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A detailed historical overview of academic research into video games looking at virtual worlds, economics, and media studies, with a reccurring focus on sustainability and social justice [OC / Research].
Part 1 - Exploring the research potential of video games: Influential papers from a generation ago, and a snapshot of the research landscape today.Around 13 years ago the American sociologist William Bainbridge wrote a paper on The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds (2007). The paper argued that virtual worlds warranted serious attention from the academic community, primarily because they offer new and powerful ways to study human behaviour.
Drawing insight from the largest and most successful virtual worlds around at the time, the paper focused on the Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft, and the virtual world of Second Life. Although 13 years is a lifetime in terms of video game development – much of the video gaming landscape has changed since the paper was published in 2007 – most of the observations made then are still useful today. Bainbridge identified features of virtual worlds that make them ideal for scientific use, and those same features exist in almost all virtual worlds today: every interaction and event can be systematically tracked, the environment is modifiable and controllable, and players or inhabitants exhibit behaviours that approximate or even emulate real-world social behaviour. These and other factors, he argued, made them an attractive proposition for a wide range of academic study from economics to sociology.
Bainbridge himself was evidently aware that the landscape he observed back then was about to undergo dramatic change, presciently describing the transition of gaming into a broader cultural and economic movement:
'The present moment marks a major historical transition. Video games and computer games are in the process of evolving into something much richer, namely virtual worlds, at the same time that electronic games are surpassing the motion picture industry in dollar terms and beginning to cut into television.' (Bainbridge, The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds, 2007, p. 472)Today, the games industry generates around US$150 billion annually, over three times as much as the film industry (approximately US$42.5 billion annually) (Stewart, 2019). The economic dominance predicted in 2007 has clearly come to pass in the intervening years. But what of the other claim about the evolution of gaming into “something much richer, namely virtual worlds”? Since this cannot be quantifiably tracked like the other claim it is more difficult to verify or disprove, but there is an argument that can be made to support it.
Internet bandwidth and access is increasing at the same that computer technology continues to improve in capability. Meanwhile, the games industry and the titles it creates continue to grow in diversity and sophistication. Against this backdrop of associated increases in computational power, software capabilities, and IT/Telecom infrastructure, the concept of multiplayer gaming has become mainstream, a common feature to video games. In many cases, this multiplayer element has expanded to include online spaces that could be considered virtual worlds with comparable features to those Bainbridge studied.
Although many of these virtual worlds lack the scope, sophistication, and player freedom that purpose-built creations like Second Life and World of Warcraft offer, they are still roughly comparable, and most importantly, they share many of the same features that would make them ideal for academic study.
As a quick aside some might consider interesting: the apparent decline of the popularity of MMORPGs has occurred in this same time period. One could argue that as regular games have increasingly added multiplayer features and transitioned to providing virtual world experiences, they have cannibalised the player base that previously sought these features out in MMORPGs. The trend of providing “MMO-lite” experiences in these games could be one factor in the apparent declining popularity of MMORGPGs. In a way then, Bainbridge’s prediction was both wrong and right: virtual worlds have indeed proliferated, but not through the growth of the MMORPG genre, as he seems to have expected – or at least not yet. Instead, virtual worlds have proliferated so far through the growing ubiquity of online gameplay elements that increasingly have similar features to the larger-scale virtual worlds he studied in 2007.
Like most academics, Bainbridge was building on previous work. He is not alone in seeing games and virtual worlds as fertile ground for academic study. Two years prior, the American economist Edward Castronova published an influential and widely cited book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games (2005). In his 2007 paper, Bainbridge summarized the book in support of his own argument:
'Economist Edward Castronova argues that an increasing fraction of human life, economy, and culture will take place in these novel environments, so they need to be studied as important phenomena in their own right.' (Bainbridge, The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds, 2007, p. 474)Academic interest in games and virtual worlds has certainly flourished since the time these works were published, and interest seems to be growing further still today. Bainbridge’s original paper on the research potential of virtual worlds has been cited an impressive number of times (over 1,200) and tracking through on all of those citations reveals a diverse range of research from the social sciences, to education, to public health, and beyond.
Despite this, much of the research since has also often been quite narrowly focused. Within the field of economics, for example, much of the literature is focused on consumer behaviour as it relates to virtual goods economies. This issue is highlighted and explained in a much more recent 2019 paper, From the Hands of an Early Adopter’s Avatar to Virtual Junkyards: Analysis of Virtual Goods’ Lifetime Survival, by computer scientist Kamil Bortko, and other authors from the game-focused Finnish multidisciplinary research outfit Gamification Group (GG):
‘Virtual worlds and games have been postulated to provide unprecedented possibilities for research in general, but especially for the study of economics due to their ability to systematically track every event in that reality, but also due to the possibility of creating controllable environments while having people exhibit natural behaviours.'The scenery painted here is one I recognize. I have spent the past few months trawling through journal databases searching for academic journal articles on virtual goods, and the vast majority of them seem to be focused largely on economic issues. Further narrowing the literature, the analysis is often focused internally on in-game (or in-world) socio-economic behaviour. It is easy to find any number of articles examining why people buy virtual goods, for example, but it is much harder to find articles examining what economic differences exist between virtual and physical goods consumption, let alone an article about the social or ecological implications of replacing physical product consumption with virtual goods sales.
'Perhaps one of the most prominent veins of study related to virtual economies has been the study of consumer behaviour related to adopting and purchasing virtual goods in virtual worlds and games. This has especially been the case since games and virtual world operators have been the forerunners in implementing the so-called freemium or free-to-play business model, where playing or using the virtual environment is free of charge, but the operator generates revenue through different manifold marketing strategies combining classical sales tactics imbued with platform design that further encourages virtual-goods purchases.’ (Bortko, Pazura, Hamari, Bartków, & Jankowski, 2019, p. 1)
Going further, it is far less common to find articles that attempt to extrapolate from studied behaviour in virtual worlds to say something about the real world beyond it. Similarly, it is difficult to find the sorts of studies Bainbridge and others envisaged all those years ago, where game environments themselves act as a kind of digital petri dish that can be used for a range of studies. It may be helpful to provide some examples of what this “other research” looks like. Firstly, a hypothetical example of games as a petri dish:
Examples of novel games research.For decades now, the Centre for Disease Control could have been using gamers and other virtual world inhabitants as guinea pigs for epidemiological studies, quietly and harmlessly infecting them with digital viruses and studying how they spread across different virtual environments where they can be easily and systematically tracked, controlled, where experiments are easily reset, repeated, duplicated, and so on. In the current global pandemic, the relevance and utility of such studies is hopefully readily apparent, but hypotheticals like this are only so useful and easily conjured when one does not have to answer hard questions like where the research funding comes from. Facebook’s infamous psychology experiment with its userbase highlights other difficulties of using virtual environments as petri dishes for social science experiments – the ethics of invisible experimentation that has negative real-world consequences being a key concern in this instance (Gibbs, 2014).
