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AIIB Helps Silk Road Plan, But May Fail to Protect China Against Trump

Multilateral banks based in China have defied critics over the past year with strong performances that include financing projects across a dozen countries. 

The new banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and New Development Bank (NDB), have given added political legitimacy to China, and helped to push forward Beijing’s geopolitical interests by extending $3 billion for projects under its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program, analysts said.

But questions are being asked about whether these banks can help China in its battle against adverse actions threatened by U.S. President Donald Trump.  

AIIB’s head Jin Liqun recently reminded Washington that that door remains open for it to join the bank. The Obama administration had decided against joining the AIIB even after 56 countries, including U.S. allies like Canada, Britain and Australia, became members.  

“AIIB is an institution that will help China get support from other countries in any direct confrontation with Trump,” Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics told VOA. “Setting up AIIB and showing that Beijing intends to play by the established rules has helped China, when Trump increasingly seems to be going rogue on not just America’s traditional role, but also many of the international rules it help set up.” 

But the advantage will mostly be in diplomatic and political terms, he said, adding the AIIB will not provide China any particular economic advantage in a bilateral confrontation with Trump.  

“China has gained in terms of soft power because it could bring several European powers on the table through AIIB.  At present, alot of European countries are concerned about what they see in the U.S. This might increase potential cooperation between China and the European countries,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist for Capital Economics.  

AIIB’s latest decision to lend $600 million for the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP), which will connect Azerbaijan to Europe fits snuggly into China’s plans to connect with Europe through Central Asia. Most of the other projects funded by the Beijing based bank support OBOR projects. They include the Dushanbe-Uzbekistan Border Road in Tajikistan, $100 million for National Motorway M-4 in Pakistan, $300 million for a hydropower project in Pakistan, and $301 million for Duqm Port in Oman. 

US membership

In a recent interview, AIIB chief Jin predicted that the U.S. under Trump would reject the decision of the Obama administration and choose to join the bank. 

“I was told that many in his (Trump’s) team have an opinion that Obama was not right not to join the AIIB, especially after Canada joined, which was a very loud endorsement of the bank. So we can’t rule out the new government in the U.S. endorsing the AIIB or indicating interest to join as member,” he told the Chinese media. 

He also complained that AIIB faced initiatial resistance from the U.S. “At the formation of the AIIB, the U.S., the base of the Bretton Wood Institutes that manage the world economy including the World Bank and the IMF, saw the new body as a threat to its dominance and importance in the world economic order,” he said.  

The Trump administration has not yet commented on the AIIB and analysts are skeptical that Trump will let the U.S. join and give the Beijing-based institution some added credibility.  

“Under no circumstances will Trump agree to join AIIB. Jin obviously knows that and cleverly created a headline again highlighting how it is now the U.S. that is isolating itself from the rest of the world,” Kirkegaard said. 

Lourdes S. Casanova, academic director of the Emerging Markets Institute at Cornell University, also thinks the U.S. will stay out of it.  

“I don’t believe the new administration one will join because, so far, they want to retreat back home and focus on investments in infrastructure at home.You also need the political will and on that front, President Trump has been more confrontational with Mexico and also with China, as well as critical of multilateral organizations, which makes us believe that he has no intention to join AIIB,” she said.   

What next? 

AIIB may seem to have turned up a stellar performance lending $1.7 billion to nine different projects in just more than one year. But it has been taking advantage of projects that had been carefully studied and vetted by entrenched players like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The real challenge comes now,  when many of the bankable projects have been covered, and the AIIB will have to start doing its own due diligence, analysts said.  

“The AIIB will find it very difficult to scale up its operations. There are significant political risks in many of the infrastructure projects,” Evans-Pritchard said. “A lot of projects don’t make commercial sense. There is the risk of running protests in several countries where projects have been planned. There is a protest against an industrial zone in Sri Lanka, which is part of OBOR program,” he said. 

Several members in AIIB, particularly those from Europe, do not share China’s geopolitical ambitions, which may come in the way of approving projects along the OBOR route, he said. Besides, there is the risk of the next round of elections installing protectionist governments in Europe, which may be less enthusiastic about funding projects in Asia and elsewhere, Evans-Pritchard said.

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Boom in Tourists Helping Stabilize China-Vietnam Relations

China has emerged as the top single-country source of tourism for Vietnam over the past year, a status that could help broader relations hurt by a maritime dispute and historical distrust. 

The number of Chinese tourists to the neighboring Southeast Asian country reached 250,000 in January, leading other countries with about a quarter of the month’s total. The headcount from China marks a 68 percent increase over January 2016, according to Vietnamese government figures cited by the state media. 

Chinese tourists have reshaped the economies of Hong Kong and Taiwan over the past decade, bringing those places closer to Beijing after periods of troubled relations. 

