Posts tagged ‘China’

08/02/2016

GDP data to show economy racing, realities less rosy | Reuters

India will release data on Monday showing it remains one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but economists are struggling to reconcile that rosy picture with ground realities like weak exports, investment, and flat corporate order books.

Labourers works at the construction site of a residential building in Mumbai, India, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade

The median estimate from a Reuters poll of economists put GDP annual growth at 7.3 percent in the quarter through December, just below 7.4 percent in July-September.

If the data comes in line with expectations, it would be faster than 6.8 percent growth posted by China in the same quarter.

However, very few economists are ready to take the official data at face value, reckoning that it overestimates the pace of expansion in Asia’s third-largest economy.

“There are inconsistencies between the picture presented by new GDP series and many other tried and trusted real activity indicators,” said Rupa Rege Nitsure, group chief economist, L&T Finance Holdings, Mumbai.

Until a year ago, India was struggling to break out of the longest stretch of below 5 percent growth in a quarter of a century. But a change made a year ago to the method GDP is calculated transformed the lumbering South Asian giant overnight into one of the fastest growing major economies.

Yet, merchandise exports have been falling for the past 13 months. Rural spending is subdued on weak wage growth and two successive droughts.

Corporate order books are flat. While finished goods inventory to sales ratio is showing no improvement, raw material inventory to sales ratio has worsened.

With factories running nearly 30 percent below their capacity, firms are not in a hurry to invest in new plants and machinery. Festering problem of bad loans, meanwhile, has impeded credit flow and delayed full transmission of interest rate cuts.

There are some encouraging signs, however. Robust growth in indirect tax receipts suggest a nascent revival in manufacturing sector. Foreign direct investment is up. Low inflation, thanks largely to a crash in global commodity prices, has helped bolster urban demand.

Source: GDP data to show economy racing, realities less rosy | Reuters

08/02/2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai! What to expect in China’s Year of the Monkey – SCMP

The Year of the Monkey is expected to be another turbulent year for the world’s second largest economy. Here, SCMP reporters gaze into their crystal balls for what might lie ahead.

An installation celebrates the Year of the Monkey at Ditan Park in Beijing. Photo: EPA

POLITICS: Political jockeying and more crackdowns

The Communist Party will be focused on preparations for a new leadership team, to be unveiled at the 19th Party Congress next year. Apart from President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), the rest of the Politburo Standing Committee will have reached retirement age. The new appointments will be keenly observed for clues as to who Xi intends to succeed him.

Two of Xi’s signature campaigns – the drives against corruption and in favour of frugality in public life – are likely to continue to reshape the nation.

– Cary Huang

DIPLOMACY: Conflicts and tensions to escalate

Following Xi’s maiden presidential visit to the Middle East, Beijing is expected to increase its role as a broker in the region’s conflicts. Beijing has already hosted representatives from Syria and Afghanistan for talks. But other than calling for dialogue, China’s options are limited, partly because it does not want to be seen as interfering in the internal affairs of other nations.

With the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank having just started operations, China is expected to boost its economic diplomacy by funding infrastructure projects overseas.

Tensions in the South China Sea are also expected to rise, as China is likely to continue building structures in the disputed waters. How the United States and China handle the issue – especially the Pentagon’s deployment of warships within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-controlled islands – will be the biggest concern.

– Teddy Ng

DEFENCE: Band(s) of Brothers?

The top priority of the military will be to rebuild morale and its integrity following its restructuring into five theatre commands. Xi set the tone this month by visiting Jinggangshan, the cradle of the communist revolution in China. The Eastern Theatre Command’s land force quickly followed his lead and visited Gutian in Fujian (福建) province, where the Red Army pledged obedience to the party in 1929, and saluted the party flag. Other commands are expected to make similar displays of fidelity.

It will be a bumpy road: the old ways of managing operations, carrying out orders through personal connections and using favoured contractors, has been upended. Xi wants to turn the PLA into a fighting force that meets international standards, with all the efficiencies and accountability that entails.

– Minnie Chan

ECONOMY: Pandora’s Box to open?

There’s actually little disagreement between billionaire investor George Soros and Beijing decision-makers over China’s economic prospects in 2016 – both agree growth will be lower in 2016 than that of 2015. Where they disagree is on how much and how quickly.

One thing is for sure, China will never admit an economic “hard-landing”, though investors may find plenty of evidence for one – from factory closures to rising unemployment and financial strains.

– Zhou Xin

UNEMPLOYMENT: What’s the real picture?

