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BRICS countries in plans to create new international gold market

Russia and China are spearheading new methods of gold exchange which will challenge traditional western hegemony in this vital market.

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First Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Central Bank Sergey Shvetsov has stated that the BRICS countries are currently in discussions to form a new gold trading system that is entirely separate from existing systems based in western Europe. As two most prominent BRICS states Russia and China are the world’s two largest purchasers of gold and are in the international top ten nations in terms of gold reserves, with India only slightly further behind, it would seem logical for the BRICS to take the trading mechanisms into their own hands.

Shevetsov has stated,

“The traditional (trade) system based in London and partially in Swiss cities is becoming less relevant as new trade hubs are emerging, first of all in India, China, and South Africa,” he said, adding “we are discussing the possibility of establishing a single (system of) gold trade both within BRICS and at the level of bilateral contacts”.

The Bank of Russia has already signed an agreement with China to set up a bilateral gold trade which should be formulated and functional in 2018.

A BRICS wide gold trading system would be yet another blow to western control of global currency exchange, metal exchange and would further challenge the status of the Dollar as the de-facto global reserve currency and standard currency of international exchange.

Some key events have already seen China in particular, and the BRICS more widely, take aim at the west and Washington’s stranglehold over global monetary networks.

This includes:

–Venezuela’s embrace of China’s Petroyuan

–China’s new system to buy oil futures contracts in Yuan which can be easily convertible to gold at the exchanges in Shanghai and Hong Kong

–Bilateral trade between BRICS members and wider Eurasian partners in local currencies

–Russia’s forthcoming Cryptorouble

–Proposals for a BRICS wide cryptocurrency

As I previously reported in The Duran:

Russia is not actually interested in undermining American “democracy”. In fact, the United States isn’t particularly concerned either. But Russiagate continues to give mainstream media a narrative that it can sell to its dwindling core audience. However, when it comes to the real linchpin of American power, the almighty Dollar, things are very different.

Since it typically takes millions of Dollars at minimum, to even enter major US elections, it is clear that the American electoral system, like just about everything in the US, is as tied in to the power of the Dollar as any other institution. The entire contrived narrative about Russia is really a thinly placed mask which hides the real worry in the US about Russia’s latest geo-strategic moves.

Today, Russia’s Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister took part in an official visit to China where both countries signed agreements to expand bilateral trade in national currencies, as opposed to using the US Dollar as the standard transaction currency.

In the summer of 2017, the Presidents of Russia and China led a large meeting of top government and private sector officials from both countries. Scores of agreements were signed, including those which set into motion, bilateral trade in national currencies.

Today, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko commented on the progress of these arrangements. He said,

“At present, financial regulators of the two countries are working on extending the bilateral currency swap agreement for the next three years.

In 2016, the share of national currencies in payments for exports of Russian goods and services amounted to 13 percent, imports, 16 percent. In the first quarter of 2017, these figures rose to 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively”.

With countries throughout the world, including Turkey, Venezuela and Iran beginning to trade in national currencies or in Chinese Yuan, the power of the US Dollar as a standard trading and reserve currency is being actively and openly undermined by China, Russia and their trading partners. This of course is perfectly legal as countries can trade in any currency they wish. They can even use barter as a means of exchange, as Iran sometimes still does with Russia.

This year has been a watershed in the de-Dollarisation of world trade. China’s willingness to sell oil futures contrasts in Yuan, the easy convertibility of the Yuan to gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong gold exchanges, multiple bilateral agreements signed with China and her partners to trade in national currencies and the possibility of a new BRICS-wide currency, currency basket or BRICS crypto-currency, have all led to a perfect storm which is set to slowly but surely capsize the Dollar.

