The news is in: Pakistan has just been taken over

China’s strategy of economic colonisation of its regional neighbours has just been laid bare

Gwadar Port in Balochistan … in southern Pakistan, rather

… A restaurant owner is visited by representatives of a certain organisation that wishes to invest in his business. This is an offer he cannot refuse. Soon the “investors” are there every day, walking out sides of meat and crates of wine and liquor through the back door while the owner frets and worries about his vanishing profits. Eventually, when there is nothing left to take, the investors burn down the premises for the insurance money. Hence the old joke: “Sorry to hear about the fire, Lenny.” “Shh! Tomorrow.”

Well, it appears a “restaurant” that we might call “The Taste of Lahore”, or something similar, perhaps “The Karachi Grill” or “Memories of Rawalpindi”, has just been invested in by a certain powerful organisation. Let’s see whether anything is being walked out the back door, and whether there are any suspicious jerry cans of gasoline stacked in the alley out back.

We all know by now about China’s charitable and selfless “Belt and Road Intitiative” (BRI), the Silk Road du jour that is to unite the eastern side of the globe in prosperity and economic brotherhood. Apparently it’s a $10 trillion too-hot-to-miss opportunity (“The $10 Trillion Investment Plan to Integrate the Eurasian Supercontinent”).

Who could afford to turn it down?

Certainly not the Pakistanis, or should I say certain Pakistanis. I’ve written before about the generous Chi-Coms (I use this term purposely to exclude ordinary Chinese citizens suffering at the hands of their one-party State). The Chi-Coms are apparently interested only in amity, and are happy to advance huge sums of money to their regional neighbours, enabling them to complete major infrastructure projects that will allow these countries to share in the forthcoming bonanza of wealth the BRI promises. But it seems (gasp!) that the Chi-Coms are also happy (beaming, nodding) to place their neighbours deep in debt at ruinous rates of interest and scandalously unequal terms of trade.

But that’s just me being negative, I’m sure. Or at least I thought it was until last week, when the actual terms of China’s development investment in the massive Gwadar port were published. Or perhaps one should rather say that the details were at last wrenched from the reluctant grasp of the politicians and bureaucrats of “The Taste of Lahore” who had secretly agreed them with the Chi-Coms.

It apparently led to uproar in the toothless Pakistani parliament.

The “China Overseas Port Holding Company” (COPHC—but the good old Communist Party of China, or CPC, to you and me) will take a massive 91% share in gross revenues from Gwadar port, in southern Pakistan (soon to be in independent Balochistan, but let’s not go there just now …). It will also take 85% from the surrounding “free zone,” under a 40-year deal finalized by Pakistani authorities (those certain Pakistanis), reveals F M Shakil writing in the Asia Times. And why not, since if the port wasn’t there, neither would  the economic development in the surrounding area, correcto?

Of course it would be indelicate to ask the related question: that if Pakistan had not allowed in the Chinese, there would be no Gwadar port and a much skinnier BRI, so why not a fairer split more nearly approaching 50/50? Ah—not with this kind of organisation, remember?

The problem for Pakistan was that it grabbed—sorry, accepted—$16 bilion in loans from the Chi-Coms to develop the port, as part of the (total $56 billion Chi-Com-funded) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the northern section of which runs illegally through Indian territory and is pretty much doomed long-term—but let’s not go there just now …

Being suddenly so fabulously deep in debt to the Chinese, and with a shrinking, terrorist-led “economy”, Pakistan was in a pretty weak bargaining position, which is maybe why in addition to giving up 90% of the profits from Gwadar, Pakistan is also paying a 16% coupon on those $16 billions. That’s some mighty expensive credit card, right there.

Minister for Maritime Affairs Mir Hasil Bizenjo, speaking in the Pakistan Senate, described, or finally came clean about, how the Chi-Coms will operate the port for the next forty years. It’s called a build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement. Basically it makes Gwador and its environs a patch of Chinese sovereign territory in south Pakistan. Then, when all the plant is worked out and in need of overhaul and renewal four decades down the road, at last authority and financial responsibility will revert to Pakistan. If Pakistan can afford it … and if not, I daresay some typically generous terms will be on offer from the Chi-Coms once again.

It’s just beautiful—if you are Chinese; if you’re Pakistani, not so much.

Senate chairman Raza Rabbani finally “bowed to pressure from lawmakers and directed the Senate Standing Committee on CEPC to look into whether Pakistan’s national interests are undermined by financial obligations entered into via the agreement with China,” says Shakil. I wonder if they’ll find anything. Presumably the signatories to the Chi-Com deal are all, already, perfectly well rewarded and protected.

One also wonders whether under-the-table deals such as this one are being replicated in other needy neighbour territories where the Chi-Coms can walk in shaking wads of “free” (i.e. ruinously expensive) cash around. Think of all those ports, airports and railroads that countries of Asia will be on the hook for in this enormous move of industral/political colonisation and invasion.

