Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 21.07.17

Massenbach-Letter. News

  • The New Silk Road will go through Syria
  • One Belt, One Road: When a Trade Route Isn’t a Trade Route
  • Iran: Independence referendum will isolate, weaken Kurdistan
  • The “Southern Deal” Between Moscow and Washington: A Duel of Diplomacies
  • A. Gromyko: Brexit -the view from Russia

*DIW Berlin Führungskräfte-Monitor 2017: Anteil von Frauen in Führungspositionen nimmt nur noch langsam zu, Gleichstellung liegt in weiter Ferne

  • Deutsche Bank Research: Parteien schreiben Zukunftsvorsorge zu klein
  • Qatar, Saudi Arabia to Islamize One of Europe’s Greatest Cathedrals

Massenbach*The New Silk Road will go through Syria

China and Syria have already begun discussing post-war infrastructure investment;

with a ‚Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction‘ held in Beijing

By Pepe Escobar July 13, 2017 7:12 PM (UTC+8)

Amid the proverbial doom and gloom pervading all things Syria, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune sometimes yield, well, good fortune.

Take what happened this past Sunday in Beijing. The China-Arab Exchange Association and the Syrian Embassy organized a Syria Day Expo crammed with hundreds of Chinese specialists in infrastructure investment. It was a sort of mini-gathering of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), billed as “The First Project Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction”.

And there will be serious follow-ups: a Syria Reconstruction Expo; the 59th Damascus International Fair next month, where around 30 Arab and foreign nations will be represented; and the China-Arab States Expo in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui province, in September.

Qin Yong, deputy chairman of the China-Arab Exchange Association, announced that Beijing plans to invest $2 billion in an industrial park in Syria for 150 Chinese companies.

Nothing would make more sense. Before the tragic Syrian proxy war, Syrian merchants were already incredibly active in the small-goods Silk Road between Yiwu and the Levant. The Chinese don’t forget that Syria controlled overland access to both Europe and Africa in ancient Silk Road times when, after the desert crossing via Palmyra, goods reached the Mediterranean on their way to Rome. After the demise of Palmyra, a secondary road followed the Euphrates upstream and then through Aleppo and Antioch.

Beijing always plans years ahead. And the government in Damascus is implicated at the highest levels. So, it’s not an accident that Syrian Ambassador to China Imad Moustapha had to come up with the clincher: China, Russia and Iran will have priority over anyone else for all infrastructure investment and reconstruction projects when the war is over.

The New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road Initiative (Obor), will inevitably feature a Syrian hub – complete with the requisite legal support for Chinese companies involved in investment, construction and banking via a special commission created by the Syrian embassy, the China-Arab Exchange Association and the Beijing-based Shijing law firm.

Get me on that Shanghai-Latakia cargo

Few remember that before the war China had already invested tens of billions of US dollars in Syria’s oil and gas industry. Naturally the priority for Damascus, once the war is over, will be massive reconstruction of widely destroyed infrastructure. China could be part of that via the AIIB. Then comes investment in agriculture, industry and connectivity – transportation corridors in the Levant and connecting Syria to Iraq and Iran (other two Obor hubs).

What matters most of all is that Beijing has already taken the crucial step of being directly involved in the final settlement of the Syrian war – geopolitically and geo-economically. Beijing has had a special representative for Syria since last year – and has already been providing humanitarian aid.

Needless to add, all those elaborate plans depend on no more war. And there’s the rub.

With the demise of Daesh (ISIS), or at least its imminent loss of any significant urban center, no one knows in what manner a fragmented, phony Caliphate “Sunnistan” might be manipulated into cutting Syria from its New Silk Road future.

Qatar has already provided a game-changer; Doha has gotten closer to Tehran (common interests in South Pars/North Dome gas-field oblige), as well as Damascus – much to the despair of the House of Saud. So, unlike the recent past, Qatar is not engaged in regime change anymore. But still there are the diverging interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and, of course, Washington, to accommodate.

A possible scenario out of what Putin and Trump negotiated in Hamburg – that was not relayed by either Lavrov or Tillerson – is that the ceasefire in southwestern Syria, assuming it holds, could mean US peacekeeping forces in effect sanctioning the creation of a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the Syrian Golan and the rest of the country.

Translation: the Golan de facto annexed by Israel. And the “carrot” for Moscow would be Washington accepting Crimea de facto re-incorporated into the Russian Federation.

