December 16, 2017

Russia, China Grow Closer As The New Silk Road Unfolds

By ZeroHedge - Dec 15, 2017, 11:00 AM CST

China's Belt and Road Initiative heralds a new era with mega infrastructure projects dotting the landscape...

If you are looking for the latest breakthroughs in trans-Eurasian geo-economics, you should keep an eye on the East – the Russian Far East. One interesting project is the new state-of-the-art $1.5 billion Bystrinsky plant. Located about 400 kilometers from the Chinese border by rail and tucked inside the Trans-Baikal region of Siberian, it is now finally open for business.

This mining and processing complex, which contains up to 343 million tonnes of ore reserves, is a joint venture between Russian and Chinese companies. Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s leading mining group and one of the world’s largest producers of nickel and palladium, has teamed up with CIS Natural Resources Fund, established by President Vladimir Putin, and China’s Highland Fund.

But then, this is just the latest example of Russian and Chinese cooperation geared around the New Silk Roads or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Beijing is the world’s largest importer of copper and iron ore, and virtually the entire output from Bystrinsky will go to the world’s second largest economy.

Naturally, to cope with production, a massive new road and rail network has been rolled out, as well as substantial infrastructure, in the heart of this wilderness. Yet there is another major BRI initiative about 1,000km east of Bystrinsky. Work started on the Amur River Bridge, or Heilongjiang as the Chinese call it, in 2016 and the road and rail links should be finished in 2019.

The project is being developed by Heilongjiang Bridge Company, a Russia-China joint venture, along a crucial stretch of the Russian-Chinese border. It will also be part of a huge trade corridor, which will transport iron ore to China from the Kimkan mine, owned by Hong Kong’s IRC Ltd, in Russia.

The Amur River Bridge, linking Heihe, in Heilongjiang province, with Blagoveshchesnk in the Russian Far East, is a natural part of the New Silk Roads program. It is well connected to one of BRI six major corridors – the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor, or CMREC, via the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way to Vladivostok.

CMREC’s additional importance is that it will connect BRI with the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union, or EAEU, as well as the Mongolian Steppe Road program. CMREC has two key links. One involves China’s Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei to Hohhot before winding on to Mongolia and Russia. The other is from China’s Dalian, Shenyang, Changchun, Harbin and Manzhouli to Chita in Russia, where the Bystrinsky plant is located.

Numerous aspects of the Russian-Chinese intranet were extensively discussed at the Third Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September. CMREC involves closer cooperation, especially in energy, mineral resources, high-tech manufacturing, agriculture and forestry. Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang had already announced even closer economic cooperation with Russia, including a $10 billion China-Russia Investment Cooperation Fund in yuan for BRI and EAAU projects.

Monetary integration

Part of this will include Russian-Chineseinvestment funds, known as Dakaitaowa, or “to open a matryoshka doll”. Monetary integration and energy cooperation are all part of an ambitious Russian-Chinese package. This will allow trade to be settled in yuan, instead of U.S. dollars, in Moscow via the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Products promoted under the “Made in Russia” brand are bound to get a boost.Related: Struggling Venezuela Launches Tender To Buy U.S. Crude

According to the China General Administration of Customs, Russia continues to be the country’s leading crude oil supplier, exporting more than one million barrels per day, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Angola. Exports of Russian oil to China have more than doubled during the past six years.

Last month, the Russian parliament approved the draft of a conservative 2018-2020 Russian federal budget at $279 billion. This included increased spending in the social sector, a higher minimum wage, and increased salaries for teachers and healthcare workers.

Manufacturing in Russia has actually grown in absolute terms during the past decade along with a slight rise in GDP. Contrary to Western perceptions, energy revenue in Russia amounts to only around 30 percent of the federal budget. In absolute terms, it actually fell from 2014 to 2016, while non-oil and gas income has increased steadily since 2009.

