China Mobile is the largest telecom operator in the world with more than 600 million customers making 400 million calls every hour. It has launched an "overseas" subsidiary called CMPak, which acquired a GSM operation license in Pakistan. CMPak is known as Zong Telecom in Pakistan and has some interesting marketing language:
The basic idea is to allow people to communicate at their free will! Making it a stress free environment where you are not worried about Tariffs, Capacity Issues or Congestion, be it Network Coverage or Quality, it is all sorted!
Notice that their list of worries does not include privacy. I know what you must be wondering. Free will in Pakistan, courtesy of China?
The sceptic might have said in the past it's just a plot by the Chinese to spy on the region, but the "free will" angle on this company now goes even further. "Meri Awaz Suno" is Urdu (میری آواز سنو) for "listen to my voice". That's the name of an Internet radio station sponsored by the Chinese promoting the voice of women in Pakistan.
Zong Telecom in collaboration with UKs Research Centre Islamabad, has launched its very own Internet radio, titled ‘Meri Awaz Sunno: Giving Voice to Pakistani Women’.
The launch ceremony of this unique initiative was organised at the Uks Office in Islamabad on Wednesday from 5pm to 7pm. Women comprise almost half of Pakistan’s population as well as form the single largest consumer group in the country.
One comes across several products and services targeting women, however, there is no representative mass media vehicle that addresses the issues and problems of this large and important segment. Uks’s Internet radio programme, Meri Awaz Sunno is being launched with the single objective of highlighting women issues and providing them with guidance and support.
On the one hand this could be a heart warming story about a massive population segment in Pakistan getting representation in the mass media — a story of Chinese technology companies working in other countries to promote free speech.
On the other hand, it is hard to believe that if women already have access to the Internet in Islamabad that one Chinese-backed radio station will be the first and only source to serve their interests.
And I suspect that technology from China (or any country, for that matter) comes to Pakistan with a price much larger than what is being reported. India, for example, was said in 2010 to have refused to give their phone companies security clearance to buy Chinese-made network equipment. Likewise the UK is hesitating to accept a telecom bid from a Chinese company due to security concerns. A country in South-East Asia also refused an offer for Chinese telecom investments due to fear of spying.