The US Is Defensive in Middle East


Washington Post’s article “U.S. military scrambles to confront a new reality across the Middle East” yesterday tells us that US troops in the Middle East are in trouble due the the uncertainty caused by Trump’s assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Iran conducted missile attack at US military base in Iraq but the US has not retaliated. That has made Iran and its proxies bold in using rockets and mortars to conduct smaller-scale attacks on U.S. and allied targets since then. On Feb 14 a modified Russian SA-6 surface-to-air missile was used to shoot down a Saudi aircraft over Yemen.

The article describes US troops’ lack of defense in the Middle East and believes the assassination has caused Iran to decide to drive the US out of the Middle East.

It quoted Kenneth Pollack, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, as saying that Soleimani’s death “was such a shock, so outrageous and such a break from past American behavior that Iran has basically decided it needs the U.S. out, and needs them out in real time. It’s just too dangerous for Iran to live next door to Donald Trump.”

That is the new reality across the Middle East that the US is facing.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Washington Post’s article, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/us-military-scrambles-to-confront-a-new-reality-across-the-middle-east/2020/03/07/939bfe5a-60a8-11ea-b014-4fafa866bb81_story.html.


China, Russia and Iran to hold joint naval drills from Friday


December 26, 2019 / 5:20 PM / Updated 9 hours ago

BEIJING (Reuters) – China, Iran and Russia will hold joint naval drills starting on Friday in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, China’s defense ministry said on Thursday, amid heightened tension in the region between Iran and the United States.

China will send the Xining, a guided missile destroyer, to the drills, which will last until Monday and are meant to deepen cooperation between the three countries’ navies, ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a monthly news briefing.

The drill was a “normal military exchange” between the three armed forces and was in line with international law and practices, Wu said.

It is not necessarily connected with the regional situation,” he said, without elaborating.

The Gulf of Oman is a particularly sensitive waterway as it connects to the Strait of Hormuz – through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes – which in turn connects to the Gulf.

The drills are also coming at a time of fraught tensions between the United States and Iran.

Friction has increased since last year when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six nations and re-imposed sanctions on the country, crippling its economy.

Washington has proposed a U.S.-led naval mission after several attacks in May and June on international merchant vessels, including Saudi tankers, in Gulf waters which the United States blamed on Iran. It denies the accusations.

Tension has risen in the region not only over Iran’s disputed nuclear program but also over a September attack on Saudi oil facilities blamed on Iran by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Iran also denies involvement.

The Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman are key areas for international trade and maintaining security in the waterways is an important task, Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, said on Wednesday, according to the official IRNA news agency.

This drill will take place for supporting and increasing experience in the security of international trade in the region,” he said.

China has close diplomatic, trade and energy ties with Iran.

But China also has good relations with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, meaning it has long had to tread a fine line in a part of the world where it has traditionally exerted far less sway than the United States, Russia, France or Britain.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to visit Saudi Arabia next year as it is the host of the 2020 G20 summit.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Editing by Gareth Jones and David Clarke

Source: Reuters “China, Russia and Iran to hold joint naval drills from Friday”

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


Iran, Russia, China to Hold Joint Wargames in ‘Message to the World’


Adam Kredo – November 27, 2019 1:25 PM

Iran, China, and Russia will hold in the coming weeks their first-ever joint war drills, which leaders say are meant to send a “message to the world” about increased military cooperation between the rogue countries.

The commander of Iran’s navy, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, said Wednesday that the Islamic Republic will team up with Moscow and Beijing within the next month to hold the mass war drills.

“When we talk about joint wargames, we are talking about two or more countries with a high level of relations in various political, economic and social fields, which culminate in cooperation in the military sector, with wargames usually being the highest level of such cooperation,” Khanzadi was quoted as saying in remarks to Iran’s state-controlled press.

“A joint wargame between several countries, whether on land, at sea, or in the air, indicates a remarkable expansion of cooperation among them,” the military leader said.

The joint war drills will be aimed at sending a message to the world, particularly Western nations, like the United States, that have sought to constrain Iran’s expanding military ambitions.

“The joint wargame between Iran, Russia, and China, which will hopefully be conducted next month, carries the same message to the world, that these three countries have reached a meaningful strategic point in their relations, with regard to their shared and non-shared interests, and by non-shared I mean the respect we have for one another’s national interests,” Khanzadi was quoted as saying.