Those were the days when Saudi Arabia and the Gulf petro-monarchies were dumping excess capacity on the oil market in a price war that was bound to ruin Russia’s finances. The draft budget assumes the price of oil will stay around at least $40.80 a barrel during the next few years. In fact, it may actually rise from its current $61.03 for the OPEC basket. Of course, that would boost Russia’s reserves.

Natural resources

As for exports, oil accounts for around 26 percent of Russia’s GDP. Oil and gas as a percentage of total exports fell during the past two years from 70 percent to 47 percent, but they are still the country’s top export money earners. When you add other commodities, such as iron, steel, aluminum and copper, revenue from natural resources come to more than 75 percent of Russia’s total exports.

But the key problem ahead for the country is the debt of provincial governments, and not defense, which is much lower than during Gorbachev’s reign in the late 1980s. Still, the integration of BRI and EAEU now offers excellent opportunities for Russia.

To put this into context, we have to go back to the 1689 Treaty of Nerchisk at a time when Manchus, an ethnic minority in China and the people from whom Manchuria derives its name, were deeply concerned about Cossack incursions into their lands.Related: Is The Oil Glut Set To Return?

Nerchisk was the first Chinese treaty with a European power, and it safeguarded borders and regulated relations between the two neighbors for nearly two centuries. For the first time, Russians could trade directly with the Middle Kingdom and negotiate as equals. No Russian or Manchu was spoken, but Latin, via two Jesuit interpreters. They were well positioned in the Qing court by supplying the Kangxi emperor with weapons, as well as advanced courses in geometry and astronomy.

Century of humiliation

Now, compare this with the “unequal treaties” of the 19th century with England, France, the United States and Germany, known as the “century of humiliation” in China. It is true that Russia gobbled up Chinese lands back then, as well as securing the Amur basin and the eastern side of the Sikhote-Alin mountains, which denied the country access to the Sea of Japan.

At the time, the Qing dynasty was helpless. Everything was later formalized by, well, treaties. China lost what was known as Outer Manchuria and Eastern Tartary. Today this whole region is known as Primorsky Krai, Russia’s Maritime Province. Then in 2006, President Putin solemnly announced the resolution of all border disputes with China along the Amur. Beijing de facto agreed.

With the integration of BRI and the EAEU, Russia has a great chance of fulfilling part of its Pacific Destiny, first envisaged when the Trans-Siberian rail link was finished in 1905. Today, that vision is alive with gold and timber in the mountains north of the Amur, fish in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea, and gas reserves from Sakhalin island all part of a modern export chain.

By Zerohedge

Concern Grows In Pakistan Over Cases Of Disappearance



December 14, 2017

Diaa Hadid


For one Pakistani mother, sunburn signals her desperation to find her son.

Zarjan Atta rode rickshaws and buses for four days on desert roads, deepening and reddening her brown skin, as she traveled from her village to Karachi, Pakistan's southern port mega-city.

That's where her son Nawaz, 23, was living with relatives and studying at Karachi University. Her relatives say armed men dragged him from their flat on Oct. 28. They were in civilian clothes.

They pushed the women and children into a room. They warned: If you speak, you'll be next.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan counted 728 alleged disappearances last year. Since 2001, the group estimates that up to 10,000 people have gone missing, with nearly 3,000 still unaccounted for. And this, says Zohra Yusuf, a commission board member, is a conservative estimate.

Other organizations present wildly different numbers. Most conservatively, the government-run commission of inquiry into missing persons says 1,498 people are unaccounted for. Activists say many families of missing persons do not approach the commission.

Some families fear coming forward, and Yusuf says she can't blame them. It is rare for the police to issue missing persons reports, she says. Usually that happens only when a rights activist or journalist is present.

A friend of Nawaz Atta waits in a police station in Karachi to report his disappearance. She covers her face to avoid being identified. (NPR)

Farhatullah Babar, a senator who advocates on behalf of the missing, says the military has continuously disappeared Pakistanis since it joined the U.S. in fighting al-Qaida after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. At first, suspected al-Qaida militants and insurgents from Balochistan – a province where the army is battling separatists — were targeted. But the targets, he says, have expanded.

