India and Pakistan join the Shanghai Club

modi xi putinAnupam Nath/AP Images

It reads like a scene from Henry Kissinger’s worst nightmare.

China, Russia, and four Central Asian states gather today in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, to welcome India and Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security and economic club that excludes the United States.

But what might have alarmed U.S. strategists during the Cold War could be cause for relief.

The expansion signals a potential shift away from military coordination and toward economic cooperation.

On paper, the SCO has a formidable footprint.

With India and Pakistan’s inclusion, the organization can boast that its members include 40 percent of the world’s population, generate 20 percent of global gross domestic product, and spend over $300 billion annually on their militaries.

Geographically, it is central to the region’s massive infrastructure contest and overland trade routes emerging between Europe and Asia. Counting Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia as observers, it could expand further in the future.

Along with its membership, the SCO’s mission has expanded over the years. Formed in 1996 as the Shanghai Five, the group’s security focus has grown from settling border disputes to fighting the three evils of terrorism, separatism, and extremism. In addition to traditional military exercises, counterterrorism efforts have extended to cyberspace.

But these activities have been relatively limited in scope and intensity. Members’ divergent interests, and their shared aversion to devolving state power to a regional organization, have prevented deeper cooperation.

In recent years, the SCO has increasingly focused on economic issues. In 2015, the organization released a development strategy with a long list of objectives, including developing common approaches to the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative. Chinese and Russian officials have publicly endorsed linking China’s Belt and Road Initiative with Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union. But there have been few examples of tangible cooperation, and several infrastructure projects in the Far East remain stalled.


The SCO is one mechanism that could translate Chinese and Russian rhetoric about cooperation into changes on the ground. In his remarks at the Belt and Road forum in Beijing last month, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said that linking the SCO with the Eurasian Economic Union, the Belt and Road, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could build the foundation for a larger Eurasian partnership. The details matter, however, and it far from clear how these regional organizations could be folded into a something bigger.

By adding India and Pakistan, the SCO continues this shift toward economic issues. To be sure, the organization’s impact is likely to remain modest. The SCO operates on consensus and lacks a robust secretariat.

Historically, it has defended the individual actions of its members rather than constrain their decisions and compel the group toward collective action. The inclusion of India and Pakistan does not address these limitations, and introducing more friction within the organization could very well exacerbate them.

But the SCO does have an opportunity to help address one of Eurasia’s critical challenges: friction at the borders. Onerous customs requirements, outdated technology, and other challenges all result in long waits to cross borders. One study of a road journey from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Berlin, Germany, found that roughly half of the transit time was spent at border crossing points. The SCO has expressed a strong interest in addressing these issues, and its members signed an international road transportation agreement in 2014.

As I learned last month, effectively implementing that agreement will require more work. Driving from Kashgar, in Western China to Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, I passed through 10 checkpoints despite crossing only one border.

Uzbek border guards keep watch on a bridge across the Kara-Su border river between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, east of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, June 16, 2010. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File PhotoThomson Reuters

At one checkpoint, having arrived a few minutes into the security team’s lunch break, I waited for three hours until the outpost was open for business again. The same route was chosen for a transportation pilot project by the SCO years ago. The road conditions were commendable, but the border procedures seemed not simply slow, but slow by design.

The experience carried two reminders. First, it is a classic example of how hard infrastructure is only as good as the soft infrastructure underpinning it. Building new roads and railways might win headlines, but long-term economic gains also require doing the tough, often technical work to improve border and customs procedures.

Second, despite rhetoric about linking the Eurasian Economic Union (of which Kyrgyzstan is a part) and the Belt and Road, plenty of challenges remain.

Organizations evolve, and for that reason, the United States should continue monitoring the SCO. But the SCO’s decision to include India and Pakistan is nothing Washington should lose sleep over.

On the contrary, there is plenty of room for enhanced economic cooperation across Eurasia, and the United States should welcome efforts by the SCO and other regional organizations to address long-standing economic issues. Indeed, the SCO now has another set of border issues to address-perhaps its most challenging yet.

Jonathan E. Hillman is director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is what would happen if XCOM devs dropped acid

Nintendo announced last year that it is planning to generate more money from its world-famous characters by licensing them out to other companies, and that has led to one of the most bizarre crossover mashups at the influentialElectronic Entertainment Expo game industry event in Los Angeles with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. But the tactical role-playing game was also one of the best playable demos on the show floor.

Ubisoft announced Mario + Rabbids on Monday during its recorded media presentation, and fans weren’t sure what to make of the combination, which is due out August 29. Fans in this context refers to people who adore Mario because are there Rabbid fans? When the show opened on Tuesday, GamesBeat’s Jeffrey Grubb and Mike Minotti headed straight to Ubisoft to try the game out.