That may sound less far-fetched than it seems. The next few months will tell if this is indeed a plausible scenario.

The other big sticking point is Ankara against the YPG Kurds. Contrary to the ominous and quite possible Balkanization scenario, Washington and Moscow might well decide, in tandem, to let them sort things out by themselves. Then we will inevitably have the Turkish army occupying al-Bab for the foreseeable future.

The bottom line: that Saudi Arabia gets nothing. And Israel and Turkey get political/military “wins”. It’s hard to imagine how Moscow could possibly sell this arrangement to Iran as a victory. Still, Tehran may not have a free flow Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah route totally back in action, but it will maintain close relations with Damascus and be engaged in the expansion of the New Silk Roads.

The key question from now on seems to be whether Washington will follow the deep state “Syraq” policy – as in “Assad must go” mixed with support or weaponizing of non-existent “moderate rebels”; or whether Trump’s priority – to eliminate Daesh/ISIS for good – will prevail.

Beijing, anyway, has made up its mind. It will work non-stop for the Iran-Iraq-Syria triumvirate to become a key hub in Obor. Any bets against a future, booming Shanghai-Latakia container route?


From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • The “Southern Deal” Between Moscow and Washington: A Duel of Diplomacies

The main result of the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart, Donald Trump, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7 July 2017 was a ceasefire agreement for a de-escalation zone in the governorates of Daraa, Quneitra and As-Suwayda in southwest Syria and on setting up a ceasefire monitoring center in Amman.

The United State’s involvement in the multilateral Syrian settlement format marks an important new milestone in this process. American, Jordanian and, unofficially, Israeli participation in the settlement process allows for inclusion in the negotiations of the American-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in As-Suweyda and the Syrian Desert, as well as pro-Jordanian factions on the Southern Front, which refused to send their delegations to the fifth round of the Astana process. This achievement could potentially help preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and include in the peace process all Syrian forces that are inclined to engage with other states diplomatically, and the territories they control, without any exceptions.

It should be noted that reports about a certain planned de-escalation zone with US participation in the south of Syria surfaced long before the meeting between the Russian and American presidents…..

Scenario one

The United State’s involvement in the multilateral Syrian settlement format marks an important new milestone in this process…….

Scenario two

Hall Gardner:
Breaking the U.S.-Russia Impasse: Keeping the Door Open to Dialogue

The United States and Russia officially expanded the southern de-escalation zone identified in Astana by involving external players that are instumental in Syria’s southern regions, namely Jordan and, informally, Israel. If were to happen, then Washington and possibly Amman would effectively become full participants in the Astana talks. Such a development could be regarded as an undoubted success of both Russian and American diplomacy: Moscow made Washington shoulder the responsibility for the actions of the Syrian opposition, while Washington, for its part, forced Moscow to influence Damascus and Iran, which is an extremely difficult task. The Russian media prefer not to mention it, but it is in the best interests of the Al-Assad government and the Iranians, whose clout in Syria depends directly on survival of the current Syrian regime, to discredit the entire opposition without exception.

Scenario three

What the United States and Russia did was “reset” the format of the southern de-escalation zone as defined in Astana. In particular, this is the scenario at which Associated Press sources hinted when saying that the current agreement between the United States and Russia has nothing to do with the Astana memorandum.

It is possible that, following the creation of the southern de-escalation zones and the security zone, with the USA among the guarantor nations, creation of similar de-escalation zones elsewhere in Syria will be discussed or is, indeed, already being discussed…..

(for more see att.)