I previously outlined why this has geo-political implications that are already being felt, beyond currency markets. As I wrote at the time:

The US has again sailed a Naval destroyer, this time the USS Chafee, through Chinese waters in the South China Sea, in direct violation of Beijing’s sovereign maritime claims over the sea. The US repeatedly provokes China by sailing its vessels through the South China Sea, in a deceptively named strategy called ‘freedom of navigation’, which seeks to undermine Chinese claims to its neighbouring south sea. While other countries with regional maritime claims, including Philippines have begun cooperating with China, the United States continues unilateral provocations against China.

In response to the USS Chafee’s presence in the South China Sea, Beijing scrambled a missile-guided frigate, helicopter and two fighter jets to intercept the US vessel.

China also issued a stern warning to the United States against further provocations. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying has said,

“The US destroyer’s behaviour violated Chinese law and relevant international law, severely harmed China’s sovereignty and security interests, and threatened the lives of both sides”.

Hua further warned that any further such provocations could result in “unwanted incidents”.

She continued,

“In the face of repeated provocation by the US forces, the Chinese military will further strengthen preparation for combat at sea and in the air and improve the defences to resolutely defend national sovereignty and security interests”.

As the US continues to feel threatened by Chinese economic dominance in the global marketplace, Washington’s military provocations in the South and East China Seas, its militarisation of the Korean peninsula and proxy wars along China’s One Belt–One Road trade and infrastructure routes, are likely to increase.

While the US has long felt threatened by Chinese trade and industrial dominance, now the US Dollar is being actively challenged by the growing power of the Chinese Yuan. The Yuan is now positioned to threaten the hegemony of the Dollar as a major trading and reserve currency.

This has expressed itself in the following ways:

–China offering the sale of oil futures contracts in gold backed Yuan

–Countries as wide ranging as Venezuela, Turkey and Russia conducting major bilateral trade in national currencies (as opposed to the US Dollar)

–The possibility of a new BRICS trading standard based on the Yuan, gold or other ‘eastern’ currencies

–The possibility of a BRICS regulated crypto-currency

Additionally, other nations which have been hit by unilateral sanctions, including Iran, have also showed a willingness to embrace a new Dollar free trading regime with its existing and new partners.

Most worryingly for the US, its longtime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia, may find itself trading oil in Chinese Yuan in the coming years. Chief economist and managing director at High Frequency Economics, Carl Weinberg has spoken with the US based finance outlet CNBC and stated the following, 

“I believe that yuan pricing of oil is coming and as soon as the Saudis move to accept it — as the Chinese will compel them to do — then the rest of the oil market will move along with them”.

Saudi’s infrequently discussed but good economic relations with Beijing, as well as its warming relations with Russia, indicate that Riyadh is looking towards the wider global ‘east’ and in so doing, may find it self moving towards an energy trade that is independent of Dollar hegemony. This may be accelerated as the US becomes a net energy exporter while China’s demand for oil increases, leaving Saudi and fellow OPEC members in a position where it would become not only necessary but inevitable to trade in Yuan. OPEC member and Sino-Russian partner, Venezuela has already ceased trading its oil in US Dollars. 

In this sense, while the US has often criticised China for pegging the Yuan to the Dollar, the combination of China being willing and able to convert Yuan to gold in respect of oil futures contracts, as well as the increasing global confidence in the Yuan as a reliable trading and reserve currency, may eventually lead to China floating the Yuan or pegging it to another standard.

As China holds billions in US sovereign debut, China holds the fate of the Dollar in its hands more than ever, as now China has many other options at its disposal when it comes to diversifying its monetary policies.

In this sense, it is important to see US military provocations against China as symptoms of the wider economic and now monetary pressure the US is feeling as China moves to take its place as the undisputed leading economic power of the world.

In spite of many figures in the US ranging from neo-cons to Steve Bannon, being united around an anti-Chinese campaign, many members of the US armed forces are apparently growing demoralised with their country’s increasingly frequent, yet unfruitful missions to Asia.

In a recent report form the US based Navy Times, journalists interviewed sailors aboard the USS Shiloh cruiser. The ship which is based in Japan, has been running missions throughout East Asia in an attempt to allegedly deter North Korea.