And we’re happy to report that it’s way better than you probably think it is.

Jeffrey Grubb, GamesBeat PC gaming editor

Uh I think this is could be a great game. I was never as down on it as some were, but I felt like the addition of the Rabbids only hurt. But after playing it, I’ve come around, and I now believe that many people who play that game will come away with at least some affection for Ubisoft’s proto-Minions.

Mike Minotti, community manager

I was down on it. I do not like the Rabbids. I find them annoying, and I resent that they’ve become more visible than Rayman, the franchise the Rabbids spun off from. This project almost sounded like an insult. It seemed ludicrous to put something as sacred as Mario (or as sacred as you can be after starring in several Olympics games with Sonic characters, anyway) and pairing him with these screaming creatures from some hell.

But it’s fun, and it’s hard not to like it. It’s familiar, but it has just a few mechanics that make it feel new.

Jeff Grubb

I’m surprised how different it is while still being XCOM at its core. I think that putting those mechanics in a whimsical world of mutant bunny children along with Mario freed Ubisoft up to redefine turn-based tactics. Yeah, you’re still running from cover to cover and laying down protective fire, but you can also do things like slide tackle enemies as you run past them or get a huge movement advantage by bouncing off one of your teammates.

Kingdom Battle also revealed some deep strategic elements that have me excited. In a later battle in the demo, you come across a giant Chain Chomp and a slew of ‘roided-out Rabbids that carry around giant pillars. All of these enemies are effectively invulnerable, and to succeed you have to get one character from your team to a safe zone on the other side of battlefield. The chain chomp will always attack the nearest target – even if that is one of the evil Rabbids. And those giant Rabbids are counter-attackers, which means they will always go after the person that hit them.

This created an excellent situation in which I used the movement capabilities of my Rabbid partners to get to the goal while Mario kept the counter-attacking muscle bunnies in the range of the Chain Chomp so that the rest of us would stay safe. I played the game for 10 minutes, and it was thrilling to uncover that I could develop and employ a battle strategy almost instantaneously.

Mike Minotti

That whole run through enemies to do melee damage during your turn thing is what sold me. In one turn, I got out of cover, raninto awarp pipe, emerged next to a Rabbid, hit him, ran into a different warp pipe, went into cover, and then shot at a different Rabbid. It was one of the most satisfying turns I’ve ever had in a strategy game.

I’m wondering if I’ll like this more than XCOM. I enjoy those games, and the base-building stuff is fun, but sci-fi military isn’t my biggest jam. Seeing all these colors and whimsical charactesr put into this kind of an experience that’s exciting. My only concern is the difficulty, since turn-based strategy games need challenging levels to keep you engaged.

Jeff Grubb

I don’t know how Ubisoft and Nintendo will scale the difficulty, but they don’t have to make tough stages. Instead, we could get a huge variety of missions that keep things fresh in other ways.

But let me wrap up by finishing my early thought about players falling in love with the Rabbids. I think some Nintendo and Mario charm will rub off on these oddballs, but Ubisoft is also doing a ton of great work with the character animations and personalities. The Princess Peach Rabbid has a sassy attitude, and it’s not just in cutscenes. She does this incredible strut when she moves across the playfield, and then she strikes a pose or takes a selfie when she gets behind cover.

I’minto everything Mario + Rabbids is doing, and I cannot wait to play it when it hits my Switch in August.

VentureBeat’s PC Gaming channel is presented by the IntelGame Devprogram.Stay informed about the latest game dev tools and tips.Get the news you can use.

Snapchat Launches Self-Serve Advertising, Facebook Videos Show Their Power

Social media can be an extremely powerful tool for small businesses trying to convince customers to buy their products. Under that umbrella, advertising on social media can make it even easier to reach a wider range of potential customers. And this week, social media advertisers got some welcome news in the form of a new self-serve advertising option from Snapchat.

But you don’t always have to pay in order to see results on social media. In fact, a recent study found that Facebook video can be a very persuasive format. Learn about these headlines and more below in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Social Media

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Marketing Tips

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Small Biz Spotlight

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Technology Trends

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Researchers are currently working on training drones for a variety of different scenarios that could potentially apply to businesses. More specifically, researchers are working on perfecting multi-robot systems. This would allow a person or company to control more than one drone at one time on a single system. So users would be able to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.

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Snapchat Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “Snapchat Launches Self-Serve Advertising, Facebook Videos Show Their Power” was first published on Small Business Trends