Of all of China’s official economic indicators, the registered urban jobless rate is possibly the least reliable. The rate, released quarterly, has barely ever moved from 4.1 per cent in recent years, regardless of the economic cycle. Another jobless rate compiled by the statistics agency, which is increasingly being cited by the premier, claims a level of about 5 per cent.

Neither of these official rates are likely to change much throughout 2016.

– Zhou Xin

A-shares: Beware the bear!

The mainland’s stock market, after witnessing a sharp fall at the beginning of 2016, is expected to continue a bear run in the Year of Monkey amid a crisis of confidence.

A depreciating yuan, the imminent launch of the new initial public offering (IPO) mechanism and a bleak outlook for corporate earnings are set to exacerbate weak sentiment with millions of retail investors suffering paper losses following a market rout last year.

Local investors are increasingly betting on a further downturn in the A-share market.

Corporate earnings are likely to stay flat in 2016 despite Beijing’s increased efforts to navigate a transition to a consumer-led growth.

– Daniel Ren

Consumption: Bittersweet for retailers

Online stores are continuing to take business from their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

While overall consumption growth is expected to further slow in 2016, bringing problems for both sectors, shopping malls and big stores face their own particular woes.

Hypermarkets could see custom slow, but business at smaller formats such as mini-marts and convenience stores should remain stable.

People will continue to spend more on tourism, leisure, food and health-related products.

Domestic brands will continue to gain ground on foreign ones.

Women will continue to take a greater role in driving spending. Consulting firm Mintel found more than half of Chinese mothers control the family budget and that women are more willing to try new products and experiences than men.

– Mandy Zuo

E-commerce: Click, click, click to buy, buy, buy

The personal computer era is over. Mobile-commerce, which enables people to buy everything from anywhere via the internet, is dominating the online sector and this trend shows no sign of stopping.

Retail on WeChat, the most popular social media platform, is expected to grow steadily. The mobile platform is also becoming an important tool of advertising and communication for businesses.

Online to offline (O2O) business will continue to boom as mainlanders show growing interest and loyalty in professional home services such as home cleaning and massage.

With growing demand from mainland consumers for prime goods overseas, fiercer competition is expected in cross-border business. Internet giants, entrepreneurs and small businesses will flock to the sector, which the Ministry of Commerce projects will grow an average 30 per cent in the next few years.

– Mandy Zuo

P2P lending: More closures, collapses and runaway owners

The long-awaited regulations reining in peer-to-peer lending are expected to bring an industry shakeup that will knock out a significant number of players.

Industry data showed the number of P2P lending platforms dropped a second consecutive month to 2,566 at the end of January from 2,595 in December.

The draft rules, released by the China Banking Regulatory Commission at the end of 2015, define P2P lending platforms as internet financing intermediaries and forbid them from selling wealth management and other financial products that attract investors with promises of high returns.

– Kwong Man-ki

Tourism: Slowdown, what slowdown?

Despite the economic slowdown, the depreciation of the yuan and turmoil in the stock markets, Chinese tourists passed a milestone last year – making a record 120 million outbound trips and spending US$104.5 billion to make China the world’s leading source of tourists.

The boom is expected to continue this year, thanks to a relaxation in visa policies in more countries as well as a strong yuan against the euro and yen.

– Laura Zhou

Childbirth: More buns in the oven

The Year of the Monkey is traditionally regarded an auspicious year for giving birth, so it will prove popular with people planning families. Some of those may have delayed their plans from the Year of the Goat, which is decidedly inauspicious.

More of the newborns are likely to be second children, as parents seek to benefit from the new policy allowing all couples to have two children.

– Zhuang Pinghui

URBANISATION: Millions to relocate

Urbanisation will maintain its pace with millions relocating, most of them rural residents.

They will continue to move to cities near rivers, railway lines and coastlines and more of them will be migrating with spouses and children.

The policy of issuing residence permits to migrants and granting urban household registrations to rural residents are helping them to access public services and integrate in urban life.

– Zhuang Pinghui

ENVIRONMENT: More smoggy days?

As the new five-year plan period (2016-2020) begins, cities will need to set targets on how to improve water and air quality. But whether much can be done to reduce smog problems – especially in heavily polluted city clusters near Beijing and Shanghai – depends largely on how determined local governments are to slash overcapacity in heavy industries.

At the end of 2015, Beijing’s persistent smog pushed the city authorities to pledge better management of small-scale coal burning. If other cities follow suit, the move could impact China’s environmental footprint.