Although there is a seeming scarcity of research that pushes beyond internal analysis of virtual goods consumption, the papers that do are illuminating and can provide concrete examples of what I imagine the broader academic discourse around video games could provide.
Returning first to Bainbridge, he published another important paper three years after the one previously discussed. His 2010 paper, Virtual Sustainability, provides convincing arguments for further academic study into the potential sustainability benefits of virtual worlds. One of the four main arguments he makes I have already touched on briefly:
'First, by moving conspicuous consumption and other usually costly status competitions into virtual environments, these virtual worlds might reduce the need for physical resources.' (Bainbridge, Virtual Sustainability, 2010, p. 3195)Replacing physical goods with virtual goods is a relatively simple concept to understand and study, yet the potential ecological benefits of this behaviour – which is already occurring on an economically and culturally significant scale – remain largely unknown. An area of interest identified by an influential academic a decade ago, and one of pertinence in an era of growing environmental concerns, has not received all that much attention since.
Two further examples of research that looks beyond internal economic analysis of virtual goods consumption are David Sheldon’s legal analysis of virtual goods in Claiming Ownership, but Getting Owned: Contractual Limitations on Asserting Property Interests in Virtual Goods (2007), and Edward Castronova’s Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier (2001).
Sheldon’s paper examines the legal status of virtual goods across different games and according to different national laws. He paints the picture of a broadly anti-consumer environment where virtual goods enjoy far less legal protections than comparable real-world items or property:
'Participants make sizable investments of social, human, and economic capital in these virtual worlds, often with the questionable expectation that the items they have collected and creations they have developed are their property… While there are some small differences from agreement to agreement in the commensurability of virtual goods and in the ability of participants to recognize profit from their virtual creations, the agreements consistently give providers the plenary ability to impose sanctions on participants and to change the terms of the agreements. This uncertainty severely curtails the ability of participants to enjoy the fruits of their investments.' (Sheldon, 2007, p. 751)Sheldon’s research demonstrates the possibilities of academics contributing to a discourse that has significant implications for the future of virtual worlds – our legal rights within them specifically. Even if the focus remains fixed on virtual goods, as it is here, this work shows that there is clearly more to research here than just the economics and psychology of consumer behaviour. The legal status of virtual goods could easily become a critical issue in the coming decades as virtual worlds grow, and an ‘increasing fraction of human life’ occupies them, as Castronova accurately predicted.
Speaking of which, Castronova’s 2001 paper Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier is another example of novel research. It provided an innovative comparative analysis of the economy in the MMORPG EverQuest with real-world economies. The in-game unit of currency was shown to have an exchange value higher than the Japanese Yen, with player’s nominal hourly wage based on in-game activity calculated at USD 3.42 an hour, higher than many countries around the world at the time (and to this day). This study, which extrapolated activity from the virtual world and applied it to the real one, has many implications. For one, can we provide inclusive and fair work for people in these virtual worlds? Sheldon’s work on the precarious legal status of virtual goods become even more relevant when asking such questions; if the product of labour in virtual worlds is not considered legal property of the creator, then what hope is there for a just economy in this brave new digital world? I feel as though there should be a wealth of literature seeking to answer such questions, but I have struggled to locate it so far.
Castronova’s comparative snapshot of real and virtual economies was taken in 1999, and his paper was widely cited and influential. Despite this, there does not seem to be a great wealth of research that continued in this vein in the decades since. The role of virtual world economies within the larger global economy remains an under-discussed point, somewhat paradoxically, despite growing technological and cultural interconnectedness, growing wealth and income inequality, and explosive growth in virtual world economies. As Castronova described in 2001, virtual world economies were predicted to generate US$1.5 billion by 2004. Today, the virtual economy generates US$100 billion annually, and involves 2.5 billion people. At the time of writing this, the virtual economy is acting as a much-welcomed safe haven during a global pandemic that forces social isolation, and for this reason its growth is likely to accelerate even further as we rethink our approaches to remote work and telecommuting (Daniel, 2020).
The role the virtual economy can, and does, play in creating a more sustainable world represents another area that appears to be under-researched. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals include poverty elimination, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and sustainable consumption and production. These focal points of the global sustainable development agenda can likely be helped by research into a virtual goods economy that continues to grow in economic and cultural importance, while also offering virtual environments that can facilitate unique experimental methodologies. So far, I’ve struggled to find many sustainability scholars tying together the various dots I’ve been laying out before you that are begging for connection: the legal problems Sheldon described, into the socio-cultural movement Castronova predicted, the research opportunities Bainbridge identified so long ago. It seems there is a lot of work to be done academically when it comes to games and sustainability, or that I have more work to do finding the relevant research. Perhaps it is a bit of both.
To be fair, there is still a lot more trawling of databases ahead for me. I have only a snapshot myself of the academic literature in this field. As I search more, my opinions here may change. This is just a general feeling I have had while searching for and reading papers so far. Academic research on consumer behaviour is clearly useful in generating revenue for the creators of video games and virtual worlds, as well as guiding their financial and corporate strategies. This could help explain why much of the research I have encountered so far is focused in that area, and why it is only more recently – after this economy has become well and truly established – that we’re starting to see new avenues of inquiry reminiscent of the kind envisaged by people who predicted the trends we’re experiencing now over a decade ago.
Although the argument so far has largely focused on virtual goods and economics, the same pattern of narrowly targeted academic interest in video games can be seen in other fields, such as research into gaming and media. Outlining all of that is a separate essay in itself.
Part 2: An overview of academic interest in games as a form of media, an examination of the gaming “media ecology”, and a look at how games and gamification can be a positive influence.Research into the impact of gaming and its relationship with society is still a relatively young field in academia, and is consequently lacking the depth, diversity, and sophistication of more established areas in communications research. The largest and most well-established area of games media analysis reflects the same historical trends as that of the first media effects studies, which originated at the turn of the century through to the 1930s (McQuail, 2009).
This earliest line of inquiry was typified by a focus on negative impacts, individual attitudes, and a scope of investigation limited to the short term. It was ultimately challenged; seen as lacking in sophistication of analysis and being generally unscientific in nature. Despite these lessons from the past, games media research has seemed intent on repeating that history during this last decade or so. Specifically, games media research (and indeed, games media) has traditionally limited itself to investigations that focus on negative, short-term, and simplistic cause-effect relationships, or what Balnaves et. al (2008) describe as ‘the one-step model of media influence’ (p. 60). McQuail (2009), in charting the broader history of academic research into media and communications, characterized this as the ‘first phase’ of media effects research, one that viewed the media as an all-powerful influencer of public opinion, belief, and action.
