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.

csisCSIS

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

Snapchat Ramps Up Advertising with Self-Serve Option

The new Snapchat (NYSE:SNAP) self-serve ad manager will simplify the purchase of video Snap Ads so businesses of any size can participate more easily. Before the introduction of Ad Manager, ads could only be purchased on Snapchat through its sales team or third-party ad tools built on the Ads API for a fee.

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Is Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) video part of your digital marketing strategy? If not, it’s probably the best time to rethink your approach. New data reveals a large number of consumers (64 percent) say watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a purchase decision.

Instagram Likes Sold from a Vending Machine? A Bad Idea Gets Even Worse

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Economy

Small Business Support for Trump Remains, But Tax Relief Must Come Soon

Nearly 3 of 5 small business owners (58 percent) currently approve of the job President Donald Trump is doing but really need his domestic agenda to be put into place. That’s the finding from the first Survey Monkey/CNBC quarterly Small Business Index.

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Residents ofPuerto Rico voted to become the 51st state in the Union Sunday. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will come to pass. But if it does, it could lead to some interesting opportunities for businesses large and small. In the referendum, 97 percent of voters supported statehood. But only 23 percent of Puerto Ricans actually participated in the vote.

Employment

One in 10 LinkedIn Profiles is a Complete Lie, Study Finds

Looking to fill a job vacancy on LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD)? Maybe you want to grow your business network on the professional social networking platform? LinkedIn Profile Lies Well, consider a new study by LendEDU, an online marketplace for student loan refinancing, which found one in 10 of the profiles there are complete fibs.

Franchise Business Group Celebrates Rollback of Joint Employer Standard

The International Franchise Association (IFA) has applauded rolling back the Obama-era joint employer standard that determined individual franchisees, many small business owners, could be considered joint employers with larger corporations. The response came after the U.S.

Finance

Fundbox’s New Direct Draw Incorporates AI

Fundbox, the platform providing small businesses credit of up to $100,000 dollars, has announced Direct Draw. This new offering allows small businesses to apply without using personal credit using just a business bank account. The new advance is possible because of the company’s investments in artificial intelligence (AI) and its Small Business Graph incorporating 12.

How 7 Changes at the SBA Would Boost Small Business Lending

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21 Percent of Small Businesses Will Seek a Loan or Line of Credit This Year (INFOGRAPHIC)

Small business owners have money on their minds. A new survey by New Jersey-based TD Bank (NYSE:TD) reveals 21 percent of small businesses have sought or will seek a loan or line of credit. Most of them (72 percent) will approach their primary bank.

Business Owners, Want to Help the IRS Create Its New Website? It Will Only Take 7 to 9 Minutes

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is asking for feedback to build its new website. The website hasn’t been created yet, and taxpayers, including small business owners, are being asked to provide feedback on a proposed design of the homepage.

Marketing Tips

Too Political? You May Be Turning Off Customers, a Study Says

The results of the November 2016 election have inspired many Americans to take a stand either for or against the Trump administration’s policies. From Hobby Lobby CEO David Green who has outspokenly supported the president to Nike President and CEO Mark Parker who emailed employees expressing opposition, many corporations are taking a stand, too.

YP Launches SEO Tool to Boost Search Rankings for Local Businesses

Yellow Pages (YP) has been connecting businesses and customers for decades, and the launch of the new ypWebsite Pro looks to continue on this path by making websites more efficient. The ypWebsite Pro solutionhelps local businesses achieve top rankings on the biggest search engines, including Google, Bing and others.

Small Biz Spotlight

Spotlight: Modern Catskills Specializes in Sustainable Homes

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Technology Trends

Microsoft Announces Power BI Analytics at a Premium Price

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Warning! Ransomware Attacks Against Businesses Up 500 Percent In Some States

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It’s GIF’s Party, Cry If You Want To: Iconic File Turns 30

If you’ve spent any time on social media in recent years, you’ve come across your fair share of GIFs. But the popular file format isn’t just a fad. In fact, GIFs have now been around for 30 years. GIF was developed by software writerSteve Wilhite in June 2017. GIF stands for graphics interchange format.

Need a Printer on the Go? Here’s ZUtA!

As a business owner you have undoubtedly experienced the need for a portable printer. How many times have you been on the go and needed just one quick document printed out? The first mini robotic printer was designed with this in mind. Designed by ZUta Labs, the uniquely shaped printer takes the portable printing concept to the next level. At only 10.2 x 7.

Only 5 Percent in North America Own a Virtual Reality Headset

There has been a lot of talk about virtual reality (VR) lately, but you may want to put your company’s VR project on the back burner – at least for now. A recent study shows only five percent of people in North America own a virtual reality headset. Yep, just a small percentage of people can fully take advantage of this technology.

Lights, Camera, Action! SEO: The Movie Coming Soon to the Small Screen

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Wacom Clipboard Transforms Paper Documents into Digital in Real Time

Wacom (TYO:6727) has introduced a new digital clipboard known as the PHU-111, which is basically a smartpad that converts ink and paper input into digital text in real-time saving businesses a lot of time and money that they would have lost when trying to digitize customer information.

Got BizBots? Here’s How to Use These New Tools from Bing

We don’t cover search engines other than Google too frequently on this blog, but an exciting new update has worked its way into the lineup: Bing has launched bots for local businesses. Bots have become more common and widely talked about in recent years, especially in terms of how they can be used for search.

Drones, They’re Not Just for Delivering Packages Anymore

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.

Amazon Drops Unlimited Cloud Storage Plan

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is the latest company to ax unlimited cloud storagefollowingother large storage services, including Microsoft’s OneDrive. The company announced it will no longer offer unlimited storage plans, instead opting for only two tiers. Small businesses have been using Amazon’s storage and cloud services because of the availability it provides.

Snapchat Photo via Shutterstock

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