“There are some underlying tensions over the East Sea or the South China Sea, but nevertheless Vietnam is a place the Chinese feel comfortable going,” said Frederick Burke, partner in the multinational law firm Baker & McKenzie in Ho Chi Minh City. “It’s accessible. It’s nearby. It’s culturally similar but it’s different so it’s interesting. It’s not expensive and they do cater to the Chinese.” 

Overcoming tensions 

The upswing in Chinese arrivals caught Vietnam’s attention last year as about 2.2 million reached the country from January through October. Their numbers fell in 2014 after Beijing let a state oil firm position a rig in the disputed South China Sea, touching off deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.  

Beijing and Hanoi bitterly dispute sovereignty over much of the sea, including two chains of tiny islets. 

But a sustained influx of tourism could ease people-to-people relations affected by centuries of political rivalry and a border war in 1979 as well as the maritime dispute, analysts say. 

The rise in tourism was a bright spot in Sino-Vietnamese business ties toward the end of 2016, said Hoang Viet Phuong, head of institutional research and an investment advisor at SSI Securities Services in Hanoi. 

“There is a desire to move away from being a manufacturing hub,” said Louie Nguyen, editor and founder of the news website VietnamAdvisors. “You can see that in the increase in the startup initiatives in terms of tech startups. Even in the film business, the latest King Kong was made in Vietnam. So there (are) various initiatives to move away from manufacturing. Tourism is one of them.” 

China is now Vietnam’s top source of tourism, according to the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency. Although the Southeast Asian country depends largely on export manufacturing, one in eight jobs is in hospitality, Burke said. Tourism accounted for 6.6 percent of the GDP last year. 

Initial boost 

A land border crossing and short flights from southern Chinese cities gave tourism an initial boost.  

The Vietnamese border province of Quang Ninh, a popular holiday-making spot, was set in January to let Chinese group tourists stay three days visa free. Chinese are partial to coastal scenery, shopping and buffet meals, according to local media. 

“We’ve gone to Thailand and Maldives over the past two years, and then we saw some introductory material and thought (Vietnam) would be a bit better, more elemental,” said Ma Wensheng, 48, a Beijing tourist who just spent three days in South Vietnam with family.  

He said that while he encountered no anti-Chinese sentiment, not all was perfect. 

“The disadvantage is perhaps that tourist development lacks that of Thailand and the Maldives,” Ma said. “Some of the tourist infrastructure isn’t quite as friendly and in some places it’s incomplete. Its advantage is that prices are lower there compared to in the Maldives and so on.” 

The number of Chinese tour groups to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have largely held steady since those three countries became the first overseas markets in 2003. But the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in March 2014 hurt arrivals to Malaysia and Singapore had reported a drop of 24 percent between 2013 and 2014 before it sought to make permits easier for family travel.  

Thailand has not seen any long-term decline in arrivals from China, where the number of outbound tourists grew by 20 percent in 2015. 

Hong Kong and Taiwan 

Large numbers of Chinese travelers have shaped other parts of Asia, as well. For example, arrivals from China brought a boom to the service sector in Hong Kong after a relaxation of rules in 2003. Hong Kong received 45.8 million mainland Chinese visitors in 2015. 

Since 2008, Chinese travelers have lifted the service sector in parts of Taiwan near tourist attractions. Their headcount peaked at nearly 3.5 million in 2015. 

China does not appear to be pushing tourism in Vietnam for strategic gain, Burke said, but eventually it could ask Chinese travel agencies to scale back if relations sour. 

Taiwanese officials have reported declines of 30 to 40 percent in group travel from China since the May inauguration of a president who opposes Beijing’s goal of unifying the two sides politically. The decline has hurt hotels and tour bus operators. 

Visits from mainland China to Hong Kong dropped 3 percent in 2015, the year after the anti-Beijing Umbrella Movement protests. 

Vietnam understands the risk of a pullback, said Jonathan Spangler, director of the Taipei-based South China Sea Think Tank.  

“Beijing has been known to limit outbound tourism as a political tool, but the Vietnamese government understands that such risks are only a small part of its economic relations with China and broader diplomatic and political interests,” he said.

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‘Weak’ Taliban Leadership May Present Opportunity for Peace

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose to a new high in 2016 amid the ongoing Taliban insurgency, with 3,500 killed and close to 8,000 wounded, the United Nations reported Monday. But a new analysis suggests the Taliban is deeply divided, presenting an opportunity for “insurgent peace-making.”

A study based on dozens of interviews with Taliban insiders suggests exploiting fractures within the group’s rank and file.

There were “senior commanders who were, in a sense, using suicide attacks to build up their reputation,” said professor Theo Farrell of the Royal United Services Institute, a co-author of the report. “So there are large parts of the Taliban that are fully committed to the fight, but there is a potential here, nonetheless, to de-escalate the conflict.”