The Iranian military leader emphasized the importance of performing military drills in the sea, where the Islamic Republic has been particularly troublesome for Western nations. Iranian naval vessels routinely harass American military ships and have played a role in various sabotage efforts aimed at disrupting international shipping lanes.

“The wargame seeks to deliver this message to the world that any kind of security at sea must include the interests of all concerned countries. We do not condone the kind of security that only caters to the benefits of one specific country at a specific time and which disregards the security of others,” Khanzadi said. “Seas, which are used as a platform for conducting global commerce, cannot be exclusively beneficial to certain powers.

Source: Washington Free Beacon “Iran, Russia, China to Hold Joint Wargames in ‘Message to the World’”

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

This blogger’s note: With China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Gwadar Port, and Iran, China and Russia’s joint protection of sea route in the Middle East, China’s maritime Silk Route through the Indian Ocean is secured.


Did U.S. Missile Defenses Fail During Saudi Oil Attack?


September 17, 2019

One thing is clear: The attack revealed the limits of Saudi Arabia’s seemingly sophisticated air-defense system. Riyadh in recent years has spent billions of dollars building up six battalions of U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missiles and associated radars. The Patriots didn’t stop the recent attack.

by David Axe

Follow @daxe on Twitter

The missile strikes that badly damaged a key Saudi oil facility on Sept. 14, 2019 largely remain a mystery to the public.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been at war with a Saudi-Emirati coalition since 2015, claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on two Saudi Aramco facilities, but it’s unclear that the Houthis alone possess the capacity for long-range, precision-guided strikes.

It’s possible the attacks involved far-flying drones firing small, guided munitions. The Aramco sites are around 800 miles from the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border. Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard Corps in the past has supplied the Houthis with weaponry including drones and components for ballistic missiles.

But one thing is clear. The attack revealed the limits of Saudi Arabia’s seemingly sophisticated air-defense system. Riyadh in recent years has spent billions of dollars building up six battalions of U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missiles and associated radars. The Patriots didn’t stop the recent attack.

And it wasn’t the first time Saudi Arabia’s Patriots have failed. At least five Patriots apparently missed, malfunctioned or otherwise failed when Saudi forces tried to intercept a barrage of rockets targeting Riyadh on March 25, 2018.

Houthi forces fired at least seven rockets at Saudi Arabia that night. The Saudi military launched Patriot Advanced Capability-2 missiles in an attempt to destroy the Houthi rockets in mid-air. The Saudis claimed seven of the Patriots struck their targets.

One man reportedly died after being struck by metal fragments. It’s unclear whether the fragments came from a malfunctioning Patriot, a successful intercept or a Houthi rockets striking the ground.

But amateur videos that appeared online in the aftermath of the missile skirmish indicate that many of the Patriots exploded in mid-air or veered off course. The errant missiles invoked memories of similar failures involving American-operated Patriots during the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“It’s nothing but an unbroken trail of disasters with this weapon system,” said Theodore Postol, an MIT physicist and prominent critic of U.S. missile defenses.

Riyadh seems to realize it needs better missile defenses. “Saudi Arabia has been in talks to acquire the same S-400 advanced air-defense system that Turkey recently bought from Russia,” Marc Champion wrote for Bloomberg.

The Russian weapon, though little tested in combat, has technical advantages over U.S. Patriots. It has a range of 400 kilometers (250 miles), versus the Patriot’s 160 kilometers, can destroy targets moving twice as fast and can be mounted for action in five minutes, compared with an hour for a Patriot battery. …

Russia pairs its S-400s with the smaller Pantsir-S1 system, to handle low flying and short range missiles that would slip past the larger ballistic missile defense system. Though Russia has deployed S-400s in northwestern Syria, it has used the Pantsir system to counter drone strikes.

“Ideally, the Saudis need layered defenses, including short-range point defense systems like the German Skyshield or Russian Pantsir to allow rapid engagements of small threats with cheaper systems than the massively expensive Patriot,” Justin Bronk, research fellow for air power and technology at the U.K.’s Royal United Services Institute, told Champion.

But all kinds of traditional air-defenses could struggle to keep up with small, inexpensive drones firing even smaller, cheaper precision munitions.

Here’s a cold hard reality that most people just don’t understand, including many defense-sector pundits—air defense systems, no matter how advanced and deeply integrated, aren’t magic,” Tyler Rogoway wrote at The War Zone. “They have major limitations, especially considering most primarily rely on ground-based sensors.”