There is, for example, an abundance of academic research and wider media coverage related to violence and video gaming, with various studies purporting to show (or conversely, disprove) a causal link between exposure to gaming and violent behaviour. Considine (2012) and Strausburger (2014) offer good overviews of the research. Yet even in this field – the most widely published area of all media effects studies into gaming – the research is quite limited. Commenting on the ongoing debate around these causal links, a recent attempt to summarize the body of research lamented the dearth of convincing data in the following way:
'Part of the problem may be that the video game research is neither as voluminous nor quite as convincing as the older media violence research. For example, there are very few studies on video games, particularly first-person shooters, and criminal behaviour.' (Strasburger & Donnerstein, 2014, p. 721)Why is academic research repeating past histories in media effects analysis? Why is it, more broadly, so lacking in overall research volume? How can we reconcile this with the obvious economic and sociocultural importance of gaming media, and its globe-spanning reach and influence? Why is gaming’s relationship with society largely a story of delegitimization?
The war for relevance: Games as a serious topic of research and media coverage.One obvious answer to this academic and media ‘lag’ relates to a new dichotomy outlined by Cameron and Carroll (2004) who describe games researchers as ‘an older generation of “digital immigrants”, forced to adapt to rapid changes in digital technology’ (p. 63).
An even larger part of the answer to these questions lies in the ongoing war that video games wage for relevance. Simply put, video games are not seen as a serious area of research for many in academia, nor as a serious topic for discussion and analysis by other elements of the media, including many ‘games journalists’ situated within the industry itself (Kain, 2013). The dominant, hegemonic narrative, both within academia and the wider media environment, is that games are purely an ‘entertainment product’. Keogh (2015) describes the narrative in this way:
‘…a popular connotation of “videogames” as “entertainment products” rather than “art form” persists even today. Whereas cinema, literature, dance, music, and theatre can all be either entertainment product or serious and political artwork (or both), videogames have historically struggled to be considered by a broader culture as capable of serious, political messages.’This trend has recently seen something of a reversal. Describing the growing seriousness of political messages in games, and the diversity of reception these games have received, Eurogamer discusses Why we now talk about politics in games so much (Hetfeld, 2019):
Games now seem pretty intertwined with politics, but they always were. Often when we think politics, we think politicians - from discussions about game addiction, especially during the height of the WoW boom, to loot boxes and the sheer endless back-and-forth on the topic of whether or not shooters cause real-world violence, politicians have taken an interest in games whenever it became obvious that games are a large force in people's lives.In a sense, the saying “demographics is destiny” might apply here – as games increasingly become an economic and cultural force, they will come to reflect political and other discourse with increasing sophistication. Although there is perhaps a growing trend towards games as more serious political or social commentaries (or as cultural expressions with their own values), there are nonetheless still barriers to games being taken seriously, and by extension, to academic interest in this field. Indeed, the growing acceptance of gaming and its inclusion in the mainstream can itself be problematic.
And that is also exactly what makes politics an important aspect of games; the general awareness that many of us play them, causing video games to grow to a billion dollar industry, and the fact that when people create stories, any kind of stories, they extrapolate from human experience. Politics as a term is multifaceted and applies to any construct that aids or governs how people live with each other. Games too, even if they're not about the French Revolution or shouting "Objection!" in a courtroom, are about the fundamental rights of and duties to people we want politics to achieve: we want to live together. What cultural products like games do is to look at why this is difficult, even if they often suggest that shooting someone in the face is a viable solution.
...Games have reached a level of graphical and overall technical realism so high it's only natural to tell relevant stories with the virtual characters who look so much like us. That's a great thing - it's a way to chart not only how games have changed, but how the perception of games is changing, too: the people who play games make a larger percentage of the overall population than ever before. Gaming is part of the larger cultural fabric. (Hetfeld, 2019)
O’Shaughnessy & Stadler’s (2008) work on the concept of ‘incorporation’ offers a helpful lens through which to view and understand the delegitimization of gaming as a serious body of research, work of art, political expression, social commentary, etc. Games represent a radical challenge to traditional forms of narrative construction and storytelling; they provide a level of interactivity impossible in other mediums and empower their audience in ways that ‘old-world’ media cannot. The games industry as a whole embraces equally radical innovations and disruptions, such as consumer-driven publication models (crowdfunding), and consumer-created content (‘modding’ and player-driven ‘sandbox’ gameplay).
Despite the radical nature of games media, it is ‘allowed some space in the [mainstream] media and [is] thus made acceptable … in other words [it is] accommodated, or incorporated within society in such a way as to defuse [its] radical potential’ (O'Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2008, pp. 204-5). This analysis helps us understand how, despite gaming media’s increasing dominance, it often remains only trivially discussed in mainstream mass media, and largely under-researched in academic fields.
This also helps explain why it is most commonly within ‘new media’ – online platforms like YouTube and Twitch that operate independently from the traditional mainstream – where serious games journalism thrives, and sophisticated analyses and representations of gaming can be found in abundance. Finally, it informs an understanding of why it is these relatively younger, more progressive media organizations, typically from the nascent Fifth Estate, that take most seriously the idea of critical commentary and research.
As an example of this, it is difficult to imagine something like Joseph Anderson’s body of work emerging from any place other than YouTube, a platform that caters perfectly to his goal of providing extended, in-depth analysis of game narrative and design. His commentary videos often run longer than most feature films (his most recent is over four hours long), but with almost 500,000 subscribers and millions of views of his videos, he has clearly demonstrated, like many others, a demand for a new kind of media featuring extended commentary and analysis.
It bears mentioning, briefly, the implications for education and academia here. Academic research is largely drawn from peer-reviewed studies, published in academic journals. That process is competitive, slow, arduous, and at times subverted by conflicting political and economic interests that arise from a ‘publish or perish’ culture. When academics at universities are themselves required (and also require their own students) to draw almost exclusively from the apparently optimal academic pool of knowledge in their own work on games research, they impose a problematically narrow constraint that places primacy on a still growing and still largely impoverished area, while effectively delegitimizing the vast amounts of excellent analyses within the broader media ecology. This is an example of how ‘other’ media is ‘incorporated’, and only ‘allowed some space’ (emphasis added) (O'Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2008, pp. 204-5). Within this context, gaming analysis exists at the fringe of media, and would likely be considered unacceptable as a reference for many types of academic publication. This kind of institutionalized indifference (if not hostility) may also help to account for the dearth of academic progress in video games studies more generally.
Referring back to O’Shaughnessy & Stadler (2008), it is important to emphasize that these new media outlets are not part of the dominant ideology or narrative. What differentiates them is that they do not seek to ‘incorporate’ games media or its discourse, but rather, embrace it as a serious topic of conversation. This conflict, and the way that traditional media represents gaming, tells us a great deal about its uneasy status as a disruptive newcomer within the broader media discourse, and within society as a whole.
Games media and society: A story of disruption, innovation, and new media ecologies.Despite emulating or “aping” traditional media at times, video game media is radically different in important ways to other forms of traditional mass media. One key to this difference relates to interactivity and the expectations of ‘control’ this has created. This difference is explored in-depth throughout the book The Ecology of Games (Bogost, et al., 2008). The book takes a broad scope: looking at games as ‘systems’ that exist within a wider ‘media ecology’. Within this ecology, users participate not only as gamers, but also as ‘producers and learners’. Their participation and engagement creates entirely new forms of social organization, thought, and interaction (Bogost, et al., 2008).