Four middle-class, city-based bloggers who criticized the military vanished for several weeks last December and January. They were released weeks later. Pakistan's urban elites are rarely touched by disappearances, making these cases particularly shocking.

A fifth man, Samar Abbas, who advocated for Pakistan's Shiite minority, was also taken at the same time. He remains missing.

Pakistan's government and military denied holding the bloggers.

The most recent known case of disappearance involves Raza Khan, 40, who advocated for peace between India and Pakistan. Local media reported that a man took Khan from his home in Lahore on Dec. 2. His brother said the abduction came after Khan engaged in a heated political discussion at a public event.

It is these sorts of cases that have prompted increased worry about who is being taken, and why.

Nawaz Atta had been documenting cases of disappeared people from Balochistan, a province bordering Iran and Afghanistan and roiled by a years-long separatist insurgency, before he was picked up. Atta did that work in his capacity as the information secretary for a group called the Baloch Human Rights Organization.

His friends say he was not involved in violence and was not an insurgent.

An army spokesman did not respond to NPR's repeated requests for comment.

Retired Brig. Haris Nawaz, who often provides insight into the military's thinking for journalists, says no Pakistani should ever criticize the army, which is under pressure to end the insurgency in Balochistan.

China is building a trade corridor through the province to the Arabian Sea. The corridor could transform Pakistan – but "unless Balochistan is peaceful," the brigadier says, "our effort will never be successful."

The stakes are exceptionally high. "I would say this is very defining moment of Pakistan," he says. "We are economically weak and this is our road to economic prosperity."

Even reporting on the disappeared can carry deadly risk. In 2011, a Human Rights Commission researcher investigating disappearances in Balochistan went missing.

"His tortured body was found about seven or eight months later," the commission's Yusuf says.

For many who are freed, there is fear in speaking out.

"Because if they go missing again, they will not be able to speak – forever," says Aasim Saeed, one of the bloggers released in January.

Saeed, 36, now lives in London. Since he is outside the country, he feels able to speak about what happened.

It began with a knock at the door, he says.

Men in civilian clothes pushed him into a car. They blindfolded and shackled him. In a detention center, he was interrogated about his Facebook page that mocked the army.

They wanted to know if Pakistan's rival, India, paid him. He told them no.

Blindfolded, he was whipped "with a leather strap or something." He fell. Somebody held his neck between his legs. The whipping continued.

His ordeal ended when he wrote an apology letter. He was freed and fled to the U.K., where he has applied for asylum.

Zarjan Atta's ordeal to find her son continues with a police report.

It's been a year since she last saw Nawaz. She's an illiterate sheepherder, a widowed mother of five, and had no money to visit him in Karachi. Any money she scraped away, she sent to her son to pay for his education. She was waiting for him to finish.

"I wanted my son to help his brothers get an education," she cries, "and make my life easy."

After she arrives in Karachi, she meets Nawaz's activist friends – all women. They ask not to be identified by NPR for fear of being detained themselves.

Atta is a slight, shy woman, and they offer to help. They adjust their colorful scarves to cover their faces as they barrel down a road to a police station.

They have come prepared with a typed-out note saying what happened to Nawaz, to avoid speaking and drawing attention to themselves. 

One of the women tells me that obtaining a police report is the first step to verifying that Nawaz Atta has been taken. They can use a police report to file court cases demanding his return and to verify to human rights groups that Nawaz is missing, so the groups can advocate on his behalf.

"This is the evidence," the woman says. "This is the thing that maybe, maybe, maybe, can save Nawaz life."

At the Gulistan-e-Johar station, the women give a policeman their statement accusing members of a paramilitary unit of seizing Nawaz.

He stares silently at the paper.

He tells the women he can't write a report because they are in the wrong jurisdiction.

He directs them to the nearby King Faisal Street station.

When an officer there hears that Nawaz is a Baloch activist who advocates for missing Baloch people, he berates the women, asking them what they expected.

The women insist on a response. They are told to wait.