We live in an age where everyone has access to high-resolution satellite imagery of nearly any point on the globe. This is something that was unthinkable even following the end of the Cold War. A single individual now has the capabilities that entire government intelligence agencies were built to produce, all on their smartphone or laptop computer. And it’s entirely free!

GPS is even more of a revolutionary capability. It’s incredible pinpoint accuracy really has become more concerning since the hobby drone industry exploded and now components to control drones via GPS are somewhat off-the-shelf in nature and are supplied from manufacturers around the globe. With these two things combined, a bad actor has both the targeting intelligence and the precision targeting capabilities available for a minuscule fraction of what they cost in the past and without any major barriers of entry.

These types of strikes don’t have to originate beyond a border, they can even originate from anywhere, including right here in the U.S. against U.S. targets. We must change our way of thinking when it comes to precision munitions and drones, and especially the imaginary line that still seems to separate them. In addition, confronting this issue just won’t be about fielding near and very costly military gear, it will also be about implementing, regulations, working with the global community and a lot of intelligence gathering. The best and cheapest way to stop any attack is to do so before they start.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.

Source: National Interest “Did U.S. Missile Defenses Fail During Saudi Oil Attack?”

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.


China prepares its ‘nuclear option’ in trade war


Published time: 17 Aug, 2019 10:26

As the trade war continues to escalate, China is becoming increasingly active in Iran and is considering retaliating with what has long been described as the country’s ‘nuclear option’.

For the first of these projects – Phase 11 of the supergiant South Pars non-associated gas field (SP11) – last week saw a statement from the chief executive officer of the Pars Oil and Gas Company (POGC) that talks had resumed with Chinese developers to advance the project. Originally the subject of an extensive contract signed by France’s Total before it pulled out due to re-imposed US sanctions on Iran, talks had been well-advanced with the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to take up the slack on development. As per the original contract, CNPC had been assigned Total’s 50.1 percent stake in the field when the French firm withdrew, giving it a total of 80.1 percent in the site, with Iran’s own Petropars Company holding the remainder. At the same time, Iran was desperate to increase the pace of development of the fields in its oil-rich West Karoun area, including North Azadegan, South Azadegan, North Yaran, South Yaran, and Yadavaran, in order to optimise oil flows ahead of further clampdowns on exports by the US.

Read more

China’s other nuclear option in trade war with US – Rare earth materials

China, though, which at that time was engaged in just the opening shots of the trade war with the US was loathe to completely disregard all US sensibilities when it came to Iran but equally saw itself as a longstanding partner of the Islamic Republic, not to mention always being cognisant of its need to ensure diversity of energy supply. At that point, China agreed a trade-off with the US that in exchange for it halting active development of SP11 it would be allowed to continue its activities in North Azadegan and would be able to go ahead with its development of Yadavaran – the second of China’s major Iran projects. China told the US that its continued involvement in North Azadegan could easily be justified to anyone else who might be interested – such as the mainstream media – on the basis that it had already spent billions of dollars developing the second phase of the 460 square kilometre field. Similarly, China said at the time, its ongoing activities on Yadavaran could be justified by dint of the fact that the original contract had been signed in good faith in 2007, way before the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and thus, legally speaking, it had every right to go ahead.

The third of China’s major as yet unfinished projects in Iran was the build-out of the Jask oil export terminal, which – crucially, particularly in the current security situation – does not lie within the Strait of Hormuz or even in the Persian Gulf, but rather in the Gulf Of Oman. Even before the new US sanctions, the Kharg export terminal was not ideal for use by tankers as the narrowness of the Strait of Hormuz means that they have to go very slowly through it. With the new sanctions in place and tit-for-tat tanker seizures regularly occurring, China would have little choice but to put at least a couple of its own warships into the Gulf to safeguard their passage or stop buying Iranian oil entirely, neither of which Beijing particularly wants to do.