Underlying this analysis is the idea of games media as being uniquely different through the radical shifts it creates in consumer empowerment. In their forward to the book, Ito et al. (2008) provide a detailed overview of this difference:
‘The shift toward interactive media, peer-to-peer forms of media communication, and many-to-many forms of distribution relate to types of participation that are more bottom-up and driven by the “user” or “consumer” of media. Audiences have always had the opportunity to “talk back” to corporate media or to create their own local media forms. However, the growing dominance of gaming as a media format, the advent of low-cost digital production tools, and online distribution means a much more dynamic range in who participates and how they participate in the production and distribution of media. Gamers expect that media are subject to player control.’ (Ito, et al., p. viii)The utilization of ‘low-cost digital production tools’ in the creation of novel types of games media is perfectly exemplified by Felix Kjellberg’s (aka PewDiePie’s) YouTube empire and the countless other “streamers” like him. Kjellberg is both gamer and producer. The notion of ‘producer’ here entails his role as an independent broadcaster with a direct connection to his audience. As a participant in games media, he not only takes control of the games he plays, but also of the broader media genre in which he operates. His audience is similarly empowered; the act of watching provides (via YouTube’s monetization scheme) funding to their chosen media provider and thus, to an extent, they exert control over the modes and types of production within the gaming media landscape.
In terms of a wider social impact – one affecting more than just YouTube viewers – what this analysis demonstrates is a newfound compatibility with consumerism, media and public problems. The problems of concentrated media ownership, as outlined by Murdock (1992) are cast in a new light:
‘Whilst the exercise of citizenship presupposes collective action in pursuit of equality and fraternity- as well as of individual liberty, the ideology of consumerism encourages people to seek private solutions to public problems by purchasing a commodity. It urges them to buy their way out of trouble rather than pressing for social change and improved social provision.’ (p. 19)Murdock’s view is that a neoliberal, capitalist model of media is incompatible with social change and social provisions because it undermines citizenship and civic participation. In his view this is because it inevitably concentrates power in the hands of the few and creates economic and cultural hegemonies that subvert democratic values (framed in his essay as ‘national cultures’). He decries the emerging technology of his time (satellite and cable television) despite its promises of decentralization and plurality, claiming that ‘multiplicity does not guarantee diversity. More does not always mean different’ (Murdock, 1992, p. 20)
Murdock, of course, wrote in a ‘media ecology’ far less diverse than today’s. More recent academic research may to undermine his assertions, even as the neoliberal capitalist model continues to enjoy widespread global support. Senft (2013) describes the opportunities afforded to people like Kjellberg in the following way:
‘…whatever condition capitalism itself is in, opportunities to make and distribute media within capitalist markets exist as never before. Even more interesting, at the very same time that job markets appear to be shrinking and exclusionary, cultural notions about notoriety, celebrity and fame appear to be expanding and inclusive, thanks in part to the rise in relatively recent media formats such as … personalized broadcast “channels” on sites such as YouTube’ (p. 349).The broader media landscape outlined above, the dizzying plurality and diversity of the games media ecology, and the empowerment of participants as both gamers and producers show that despite Murdock’s concerns, there are clearly social and other benefits to these new media formats, the gaming media ecology very much included. Going further, there is increasing academic interest in the way games can act as a driver of positive social outcomes, and even more broadly, how the mechanics of games can be applied to other areas that have nothing to do with games or playing, but still provide a desired outcome.
Games media as a vehicle for social good.‘Gamification’ represents an exceptionally broad and promising areas of games media and academic study. It provides numerous examples of gaming extending far beyond its traditional representation. ‘Gamification’ is the application of gaming principles and mechanics to traditionally non-ludological areas. Although the focus of gamification is on “traditionally non-ludological areas” (i.e. not on video games or gaming), there has equally been a rise in the genre of “serious games” that have explicit educational, academic, or social good focuses. As the CEO of the America’s peak games industry body stated: ‘games that once purely entertained now solve pressing global challenges and push society in new, exciting directions’ (Entertainment Software Association, 2014, p. 3).
In 2008, scientists at the University of Washington developed an online multiplayer puzzle game (FoldIt) where players had to fold proteins and solve real-world problems. In her article covering the wider positive societal impacts of gaming, Marigo Raftopoulos (2014) described the profound breakthrough that gamification afforded:
‘The problem of how to configure the structure of an enzyme, M-PMV retroviral protease – a challenge that had stumped scientists for 15 years – was solved in just 10 days after it was presented to 240,000 FoldIt players in 2011. This has been a keystone example of how the combination of a multiplayer games, crowd-sourcing and distributed computing can be used as a new and innovative form of collaborative research and problem solving.’Wider academic research into gamification and positive health outcomes is an emerging field. As Primack et al. (2012) outline: ‘there is potential promise for video games to improve health outcomes, particularly in the areas of psychological therapy and physical therapy’ (p. 2).
Gamification extends beyond public health, however. The application of gamification principles and design has been used in Sweden to encourage drivers to obey speed limits (NPR, 2011). The tremendously popular app Khan Academy has gamified the process of education and helped break down barriers to learning (Sinha, 2012). This gamification of learning presents a particularly promising approach to social problems. Meanwhile, mainstream games with broad commercial appeal also demonstrate educational capabilities. The game Kerbal Space Program uses gamification to teach its audience the intricacies of space travel, including orbital mechanics and astrophysics. Recognizing the opportunities for public outreach and education, NASA involved itself in the game’s development (White, 2014).
Even more broadly, gamification can be argued to represent a new approach to ‘positive framing’ within mass media. As McKay et al. (2011) argue:
‘Framing theory recognizes the role of news frames in directing attention of audiences to particular explanations and courses of action. Frames are seen as having a considerable influence on the way in which audiences understand and respond to issues and events. Framing theory suggests that media framing can impact how audiences feel about an issue’ (p. 612).The subtle presence of gamification and positive framing can be seen within traditional mass media, in TV shows such as The Biggest Loser where the stigmatized issue of obesity is re-framed to be more socially acceptable through the gamification of weight loss. The ability of games and virtual worlds to directly situate players within specific environments, specific historical and social contexts, and do so in immersive, experiential ways, suggests that framing in games media could play an important role in affecting social change, for example by building acceptance of new ideas through new narrative experiences and virtual world designs.
The evidence of games media’s growing importance is clear. Communications research into games media will likely become increasingly important, and diversified, despite problematic historical trends in research and media coverage. Promising areas of research are emerging. Games and new media are increasingly promoting diversity and sophistication of discourse through novel methodologies, and that bodes well for this area.
[Full reference list available in comment section]
Debunking the Debt-Trap Propaganda (Part 1)
"Indus ka Nalka (tarikhdan)" who introduced me to this piece of information.