But far form deterring North Korea, the American seamen have stated that their conditions have left them demoralised and even suicidal.

According to the report,

“Each survey (of US sailors) runs hundreds of pages, with crew members writing anonymously of dysfunction from the top, suicidal thoughts, exhaustion, despair and concern that the Shiloh was being pushed underway while vital repairs remained incomplete.

It feels like a race to see which will break down first, the ship or it’s […] crew”.

The report was commissioned after many members of the USS Shiloh’s crew anonymously contacted the Navy Times to complain of dire conditions.

One American sailor stated,

“I just pray we never have to shoot down a missile from North Korea, because then our ineffectiveness will really show”.

Others described the conditions aboard the USS Shiloh as “prison like” while others warned that “it’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens”.

The incidents aboard the USS Shiloh are not unique. Multiple incidentals, including deadly collisions have recently plagued US Navy ships in Asia over the last year.

In this sense, one sees US sailors used and abused by their chiefs, preparing for battles which many believe cannot be won, all the while, provoking the Chinese superpower in its own maritime territory.

At the same time, it is crucial to understand that the military endeavours of the US have nothing to do with security the territory or people of the US, but instead follow on from the perceived financial and monetary benefits that the US intends to achieve by disrupting the peace and stability of regions vital for Chinese trade. At the same time, the US is surprised and reacting unreasonably to the reality that as China’s trading, logistical, fiscal and monetary might grows, so too will its geo-political influence necessarily grow. The US being so keen to protect its hegemony, a hegemony built increasingly on excessive military spending and the power of the Federal Reserve’s monetary manipulation, seems unwilling to gracefully accept China’s rise to global prominence as a leading power of the 21st century. China is consequently faced with the perfect storm of the US fighting for its monetary hegemony using its military, all the while attempting to restrain China’s growing political clout.

In short, the US is not fighting for the security of its realm, but for the security of the Wall Street based financial industry and that of the Federal Reserve, in addition to the overarching geo-political hegemony that both have allowed the US to exercise with impunity.  It is not a transparent war, but it may become a deeply ugly war, nevertheless.

With its weakening domestic industrial base, high-tax and investor unfriendly regulations and its soaring national debt, the primacy of the US Dollar as the go-to reserve currency and means of international trade, is one of the only things which is keeping the US economy buoyant in the eyes of medium and long term speculators.

Should the US Dollar’s value plummet as a result of international markets losing confidence in the USD, the US economy and those which are directly tied into it, will feel the sting.

These developments also call into question, the long term feasibility of the Yuan being effectively pegged to the Dollar. The moment that China feels that floating the Yuan will incur greater aggregate advantages vis-a-vis the pegged Yuan, China will float its currency.

While it used to be received wisdom that it was the Dollar which gave the Yuan its value, the new dynamics in international trading markets and the sheer size and diversity of the Chinese economy, are changing this reality and changing it rapidly. If the Yuan is allowed to float on currency markets, the US Dollar is the currency that has the most to lose from such an event and it is now an event whose proximity in time is becoming ever closer. It will also be a further sign of China diversifying its international points of sale away from the US.

While people like Steve Bannon speak of China frequently, most US commentators and politicians are focused on Russia. The reason for this is because Russia is still considered to be more geo-politically active superpower in areas which cause embarrassment for the US, primarily Syria. The other reason is that because of the US economy being so dependant on China and because China owns so much US sovereign debt, many in the US are still more afraid of fully alienating China, whilst Russia by contrast, has comparatively few economic ties to the USA.

The flip side of this reality, is that Russia is in many ways even more free when it comes to developing new anti-Dollar currency solutions. China still needs the US consumer market and thus, things will have to necessarily progress in a gradual manner in respect of the inter-dependant but mutually distrustful economic and monetary ballet between Beijing and Washington.

