit that starts on Friday, including possibly putting the final piece of the puzzle in the US$1.3 billion port deal, negotiations for which have been going on for several years.

Once completed, the facility on the Bay of Bengal will provide Beijing with a direct link to oil supplies from the Middle East, as Kyaukpyu is at one end of a massive oil and natural gas pipeline network that runs all the way to Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan province. (underlined by this reblogger)

That direct link will provide an alternative route for China’s energy imports avoiding the Malacca Strait, which links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea but has become a flashpoint for Sino-Indian maritime rivalry.

Kyaukpyu is at one end of a massive oil and natural gas pipeline network that runs all the way to Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan province. Photo: AFP

The development of Kyaukpyu is part of Beijing’s wider plan to expand its footprint in South Asia, which has seen it invest heavily in Indian Ocean ports through its Belt and Road Initiative, much to the concern of New Delhi.

Archana Atmakuri, a research analyst at the National University of Singapore, said Beijing had a clear ambition in the region.

The port development projects, be they in Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Kyaukphyu in Myanmar or Chittagong in Bangladesh, are all happening in India’s backyard, and this feeds into China’s encirclement strategy towards India,” she said.

In 2015, a consortium led by Chinese state-owned Citic won the bid to develop the port in central Rakhine state at an estimated cost of US$7 billion. However, in 2018, the National League for Democracy – Myanmar’s ruling party – slashed the budget to US$1.3 billion amid concerns it would be unable to service the debt.

Xi’s visit comes amid growing rivalry between the world’s two most populous nations in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, an area that Delhi regards as its backyard.

Why the Andaman Sea is China and India’s new maritime flashpoint

Besides funding port projects in Hambantota and Gwadar, Beijing last month gifted two Type 053 frigates to Bangladesh, after giving a similar vessel to the Sri Lankan navy in June.

India will have a close eye on the visit,” Sampa Kundu, an assistant professor at Amity University in Uttar Pradesh, India, said.

But New Delhi has its own approach towards Myanmar.”

Atmakuri agreed, saying that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India had made more effort to cultivate ties with its Asian neighbours, such as working with Japan on a container terminal in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and supporting the development of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport project that is designed to connect the east Indian port of Kolkata to Sittwe port in Rakhine.

Xi Jinping is expected to meet Myanmar’s military chief General Min Aung Hlaing during his visit. Photo: AFP

Jabin Jacob, an associate professor at Shiv Nadar University in India, said tensions between Delhi and Beijing were likely to grow in the region.

Despite its limited resources, India’s navy is operationally superior to the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean but the latter’s ability for grey zone operations and military diplomacy in the region suggests the balance is likely to shift in China’s favour,” he said.

Atmakuri said that as competition between the two nations intensified, concerns were growing among smaller countries that they might be forced to pick sides.

The question to ask is how small and middle powers react to this,” she said, “I think countries are preparing for the competition in the Indian Ocean.”

Xi will be the first Chinese president to visit Myanmar since 2001. During his trip he is expected to meet government leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and military chief General Min Aung Hlaing.

Source: SCMP “China sees Myanmar as stepping stone to Indian Ocean, energy security”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Indian IT Workers’ Broken American Dream


US isolationism has made it difficult for Chinese scientists and engineers trained in the US to find jobs there, but they are welcome back in China as China’s transition from export- and investment-geared growth to innovation-, creation- and consumption-led growth needs their talent.

Unlike China, India, however, mainly export services especially IT labor to the US. As a result, US isolationism is breaking Indian IT workers’ American dream.

Asia Times’ article “Indian IT workers facing massive layoffs” tells India’s difficulties in exporting its IT services to the US due to US protectionism.

It describes the massive layoffs facing Indian IT workers.

Indian IT workers are facing massive layoffs. Industry veteran T V Mohandas Pai predicts 30,000 to 40,000 IT workers will be fired before March 31, 2020.