– Li Jing

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1910019/kung-hei-fat-choy-what-expect-chinas-year-monkey

03/02/2016

China’s new wind power capacity hits record high – Xinhua | English.news.cn

China‘s newly installed wind power capacity reached a record high in 2015 amid increasing efforts from the government to boost clean energy.

The new wind power capacity jumped to 32.97 gigawatts last year, more than 60 percent higher than 2014, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said on Tuesday.

Wind power generated 186.3 terawatt hour of electricity in 2015, or 3.3 percent of the country’s total electric energy production, data showed.  (Editor’s note: worldwide average is 4% – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power)

Promoting non-fossil energy including wind power, China is in the middle of an energy revolution to power its economy in a cleaner and sustainable manner. The government aims to lift the proportion of non-fossil fuels in energy consumption to 20 percent by 2030 from present around 11 percent.

China’s energy mix is currently dominated by coal.

However, the NEA warned of the suspension of wind farms in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Jilin. The phenomenon occurs in the early stage of wind power capacity construction due to the mismatching of new installation and local power grid.

Source: China’s new wind power capacity hits record high – Xinhua | English.news.cn

01/02/2016

Another Type of Factory-Gate Indicator: Dumpling Sales – China Real Time Report – WSJ

Whether it is the cold drizzle, factory economics or the annual exodus of migrant laborers ahead of Lunar New Year, Lin Xinge is selling fewer dumplings.

Ms. Lin is chief dumpling wrapper, waitress, cashier and dishwasher for Fujian One Thousand Li Fragrant, a tiny restaurant she owns with her husband in an industrial zone of Shanghai. Just over a fence, her neighbors include iPhone maker Foxconn Technology Group and other giant industrial groups that employ legions of workers she counts as customers.

“The workers earn less salary so fewer people come here and our restaurant isn’t doing well,” says Ms. Lin. She says that during the three years she has run One Thousand Li Fragrant, she’s had periods when every seat at her eight tables has been filled. Not lately.

Like her customers who come for $1.50 bowls of noodles and dumplings, Ms. Lin is a migrant worker. On a recent day she was sitting on an orange chair in the restaurant gripping a hand-warmer and thinking of her native Fujian province, where as a young woman she sang opera in the local dialect.

“Our Putian is more comfortable,” she says referring to the ancient city in Fujian where she was born. Though only 34 years old, Ms. Lin said singing in a traveling opera troupe is for the young and made less sense for someone like her, a mother of two.

In the Shanghai factory zone called Songjiang, One Thousand Li Fragrant was among the few restaurants that remained open ahead of the Feb. 8 Lunar New Year. Wind and cold rain whipped across tables placed on the sidewalk that would have been inviting in balmier times. Ms. Lin said the other dozen or so restaurants, also run by migrants and for migrants, had shut a few days before, as their owners departed for the holidays.

China’s mass people movement for Lunar New Year officially began a week ago. Beijing predicts 2.91 billion trips between January 24 and March 3. Ms. Lin’s family will join the throng in coming days.

Economists will be watching how China’s slowdown affects the mass migration. During past years of economic boom in China, until the mid-2000s, cash-rich factory workers returned to interior villages for the holidays, but quickly flooded back to the industrialized east, often along with family members willing to work for low pay. But in more recent years, the monotony of factory work has proved less of a draw, leaving employers to scramble to hold workers, with higher salaries or benefits. This year, jobs themselves are the concern.

Migrants interviewed outside factories in southern Shanghai and northern Zhejiang province this past week provided a mixed picture. Some suggested the economic slowdown is hitting factories. Some noted that workers were sometimes being encouraged to leave for holidays earlier this year while some factories shut outright. Truck traffic in the zones appeared light and some facilities were shut.

Speaking outside some factories, many veteran workers used the word for nothing special, “chabuduo,” to dismiss any suggestion they see dramatic changes this holiday season.

As heavy rain fell in the Zhejiang province industrial city Jiaxing on Friday, a group jostled and pushed an assortment of fancy suitcases, canvas bags and industrial buckets into the hold of a bus. The group was embarking on a 10-hour drive back home to the Henan province city of Nanyang. The mood was upbeat.

One woman, who works in a garment factory, said she was toting gifts for her family, including 100 rice balls. A worker, who said he drives on a construction site, reported he had a pretty good year. They said bonuses had been paid as usual.