  • MOSCOW JUNE 2017 THESES ON RUSSIA’S FOREIGN POLICY AND GLOBAL POSITIONING (2017–2024) TEXT: IVAN TIMOFEEV EDITED BY ANDREY KORTUNOV AND SERGEY UTKIN FOREIGN AND SECURITY POLICY 4 Abstract and key points 5 The Situation in the Modern World 8 Russia Today: The Goals and Objectives of Global Positioning 13 Russia’s Positioning in the CIS 18 Russia and Non-Western Countries 22 Russia and the West 27 Functional areas and foreign policy instruments 31 Index 5 Abstract and key points The theses on foreign policy presented below are the result of a project co-run by the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).
  • As part of the project, 30 interviews were conducted with RIAC members: prominent diplomats, major international relations experts, media executives and entrepreneurs. As a separate part of the project, a series of case studies were conducted with the participation of experts and RIAC members.
  • Work on the project was closely related to other aspects of the CSR’s activity with regard to the most topical issues of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy.
  • The theses were based upon the results of a parallel study conducted by a team of researchers at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
  • The key findings of this study are as follows: The modern world is at a crossroads. There is a high possibility that rivalry between the key players will intensify. A number of global problems are worsening. At the same time, the level of globalization that has been reached to date allows for negative trends to be mitigated by making the cost of conflicts unacceptably high. It is in Russia’s best interests to help ensure that this is the scenario that unfolds. Efforts to facilitate the resolution of conflicts and help create a comfortable, democratic, controllable and safe international environment without boundaries and divisions should form the core of Russia’s global positioning. It should not be a fundamental premise of Russia’s foreign policy to count on the inevitable “chaotization” of international relations. Russia is one of the most prominent powers in the world today. It has managed to overcome the threat of disintegration and the most difficult political consequences that resulted from the collapse of the USSR. The country conducts an active foreign policy, and is consistent in protecting its interests abroad. At the same time, Russia is lagging behind in a number of critical areas….( for more see att.)



Brexit: the view from Russia

By Alexey Gromyko (RAS Corresponding member, Director of IE RAS )

Working paper №3, 2017 (№29)

…..Brexit as a nominal term, signifying the force of centrifugal processes inside Western structures, has both indirect and direct consequences for the interests of Russia. Here we speak not only about economic and other mercantile interests of Moscow. Of course, they play a significant part in considerations about Brexit of any state and society on the Old Continent. Major potential or existing economic problems in the UK are not in the interests of a certain part of the Russian business community. More so if these problems spill over to the Single European market. We should keep in mind that the Russian trade turnover with the EU, even after two years of sanctions war, is about 44%.

Still Brexit is about something much bigger – about a potential to prolong the uncertainty in the international relations. In world affairs there are not so many countries, which are endowed with global responsibility, and Russia and the UK are among such players. From this point of view, for Russia, if to base the analysis on strategic not tactical thinking, further destabilization of the West is not beneficial. And obviously Brexit is a source of exasperation for the EU and potentially for NATO as well. Both organizations are pillars of what is called the collective West…..

Returning to Brexit, it is difficult not to make a conclusion that it is a strategic miscalculation of the British political establishment. The UK now faces a long period of uncertainty in geopolitics, geo-economics and even in its internal political cohesion. For the EU, Brexit is also an obvious loss, but it shouldn’t become the beginning of its end. If lessons are learned, the EU might be able to modernize itself and to cease looking upon the surrounding world as a territory for cultivation. There is some hope in a Global strategy for the EU foreign and security policy, which Mogherini made public several days after Brexit referendum.1 For example, this applies to the ideas of principled pragmatism, strategic autonomy, reciprocal inspiration between different regional integration projects.


Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster*DIW Berlin Führungskräfte-Monitor 2017:

Anteil von Frauen in Führungspositionen nimmt nur noch langsam zu, Gleichstellung liegt in weiter Ferne

Die Studie informiert auf Basis von neun Kerngrößen mit 52 Einzelindikatoren auf 168 Seiten nicht nur über die Entwicklung des Anteils von Frauen in Führungspositionen und den Verdienstunterschieden, sondern gibt auch einen Einblick in die beruflichen und privaten Lebenswirklichkeiten von angestellten Führungskräften in der Privatwirtschaft. Der Frauenanteil ist in dieser Gruppe in 20 Jahren (1995 bis 2015) um rund zehn Prozentpunkte auf etwa 30 Prozent gestiegen. Vor dem Hintergrund des rasanten Qualifikationszuwachses von Frauen in Vergangenheit bleibt die Entwicklung hinter den Erwartungen zurück.
Offenbar spielen auch kulturelle Rahmenbedingungen eine wichtige Rolle: In Ostdeutschland lag der Frauenanteil 2015 bei 44 Prozent und war innerhalb von 20 Jahren um 19 Prozentpunkte gestiegen; in Westdeutschland lag er hingen zuletzt bei 27 Prozent und nahm in 20 Jahren mit 8 Prozentpunkten deutlich schwächer zu. Damit sind in Ostdeutschland sowohl das Niveau des Frauenanteils sowie die Entwicklungsdynamik höher als in Westdeutschland.