Incidentally, Vladimir Putin is looking kindly on an offer by the Chi-Coms to “invest” in Russian roads. In this case I wouldn’t be worried that the Chinese are going to come out on top. Putin must surely be wondering what they could do if Russia sooner or later reneges on the terms of the deal. Will the Chi-Coms come and take their roads back? They would no doubt be welcome to try, heh heh.

Meanwhile in benighted Pakistan, whose future (what with Trump in the Whitehouse) looks daily more cadaverous, it also turns out that the COPHC has been granted immunity from income and sales taxes relating to Gwador for 20 years, and double that time period for “imports of equipment, material, plant, appliances and accessories for port and special economic zone.”

It really is nothing less than a licence for the Chinese to print money at Pakistan’s expense. Poor Pakistan. Actually, no: it’s hard to have any sympathy, to be honest.

Indian futures part 2: the luxury strategy

How can India counter the industrial giant on its doorstep?

In the previous post I briefly looked ahead to the relationship between India and the UK over the next few decades: it is only going to become deeper and more intertwined to the mutual benefit of both countries.

But India is also in the position now of crafting its own future as a “new” country, as Modi leads it out of the retardation after the Congress corruption of the last seven decades. What sort of culture and economy will India follow as part of its growing identity and prosperity? I suggest it will be determined partly by the political realities surrounding India and partly by the artisanal DNA that India possesses and must now cultivate anew and capitalise on.

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Things are finally moving …

Modi entered Delhi facing an entrenched and obstructive government bureaucracy that was bespoke-designed over many decades to serve the bigwigs of Congress

Despite being Modi’s biographer and genuinely liking the man, I am not here to defend him. It is a fact that as we pass the two-year mark of the BJP administration in power, there are justified criticisms to be made. Overall the biggest complaint has to be the apparently slow and timid pace of change and reform – for, incidentally, nothing dramatically disastrous or unforgivable has occurred, despite such being endlessly predicted by Modi’s political and media enemies loyal to the Gandhi dynasty.

When I am asked, as I always am asked, the reason why Modi has not changed everything quickly and delivered India to its wonderful prosperous destiny already, I reply with an offering of a reality sandwich. First of all, Modi entered Delhi facing an entrenched and obstructive government bureaucracy that was bespoke-designed over many decades to serve the bigwigs of the Congress Party and the Gandhi dynasty. Very many careers were owed to and depended upon the established structure; forcing it to change was always going to be a Herculean task. The babus of government service constitute a complete society, unbelieveably  loyal to that Gandhi dynasty, and changing their orientation would be a work of years and would require a master administrator.

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Andaman and Nicobar Islands #2

Above the law, below the law: the trials of the tribals

This is the second post in an occasional series about the future of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which sit at the eastern edge of the Bay of Bengal facing Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. The open sea to the south gives these strategically important islands access to the Indian Ocean (next stop Australia) and onto the vastness of China’s wished-for sphere of influence in South Asia. It’s a perfect spot for an armed check-point and border control for all traffic travelling westward out of the Malacca Straits and a platform for defence that can vastly magnify India’s military footprint in the region.

India has scandalously neglected these utterly beautiful islands, already home to a tri-services base (the old ‘Project Yatrik’) and an under populated, underdeveloped local economy. In truth the Andamans are key to India’s future as an influential regional political power, not to mention an economic one (see Indian Ocean and India’s Security, Raj Narain Misra, 1986). If Goa is India’s California then the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are its Hawaii – it has the navy, not just the beaches, and the beaches are superior to those in Thailand, across the water.

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Bye-bye Facebook, Monsanto!

What’s behind India’s new-found assertiveness?

First it was Facebook. India’s potentially enormous, and as yet largely untapped, internet and mobile phone market will see about half a billion people come online over the next few years (I hope soon to write at some length about its implications). And this in the country that will enjoy the world’s best economic growth for the next two decades.

Mark Zuckerberg was salivating over this juicy prospect and launched a portal called ‘Free Basics’ that tied the user to Facebook’s domain in exchange for free online access. Except of course it wasn’t free because Facebook decided what sites could be accessed and would eventually have its own access to the most valuable of all commodities: the users’ saleable metrics and private information, the bread and butter of Facebook’s business.

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Why India? #1

Call me an optimist, but I am betting I am right about India.

I am making a bet on India prospering disproportionately in the future compared to its past and I am inviting visitors to this website to engage with and object to my theory (‘theory’ because it could turn out wrong). After all, why should I believe that I am correct? There appears to be far more evidence from history that India will inevitably sink back into its old habits of futility, corruption and wishful thinking about an idealised past.

A friend of mine, a businessman from Mumbai, says to me, ‘India can make things 90% of the way but there’s no finish! Where is the last 10%?’ He thinks that Indians always run out of application and interest towards the end of a task. There is no polish to what they do and that everything – products and services – remains frustratingly second-rate, droopy and half-hearted. This has obvious implications for any Indian future.

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