Russia has no strings attached in this sense and US sanctions against Russia and many of her traditional partners, only serve to further drive home the importance of de-Dollarising Russia’s trading networks. This indeed is one of the reasons that Russia is set to launch a crypto-Rouble which will compete directly with both the Dollar and existing western cryptocurrencies for small and medium sized international transactions.

As I recently reported,

“Russian monetary experts and political leaders have recently begun engaging in a debate which pitted monetary conservatives against monetary radicals. Most Russian officials agreed that allowing the use of western designed (though not western state endorsed) cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, was not compatible with Russian financial security concerns. China, for example, reached a similar conclusion about existing cryptocurrencies.

In Russia, the debate then quickly evolved into to a question over what role if any, a government and central bank should have in respect of cryptocurrencies. Conservatives argued that the entire process of blockchain cryptocurrency technology should not be accepted as a legal alternative to traditional state issued notes, while radicals argued for the creation and regulation of a uniquely Russian cryptocurremcy. The radials have clearly won and appear to have been embraced by President Putin.

Here’s What We Know About CryptoRouble

The CryptoRouble is being worked on at the moment and should be available soon, although a precise timeline is not yet available.

According to Sputnik,

“They can be exchanged for regular roubles at any time, though if the holder is unable to explain the source of their CryptoRubles, a 13 percent tax will be levied. The same tax will be applied to any earned difference between the price of the purchase of the token and the price of the sale”.

Existing cryptocurrency exchange rates are based on the supply of a given cryptocurrency, in proportion to demand for converting such a cryptocurrency into a traditional currency, at a given time. By contrast, it is expected that the CryptoRouble will have an exchange rate related to the Rouble, although it is not clear if it will be formally pegged to the Rouble. Such a pegging scenario does however seem initially probable.

While advocates of autonomous cryptocurrency exchange will almost certainly adopt the traditional ultra-libertarian line that any government regulation into cryptocurrencies makes them scarcely different from using traditional currencies in the online domain (Paypal for example), long time advocates of cryptocurrency in the retail and wholesale sector will almost certainly look with interest to this new development.

The Benefits 

A Russian CryptoRouble that can be easily exchanged for traditional Roubles in Russia and ostensibly anywhere else in the world, will automatically give the new cryptocurrency a marketplace  confidence that many alternatives currently lack. Such a phenomenon will de-mystify the process for many possible cryptocurrency users.

At the same time, if in the eyes of the Russian government, a CryptoRouble is as legitimate a currency as the Rouble, it will allow wholesalers, retailers and possibly even independent financial traders to use the CryptoRouble to avoid the sanctions against Russian banks which their own anti-libertarian western governments have imposed.

Additionally, if the CryptoRouble becomes easily convertible to popular western originated cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, it would solve the problem of Bitcoin users being ‘shut out’ of the Russian market. All one would need to do in order to engage in transactions with Russian businesses using a cryptowallet, would be to digitally exchange one’s Bitcoins (or any other existing cryptocurrency) for a desired amount of CryptoRoubles. The aforementioned process would generally take the same amount of time or even less than a traditional online bank transfer.

In this sense, the CryptoRouble helps open up Russia for new entrepreneurial ventures while insuring that possible fraud and money laundering loopholes are closed.

The Potential 

During September’s BRICS Summit in Xiamen, there was a great deal of discussion regarding the establishment of a cryptocurrency for the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China South Africa) and their partners.

Such a coin would have all of the advantages of the CryptoRouble with the added benefit of instant legitimacy and even desirability across some of the world’s most dynamic and growing economies. It could also facilitate easier money transfers between BRICS members. This would be particularly helpful for Chinese businessmen who often have trouble getting large sums of Yuan out of the country in single transactions. A BRICSCoin, if based on the Russian security net could plausibly alleviate similar existing Chinese concerns about cryptocurrencies. As China has begun trading oil futures contracts in Yuan which can be converted to gold at the Shanghai and Hong Kong gold exchanges, one could foreseeably be looking at a BRICScoin that would effectively be backed by gold, in certain instances.