Der Gender Pay Gap bei Führungskräften hat sich in den vergangenen Jahren im Mittel leicht verringert, die Verdienstlücke blieb mit durchschnittlich 23 Prozent aber erheblich. Vergleicht man statt des Durchschnittswertes den häufig als robustere Größe geltenden Medianwert, der von extrem hohen und niedrigen Werten kaum beeinflusst wird, hat sich der Verdienstunterschied zwischen Männern und Frauen mit 26 Prozent nicht verändert. Er lag 2015 auf dem Niveau von vor 20 Jahren (1995). Die Verdienste und der Gender Pay Gap waren in Ostdeutschland deutlich geringer als in Westdeutschland…

…lesen Sie weiter hier:

****************************************************************************************************************** Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat*Deutsche Bank Research: Parteien schreiben Zukunftsvorsorge zu klein

Die sozialpolitische Debatte in Deutschland ist erscheint paradox. Trotz steigender Sozialausgaben konstatieren manche Kritiker eine soziale Schieflage. Aber der Sozialschutz wirkt weithin, während die Sozialsystem profitieren von der guten Konjunktur. Auch für die Zukunft scheint eine weitere Expansion des Sozialstaates angelegt, wenn man an die demografische Entwicklung denkt und zugleich die Vorschläge der Parteien im Wahlkampf betrachtet. Zukunftsvorsorge der Sozialsysteme spielt nur die zweite Geige, obwohl den Steuer- und Beitragszahlern schon jetzt vermeidbare Belastungen aufgebürdet werden.


Middle East

Iran: Independence referendum will isolate, weaken Kurdistan

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iran has warned a visiting Kurdish delegation that an independence referendum will isolate and weaken Kurdistan.

“Although this issue might be attractive in appearance, but actually, it will isolate and pressure the Iraqi Kurds and weaken Kurdistan and finally all of Iraq,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said in Tehran on Monday.

“A peaceful, stable and united Iraq is what gives the country security and development. Friendly and neighboring countries should support Iraq,” Shamkhani said, according to Mihr agency.

He accused regional and international countries of trying to weaken Iraq.

He made his comments in a meeting with members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), including Kosrat Rasul and Mala Bakhtiar.

The PUK delegation reportedly thanked Iran for their support, noting historical ties between Tehran and Iraqi Kurds, according to IRNA.

The meeting was a friendly one, “in which strengthening relations between Iran and the Kurdistan Region was stressed,” Nazim Dabagh, the Kurdistan government’s representative to Iran, told Rudaw.

He said Iran expressed support for the achievement of Kurdish rights within the framework of Iraq’s constitution.

Iran, which backs the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi armed force and holds influence over Baghdad, has expressed strong opposition to the Kurdish referendum, instead calling for a united Iraq.

“Iraq’s national sovereignty and integrity benefits all residents of the country and any change can make the country face chaos and crisis,” a spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, Bahram Qassemi, said in a weekly press conference, according to Fars News.

He said that Iraq’s integrity is “not negotiable,” noting that Tehran has ties with the central government and Iraqi ethnic groups.

The PUK visit to Iran is at the request of Tehran, Dabagh told Rudaw on the weekend.

In a meeting in Erbil on Sunday with Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told Ambassador Iraj Masjedi that Tehran could play a positive role in resolving outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad.


*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

One Belt, One Road: When a Trade Route Isn’t a Trade Route.

This economic initiative is a political solution, not a commercial enterprise.


In the fall of 2013, just months after assuming office, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the One Belt, One Road initiative during visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia. Before Xi, Chinese strategy had been inspired by Deng Xiaoping’s warning in the 1990s. Chinese leaders, he insisted, should “hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile, and never claim leadership.”

It is tempting to think of OBOR as a consequence of Chinese maturation, an ambitious program of economic development that will vault the country into the 21st century. To some, it’s a direct challenge to the United States, something that requires a new strategy from Washington if it is to remain on top of the global order. The problem with this line of thinking, and in analyzing the U.S. perspective on OBOR in general, is that there’s very little in this economic initiative to be for or against. It is little more than a pipe dream. And what has materialized from the dream, at least so far, doesn’t hurt the United States’ position. If anything, OBOR helps its position.

One Belt: Eurasia

OBOR is really two plans combined to form a larger framework of new trade routes. The first of these is One Belt, which refers to the development of new infrastructure, particularly railroads and highways, to connect China’s interior provinces with Europe by way of Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East.