Now lemme copy paste the stuff here with better formating ;))
- Zahid Khan
- Guo Changgang
- Muhammad Afzaal
- Riaz Ahmad
- Samuel Aron Issack
Aron Issack (2020): Debunking Criticism on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, The Chinese
Economy, DOI: 10.1080/10971475.2020.1792065
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10971475.2020.1792065
Published online: 24 Jul 2020.
1.) Institute of Global Studies, College of Liberal Arts, Shanghai University, Shanghai, China;
2.) World History Department, Center for Global Studies, Center for Turkish Studies and Dean of Graduate School at Shanghai University, Shanghai, China;
3.) School of Foreign Languages, Shanghai Jia Tong University, Shanghai, PR China;
4.) School of Public Policy and Administration, Xi’ian Jiaotong University, Xi’ian, China.
Abstract:The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a pilot flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Although this project has been received in a relatively positive manner by actors regionally and worldwide, it has also been subject to serious criticisms in domestic and international publications. These criticisms include the claims that Pakistan might become a colony or province of China, and that Pakistan is faced with a debt-trap as a result of Chinese loans. This article outlines these claims and proceeds to show that neither stands up to close scrutiny. Moreover, the article approach is alienated into two parts; first, looks at how the distinctive criticism propagated by critics whilst secondly, a critical approach is used to debunk all these criticism with the help of respondents’ reactions. Consequently, it may provide few policy recommendations.
Keywords: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; Belt and Road Initiative; criticism; colonization; debt-trap.
Introduction:With the inception of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, an atmosphere of criticism and misinformation has been propagated by several local and international publications which ultimately goals to make CPEC more controversial and representing a negative image of China around the world. Before debunking the imprecise copious criticism, it is a pre-requisite to understand the rationale of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project that why Pakistan crave for it and agreed with China to lay its foundation? In-fact, this project is blessing for Pakistan’s economic growth. China truly abetted Pakistan to draw world attention toward new Pakistan with a vision of economic development, political stability, and regional peace. Woefully, everyone thought that Pakistan is a safe zone for terrorist networks due to the international political agendas. However, president of China Xi Jinping’s signature on an agreement with Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif in April 2015 laid a foundation of mega project of CPEC. As a result of this, the world began to view Pakistan as a safe haven for billions of dollars of Chinese investment. It was quoted from the wall street journal that “CPEC–Draws world attention to Pakistan” and all of sudden Pakistan got a new identity (Iqbal, 2018).
Structurally, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a pilot flagship project of BRI plan supplemented with an initial worth of $46 billion which was exceeded to $62 billion later on. This project is based on the core formula of “1þ4” comprising the CPEC project and four portfolios include: Infrastructure investment, Energy, Industrial Cooperation and Gwadar Port (Askari,2015).
Certainly, the portfolios of project provide a pave-line to the country’s better infrastructure, transportation system, energy needs and growing dwindle economy of Pakistan (Butt, 2017). Prior to CPEC project, the country has had worn-out more strategically and politically by other major powers and pushed into the war zones because of their strategic ally. They often supported weak governance system of Pakistan, the corrupt political elites and helped them financially without a proper accountability. In the last seventy years history of Pakistan, no major power offered truly Pakistan as an economic allay, nevertheless, pushing Pakistan into the cage of IMF loans with conditional high interest rates which ultimately leading to the debt-trap policies.
Likewise,Pakistan suffered a lot and lost more than 30,000 lives in the so-called war on terror, and eventually left isolated regionally and worldwide. Before the inception of CPEC project, the foreign investors were not ready to invest in Pakistan because of inexorable security situations. Meanwhile, the foundation of CPEC project appeared as a blessing for Pakistan’s economic growth which marked a new identity to Pakistan with a vision of economic development, political stability, and regional peace (Iqbal, 2017a).
Initially, CPEC project is highly propped-up by Pakistan and considered as a game-changer for Pakistan’s socio-economic development. Nevertheless, it is officially opposed by India due to its conventional adversary with Pakistan, and also frequent strategic skepticism raised by United State (Khan et al., 2018). In doing so, the global and regional competitors of China are endeavoring to make CPEC project more controversial through criticism and propagation of cherry-picked information’s with the help of “redundant sources.” The central idea of the question is more critical and complex, which is alienated further into two key parts; foremost one is that numerous scholars and analysts are arguing that CPEC project will lead Pakistan to the China’s colony, and also compared it with the former British East India (BEIC) Company of subcontinent. The second part addresses the argument of debt-trap that the loans of CPEC project are high interest based, and unable to re-pay for Pakistan in current economic situations. Hence, the diverse parts of key question are measured with the help of critical approach which is not focused on take-out the project but rather prefer to improve it through raising awareness, critical reflection and self-analysis (Robbins & Barnwell, 2016).
CPEC may leads Pakistan to the China’s colony?This section of the paper mainly focuses on the pivotal argument that CPEC may lead Pakistan to China’s colony, which is identical to the on-going criticism regarding china’s colonization plan for Pakistan through CPEC particularly, and BRI in general. In-fact, the foundation of CPEC is unlocked the door for pointless assumptions and pessimistic narrative for China competitors regionally and world-wide and stabbed to create a fear and misunderstanding among the BRI members states. One of the biggest myth propagated on CPEC is that Pakistan might become a colony or province of China. Historians and experts are well aware that colonialism and imperialism are legacies of countries of the global north. The prolonged history of China is free from invasion to other territories, and never harbored imperial structure (Iqbal, 2017d).
Rationally, the skeptics point-out trade deficit with China as a reason to show concern on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. For instance, Mourdoukoutas (2018) claimed in forbs that “One day, China will turn Pakistan into its own ‘Semi-colony’, as it did recently with Sri-Lanka.”
He argued on the basis of current account deficit, government debt, and external debt. According to him, the current account deficit recorded $3867 million for Pakistan in the 4th quarter of 2017. The state current account averaged $-587.18 million from 1976 to 2017—the highest value of $1418 million recorded in the 3rd quarter and lowest value of $-4419 million in the 2nd quarter of 2017.
Likewise, the state’s total government debt equivalent to 67.20 percent of the state GDP in 2017. Pakistan’s external debt raised to $88891 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 from $85052 million in the 3rd quarter of 2017. In the meantime, Pakistan’s foreign capital flows and foreign 2 Z. KHAN ET AL. currency reserves are dwindling, making it increase likely that Pakistan will ask to re-schedule its debt to China. May be, this debt would be transfer to equity, which in essence will handle CPEC to China. While taking CPEC into consideration, China has already invested about 20 percent of Pakistan’s total economy ($270 billion). However, by 2030 Pakistan would have to pay back $90 billion and this would be an additional burden (Sood, 2017).
In addition, Mourdoukoutas compared CPEC project with Sri-Lankan Hambantota port where’s China rescheduled the Sri-Lankan debt, transferred the port officially into China’s port for 99 years lease. This lease agreement gives leverage to the Chinese officials and merchants and accounted for 70 percent stake in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) prominent station. The port development initiated with loans from China, nevertheless, Sri-Lanka could not pay-back and ultimately, China converted these loans into equity, in essence turning Sri-Lanka into a “semi-colony” dramatically (Mourdoukoutas, 2018).