They wait for hours.

The station officer arrives. He says the area where the alleged disappearance took place could be in three different jurisdictions, and tries to send them away to another police station.

The women insist again, and finally he agrees to send an investigator to check if the incident occurred in his jurisdiction.

The investigator reaches the dusty neighborhood where Nawaz Atta lived. He asks residents if they saw anything. A shopkeeper says nothing happened here – and one of the women with Zarjan Atta, Nawaz's mother, shames him until finally he says, yes, he saw armed men take Nawaz.

The women return to the station. It's nightfall. Zarjan Atta is exhausted.

She vowed to God that she'd fast until her son returned.

Finally, another cop writes up a report. Atta inks it with her thumb.

Her son is officially missing

December 15, 2017

Is Chinese Militarization Of Pakistan Beginning?

Is Chinese Militarization Of Pakistan Beginning?


Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve

9:56 PM 12/15/2017

According to a December 12, 2017 Urdu-language news site report, during a high-level meeting presumably between Chinese and Pakistani officials held on the last day of the November Chinese Economic Summit in Hong Kong, China offered to train Pakistani security forces to protect both the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects in Pakistan and the Chinese nationals working on them. That follows a September 17, 2017 official CPEC announcement, whereby China would “assist” Pakistan in “capacity building” of “civil armed forces.”

At face value, the Chinese offer appears to be a predictable response to the proliferation of Islamic extremist groups, the permanent Taliban support and recruiting network, and the festering independence insurgency, all in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, a region whose stability is critical to the success of CPEC, a $46 billion Chinese infrastructure investment in Pakistan.

What the December 12th Urdu report states that the official September 17th communique doesn’t is that Chinese training will include the “Special Security Division,” which widens the scope considerably.

The Special Security Division is a 2-star Pakistani military command of up to 15,000 personnel established in September 2016 to protect CPEC from internal and external threats. It is composed of nine Pakistan Army infantry battalions, six “Civil Armed Forces” elements of Army Ranger and Frontier Corps units, and a maritime security command led by the Pakistani Navy, which includes the Maritime Security Agency and the Pakistani Marines.

The number of Chinese military and security trainers to be stationed in Pakistan is undisclosed, but based on the size of the Special Security Division alone, the total complement of Chinese needed to fulfill all the CPEC security requirements is expected to be sizable.

Also in the past week, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Chief of the Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), announced a joint China-Pakistan space program that will begin by sending a satellite into orbit within the next two years. In that regard, there have been on-the-ground reports in the past few months of high-level Chinese delegations visiting Sonmiani, Balochistan, the location of Pakistan’s space port. Those reports have also included rumors of Chinese purchases of large blocks of land in the Sonmiani region.

In April 2017, an agreement was signed whereby a state-run Chinese company, the China Overseas Port Holding Company will handle the operations of Pakistan’s strategic Gwadar port for a period of 40 years.

Pakistan is not shy about stating its interest in joint naval operations with China from Gwadar:

“China and Pakistan have found common ground in terms of maritime interest in the region. Gwadar port can be used for joint naval patrols in the Indian Ocean, further increasing the naval outreach of China and Pakistan in the region. Gwadar port will increase the countries’ naval movements and further expand defense cooperation, especially in the naval field.”

In addition, there has been a general shift in Chinese military personnel in favor of naval and marine corps forces at the expense of land forces. According to reports, some of those forces are destined for Djibouti and Gwadar, the strategybeing:

“The Chinese have been attracted to Gwadar primarily because of its proximity to the Straits of Hormuz, through which most of their energy flows. Gwadar provides a base from where they can exercise firm control over this energy flow, both in terms of monitoring and protection when the situation demands such effort. With the establishment of a Chinese military base at Djibouti and the continuing anti-piracy effort, naval operations based out of Gwadar will provide the Chinese with a near-continuous naval presence from the Makran coast [southern Pakistan on the Arabian Sea] to the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb [entrance to the Red Sea and gateway to the Suez Canal].”