One of the most important provinces for One Belt is Xinjiang, the restive province in which China’s Uighur Muslims reside, and its experience is a useful example of the limitations inherent within One Belt. Xinjiang has seen impressive growth in recent years – its regional gross domestic product increased 62 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The problem is that even for Xinjiang, the gravity of the global economy still pulls its economic activity east to the sea, not west to the center of Eurasia. There are no open-source numbers available that break down Chinese exports by mode of transport, but the vast majority of China’s export destinations in 2016 were all countries to which Chinese goods arrived by sea, not by land.

(click to enlarge)

Of course, insufficient regional infrastructure has tempered expectations of increasing overland exports. But the bigger problem with One Belt is geopolitical: Eurasia is in a state of crisis, and several of the countries China borders will feel the crisis particularly acutely in the coming years. Central Asia, a patchwork of states whose borders were drawn to make the countries more easily controlled from Moscow during the Soviet era, is hardly a promising market for Chinese goods. Furthermore, it is one of the most politically unstable regions in the world. One Belt is not a long march into prosperity – it’s a long march into disaster.

For the United States, there is a single overarching strategic imperative in Eurasia: to prevent the rise of a power that could potentially challenge U.S. hegemony in the world. No such power is likely to appear anytime soon, and even if One Belt were able to achieve its extremely ambitious goals, such a power would still be constrained by geography and regional rivalry. If anything, the U.S. would welcome the possibility of improved infrastructure and increased trade, providing new economic opportunities to some of these impoverished and increasingly destabilized regions. The Middle East, for example, has descended into chaos largely because of the limited economic opportunities available to young people. If the construction of a vast network of trade infrastructure brings economic opportunity to Eurasia’s most unstable regions, even if it enhances China’s international prestige, the U.S. could easily live with it.

One Road: Maritime

More important to the United States is the One Road component of the initiative – China’s vision of a new Maritime Silk Road. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, roughly 80 percent of global trade by volume and over 70 percent of global trade by value is conducted by sea. The One Road portion of OBOR is meant to increase Chinese construction of ports in countries along maritime routes that are already used in seaborne trade. China has already seen this strategy pay some dividends, having been awarded contracts to build ports in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. China also, however, has had some setbacks; a deal Beijing had with Bangladesh fell through in 2016 when Dhaka decided that an offer from Japan to build a port better suited its needs.

(click to enlarge)

Washington’s strategic imperative in the seas is similar to its imperative in Eurasia: to prevent the rise of a potential challenger, an imperative that entails dominating the seas and ensuring the flow of international trade. This is why One Road is a little more concerning than One Belt; the U.S. can accept and even benefit from Chinese influence in Eurasia, but it cannot tolerate a Chinese navy commensurate with the ambition of One Road. It signals Beijing’s intent to expand the size and capability of its navy.

Still, from a U.S. perspective, the importance of China’s projects along the Maritime Silk Road is significantly overinflated. Constructing ports will not provide China with permanent bases for Chinese destroyers or armies – the countries in question have yet to agree to host them. More important, the Chinese navy, despite its impressive advances over the past 25 years, is not capable of extended, long-term deployments in countries far away from the mainland.

As Dr. Bernard Cole, a professor at the National War College, notes in his latest book on the Chinese navy, the navy “lacks seaborne air power, and it has no fixed-wing capable ships, only nascent in-flight refueling capacity, no airborne air control, and limited joint operational capability with the [air force].” Though equipped with an aircraft carrier to parade its advances, the Chinese navy does not currently have a single carrier battle group trained and ready for action.

The priority of China’s navy is to protect Chinese territorial claims in its littoral waters. The drama that surrounded U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s phone conversation with the president of Taiwan in 2016 emphasized just how weak China is relative to the United States: China can’t really stop the United States from “meddling” in Taiwan, let alone match its navy pound for pound. So long as this is the case, China’s interests are actually in sync with those of the U.S., at least when it comes to global maritime trade. This is because the Chinese economy depends on exports and the vast majority of those exports are shipped via sea.

There are other reasons One Road will be ineffectual. The U.S. favors the status quo in Asia and so has no desire to change the balance of power. Smaller countries are suspicious of Chinese intentions; though they would happily accept Chinese money, there’s no guarantee they will always do Beijing’s bidding. U.S. allies, such as Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan, moreover, have formidable navies that can curb Chinese assertion.