Likewise, Zumburn (2018) reported in Wall Street Journal that China gives huge loans to the developing countries and invest in BRI member states. However, some recipients are not in position to pay-back them. He also quoted the same instance of Sri-Lankan seaport and dubbed that China’s security ports are potentially strategic maritime trade routes. He also compared these types of loans with “Debt-trap Diplomacy” and corollaries that China could do it again.
Indeed, Pak-China relationship is “all-weather friendship” but why relying too heavily on China, and placing of its much state economy in the hands of Chinese investors which resented by those who fear that the country will become a de-facto colony of China. Regarding trade- deficit issue, the respondent reaction is more substantial, as statement of Ahsan Iqbal (former federal minister) released by Pakistan Embassy Norway that China’s competitiveness in exports is universal and not distinct to Pakistan.
Whereas, in depth analysis reveals the current trade deficit of China with Pakistan and other competitor states such as US and India provides an insight to debunk the false insight of colonialism. Pakistan’s current trade deficit with China is $6.2 billion. In comparison, The trade deficit of US with China marked a new record of $375.2 billion in 2017, raised from $347 billion in 2016, an increase of $28.2 billion which is equal to 8.1 percent, and India trade deficit stands at $47 billion (Iqbal, 2017b).
However, the phenomenon makes an argument that if trade deficit becomes the cause of colonization; It gives birth to an argument that the US and India are tended to becoming colonies of China which can never be assumed.
Likewise, it is bizarre to make such claims about the Pak-China relationship. Both countries respect the sovereignty of each other, and CPEC is based on the shared vision of both countries: BRI and vision 2025 (Iqbal, 2017b).
Prior to the CPEC, Pakistan trade deficit with China was high if compares with the current trade deficit. Xia (2019) reported the statistics of State of Bank (SBP) that Pakistan’s trade deficit with China decreased to $5.48 billion (11-percent) during the last eight months from July 2018 to February 2019 as compared to trade deficit of $6.22 billion in the same period of preceding year.
Correspondingly, the SBP data noted two key reasons for decreasing trade deficit of Pakistan with China, including an increase in Pakistani exports to China and a rapid drop in its imports from China. Where’s Pakistan exports to China increased by 3.8 percent to $1.15 billion as compare to the exports of $1.106 billion recorded from July 2017 to February 2018.
Likewise, Pakistan’s imports from China also decreased by 9.43 percent to $6.63 billion from $7.32 billion in the same period. On annual basis, Pakistan’s imports from China dropped to $686.1 million in February 2019 against the imports worth of $786.6 million recorded during early months of the same period. The country’s export was increased when Pakistani’s premier Imran Khan shown his desire to increase the country’s overall annual exports to $27 billion from existing $23.4 billion. Kundi (2019) highlighted that Pakistan didn’t exploit well the Free Trade Agreement (FTA)-1 signed between China and Pakistan in 2006.
However, the China-Pakistan Free trade Agreement (CPFTA) Phase-2 was resulted after the eleventh round of debate in April 2019, and was signed between the leadership of both countries. Pakistan also secured tariff relaxation and duty free market access for 313 tariff lines.
THE CHINESE ECONOMY 3:Likewise, the critics of China’s overseas investments highlighted the case of the Sri- Lankan port of Hambantota—the previous Sri-Lankan president agreed to swap equity in the loss-making venture to China in exchange for debt forgiveness (Rafiq, 2017; Zumburn, 2018).
The Sri-Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaka’s lend billions of dollars in loan from China government for infrastructure projects in his own constituency (Shah, 2016). The total national debt of Sri-Lanka is approximately $64.9 billion, of which $8 billion owed to China. Initially, he borrowed $301 million money from China with high interest rate of 6.3 percent, while the interest rate on soft loans from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank are available in the range of 0.25 to 3 percent. The previous government was more corrupt and due to weak governance system and dwindle economy, they didn’t pay back the due loans on time which ultimately transferred to the equity (Economic Times, 2017).
In response, the Barry Sautman, a professor in the Division of Social Science at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology stated that false myth propagated by international media that Sri Lanka’s government was forced to sign a “lease contract” of Hambantota port for 99 years just after the failing to repay Chinese loans that were racking up 6.3 percent interest “are untrue”.
He added more in his recent article published on the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that China hold an estimated 9 to 15 percent of Sri- Lanka external debt which is based on his team field research in Sri-Lanka. While remaining all high-interest loans from commercial banks, which are mainly Western based. International sovereign bonds hold about half of its external debt, with "Americans holding two-thirds of their value and Asians only about 8 percent."
Likewise, Sri-Lanka must pay interest rate averaging 6.3 percent on international loans within 7 years. On the contrary, more than 2–3rd of the value of Chinese financing to Sri-Lanka from 2001 to 2007, including 2–3rd to Hambantota port, bear only 2 percent of interest, and mostly repayable more than 20 years, he argued. "Ironically then, if Sri Lanka is debt distressed, it owes more to American and other Western entities than to Chinese," (MOFCOM, 2019).
Nevertheless, the borrowing of money, lease or interest base systems exist world-wide. Likewise, IMF and other international financial institutions are also providing high interest- based loans to the developing and smaller nations which ultimately leads to the debt trap (Shah, 2016).
Secondly, few of critics claimed that China’s increasing population in Pakistan is an alarming situation for the country and compared it with colonial structure. For instance, Chaudhury (2018) reported in Economic Times that under the CPEC project, China is going to construct a modern city for 5,00,000 Chinese nationals at a cost of $150 million in Gwadar region. Half a million Chinese nationals will be housed in proposed city of Gwadar by 2022. In-fact, these nationals are workforce for the financial district of Gwadar. This zone will be specified merely for Chinese citizens, which basically means that Pakistan will be used as a colony of China.
Iqbal (2017d) responded immediately that only few thousand of Chinese nationals are living in Pakistan and making a positive contribution to country’s economy. Most of them are labor migrants who will leave back to China after completion of the projects. In contrary, approximately 8 million Chinese are living in Malaysia, 900,000 in Canada, 600,000 in Japan and 400,000 in France and more than 2.5 million are living in the United States. In that circumstances, to claims that Chinese nationals are surpassing Pakistani society is simply a bluffing while nothing to do with reality.
Thirdly, critics argued that the on-going CPEC development project is a new model of East India Company (EIC) which leads Pakistan to the China’s colony. This issue sparked when the former senator Tahir Mashhadi voiced against exorbitant loans and power tariffs demand according to the Beijing interest (Shah, 2016).
It’s really a shabby and hyperbole approach of copious critics to compare age of imperialism with current globalization era and modern international political system which is based on the notion of nation-state. This is not an age of imperialism or radical type of colonization. If we recalled the history of colonization, when the British colonized sub-continent in the mid of 19th century, that was a true model of “Empire-state” system 4 Z. KHAN ET AL. worldwide (Rothermund, 2006).