Indian companies in the US have difficulties to obtain visa for their employment of Indian IT workers.

The article says, “After the Trump administration tightened its visa norms, the number of rejections of H-1B visa applicants has risen four-fold from 6% in 2015 to nearly 24% this year.”

Perhaps, India has to switch to exports of talent to China which needs lots of talent for the realization of its China dream.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Asia Times’ article, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/11/article/indian-it-workers-facing-massive-layoffs/.


India’s ‘Act East’ policy falls flat


By Zhang Hao

November 21, 2019

When 16 nations met early this month at a trade summit in Bangkok, hoping to iron out the terms of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) through extensive negotiations, India became the only exception with its surprising withdrawal from the regional trade deal.

Officially launched in 2012, the RCEP negotiations brought together the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and six other trade partners in the region, namely China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. India’s abrupt decision left the mega free-trade pact likely to be signed without it in 2020, as 15 participating countries concluded their text-based discussions.

Within a few months of taking office in May 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shifted the “Look East Policy,” which was implemented in the 1990s, to an “Act East Policy,” claiming the latter was more “progressive” than the former in terms of India’s integration into the Asia-Pacific region.

Analysts thought the new policy was a pragmatic diplomatic strategy in response to the new global political and economic situation after the end of the Cold War. India’s ambition was to achieve its strategic goals by increasing cooperation with Southeast and East Asian countries in such areas as politics, economy and security, they said.

Five years on, India is yet to match its words and ambitions with real action. With the Act East Policy below its expectations, India is again facing hard realities.

Behind Act East Policy

In 2015, India launched a new Maritime Security Strategy (IMSS-2015) to complement the Act East Policy. The strategy incorporates the Andaman Sea connecting India and Southeast Asian countries into the concept of the “Indian Ocean Region,” thus raising its position in India’s diplomatic and geopolitical priorities to the regional level of core concerns.

At the same time, India has made the Asia-Pacific region, especially East and Southeast Asian countries, one of its hot spots for the first time, with its level of geographical focus listed as only next to those around the Indian Ocean Region.

In recent years, India’s foreign trade has been growing. According to data released by the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Asian nations account for nearly 49% of its overall foreign trade, of which trade with East Asia accounts for about 23% of its total trade volume, while its trade with the United States amounts to 20.18%, followed by 19.26% with Europe, 9.56% with Africa, and 0.92% with the Commonwealth of Independent States. In other words, imports from and exports to East Asia have already taken up the largest share of India’s overall foreign trade.

India’s reasons for putting more diplomatic priority on East Asia are more in the interests of economic relations and other factors, rather than only limited to maritime exchanges.

Under the leadership of Modi’s government, India has been actively engaged in diplomatic and maritime exchanges with governments in other countries, especially the Pacific region. As part of the Act East Policy, it has increased diplomatic and maritime cooperation with all East Asian countries.

Limitations of Act East Policy

Since 2015, India has carried out joint maritime-law enforcement patrols and military exercises with ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and held maritime military exercises involving 16 countries in 2016 and 2018. In East Asia, India has also established maritime security cooperation with Japan. In 2016, it invited Japan and the United States to participate in the Malabar naval exercise. The Act East Policy has achieved relatively fruitful results in the military and defense fields.

In contrast to the great progress in the field of defense and security cooperation, important economic agreements signed between India and East Asian countries are rather scarce. So far, India has only signed a memorandum of cooperation on oceans and fisheries with South Korea. The two sides said in their joint statement that they would encourage more maritime cooperation and seek further partnership in the shipbuilding industry. It can be said that India has been hesitant in implementing the Act East Policy and has not done enough in cultural and economic exchanges and strategic coordination.

India’s withdrawal from the RCEP again reflects the limitation of the piecemeal Act East Policy. Given India’s original intention of comprehensive engagement and the small economic progress it has made apart from defense affairs, its indecision in economic cooperation was not only derived from its national strength, but also a testament to its lack of confidence. After all, economic cooperation means opening up the Indian market and that the competitiveness of Indian domestic companies will be tested.