That potential, according to Farrell, lies in the weakness of the Taliban’s leadership.

The new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is widely seen as “weak and divisive leader,” Farrell said. “Many of our interviewees referred to him simply as a symbolic leader. The real power in the Taliban lies elsewhere. And so, therefore, there is a view among the rank and file that, effectively, the movement has become leaderless.”

Informal peace talks have taken place between the government and the Taliban leadership. However, senior Taliban commanders have demanded that the 13,000 NATO-led foreign troops in Afghanistan withdraw before formal talks begin.

Speaking in December, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the continuing bloodshed on Pakistan’s failure to take on militant groups in its territory; Islamabad denies the charge.

“Some still provide sanctuary in support or tolerate these networks,” Ghani said. “As [Mullah Rahmatullah] Kakazada, one of the key figures in the Taliban movement, recently said, ‘If they did not have sanctuary in Pakistan, they would not last a month.'”

Farrell argues the senior Taliban leadership should be circumvented, enabling dissenting commanders to meet and forge a common purpose of ending the conflict.

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Віталія Портникова обрали співголовою Українсько-польського форуму

Головою української частини Українсько-польського форуму партнерства став український журналіст, оглядач Радіо Свобода Віталій Портников, повідомляють в українському МЗС.

«7 лютого у МЗС України відбулася робоча зустріч української частини Українсько-польського форуму партнерства під егідою міністра закордонних справ України Павла Клімкіна. Під час зустрічі було обговорено ключові напрями українсько-польської взаємодії на громадському рівні, насамперед у контексті активізації роботи Українсько-польського форуму партнерства», – мовиться у повідомленні МЗС.

«Головою української частини Форуму партнерства став відомий український журналіст та політичний оглядач Віталій Портников. Також було затверджено оновлений склад української частини цієї громадської платформи», – додали в українському зовнішньополітичному відомстві.

Українсько-польський форум партнерства був створений 25 лютого 2011 року у Варшаві. Він працює під патронатом керівників МЗС України і Польщі.

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У Києві невідомі розгромили виставку Чичкана про Україну після Майдану

У Києві невідомі розгромили виставку українського художника Давида Чичкана «Втрачена можливість», яка проходить у Центрі візуальної культури. Про це Радіо Свобода повідомили працівники Центру.

За їхніми словами, близько 18:00 15 осіб із закритим обличчям увірвалися до приміщення ЦВК.

«Нищили роботи, знищили всі роботи. Залишили на стінах написи, частину робіт забрали з собою, проломили стіну – і втекли», –повідомила представник центру. 

Працівники центру викликали поліцію, наразі на місці події працює слідча група.

При цьому у центрі візуальної культури центрі заявляють, що вже від п’ятниці, 3 лютого, їм почали надходити погрози. 

2 лютого у Центрі відкрилася виставка «Втрачена можливість» художника Давида Чичкана. Виставка присвячена війні та ситуації після Майдану в Україні. Як йдеться в описі події, на думку автора виставки, Майдан для українського суспільства – це втрачена можливість здійснити соціальну революцію: не захистити гідність, а врешті здобути гідні умови життя.

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Дніпропетровщина: через спалах африканської чуми свиней запровадили карантин

У Нікополі на Дніпропетровщині через спалах африканської чуми запровадили карантин. Інформацію про це Радіо Свобода 7 лютого підтвердив головний лікар Нікопольської державної лікарні ветеринарної медицини Геннадій Сопко.

За його даними, це вже третій випадок африканської чуми свиней на Дніпропетровщині: два попередні були зафіксовані у Синельниківському та Криворізькому районах.

Як зазначив головний ветлікар Нікополя, у місті підтверджено випадок захворюваності однієї тварини. За нормами, було знищене все поголів’я – 11 свиней, які утримувались у домогосподарстві.

Геннадій Сопко зазначає, що карантин, запроваджений через спалах інфекції, передбачає заборону на реалізацію в осередку її виявлення усієї тваринницької продукції непромислового виробництва. Проте з 8 лютого умови карантину дещо змінюються: за рішенням надзвичайної протиепізоотичної комісії, підприємці Нікополя зможуть реалізовувати на ринках яйця, молочні продукти, рибу і мед. Заборона на продаж м’яса і м’ясопродуктів всіх видів непромислового виготовлення залишається чинною.

У вівторок у Нікопольській міській раді повідомили, що карантин триватиме не менше 40 днів.

Щоб пом’якшити вплив заборони на продаж м’ясних продуктів на підприємництво, на найближчій сесії міськради Нікополя депутати планують ухвалити рішення про грошову компенсацію з місцевого бюджету на сплату податків для тих підприємців, які офіційно займаються торгівлею м’ясом і м’ясопродуктами.