There is a zilch matching between both the cases. The primarily intention of EIC was doing trade in subcontinent which ultimately shifted to the power under three diverse components:
The first component was the economic, political and social environment which shaped the company’s internal state;
the second was the decision-making part which was a controlling mechanism;
and the third was the operational part which dealt with the actual physical aspects of trade.
Besides, there were no proper ingress and trade policies, and lack of governance system to ensure check and balance which ultimately overthrew the local rule by brutal use of British force (Chaudhuri, 1978).
As the distinguished British historian Darymple noted that the most crucial part of EIC colonization was that they had private army of about 260,000—twice of the size of the British Army, with Indian revenues of 225.3 million and expenses 234.5 million (Dalrymple, 2015).
Likewise, with an end of colonization era, all the empires segregated into numerous independent states and republics with demarcated boundaries and specific constitution, and at present, they can demonstrate well to protect their territorial integrity and sovereignty with all possible means. In South Asian region, Afghanistan is the most recent example of it, where’s the US susceptible to establish US-led government and hegemonic power throughout of Afghanistan. In-spite of that the present leadership of US is seeking a safe way for an esteem exit from Afghanistan (Hussain, 2019).
Nonetheless, there is a huge disparity between EIC and CPEC. In case of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity—both the countries enjoy a long testified friendship based on mutual trust, cooperation and admiration (Shah, 2016).
Moreover, the government of Pakistan setup Special Security Division (SSD) for the security of project with a total strength of 13,700 armed forces (nine regular military battalions and six Paramilitary wings) which are quite enough to protect this project from internal and external security threats (Xuequan, 2017).
Similarly, Board of Investment (BOI) mandate under the government of Pakistan encompasses policy reforms to update their trade policies and regulatory framework, signed MOUs and bi-lateral investment treaties, provisions of contract and partnership Acts, the security clearance for work visas, handling entry permits, policy for opening of liaison or branch offices, lease system, introduced legal framework for investment and establishment of special economic zones through industrial clusterization (Board of Investment, 2018).
Regardless, several critics arguing that CPEC project is a “debt-trap” for Pakistan which leads Pakistan to the worst economic situation, as Noor Ahmed, secretary of the Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan (EADP) responded that the Pakistan’s total foreign debt is about $106 billion. Of which, Chinese loans account for only 10 to 11 percent, while the remaining are from the International Monetary Fund, Paris Club, and other Western organizations.
He added more that China always supported Pakistan during tough economic crises. Through the establishment of CPEC, China is building infrastructure in Pakistan to save its dwindling economy, and some of its money coming into Pakistan are purely an investment, some are interest-free loans, and other loans are based on friendly terms (MOFCOM, 2019).
Is CPEC a debt trap project for Pakistan?With the speedy advancement through CPEC in Pakistan, several domestic and international criticism appeared against the project and termed the multi-billion dollar project as a “debt-trap” for Pakistan, and presumed that it would be double burden on Pakistan’s economy (Malik, 2019).
Although, CPEC is a development project and it has a huge potential to transform the socio-economic makeup of Pakistan. Nevertheless, copious heckler worried that it would lead to the debt-trap, and making Pakistan a colony of China.
Correspondingly, a Pakistani prominent economist, Hafeez Pasha highlighted a serious concern over Pakistan potential to service the growing debt. He has already calculated that the debt to GDP ratio goes higher from 70 percent to 90 percent, which is a challenging issue for country economy (Khalik, 2018).
Likewise, Page and Shah (2018) THE CHINESE ECONOMY 5 reported in Wall Street Journal that there are skepticism's regarding government forecasts that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will increase economic growth from 5.8 percent to 7 percent by 2023, letting Pakistan to service its debt. It was also highlighted in March IMF report that Pakistan’s rising current account deficit and external debt obligations partly on CPEC, and predicated growth would flat-line at 5 percent until 2023. Therefore, “the new regime of Pakistan will have to do some adjustment, with us or without us,” said by Teresa Daban, the IMF representative in Pakistan.
Regardless, this plan is also considered as a model of Debt Trap Diplomacy (DTD), claimed by an Indian strategist, Brahma Chellaney*. He noted that China is assisting small and developing countries with high interest loans which are unable to pay for them, and ultimately undermine those countries sovereignty. His view reflects an Indo-American consensus, as suggested by Tillerson’s reference to “predatory economics” (Chellaney, 2017). He added more in project syndicate that China is offering infrastructure financing and loans for unstable projects to protect Beijing access to the local markets or resources, rather than to lift domestic economies, and ultimately these countries plunge into a debt-trap plan that leaves them vulnerable to China’s influence.*
Chellaney recalled a recent example of Sri-Lanka’s port that Chinese loans were transformed into equity, and ultimately “sea-port” handed over to a Chinese state run company for 99 year lease. Correspondingly, Chaudhury (2017) highlighted in the Economic Times that gradually, these debts are converting into equity, and at the end ownership goes to the Chinese companies that will not just adversely affect on Pakistan and Sri-Lankan economies but also create security implications for India due to China’s steady position in the periphery. This has key lesson for Bangladesh and Nepal where China has guaranteed to invest billions. China has projected a master plan for Pakistan’s economic transformation under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is only a strategic plan for China’s colonial control of Pakistan. Beijing paid heavy loans from the Chinese banks at high interest rates to finance the project, and some of the critics presumed that Pakistan would take nearly 40 years to pay back these loans.The Beijing funding for Pakistan is actually a “debt-trap” plan which would take control of country’s economic and strategic sectors. He added more that CPEC is a China project, and Pakistan is the only topographical part of it. Cynical it is, then, Pakistan had already fought against formal communist regime known as “Soviet Union” to control it gaining access to the warm waters, nevertheless, another former communist country is easily permitted for the same access. Additionally, it is undeniable that Pakistan has no benefit from China’s investment, obviously it has, as an estimate shared by Pakistan’s Business Council (PBC) suggest the “project could account for 20 percent of the GDP over the next five years and increase growth by 3 percent. Nevertheless, frequent onlookers prudence Pakistan after how Beijing terms and investment turned bitter in Sri-Lanka, Tajikistan and several parts of the Africa.
In both Sri-Lanka and Tajikistan cases, with mounting costs and debts incurred by the host countries, bulky parts of land were handed over to the Chinese companies in lieu of loans and unpaid funds. It is predictable that Tajikistan had to relinquish one percent of its country to China since they were unable to re-pay loans. Therefore, Ziadi noted that there are still worries that Pakistan would become another province of China, or will be reduced to being a “vassal state” (Chaudhury, 2017; Zaidi, 2017).