So, according to the plans, a US$2 billion or so 1,000 kilometre oil pipeline will connect Guriyeh in the Shoaybiyeh-ye Gharbi Rural District, in Khuzestan Province (south-west Iran), to Jask County, in Hormozgan Province (south Iran), with any financing required over and above that provided for Iran to be made readily available from China. Also to be constructed in Jask is an initial 20 storage tanks each capable of storing 500,000 barrels of oil, and related shipping facilities, at a cost of around US$200 million. Overall, the intention is for Jask to have the capacity to store up to 30 million barrels and export one million barrels per day of crude oil. There are adjunct plans to build a large petrochemicals and refining complex in Jask as well, with the prime market for produced petchems – including gasoline, gas oil, jet fuel, sulphur, butadiene, ethylene and propylene, and mono-ethylene glycol – again being China. According to a recent comment by the director of projects at Iran’s National Petrochemical Company, Ali Mohammad Bossaqzadeh, the project would be built and run by Bakhtar Petrochemicals Holding, although ‘other foreign companies’ may take part. In fact, according to the Iran source, China has also offered to send as many engineers and other professionals required in such a project to Iran for as long as necessary.

Having said that, and aware of the leverage that it had with Iran as one of the very few countries still willing to engage in developing its fields in the midst of increasingly vigorously-imposed sanctions, China has sought deal sweeteners from Iran, and has been given them. In order for it to reactivate its development of SP11, China will get a 17.25 percent discount for nine years on the value of all gas it recovers. “This is the value of the gas as applied to CNPC’s cost-return formula against the open market valuation, and currently the net present value of the site is US$116 billion,” the Iran source told OilPrice.com. For its part, China has agreed to increase the production from its oil fields in the West Karoun area – including North Azadegan and Yadavaran – by an additional 500,000 bpd by the end of 2020. This dovetails with Iran’s plan to increase the recovery rate from these West Karoun fields that it shares with Iraq from the current 5 percent (compared to Saudi Arabia’s 50 percent). “For every one percent increase, the recoverable reserves figure would increase by 670 million barrels, or around US$34 billion in revenues with oil even at US$50 a barrel,” the Iran source said.

If there is any further pushback from the US on any of these Chinese projects in Iran, then Beijing will invoke in full force the ‘nuclear option’ of selling all or a significant part of its US$1.4 trillion holding of US Treasury Bills, with a major chunk of the paper due to be sold in September on this basis. This massive holding of these bonds – through which the US finances its economy and is an important factor both in the value of the dollar and therefore in the health of US international companies especially – has been used as a bargaining chip before by China, especially when it feels threatened. Back in 2007, just before the great financial crisis, a number of senior Chinese figures at various state-run think tanks – through which China often signals its big geopolitical threats – stated that the large-scale selling of this massive Treasury Bill holding would trigger a dollar crash, a huge spike in bond yields, the collapse of the housing market and stock market chaos.

Such a tactic would neatly fit into China’s overall strategy to have the renminbi challenge the US dollar’s status as the key global reserve currency and the prime currency for global energy transactions. “The long-planned sequencing for this was inclusion in the SDR {Special Drawing Rights] mix, which happened in 2016, increasing use as a trading currency, which followed that, use as the key currency of an international energy trading exchange, which has occurred with the creation of the renminbi-denominated Shanghai International Energy Exchange in last year, and the calls from big oil producers and other major trading nations to use the renminbi, which has been happening over the past few years,” the head of a New York-based commodities hedge fund told OilPrice.com. Only recently, Leonid Mikhelson, chief executive officer of Russian oil major, Novatek, said that future sales to China denominated in renminbi is under consideration and that US sanctions accelerate the process of Russia trying to switch away from US dollar-centric oil and gas trading and the damage from potential sanctions that go with it. “This has been discussed for a while with Russia’s largest trading partners such as India and China, and even Arab countries are starting to think about it… If they do create difficulties for our Russian banks then all we have to do is replace dollars,” he said. “The trade war between the US and China will only accelerate the process,” he added.

The trade war with the US, though, may be the very reason why this policy is not being pushed right now by China, Rory Green, Asia economist for TS Lombard told OilPrice.com last week. “With the renminbi weakening, and set to reach 7.50 to the [US] dollar level if the US imposes 25 percent tariffs on all Chinese exports, it is more difficult for China to persuade the big oil producers like Russia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, to make the switch away from the dollar,” he said. “For China as well, the timing is not quite right, as its use of Eurodollar financing is currently significant, it has a lot of dollar-denominated bonds rolling over shortly, and its balance of payments needs a relatively healthy US demand profile, but China wants to get away from the dollar system and that is the overall direction of travel,” he concluded.