Крім того, директори ринків розглядають можливість на період карантину не нараховувати підприємцям плату за оренду. Також місцева влада звернулася до представників великих торговельних мереж міста з проханням у зв’язку з перерозподілом потоків покупців «дотримуватися адекватної цінової політики, не підвищувати ціни на заборонені групи товарів».

2016 року спалах африканської чуми свиней був зафіксований на Харківщині.

Африканська чума свиней – вiрусне захворювання свійських i диких свиней. Воно передається при прямому контакт хворих i здорових тварин, а також через продукти.

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Russia to Host Wider Regional Conference on Afghanistan

Russia will host a regional conference on Afghanistan later this month to discuss efforts aimed at settling the protracted Afghan conflict and containing “spillover effects” of Islamic State terrorists trying to get a foothold in the war-ravaged nation.

Moscow organized a tripartite meeting on the subject late December where it only invited Pakistan and China.  The dialogue prompted strong reaction and protest from the Afghan government for being left out of it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday Afghanistan now has been formally invited to another round due in mid-February where senior officials from China, Iran, India and Pakistan also will be in attendance.

Lavrov made the statement in Moscow after talks with visiting Afghan counterpart, Salahuddin Rabbani, saying most of the countries already have confirmed their participation.  

IS emerged in Afghanistan about two years ago, and has been conducting extremist attacks in the country and in parts of Pakistan under its regional name of Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP).  But the terrorist group has not been able so far to extend its activities beyond few districts in eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.

The violent IS campaign has worried Pakistan, which shares a nearly 2,600-kilometer border with Afghanistan.

Russia defends its active Afghan diplomacy, saying continued fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban would allow IS to extend its activities to northern Afghan regions in its bid to infiltrate bordering Central Asian republics, and ultimately undermine Moscow’s national security interests.

“Russia is much more concerned about the growth of IS in Afghanistan because they regard IS as a threat.  So, they don’t want this force [IS] to knock at the Central Asian and Caucasian doors,” said Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz while speaking to VOA.

He added that Moscow apparently is trying to form a regional platform to prevent Afghan instability from spilling over into neighboring countries.

“So, they need a regional approach and a cooperative approach to make sure that this turmoil does not go in their sphere of influence so that is their main motivation and that is our priority also to make sure that terrorism does not spread from this area to other parts,” said Aziz.

Pakistani authorities maintain that IS militants operating in Afghan border regions have been behind recent deadly attacks in their country.

Advisor Aziz emphasized the need for seeking an urgent negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict by encouraging peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government.  He insisted that continuation of hostilities will only fuel instability in Afghanistan.

Speaking Tuesday in Moscow, Foreign Minister Lavrov also underscored Russia’s support for involving the Taliban in peace talks to end the Afghan war.

“We have confirmed our common stance that Taliban should be involved in a constructive dialogue in keeping with the criteria contained in the U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Russian media quoted Lavrov as saying.

The Taliban has shown no willingness to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government, and instead has expanded its insurgent activities across the country, capturing more territory and inflicting more casualties on Afghan security forces, as well as civilians.

The United Nations also has documented a sharp increase in IS attacks against civilians, particularly against the Shia Muslim religious minority in Afghanistan last year.

It noted in its annual report, issued Monday, the number of civilian casualties perpetrated by ISKP increased nearly 10 times in 2016 when 899 civilian casualties occurred, including 209 deaths. The figures stood at 82, including 39 deaths in 2015.

Russian officials maintain IS militants fleeing counter-terrorism operations in Syria and Iraq are seeking refuge in Afghanistan, and they are using the conflict-hit country to expand their extremist activities to neighboring countries.  China and Iran also have expressed similar concerns.



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Аваков пропонує на голову Нацполіції керівника карного розшуку Князєва

Міністр внутрішніх справ Арсен Аваков запропонував уряду призначити керівником Національної поліції України начальника карного розшуку Сергія Князєва.

«Сьогоднішні ввечері вніс прем’єр-міністру Володимиру Гройсману кандидатуру Сергія Князєва на призначення головою Національної поліції України. Прем’єр-міністр ухвалить рішення про внесення поданої кандидатури на завтрашньому засіданні Кабінету міністрів», – написав Аваков 7 лютого у Facebook.

За його словами, кандидатуру він вибрав за результатами конкурсу, враховуючи думки членів комісії.

Сергій Князєв очолював Департамент карного розшуку Національної поліції. Від 1995 року працював у карному розшуку. Генерал, кандидат юридичних наук.

У листопаді 2016 року уряд схвалив відставку з посади голови Національної поліції Хатії Деканоїдзе. Вона очолювала відомство з осені 2015 року.

Після цього міністр внутрішніх справ Арсен Аваков повідомив про створення консультативної комісії для проведення відкритого відбору кандидатів на посаду нового голови Національної поліції.