In-fact, the “debt-trap” issue sparked at a time when China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has addressed the critical bottlenecks in energy and infrastructure, and both nations have agreed to deepen the base of this initiative (Assadi, 2018). These criticisms were rejected by respondents’ with more rational responses. For instance, the former federal minister, Ahsan Iqbal responded sound to the Pasha argument that even in coming five years, debt ratio will come down from 64 percent. Nevertheless, the borrowing of money does not entail the impression that country will turn into the debt-trap whilst it depends on figuring-out whether the debt is a productive borrowing or un-productive. In doing so, the debts can improve infrastructure of a country and its growth rate, which will help to improve the capacity of the state economy to make it more stable. 6 Z. KHAN ET AL.
Whatever, the liabilities Pakistan has, they are well in capacity of Pakistan to pay-back. But unfortunately, there are several so-called politicians and economic analysts who are always seeking flaws in the entire project of CPEC.
They are trying to construct a “negative narrative” which sometimes gives undue worries to the people of Pakistan that the GDP ratio of Pakistan was going out of control. In 2013, it was 63 percent and the same figure in 2016 as well. But, we are trying to bring it down. Therefore, debt trap issue has no possibility in near future, and the government has a potential to deal with it (Iqbal, 2017b). Moreover, the former advisor to PM, Sartaj Aziz ensured that the CPEC loans for infrastructure are at the rate of 2 percent interest (Concessional-based, nor commercial one), and the payback time is 20 to 25 years. He emphasized the point that most of this outlay is in the form of investment. CPEC loans for infrastructure are on soft-loan basis at the rate of approximately 2 percent and the payback time is 20 to 25 years. Overall investment to GDP ratio will increase due to the CPEC projects.” He added more, "we have achieved 4.5 percent GDP growth this year, which can increase more by overcoming energy shortages. In this regard, energy-related projects in the CPEC can prove to be very helpful. Thus, overcoming the energy shortages will also increase our GDP growth rate, which is expected to increase to 5 percent this year” (Aziz, 2016; Butt, 2016).
Likewise, the Page and Shah criticism on CPEC and BRI in Wall Street Journal is purely based on “redundant sources,” and shows an anti-Beijing narrative. Both the countries officially reacted to theses baseless allegations.
As per statistical data of Pakistani ministry of Finance, 42 percent of the external debt was taken from multi-lateral financial institution, 18 percent from the Paris club. correspondingly, the loans received under the CPEC project accounts to only 10 percent of the total external debt, and it also offers the lower interest rate on concessional-base rather than commercial one (Assadi, 2018). The same statistics were also released by the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, and rejected misinformation’s of the assumed “debt trap” for Pakistan regarding CPEC framework. In the same way, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi also clarified the figures about debts during his visit to Pakistan by stating that "47 percent of Pakistan’s debt related to the IMF and the Asian Development Bank.” Additionally, Noor Ahmed, secretary of the Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan (EAPD) interviewed to the Xinhua that Pakistan’s overall foreign debt is approximately US$106 billion and Chinese loan accounts for a mere 10 to 11 percent of the total foreign debt, where’s the remaining 89 to 90 percent is from other sources such as International Monetary Fund (IMF), Paris Club, and other western organizations (Malik,2019).
Certainly, the leadership of Pakistan is highly committed to pursuing the strategic and economic relationship with China to new heights. Pakistan has already proved that only 6$billion received as a concessional loan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with an interest rate of 2.29 percent along with the grace period of 7 years and a re-payment period of 20 to 25 years. However officials clarified that the debt re-payment will begin in 2021 with an estimated amount of 300–400 million annually and slowly peak to approximately 3.5 billion by fiscal year 2024–25 (Assadi, 2018).
Secondly, criticism is mainly based on the issue of Sri-Lankan sea-port known as “Hambantota International Port.” The former government of the Sri-Lanka didn’t pay back on due time, and ultimately loans were converted into equity.
In response to the criticism, Barry Sautman, professor at HKUST stated that western media is propagating false myths against China, and reported that Sri Lankan government was forced to sign a “lease-contract” of Hambantota port for 99 years just after the failing to repay Chinese loans. He said, “China hold about 9 to 15 percent of Sri-Lanka external debt which is based on his team field research in Sri-Lanka. The remaining all high interest loans from commercial banks which are mainly western based. Ironically then, if Sri-Lanka is debt distressed, it owes more to American and other Western entities than to Chinese.”
In reality, Chinese infrastructure loans have no intention to get a hold on valuable assets of any country or undermine its sovereignty. There is no Chinese plot to control the world (MOFCOM,2019).
Likewise, Deborah Brautigam, an expert on China-Africa relations at John Hopkins THE CHINESE ECONOMY 7 University, rejected openly such allegations in her article published by “New York Time” on April 26. She stated that “found feeble evidence of a pattern signifying that Chinese banks are intentionally funding loss-making projects to obtain strategic advantages for China.”
The Sri-Lankan port is often referred by critics, but “that’s a special case, and it is extensively misunderstood,”
she wrote. Her research conducted by China-Africa Research Initiative at the SIAS*, which include information’s on* more than 1,000 Chinese loans in Africa between 2000 and 2017, totaling more than $143 billion, as well as a study by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center which has identified and tracked more than $140 billion in Chinese loans to Latin America and the Caribbean since 2005. This research based on the findings, she concluded that “the risks of the BRI are often hyperbole and mischaracterized.” In-fact, the Belt and Road Initiative is a plan of “mutual connectivity and mutual communications” (Soong, 2016).
Apart from, Rhodium Group (RG), a New York based independent research group, published a report on April 29, also rebuffed the debt-trap allegations against China. RG report is also based on 40 cases of external debt renegotiation between 2007 and present year in 24 countries, it was assessed in report that assets grab was a rare case.
“China was obviously tending to re-negotiate the debts.” Another former U.S. official for China during Obama administration, Ryan Hass, and also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution stated “much of the U.S. government’s narrative on the BRI has been built around debt-trap diplomacy”. He realized a fear that the U.S. government is making an argument that is more persuasive to itself than to others (MOFCOM, 2019).
Correspondingly, an Egyptian economist, Hisham Abu Bakar Metwally serving with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry, stated that criticisms are mostly twisting around “debt-trap” in African countries, including Ethopia and Kenya. However, the reality is quite clear to all that these developing countries highly need of developing infrastructure such as roads, railways and bridges which could improve their economic development. Therefore, BRI program (formerly known as OBOR) is a new reality for the world to overcome the major problems and achieve development for all (Chenyang & Shaojun, 2018).
The best example of development in Africa is Ethiopia, which annual GDP growth rate is about 7 percent. In the same way, Xu Haoliang, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that the belt and road initiative is a worldwide program that has the potential to make possible the achievement of sustainable development goals. Noticeably, it can also fill in the financing gaps and development needs in developing countries with loans and investment from China and other countries (Assadi, 2018;MOFCOM, 2019).
[Note: The Max Lines on This Post is 4000 only allowed hence I'm breaking it up into Two Parts So this will be our Part 1]
The Part 2 Post: https://www.reddit.com/useAimen_N/comments/jxgfu1/debunking_of_the_debttrap_propaganda_part_2/