Source: Another Type of Factory-Gate Indicator: Dumpling Sales – China Real Time Report – WSJ

30/01/2016

China set to participate in India’s smart city mission starting from Solapur – Xinhua | English.news.cn

Solapur, which bore witness to Sino-Indian friendship in history, will soon see a new chapter of cooperation between both countries as China will get actively involved in the city’s smart city mission.

From January 27 to 28, a group of Chinese delegates led by Chinese Consul General Zheng Xiyuan, including representatives from two Chinese high-tech companies, paid a visit to this city.

They saw different projects including sewage treatment plants, textile mills, and sugar mills, and held meetings with local officials and entrepreneurs, exchanging ideas on the smart city planning and progress of Solapur and sharing experiences of both sides in sewage treatment.

The Chinese delegates received warm welcome from the Solapur people. Officials of Solapur showed great interest in the technology of the Chinese companies, and invited them to participate in the sewage treatment projects.

Jiang Konghua, marketing director of Guangdong Sino-Israeli Water Treatment Innovative Industrial Park Co., said he is determined to conduct a comprehensive survey based on the projects he has seen in Solapur, and find the best solution for the development of this city.

Solapur is a city located in the southeastern region of Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the hometown of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, who fought with the Chinese people in WWII, and died in China.

On January 28, Solapur is declared as among the first group of twenty Indian cities to receive funds from the central government to start the smart city mission.

Ever since Narendra Modi took office as prime minister of India and proposed the smart city mission, the enlisted Indian cities have invited various countries to join their mission, including France, Germany, Sweden and the United States.

At the end of last year, Zhu Xiaodan, governor of China’s Guangdong Province, led a group of delegates to visit Maharashtra. During Zhu’s meeting with Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharashtra, they both agreed on the cooperation in the smart city mission, which led to this visit to Solapur.

Source: China set to participate in India’s smart city mission starting from Solapur – Xinhua | English.news.cn

28/01/2016

Grossly Deceptive Plans (GDP) | The Economist

ON JANUARY 19th China declared that its gross domestic product had grown by 6.9% in 2015, accounting for inflation—the slowest rate in a quarter of a century.

It was neatly within the government’s target of “around 7%”, but many economists wondered whether the figure was accurate. Online chatter in China about dodgy GDP numbers was fuelled a week later by the arrest of the man who had announced the data: Wang Baoan, the head of the National Bureau of Statistics. The country’s anti-graft agency accused him of “serious disciplinary violations”, a euphemism for corruption. But beyond all the (justifiable) doubts about the figures lies another important question. That is: why does China have a GDP target at all?

It is the only large industrial country that sets one. Normally central banks declare specific goals for things like inflation or unemployment. The idea that a government should aim for a particular rate of output expansion, and steer the economy to achieve that, is unusual. In the case of China, which is trying to wean its economy off excessive reliance on GDP-boosting (but often wasteful and debt-fuelling) investment, it is risky. It is inconsistent with the government’s own oft-repeated mantra that it is the quality of growth that matters, not the quantity.

In the past, setting a target may not have made much difference. For all but three of the years between 1992 and 2015, China’s growth was above target, often by a big margin. A rare period when targets seemed to affect the way officials tried to manage the economy was from 2008 to 2009, when growth fell sharply (see chart). It would be hard to argue that targets themselves have been responsible for China’s overall (impressive) record of growth in recent decades.

Now, however, the economy is slowing. This is inevitable: double-digit growth is no longer achievable except at dangerous cost (total debt was nearly 250% of GDP in the third quarter of 2015). But the government is worried that the economy may slow too fast, and that this could cause a destabilising surge in unemployment. So it has been ramping up investment again, and goading local governments to do the same by setting a high growth target.

For a while there were signs that the leadership itself had doubts about the merits of GDP target-setting. In 2013 Xinhua, an official news agency, decried what it called the country’s “GDP obsession”. By the next year, 70 or so counties and cities had scrapped their targets. In 2015 Shanghai joined them, becoming the first big city to break with orthodoxy (each level of government sets its own GDP target, often higher than the national one). Liu Qiao of the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University says the central government ought to follow suit.

Last year there were hints that it might. The prime minister, Li Keqiang, said the government would not “defend [the target for 2015] to the death”. And in October, talking about the government’s work on a new five-year economic plan (which will run from 2016 to 2020), President Xi Jinping avoided mentioning a number. That raised expectations that targets might at least be downplayed, if not abandoned.