This article was originally published on Oilprice.com

Source: rt.com “China prepares its ‘nuclear option’ in trade war”

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


Is the US Even a Nominal World Leader?


Defense One’s article “No One’s Joining Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ Coalition” may be an answer to the question, full text of which is reblogged below:

No One’s Joining Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ Coalition

About that Counter-Iran Coalition…

By Jon B. Alterman

The Trump administration called for help, but Washington’s friends have shrugged and calculated it is safer to stay away from “maximum pressure.” There is a better way.

What if the United States threw a party and no one came? It is finding out in the Persian Gulf, where Trump administration’s calls to unite to counter Iranian aggression are being met with caution, circumspection and shrugs.

The reason is not fear of the Iranians. Instead, it is a calculus by Washington’s allies and partners that they may be safer staying far away from whatever the United States really intends and what they might be drawn into.

The Iranian government seems to be pursuing a policy that keeps tensions in the Gulf simmering but not boiling. The goal is to create a crisis but not a war. Iran is trying to force the world to engage with it and seeking to thumb its nose at the U.S.“maximum pressure” campaign that threatens any multinational that does business with the Islamic Republic.

That Iran has any hope of success is a historic change. In years past, the United States would be expected to use its dominant position in the Gulf — built upon its naval base in Bahrain and the Fifth Fleet — to rustle up an alliance. With tens of thousands of sailors, more than one dozen ships, and pervasive intelligence capabilities, the United States would bear the heaviest burden but allies also would contribute ships, aircraft, and personnel. The show of force would matter, but even more important would be the show of unity and resolve.

But this is not years past. Tweeting on June 24, President Trump argued that each country should look after its own ships in the Gulf, arguing “We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!” The next day, he tweeted a warning to Iran that “Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force,” implicitly shoving allies out from under a U.S. security umbrella.

The president’s approach was soon reflected in policy. After Iran seized a British oil tanker on July 19, Secretary of State Pompeo shrugged off a U.S. obligation to respond, saying, “The responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships.” That same day, U.S. Central Command announced it was forming a multinational maritime coalition called Operation Sentinel. But nobody is coming to the Operation Sentinel party. The UK, reportedly already stung from being kept in the dark about abortive U.S. plans to strike Iran earlier in the month, set out to create its own Gulf coalition. The UK had had more luck than the United States is at this point, eliciting clear interest from France, Italy, and Denmark (although newly installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have a very different concept in mind). The country most clearly in the U.S. camp is South Korea, which has limited ability to project naval forces into the Gulf but is deeply beholden to the Trump administration as the United States pursues negotiations with North Korea.

On Thursday, just hours after taking office, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper faced Pentagon reporters who pressed him about the competing U.S. and European efforts. “I describe as complimentary, if you will,” he said, spinning the situation favorably, “whether we do that as one big group or as subgroups.”

But it really does matter how this is organized. The U.S. proposal is reportedly for the United States to share intelligence, while relying on countries to protect their own ships. As such, it represents the worst of all possible worlds. The United States seeks to lash partner countries to U.S. policy without any extension of U.S. protection. If the United States has a military confrontation with Iran, associated countries would face guilt by association and effectively have to go along for the ride. With little confidence in either the U.S. approach of “maximum pressure” nor in Iranian restraint, they justifiably fear things could get ugly fast.

Even absent direct U.S.-Iran hostilities, partner countries aligning with the U.S. and with limited capacity to defend themselves would make their ships more vulnerable to Iranian attack. For the Iranians, provoking weaker powers is far safer than provoking more powerful ones, and singling out smaller countries serves the dual purpose of avoiding warfare while deterring others from uniting with the Americans.

Seen from an Iranian perspective, this turn of events is delightful. The U.S. inability to mount a coalition in the Gulf helps split the United States from its allies and weakens international solidarity more broadly. It encourages the Russians and Chinese even more. Three countries that essentially have no allies are thus able to level the playing field after struggling for decades with broad U.S.-led coalitions.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was surely right when he said on Thursday, “A strong network of like-minded nations that are willing and able to fight together is an advantage that our adversaries do not possess.” He was also right when he continued, “But this means that allies and partners must contribute more equitably to our shared security.”