The Chinese are also expanding the Gwadar International Airport to handle “heavies.” That will provide an airlift capability linking Gwadar at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and the Chinese base in Djibouti at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

Also in the past week — similar to the Chinese “management” of Gwadar — Sri Lanka relinquished authority over its southern port of Hambantota to the Chinese, having signed a 99-year lease with the state-controlled China Merchants Port Holdings.

The Chinese presence in Hambantota outflanks both India and the U.S. naval base in Diego Garcia and provides an additional strategic choke point, a potential for regional hegemony and, in combination with the other developments, largely renders current U.S. policy in Afghanistan obsolete.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at

Diplomacy in the Age of Trump – Part 1

 Laurence Pope  08 Dec, 2017  


When the conference organizers asked for a quick title for this talk, I came up with “Diplomacy in the Age of Trump”. But no matter how you measure it, an age is longer than this administration is likely to last, and a thorough discussion of the follies of the current chief magistrate of our venerable Republic would take up all the time we have tonight and more. In the end we might be angrier, but little the wiser.

Criticism of Trump’s foreign policy isn’t a matter of party politics. Republican leaders from John McCain to George W. Bush have spoken about his betrayal of American ideals and values — former President Bush’s October 19 speech was particularly eloquent. His bombastic “America First” policies have succeeded in doing something I never thought possible, uniting the normally fractious foreign policy commentariat in opposition across the political spectrum, from David Brooks to Rosa Brooks, Eliot Cohen to Richard Cohen.

Fortunately for the Republic, President Trump is not the only one who matters — even if he does have his finger on the nuclear trigger. Our foreign affairs are being managed today not so much by the former reality TV star who is glued to Fox and Friends on the big screens which have been installed in the private quarters of the White House, but by a triumvirate of experienced generals, and especially Jim Mattis at the Defense Department. This is problematic from the point of view of civil-military authorities, but it beats the alternative.

My perspective on these political generals was informed in the decade after I left the State Department when I made a living as a consultant to the Defense Department — as Willie Sutton said when he was asked why he robbed banks, because that’s where the money is. So it was that not too long ago I was sitting around a table in Washington with General Mattis at its head, and heard Newt Gingrich, who passes for an intellectual in the beltway, declare that because of the Obama administration’s inability to concoct a political strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan the military would have to come up with one itself. Jim Mattis was unpersuaded.  In his confirmation hearing, he said: ‘we should use military force only when it is in the vital interest of the United States, when other elements of national power have been insufficient in protecting our national interests, and generally as a last resort.’ His departure would produce a crisis in Washington as considerable as the dismissal of Bob Mueller.

So instead of starting with the infuriating scene in the beltway — we will get there, I promise you — let me try to lower everybody’s blood pressure by putting it in some perspective, and talking about our foreign policy institutions.

Americans have always been uncomfortable with diplomacy.  It comports uneasily with our cherished notion that we are an exception among nations — 192 of them at last count, all juridically equal in theory, and none more exceptional than any other in terms of international law. Despite its air of antiquity, the term was not invented until about 1800, when it came into currency first in French and then in other European languages. The Enlightenment used “negotiation”, a term with the virtue of clarity. Everybody knows that it requires give and take and compromise, while diplomacy conjures up rituals performed by old white guys in striped pants and top hats. But for better or worse, after some 200 years of diplomacy and diplomats we are stuck with it, and them. 

From the beginning a whiff of sulphur was attached to the term diplomacy for Americans. In 1812, as war loomed with England, it was associated with the wiles of perfidious Albion. The town fathers of Burlington, Vermont, denounced the ‘injustice and chicanery of British diplomacy’, and their counterparts in Milton, Massachusetts, worried that ‘the rights of our present & future generations’ might disappear ‘before the diplomacy of Courts’ — forgetting that only a generation earlier Benjamin Franklin at the Court of Versailles had been instrumental in securing their independence, and that at the Court of St James stout John Adams had negotiated to consolidate it.