Furthermore, Russia has become the number one global market for the Chinese mega online retailer AliExpress. An easily convertible CryptoRouble has the potential to make such transactions even more beneficial in the future.

India, which is currently suffering a monetary crisis after Prime Minister Narendra Modi eliminated the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, could stand to benefit from a new, legal and legitimate means of monetary exchange. A BRICSCoin could help to stabilise India’s monetary markets after Modi’s decision to ban the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, hit the incomes of many working class Indians. In a country where more people have modern phones than old fashioned bank accounts, a BRICSCoin could be a form of salvation, as well as a way to modernise the monetary sector with few infrastructural requirements.  In this sense, a BRICSCoin could also help to draw India back into the BRICS fold after the recent Doklam/Donglang border dispute caused tension between New Dheli and Beijing.

Overall, having a cryptocurrency that is directly tied to a traditional Rouble, could end up making the Rouble an increasingly popular international currency of exhcange and in so doing, take a bite out of Dollar dominance for small and medium exchanges just as Russia’s commitment to conduct bilateral international trade in national currencies, is steadily doing in respect of large sovereign transactions and deals between major corporations.

The Rationale 

While monetary radicals throughout Russia have welcomed the move, President Putin justified the creation of the CryptoRouble on far more pragmatic grounds. He stated,

“I confidently declare that we run CryptoRuble for one simple reason: if we do not, then after 2 months our neighbours in the EurAsEC (Eurasian Economic Community) will”.

In other words, ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. Implicit in this logic however, is that since Russia has blazed a self-described inevitable trail, others will now be even more likely to get on the state sanctioned cryptocurrency bandwagon. Thus, Russia could be at the forefront of a pan-Asian phenomena that could eventually go global. This will also translate into Russian blockchain technology becoming uniquely attractive to other states looking to develop their own ‘official’ cryptocurrency.

In this sense, Putin has done what the music industry infamously did not do in the late 1990s. In the late 1990s, illegal peer-to-peer music download services allowed web users to download free music that did not pay the owners of the copyrighted sound material. Using Metallica as the public face of the lawsuit, the major western record labels sued the largest such service, Napster. The record labels won the lawsuit and the battle, but ultimately lost the war.  By the time the legal actions against Napster were won in favour of the record companies, the cat was out of the bag and new illegal file sharing services popped up every day, but more importantly, entrepreneurs from the e-commerce and software world, developed legal alternatives to Napster that continue to dominate the marketplace (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play etc).

Where the music industry used to handle the distribution of recorded music, often up to and sometimes including the retail point of sale, today, the music industry is having to work in a largely subservient role, with companies that are newer than many of their best selling digital albums. The music industry tried to sue technology into oblivion and instead, the next generation of technology companies have largely consigned the music industry to being a shell of its former self in both North America and much of Europe.

Conclusion 

Russia has avoided the pitfall of the 1990s US/EU music industry, albeit on a much more substantial scale. Just as Paypal and other online apps have destroyed many physical bank branches, in the coming years, there is a very real possibility that as cryptocurrencies get easier to use and become more widely accepted for day-to-day transactions, they could supplement the largely old fashioned banking/monetary system. When this happens, countries that reject cryptocurrencies for fear of not being able to collect revenue from such transactions, will find themselves totally shut out.

Russia has avoided this pitfall by embracing technology and making it work both for Russia, for consumers and for commercial interests. It’s a win-win situation and this is almost certainly, only the beginning”.

Russia is therefore very much at the forefront of challenging US Dollar hegemony, which is itself, the bedrock of US geo-political hegemonic power. With two of the three superpowers openly working on systems of exchange to dig into the Dollar’s market share, it is no wonder that the US is working so hard to undermine the Sino-Russian partnership. This is the real story, not the Russiagate myth.