They have not been, however. An outline of the five-year plan, unveiled in November, contained the usual emphasis on growth. And Mr Xi appeared to change his tune, saying expansion must average at least 6.5% a year until 2020. Many economists believe that will require yet more debt-inducing stimulus. A GDP target for this year is all but certain to be announced, as usual, at the annual session of the legislature in March (when the five-year plan will also be adopted). It will probably be higher than 6%. Speculation that the government might set a target range in order to give itself more policymaking flexibility (as the IMF and the World Bank have urged) has ebbed. In December some national legislators complained that local governments were busting their debt ceilings because there was “still too much emphasis on GDP”.

So why is there still a target? The reasons are political. In a country so large, central leaders are always fearful of losing their grip on far-flung bureaucrats: setting GDP targets is one means by which they believe they can evaluate and control those lower down. Local officials are also judged by environmental standards, social policies and what the Communist Party calls “virtue”—that is, being uncorrupt and in tune with the party’s latest interpretation of Marxist doctrine. But GDP is usually the most important criterion, having the attraction of being (roughly) measurable.

Source: Grossly Deceptive Plans | The Economist

28/01/2016

George Soros in China’s Crosshairs After Predicting Tough Economic Times Ahead – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China is putting a face on the economic pessimism it accuses of helping weaken the yuan and the economy: billionaire investor George Soros.

A front-page commentary published in some editions of People’s Daily on Tuesday appeared to warn Mr. Soros would lose any bets he made based on a recent prediction that hard economic times for China are “unavoidable.”

Other state media followed suit. Denouncing “radical speculators,” China’s official Xinhua News Agency dismissed the famed currency trader’s view as “the same prediction several times.” The Global Times, in its English edition, asked, “So why are so many Western pundits and media outlets so intent on talking China down?”

The rhetorical shots come as China is making broader efforts with market interventions and rule adjustments to offset the impact of its slowest growth rate in a quarter century, shore up grinding stock markets and stem surging capital outflows. China’s state-run media regularly note concerns the economy is cooling, but they tend to highlight positive aspects of what the government describes as a broad economic restructuring.

The uniformity and prominent placement in government-run media of the challenges to foreign critics, including economists quoted by Western newspapers, appear to suggest growing concern in Beijing that negative sentiment is spreading.

State media warnings directed at private individuals like Mr. Soros are rare. But his legend as an investor stems from a career making profitable currency bets – both real and rumored – that are widely studied in China. It comes just as China’s central bank is taking steps to limit flight from the Chinese yuan by its huge middle class.

Suspicion in China that Mr. Soros is now placing bets against the yuan follow comments he made last week at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. “A hard-landing is practically unavoidable,” Mr. Soros told Bloomberg Television. “I’m not expecting it, I’m observing it.”

“Declaring war on China’s currency? Ha,” said the People’s Daily commentary, which appeared in the overseas edition, a newspaper aimed at Chinese living outside China. The paper serves as the official purveyor of Communist Party views, and the commentary was authored by a researcher at China’s Commerce Ministry. It wasn’t published in the domestic editions, though it did appear online.

Source: George Soros in China’s Crosshairs After Predicting Tough Economic Times Ahead – China Real Time Report – WSJ

27/01/2016

With China weakening, Apple turns to India | Reuters

As China sales show signs of cooling, Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is touting India’s appetite for iPhones, betting that rising wages and an expanding middle class will pull consumers away from the cheap alternatives that currently dominate the market.

In an earnings call in which the company reported meager iPhone growth and forecast its first revenue drop in 13 years, the Indian market stood out as a rare bright spot for Apple.

Sales of the company’s flagship smartphone climbed 76 percent in India from the year-ago quarter, Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said.

According to data compiled by Counterpoint Technology Research, Apple sold an estimated 800,000 iPhones in India in the fourth-quarter, its highest ever amount but one that is a fraction of the 28 million smartphones sold during that period.

Growth in India is a tantalizing prospect as Apple grapples with the economic downturn in China, its second largest market. While revenue in Greater China rose 14 percent in the last quarter, Apple is beginning to see a shift in the economy, particularly in Hong Kong, Maestri told Reuters in an interview.

But with nearly 70 percent of smartphones selling for less than $150 in India, Apple’s high-end phones remain out of reach of most consumers. The basic iPhone 6S sells at just under $700 in India, or nearly half the average annual wage.

“In many ways India is very similar to what China was a few years ago, but the middle class here is still very small and it can be two to three years before Apple gets a similar level of success in India,” said Counterpoint Technology Research analyst Tarun Pathak.

Apple CEO Tim Cook struck a more optimistic note, saying the company was “increasingly putting more energy” into India, citing a largely youthful population with rising disposable income as more people join the workforce.