(click to enlarge)

All this elides a bigger flaw in China’s strategy. Even if Beijing were able to scrounge up the trillions of dollars needed to build infrastructure in the world’s most inhospitable places, the fact remains that it is appreciably cheaper to transport by sea than to transport by land. It’s partly the reason why so much trade is conducted by sea, and there’s no reason to think this will change any time soon. One Road may be the more geopolitically significant aspect of OBOR, but maritime trade already forms the basis of the global economy without any help from China.

An Empty Vessel

OBOR is frequently and incorrectly compared to the Marshall Plan, the initiative by which the United States solidified its political influence in Europe by providing economic and technical assistance to war-ravaged countries.

The differences between the two are stark. The Marshall Plan was codified into law as the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1948 is a dry, 23-page document that lays out clear guidelines for the organizations that were set up to administer the funds, the advisory boards that oversaw those organizations, and the salaries and residences of the officials in charge of these organizations. The Marshall Plan was a highly focused and specifically targeted set of measures formulated and executed with a clear goal in mind: rebuild Europe so that the Iron Curtain would not creep farther west than it did.

The OBOR action plan, published by various organs of the Chinese government in 2015, bears no resemblance to this document. It begins by touting the virtues of what it calls the “Silk Road Spirit” – “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.” (That the Silk Road was first and foremost about trade, i.e. making money, seems to have been forgotten or ignored, as has the fact that some Central Asian territories were conquered and that many dynasties paid tribute to the various tribes and enemies along the route.) There are no concrete action items set out in the Chinese government’s action plan for what has become one of Xi’s most visible policy initiatives. The document contains a number of generic proposals interspersed with platitudes about cooperation and understanding.

Those who are bullish on OBOR note that China has actually enacted some of this flowery language. For example, the Chinese government has established a Silk Road Fund worth $40 billion. In October 2014, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was founded with $100 billion of funding, more than a third of which came from China. The New Development Bank, which is a funding source for BRICS countries, has another $100 billion of investment it can draw on. These appear to be positive steps for OBOR.

But appearances can be deceiving. In truth, $240 billion is nothing compared to the trillions of dollars OBOR calls for. (HSBC has projected that OBOR will require at least $4 trillion-$6 trillion over the next 15 years. Likely, that estimate is too low.) OBOR is supposed to create multiple economic corridors covering almost two-thirds of the world’s population and a third of global GDP. The infrastructure necessary to bind Eurasia together will require the construction of roads, railways, ports and other elements across vast distances in some of the harshest geographies and least populated areas in the world. The fact that more than 4.4 billion people account for only a third of the world’s GDP is often glossed over when the goals of OBOR are touted, and that’s because it shows just how poor many of these areas are.

And yet, besides the capital necessary to get its ambitious programs off the ground, there are two bigger problems with OBOR. The first is that even if China and the various countries it has identified as its Silk Road partners come up with the money, OBOR does not have a centralized organizing body or a strategic goal it is meant to accomplish beyond enriching all of Eurasia. Looking at the projects the AIIB has approved in recent months is telling: rehabilitating a hydropower plant in Tajikistan, investing in Indian infrastructure service companies with high growth, a highway project in Georgia, a dam improvement project in Indonesia. Though they benefit local populations, they are all far-flung, one-off infrastructure projects that do not connect to form a new Silk Road and, thus, do nothing to increase Chinese power.

The second problem is that China’s main goal for OBOR is to accomplish what each successive Chinese leader has failed to do: distribute the wealth of the coast to the impoverished parts of China’s interior without destabilizing the country. China has chosen to dress its OBOR strategy in the raiment of the Silk Road, which to most of the world conjures up images of history and nostalgia for a simpler time. But that should not obscure the differences between the Silk Road and OBOR. The Silk Road was built on the exchange of goods between equally willing trading partners. China possessed silk. India possessed spices. The Romans and later the Europeans possessed silver and other precious metals. British historian Peter Frankopan estimates that in the 1st century nearly half the money produced by the mint of the Roman Empire was used to buy Chinese silk. The Silk Road was a constantly evolving marketplace that moved goods across a vast continent where they could be exchanged for other goods. And unlike today, Eurasia was the center of world civilization, home to the most important economies.

That world is gone, and Eurasia is no longer what it was. China may be the world’s second-largest economy, but the U.S. economy is still much larger. The U.S. is the largest consumer of Chinese exports and, just as important, it does not rely on exports for growth. The most concrete part of the OBOR action plan is how Chinese provinces are to profit from developments in infrastructure and increased trade. As the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies pointed out in a study published in March 2016, OBOR is not about China’s geopolitical ambitions but rather about achieving two domestic economic objectives.

