New US Military Bases In Central Asia? Guess Who Isn't Happy

Manas air base in Kyrghizistan
Manas air base in Kyrghizistan
Elena Chernenko, Kabai Karabekov in Bishkek, Kirill Belyaninov in New York

TASHKENT - Fundamental changes are afoot in the relations between the United States and Uzbekistan -- and Russia isn't happy.

Until recently, the central Asian country was on the U.S.’s black list of human rights offenders to whom it was forbidden to provide any sort of military technology. But with a special decree, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently took Uzbekistan off that list, and also sent a high-powered delegationof representatives from the White House, Pentagon and State Department to meet with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Sources close to Uzbekistan’s foreign ministry explained that these intensified contacts are a result of the increased partnership with the U.S. in the arena of military technology. According to those sources, Washington and Tashkent have been discussing the construction of a U.S. Center for Operative Reaction on Uzbek territory. The Center’s main function would be to coordinate actions in case of an escalation in violence after the majority of American troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.

The number of American troops that would be permanently stationed at the Center is still being negotiated. The Center’s equipment would be primarily made up of the weapons and equipment that is being taken out of Afghanistan by the U.S. and other coalition members.

Kommersant reported on July 15 that most the technology removed from Afghanistan would be given to Central Asian countries, but it is now clear that it is specifically Uzbekistan, once a part of the former Soviet Union, will receive most of the equipment.

Central Asia as strategic as ever

The Center’s name is preliminary, but it is also loaded with meaning. In 2012, Uzbekistan suspended its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a regional military alliance of which Russia is a part and which forbids military alliances with non-members. In effect, CSTO countries can’t allow outside countries to build military bases on their territory.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Robert Blake announced last week that the U.S. did not plan to build a “long-term military base,” in Uzbekistan. On the other hand, some sources say that the terminology is not really that important.

“We are talking about a large U.S. military base in Central Asia,” explained one Russian source.

Moscow considers the potential construction of a U.S. military installation in Uzbekistan as an extremely negative development, and is still hoping that Tashkent will change its mind. “Our Uzbek partners should really analyze the possible consequences of increased military partnership with the Unites States,” said one Russian diplomat. “It’s possible that if they thought about it they would realize that if there is a deterioration in the security in the region after 2014, then it will be the CSTO partners who provide security in the region, not the U.S.”

At the same time, Russia is actively pursuing connections with other strategically important countries in the region - namely Kyrghizistan. According to sources in the governments of Russia and Kyrghizistan, the two countries are planning to sign three key agreements regarding military, economic and energy partnerships.

On the other hand, Kyrghizistan has said that it would not refuse partnerships with the United States. “If the Americans were to give us military goods, we would not turn them down,” Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov told Kommersant. Sources in the Kyrghiz defense ministry said that Bishkek is “primarily interested in military transportation and communications,” but “is prepared to take weapons as well.”

According to Kommersant’s source, it is possible that the American base at the Manas International Airport in Kyrghizistan would stay open after 2014, “with a change in name,” directly contradicting promises made by president Almazbek Atambayev.

Sources in the Russian government said that Bishkek has promised to make a presentation about the development of the Manas Air Base to the CSTO partners in the near future. “President Atambaev has engaged himself politically by publicly announcing that U.S. soldiers would not be there after 2014,” Kommersant’s source said. “We are assuming that he will keep his word.”

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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