The problem is trying to treat the security environment in the Gulf as a transaction. It is not. Security in the region affects global security and the global economy, and the United States’ ability to lead regional security efforts over decades has advanced U.S. interests the Gulf and around the globe. One can make a reasonable argument that, over time, other countries should take the lead for some security responses, and the U.S. role should shift. Yet, doing so suddenly at a time of rising tensions invites chaos, torpedoes U.S. influence, and advances the interests of U.S. adversaries. The immediate task is to work in solidarity with others, and the longer-term task is to thrust more responsibility on them. The administration’s approach has the order of operations reversed, and doing so undermines both objectives.

Jon B. Alterman holds the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and directs the Middle East program at CSIS. Full bio

Source: Defense One “No One’s Joining Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ Coalition”

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


The Central Asian nodes in Belt and Road project


Atul Aneja
June 22, 2019 18:58 IST
Updated: June 22, 2019 18:59 IST

BRI map

Ahead of the recently concluded summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Chinese state media provided extensive coverage of Beijing’s recent forays into Central Asia, including into Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

On its website, the state-run Xinhua news agency splashed pictures of the Irkeshtam pass, one of China’s gateways to Kyrgyzstan, a few days before planes ferrying leaders of the eight SCO member countries, apart from observers, flew into Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital.

The lofty Irkeshtam pass, perched at a height of 2,950 m, is a geographic marvel. It is a deep gorge at the junction of the southern edge of the Tian Shan and the mighty Pamir mountains. From its impressive elevation, the pass commands several trade routes that jostle their way towards the steppes of Central Asia.

Re-imagining an ancient route

One of them weaves its way from Kashgar, a major trade node along the ancient silk route in China’s mountainous Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). This route heads westwards into the bone-dry Tarim basin.

There, the sands of the forbidding Taklamakan desert, a graveyard in the past of traders and their fellow travelers who once dared to caravan along the ancient silk road, overwhelm the area. On either side, the majestic Kunlun and the Tian Shan mountains wall the route, as it opens towards the Irkeshtam pass.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the ancient route towards the Irkeshtam pass will now provide the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a critical node into Central Asia. The CPEC runs from the Arabian Sea coast at Gwadar towards Kashgar, passing through the extremely challenging terrain of Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

Across the Irkeshtam border post, which straddles the pass, the road heads towards the northwest in the direction of the Kyrgyz city of Osh, 250 km away. Osh is located inside the famed Fergana valley. Its abundance of fruit and grain is legendary. The first Mughal emperor Babur, who was born in the nearby Uzbek city of Andijan, spent time in Osh, where he built a mosque atop the Sulayman mountain, a world heritage site.

The road from Osh leads westwards towards the Uzbek border, which is only 5 km away. Osh is also the fulcrum of other strategic routes that the Chinese are opening up in the region as part of the BRI. A brand new north-south motorway will soon link Osh to capital Bishkek in the north. Once the 250 km-road, being built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), is completed by 2021, the spanking new highway will connect Osh with Kazakhstan’s Almaty. Eventually, the $698-million project, bankrolled by China’s Exim Bank, will interlink Pakistan, China and Kyrgyzstan, with strategic nodes extending to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

Focussing on Osh, China’s telecom giant, Huawei Technologies, has recently unveiled an ambitious plan. In partnership with China Telecom, it plans to transform Bishkek and Osh into “smart cities”, powered by fast Internet and cyber monitoring systems.

Apart from highways and power projects, China is concentrating on railways in its bid to open up Central Asia and beyond as part of BRI. For instance, Osh sits along China’s West passage-3 railway project. After passing through Kashgar and Osh via the Irkeshtam pass, the railway spears towards Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, and beyond.

Separately, West Passage 1 enters Kazakhstan through Alashankou in Xinjiang. From there it hooks up with Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway and enters Belarus before reaching out to the European Union.

Similarly, the exit point of West Passage 2 is Xinjiang’s Alashankou. Kazakhstan, in this case, becomes the gateway to Turkmenistan, setting the stage for a railway link-up with Iran, Turkey and possibly Europe. China is also working on East Passage 1. This route connects Erenhot in its Inner Mongolia province, with the Trans-Siberian railway on the way to Europe.

All cross-border initiatives on infrastructure feed into China’s ‘go-global’ policy. This is a joint initiative of China’s central planners and provincial administrations to shift sections of Chinese capital and supply chains overseas.

(Atul Aneja is The Hindu’s Beijing correspondent.)

Source: The Hindu “The Central Asian nodes in Belt and Road project”

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