With faster 4G coverage expanding, Apple has already asked Indian government for a license to set up its own retail stores just as the market seems to be turning in its favor.

As in China, Apple products are a coveted status symbol in India, a market that analysts say is likely to overtake the United States next year to become the world’s second largest smartphone market. “The love for the iPhone is there,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, a consumer research firm.

Source: With China weakening, Apple turns to India | Reuters

27/01/2016

India to build satellite tracking station in Vietnam that offers eye on China | Reuters

India will set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam that will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites that cover the region, including China and the South China Sea, Indian officials said.

The move, which could irritate Beijing, deepens ties between India and Vietnam, who both have long-running territorial disputes with China.

While billed as a civilian facility – earth observation satellites have agricultural, scientific and environmental applications – security experts said improved imaging technology meant the pictures could also be used for military purposes.

Hanoi especially has been looking for advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies as tensions rise with China over the disputed South China Sea, they said.

“In military terms, this move could be quite significant,” said Collin Koh, a marine security expert at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “It looks like a win-win for both sides, filling significant holes for the Vietnamese and expanding the range for the Indians.”

The state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will fund and set up the satellite tracking and data reception centre in Ho Chi Minh City to monitor Indian satellite launches, the Indian officials said. Indian media put the cost at around $23 million.

India, whose 54-year-old space programme is accelerating, with one satellite launch scheduled every month, has ground stations in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Brunei, Biak in eastern Indonesia and Mauritius that track its satellites in the initial stages of flight.

The Vietnam facility will bolster those capabilities, said Deviprasad Karnik, an ISRO spokesman.

Source: India to build satellite tracking station in Vietnam that offers eye on China | Reuters

24/01/2016

Well-wishing | The Economist

SINCE he took over as China’s leader in 2012, Xi Jinping has been a busy globetrotter. Last year he visited more countries than Barack Obama, America’s president (14 against 11).

Heedless of whether his hosts are powerful, puny or pariahs, he has flown everywhere from America to the Maldives and Zimbabwe. Mr Xi wants to project China’s rising power—and his role in promoting that—to foreign and domestic audiences. But until this week, he had not set a presidential foot in the Middle East.

The trip, under way as The Economist went to press, began in Saudi Arabia (whose king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, is pictured with Mr Xi). He then visited Egypt and was due to finish his tour in Iran. No Chinese president had toured the region since 2009. China’s leaders had worried about getting embroiled in the region’s intractable disputes. But China has a big stake in the Middle East. It is the world’s largest oil importer and gets more than half of its crude from the region (see chart). Mr Xi’s much ballyhooed “new Silk Route”, aimed at linking China and Europe with the help of Chinese-funded infrastructure, runs across the Middle East. Chinese companies are already building expressways and harbours there. In this section Divorce: a love story Well-wishing Reprints Related topics Middle East Politics Government and politics World politics Asia-Pacific politics

The timing of Mr Xi’s tour is tricky. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are particularly high after Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric earlier this month and angry Iranians responded by storming the Saudi embassy in Tehran. But the lifting of Western sanctions on Iran on January 16th (see article) allowed Mr Xi to display even-handedness by visiting both countries, without upsetting Western powers. Mr Xi, like his predecessors, likes to present China as a non-interfering champion of peace. (Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, said this week that the West’s “meddling hands” were “more of a mortal poison than of a magic potion” in the Middle East.) But Mr Xi is not keen to play a central role as peacemaker. China’s first “Arab Policy Paper”, released on January 13th, is a vague, waffly document. It talks of “building a new type of international relations”, but is devoid of new ideas.

Zhang Ming, a vice-foreign minister, said this week that economic development was the “ultimate way out” of conflict in the region. By expanding its trade and investment links with the Middle East, China hopes discontent and conflict there will gradually dissipate. In addition to crushing dissent, it is trying a similar approach in Xinjiang, a province in western China with a large Muslim population—so far without success.

In the long run, China may find it hard to avoid taking sides. To some extent it has already done so in Syria: it talks to representatives from both the Syrian government and the opposition, but by vetoing UN resolutions on intervention it tilts, in effect, in the government’s favour. The presence of a growing number of Chinese citizens in the Middle East may challenge China’s non-interventionist approach. After a Chinese national was executed by Islamic State in November, China promised to strengthen protection of its citizens abroad. Its new rules of Middle Eastern diplomacy could end up resembling familiar Western meddling

Source: Well-wishing | The Economist

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