Cooperation, not confrontation

It is fair to say that India’s inclination toward the world’s largest economic engine through its aggressive Act East Policy is quite reasonable. However, the limitation and confrontation characteristics of the policy have gotten in the way of its achievements. It’s even more so this year as the United States terminated preferential trade status for India under the Generalized System of Preference (GSP). More than 2,900 kinds of Indian exports to the United States, worth about US$5.6 billion, no longer enjoyed preferential tariff reductions.

Coupled with the stalemate of the domestic economic reforms, India’s annualized GDP growth rate has now fallen below 6%. If it wants to get out of that predicament, India must come up with a more transformative and sincere cooperation policy.

The limitation of the Act East Policy to defense cooperation adds “aggression” to the policy. But truly to integrate into the Asia-Pacific economic circle, India must cooperate with East Asia and Southeast Asian countries in various fields such as culture, economy and politics, although this requires India’s domestic economy to be ready for opening up. Nevertheless, as the opportunities outweigh the challenges, India should take the initiative to seek changes to the current situation. Only cooperation can bring a win-win result. Otherwise, the vision of the Act East Policy can only turn into an illusion.

(This article was first published on Asia Times Chinese. Translated by Guo Fengqing and Xu Yuenai.)

Source: Asia Times “India’s ‘Act East’ policy falls flat”

Note: This is Asia Times’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Politically Scared by but Economically Want to Benefit from China’s Rise


That is why Japan and Australia join China-led RCEP though they are scared by China’s rise.

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott seems more scared by than desiring to benefit from China’s rise so that according to news 18.com’s report “RCEP ‘Looks Like Trade Arm’ of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Says Former Australian PM Tony Abbott”, he is unhappy that China’s success in forming RCEP supplements China’s Belt and Road initiative to facilitate China’s economic expansion in the areas to China’s west through win-win cooperation.

If he was Australian PM perhaps he would not allow Australia to join RCEP, however current Australian PM, though scared by China’s rise and wants to contain China along with the US and Japan, wants, on the other hand, to benefit from China’s rise so that Australia will willingly become a RCEP member.

Abbott could only call Indian PM Modi to tell India not to join RCEP. Modi has refused to join RCEP but not because of Abbott’s persuasion but out of India’s own interests. However, Modi is shortsighted as his refusal to join RCEP and BRI, in the long run, will make India unable benefit from the integration of Asian economy through BRI and RCEP.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on news 18.com’s report, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.news18.com/news/world/rcep-looks-like-trade-arm-of-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-says-former-australian-pm-2394459.html.


RCEP trade deal can take effect without India, Thailand confirms


China, Japan, ASEAN and others to write up treaty for ratification by June

MASAYUKI YUDA, Nikkei staff writer

November 08, 2019 18:09 JST

Photo Thai, Indian PMs

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, left, with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. It is unclear whether India will return to the RCEP talks. © AP

BANGKOK — A historic Asia-Pacific trade pact may come into force without one of the biggest participants — a hesitant India — a top Thai official indicated on Friday.

“The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership can take effect after at least six countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and four other participating nations ratify it,” said Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations in Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce.

She said she expects RCEP to launch in 2021.

Sixteen nations — the 10 ASEAN states plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India — had been aiming to conclude the pact at an RCEP Summit held this past Monday.

India, however, put up a last-minute fight for safeguards, in view of its large trade deficits with other members — especially China. New Delhi’s resistance stalled the process, but Auramon confirmed there is still a way forward with or without India.

The Indian government has sent mixed signals since the contentious summit, hinting it intends to completely drop out but also suggesting it is open to further negotiations. The Thai director-general emphasized that India is still an RCEP member, but also said “RCEP members do not have a timeline to resume talks with India.”