During the long peace of the Cold War, when our minds were concentrated by the threat of nuclear annihilation and the zero sum game we played around the world with the Soviet Union, we set aside our hesitations about diplomacy. In the immediate postwar period, under George Marshall and Dean Acheson, the State Department ruled the Washington roost, and Foreign Service Officers like George Kennan helped set our grand strategy of containment of the Soviet Union. When at the White House Henry Kissinger expanded a small staff from a few dozen to forty or so — the number today is about ten times that high — Acheson denounced him as a “court favorite advising the monarch in his antechamber”, and declared that he would not have wanted to be Secretary of State in such circumstances. But when Kissinger took over the State Department from the hapless William Rogers, he used the Foreign Service like the sharp instrument it was. His opening to China was managed almost entirely by Foreign Service Officers. Kissinger’s book Diplomacy is dedicated to ‘the men and women of the Foreign Service of the United States, whose dedication and professionalism sustain American diplomacy’.

The sudden collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 ushered in an era in which it appeared for a brief moment that liberal democratic values would be ascendant everywhere, in a triumphant neo-Hegelian end of history. In such a world diplomacy and diplomats appeared to be anachronisms, and a brilliant young French diplomat named Jean-Marie Guehenno predicted the demise of the nation-state, destined to be swept away by the forces of globalization. In Silicon Valley the information age had dawned, and with it the conviction in advanced circles that states were the wave of the past. Tom Friedman announced that the world was flat. Digital networks operating ‘above and below the state’ would replace the antiquated paper hierarchies of governments, declared Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor who became Hillary Clinton’s director of policy planning at the State Department.

Side by side with these millennial notions, after 9/11 an endless War on Terror had replaced the Cold War as the frame for our foreign policy and the center of gravity in national security policy moved away from the State Department. The Defense Department’s budget doubled, as did that of the intelligence agencies, while the State Department’s remained a favorite target for budget cuts. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cast some 2000 Foreign Service officers as handmaidens to the military in futile nation-building tasks, and a greatly expanded White House staff took over many of the State Department’s policy functions — referred to by lazy journalists as the ‘national security council’ although it is only the staff of the national security adviser.

The Foreign Service of the United States, to give its full title, occupies the uncomfortable place in the national security system where the politics of the beltway meet the realities of the outside world. Its comparative advantage derives from this unique and sometimes precarious situation. By beltway standards it is a small bureaucracy of some 8,000 people — by way of comparison, there are 30,000 people in the U.S. Forest Service, and 14,000 special agents in the FBI — but it has a large job. Foreign Service officers run our embassies and consulates overseas, 270 of them at last count, as well as staffing key positions in the State Department. Most of our ambassadors come from the Foreign Service — 65% in recent years though that number is not set in stone, and if this administration lasts long enough, it is likely to be lower than that. Just as important, all of the deputies of our ambassadors, who act with the full authority of chiefs of mission in their absence, come from the Foreign Service — a red line that may not hold much longer if a diminished Foreign Service is unable to field credible candidates. When I went to Libya in 2012 as a retired officer, the assistant secretaries for the Near East and diplomatic security were both retired too. Would the Navy recall retired flag officers to duty because nobody on active duty could be found to command destroyers or carrier battle groups?

Foreign Service officers are a small minority of the personnel at our embassies overseas, which we have taken to thinking of as foreign bases rather than as missions to other governments. Our embassies are treated as platforms by a long list of government agencies, not just the CIA and the Defense Department, but the Agriculture Department, the Commerce Department, the FBI, and our Orwellian Department of Homeland Security, and it is the job of ambassadors and their Foreign Service deputies to manage this collection of people with a wide variety of Washington masters and often conflicting mandates. Without a firm baton the result is cacophony or worse, with the horn section trying to drown out the strings, and some musicians playing a different tune altogether. In Libya where I served for a few months in late 2012, I do not recall receiving an instruction from the State Department — at least not one that I carried out — but I dealt on a daily basis with the FBI, the CIA, and the four star general responsible for Africa