 

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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Second Canadian Citizen Disappears In China

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea.

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Via Zerohedge…


For a trade war that was supposed to be between the US and China, Canada has found itself increasingly in the middle of the crossfire. And so after the arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing in retaliation for the detention of the Huawei CFO in Vancouver, Canada said a second person has been questioned by Chinese authorities, further heightening tensions between the two countries.

The second person reached out to the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, at which point Canada lost contact with him. His whereabouts are currently unknown and Global Affairs Canada said they are in contact with his family.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Freeland told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea. He gained fame for helping arrange a visit to Pyongyang by former NBA player Dennis Rodman, and he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on that trip, the newspaper reported. Attempts to reach Spavor on his contact number either in China, or North Korean went straight to voicemail.

Spavor’s personal Facebook page contains several images of him with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un including one of him with both Jong-un and former Dennis Rodman at an undisclosed location.

Michael P. Spavor, right, pictured here with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, and Dennis Rodman.

Another image shows the two sharing a drink on a boat.

The unexplained disappearance takes place after China’s spy agency detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Beijing on Monday, who was on leave from the foreign service. The arrest came nine days after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. DOJ. While Canada has asked to see the former envoy after it was informed by fax of his arrest, Canada is unaware of Kovrig current whereabouts or the charges he faces.

“Michael did not engage in illegal activities nor did he do anything that endangered Chinese national security,” Rob Malley, chief executive officer of the ICG, said in a written statement. “He was doing what all Crisis Group analysts do: undertaking objective and impartial research.”

One possibility is that Kovrig may have been caught up in recent rule changes in China that affect non-governmental organizations, according to Bloomberg. The ICG wasn’t authorized to do work in China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing Wednesday.

“We welcome foreign travelers. But if they engage in activities that clearly violate Chinese laws and regulations, then it is totally another story,” he said, adding he had no information on Kovrig specifically.

As Bloomberg further notes, foreign non-governmental organizations are now required to register with the Chinese authorities under a 2017 law that subjects them to stringent reporting requirements. Under the law, organizations without a representative office in China must have a government sponsor and a local cooperative partner before conducting activities. ICG said this is the first time they’ve heard such an accusation from the Chinese authorities in a decade of working with the country. The company closed its Beijing operations in December 2016 because of the new Chinese law, according to a statement. Kovrig was working out of the Hong Kong office.

Meanwhile, realizing that it is increasingly bearing the brunt of China’s retaliatory anger, Trudeau’s government distanced itself from Meng’s case, saying it can’t interfere with the courts, but is closely involved in advocating on Kovrig’s behalf.

So far Canada has declined to speculate on whether there was a connection between the Kovrig and Meng cases, with neither Freeland nor Canadian Trade Minister Jim Carr saying Wednesday that there is any indication the cases are related. Then again, it is rather obvious they are. Indeed, Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, says the link is clear. “There’s no coincidence with China.”

“In this case, they couldn’t grab a Canadian diplomat because this would have created a major diplomatic incident,” he said. “Going after him I think was their way to send a message to the Canadian government and to put pressure.”

Even though Meng was granted bail late Tuesday, that did not placate China, whose foreign ministry spokesman said that “The Canadian side should correct its mistakes and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou immediately.”

The tension, according to Bloomberg,  may force Canadian companies to reconsider travel to China, and executives traveling to the Asian country will need to exercise extra caution, said Andy Chan, managing partner at Miller Thomson LLP in Vaughan, Ontario.

“Canadian business needs to look at and balance the reasons for the travel’’ between the business case and the “current political environment,’’ Chan said by email. Chinese officials subject business travelers to extra screening and in some case reject them from entering, he said.

Earlier in the day, SCMP reported that Chinese high-tech researchers were told “not to travel to the US unless it’s essential.”

And so, with Meng unlikely to be released from Canada any time soon, expect even more “Chinese (non) coincidences”, until eventually China does detain someone that the US does care about.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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