The 15 other nations, having concluded talks on all 20 chapters of the agreement during the summit period, have decided to go ahead and introduce legislation toward ratification. This process is expected to take until next June, according to Auramon.

The participants plan to review the RCEP agreement every five years, she revealed.

Even without India, Auramon said RCEP would still be the largest trade pact in history.

But the new bloc would be much smaller than envisioned, covering 2.2 billion people rather than 3.6 billion. Its gross domestic product, which would have accounted for about one-third of global GDP, would be down to 29% of the worldwide figure.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review “RCEP trade deal can take effect without India, Thailand confirms”

Note: This is Nikkei Asian Review’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


India rejects China-backed Asian trade deal, as others move ahead


Panu Wongcha-um, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Liz Lee

November 4, 2019 / 12:26 PM / Updated 15 hours ago

BANGKOK (Reuters) – China joined 14 countries on Monday in agreeing terms for what could be the world’s biggest trade pact, but India pulled out at the last minute on the grounds that the deal would hurt its farmers, businesses, workers and consumers.

Photo Modi

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives for a special lunch on sustainable development on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bnagkok, Thailand, November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The Sino-U.S. trade war and rising protectionism have given new impetus to years of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which brings together the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Members said the deal would be signed next year after the 15 countries without India reached agreement in Bangkok on the text and market access issues.

Against the backdrop of a fast-changing global environment, the completion of the RCEP negotiations will demonstrate our collective commitment to an open trade and investment environment across the region,” the countries said in a statement.

They opened the door to India potentially joining them later, if the issues it has with the deal are resolved.

But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he had to take into account the interests of Indian people.

When I measure the RCEP Agreement with respect to the interests of all Indians, I do not get a positive answer,” Modi said in a speech in Bangkok, according to a government note.

Neither the Talisman of Gandhiji nor my own conscience permit me to join RCEP,” he said, in a reference to “father of the nation” Mahatma Gandhi’s maxim to always think of the poorest in society in a situation of doubt.

INDIA-CHINA RIVALRY

India has been worried that the agreement, which requires the gradual elimination of tariffs, would open its markets to a flood of cheap Chinese goods and agricultural produce from Australia and New Zealand that would harm local producers.

Longstanding rivals China and India, who fought a border war in 1962, also clashed verbally in recent days over India’s decision to formally revoke the constitutional autonomy of the disputed Muslim majority state of Kashmir.

Even without India, the countries in the RCEP bloc account for nearly a third of global gross domestic product, but its departure means they have less than a third of the world’s population instead of around half.

While I’m pleased that the 15 were able to conclude, it is a pity India proved unable to rise to the occasion. It was a massive missed opportunity,” said Deborah Elms of the Asian Trade Center in Singapore.

In the meantime, this is excellent news for trade and Asia,” she said, noting that there was still time for India to sign.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said: “Whenever India is ready they are welcome to come on board.”

An advantage for the other countries of having relative heavyweight India in the trade pact would have been less domination by China, particularly at a time they see the United States as a less reliable trade and security partner.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration sent a lower level delegation this year than it has previously to the back-to-back East Asian Summit and U.S.-ASEAN Summit.

Because of the downgrade in the U.S. delegation, officials from only three of the 10 regional countries joined the usual U.S.-ASEAN meeting.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told a business meeting on the sidelines of the summit that the Trump administration was “extremely engaged and fully committed” to the region.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien brought an invitation to a summit from Trump himself and pleased some Southeast Asian leaders by criticizing Chinese actions in the disputed South China Sea.

But diplomats and analysts said the message from Washington was clear.

Doubts have been raised in a more serious way about the Trump administration engaging and this may also play into the hands of other superpowers in pushing their own agendas,” said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a former Thai national security adviser.

Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta and Manoj Kumar in New Delhi, Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Alex Richardson

Source: Reuters “India rejects China-backed Asian trade deal, as others move ahead”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.