(click to enlarge)

The first objective is to enrich the interior provinces, which remain woefully impoverished compared to the richer coastal regions despite China’s preternatural growth rates in the last three decades. The second objective is to find new overland markets that can absorb China’s massive excess capacity of steel, coal and other key commodities. China is struggling to cut the production of these commodities but has found that it cannot do so without sacrificing economic growth rates, and for the Chinese Communist Party, whose legitimacy has been built on the enrichment of the masses, this is not a realistic option. Beijing is hoping OBOR will help China find a place to dump the surplus commodities it has produced and to justify increased infrastructure spending in these less-developed parts of the country.

OBOR ultimately matters relatively little. The initiative itself is ill-defined and has produced little of tangible importance in the three years since it was announced. Any successes achieved through OBOR do not threaten to upend the global balance of power. And as for U.S.-China relations, Washington has far more pressing issues with China, the most important among them being trade policy, developments in the Chinese navy, and the maintenance of U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region. For China, OBOR is about weaknesses in its domestic economy and about increasing its national prestige so as to appear more powerful than it is. China has already succeeded at the latter, but if OBOR is to be truly transformative, it must help China deal with the former, and whether it can remains an open question.


Qatar, Saudi Arabia to Islamize One of Europe’s Greatest Cathedrals

  • In Islamic symbolism, Córdoba is the lost Caliphate. Political authorities in Córdoba dealt a blow to the Catholic Church’s claim of ownership of cathedral by declaring that "religious consecration is not the way to acquire property". But this is how history works, especially in the lands where Christianity and Islam fought hard for dominion. Why are secularists not pressing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to give Christians back the Hagia Sophia? No one has raised an eyebrow that "Christendom’s greatest cathedral has become a mosque".
  • The Spanish left, governing the region, would like to convert the church into "a place for the meeting of faiths". Nice ecumenical words, but a death trap for the Islamic domination over other faiths. If these Islamists, supported by the militant secularists, will be able to bring Allah back inside the Cathedral of Córdoba, a tsunami of Islamic supremacism will submerge Europe’s decaying Christianity. There are thousands of empty churches just waiting to be filled by the voices of muezzins.
  • The Western attempt to free Jerusalem in the Middle Ages has been condemned as Christian imperialism, while the Muslim campaigns to colonize and Islamize the Byzantine Empire, North Africa, the Balkans, Egypt, the Middle East and most of Spain, to name but a few, are celebrated as a season of enlightenment.

Muslim supremacists seem to have fantasies — as well as a long history — of converting Christian sites to Islamic ones. Take, for example, Saint-Denis, the Gothic cathedral named for the first Christian bishop of Paris who was buried there in 250, and the burial place of Charles Martel, whose victory stopped the Muslim invasion of France in 732. Now, according to the scholar Gilles Kepel, this burial place of most of France’s kings and queens is "the Mecca in Islam of France". The French Islamists are dreaming of taking it over and replacing the church bells with the call of the muezzin.

In Turkey’s greatest cathedral, Hagia Sophia, a muezzin’s call recently reverberated inside the sixth-century church for the first time in 85 years.

In France, Muslim leaders called for converting abandoned churches into mosques. thereby echoing The late writer Emile Cioran once predicted of Europe: "The French will not wake up until Notre Dame becomes a mosque".

Now it is the turn of Spain’s greatest Catholic site, the Cathedral of Córdoba. Spanish "leftists" and secularists would now, it seems, like to convert to Islam the cathedral of Córdoba, the symbol of a time when "Islam was on the verge of turning the Mediterranean into a Muslim lake". Now that Islam is again conquering large swaths of the Middle East and Africa, is it not a coincidence that this campaign is gaining ground?

In 550 the Cathedral of Córdoba was a Christian basilica, dedicated to a saint; then, in 714, it was occupied by the Muslims, who destroyed it and converted it into the Great Mosque of Córdoba during the reign of Caliph Abd al Rahman I. The site was returned to Catholic worship by King Ferdinand III in 1523 and became the current great Cathedral of Córdoba, one of the most important sites of Western Christianity. Now an alliance of secularists and Islamists are trying to turn the church back to Islamic worship.

The Wall Street Journal called it deconquista, playing with the word reconquista, the time when Spain was returned from Islam to Catholicism. "The Great Mosque of Córdoba" is what UNESCO — also torturing, upending and turning history on its head to rewrite the past of Jerusalem and Hebron — calls it. In the last six centuries, however, only Catholic mass and confessions have been officiated there. The WSJ charges "left-wing Spanish intellectuals" with trying to "de-Christianize" the site.

The main altar of the Cathedral of Córdoba. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons/© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0)

A recent Islamic State map of domination includes not only the Middle East, but also Spain. ISIS calls it "Al-Andalus". Gatestone’s Soeren Kern, among others, has detailed ISIS’s call to retake Spain. Osama bin Laden, who targeted Spain in a terror attack in 2004, frequently referred to Al-Andalus in his videos and speeches. Daniel Pipes has further explained, "even centuries after the reconquista of 1492, Muslims continued to long to recreate Muslim Andalusia". Bin Laden’s heir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also weighed in: "The return of Andalus to Muslim hands is a duty for the umma [Muslim community]". Syrian Jihadists call Spain "the land of our ancestors". In Islamic symbolism, Córdoba is the lost Caliphate.

It is self-destructive and surreal that Spanish secularists — those who claim to care about separation of church and state — are now supporting Muslim supremacists in their "reconquista of the Mosque of Córdoba".

The recent wave of immigration has brought many Muslims to Spain; the Islamic Spanish population has almost doubled from about a million in 2007 to 1.9 million today. 350,000 people signed a petition promoted by the Spanish "left", calling for the expropriation of the Christian building. Political authorities in Córdoba dealt a blow to the Catholic Church’s claim of ownership of cathedral by declaring that "religious consecration is not the way to acquire property". But this is how history works, especially in the lands where Christianity and Islam fought hard for dominion. Why are secularists not pressing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to give Christians back the Hagia Sophia? No one has raised an eyebrow that "Christendom’s greatest cathedral has become a mosque".

The Spanish "left", governing the region, would like to convert the church into "a place for the meeting of faiths". Nice ecumenical words, but a death trap for the Islamic domination over other faiths. In 2010, a group of Muslim activists tried to pray inside the building. To raise support from American Catholics, the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández González, recently explained that the law of Andalusia would allow the expropriation of the cathedral if a court ruled that the Catholic Church failed to preserve the building. "It has become fashionable on the left to romanticize the Islamic past of Spain", noted the Wall Street Journal.

"The Catholics of the Reconquista are thought of as crude fanatics, whereas the caliphate is presented as a haven of tolerance and learning where Jews and Christians—never mind their second-class status—lived side-by-side with Muslims in happy convivencia. Barack Obama even cited Andalusia as an example of Islam’s "proud tradition of tolerance" during his 2009 speech in Cairo".

Our secular establishment in the newspapers, universities and popular culture damns the Crusades as a proof of Western guilt towards the Islamic world. The Western attempt to free Jerusalem in the Middle Ages has been condemned as Christian imperialism, while the Muslim campaigns to colonize and Islamize the Byzantine Empire, North Africa, the Balkans, Egypt, the Middle East and most of Spain, to name but a few, are celebrated as a season of enlightenment. Nobody, however, seems to have any concern about Islamic muezzins rising from the roofs of many cities in the West. While the West whips itself for slavery, it never raises any questions about slavery in the Islamic world, currently in full force (although officially "abolished") in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, and West Africa, among other places.

The question about Córdoba’s cathedral now on everyone’s lips is: Who will fund the campaign to bring Islam back to the great Christian site? The answer is Qatar. The emirate is supporting the campaign of Islamic organizations to convert the church to Islam. The Middle East is full of churches transformed into mosques, such as the Omayyad of Damascus, Ibn Tulun of Cairo, and the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul. Islamists are now eager to do the same in Córdoba. The Catholic Church has taken a position. As the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernandez, said, "sharing the space with Muslims would be like a man sharing his wife with another man".

An analyst at the Spanish Institute of Strategic Studies of the Ministry of Defense, Colonel Emilio Sánchez de Rojas, recently gave a lecture in which he explained that Córdoba is "a reference for Islam". He charged Qatar and Saudi Arabia with "campaigns of influence in the West", and as "a source of funding for the campaign for the re-Islamization of the Cathedral in Córdoba".

If these Islamists, supported by the militant secularists, will be able to bring Allah back inside the Cathedral of Córdoba, a tsunami of Islamic supremacism will submerge Europe’s decaying Christianity. There are thousands of empty churches just waiting to be filled by the voices of muezzins.



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*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*



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