Archive for ‘Politics’

01/12/2016

As Trump retreats, Xi Jinping moves to upgrade China’s global power play | South China Morning Post

With US president-elect Donald Trump threatening to build a wall on the Mexican border and force Asian allies to increase defence spending, Beijing is busy luring countries across the eastern hemisphere into its orbit.

President Xi Jinping, who is consolidating his power at home, is planning to host a big “One Belt, One Road” summit in China next year, sources close to the central government told the South China Morning Post, adding that the event would match, if not exceed, the scale of this year’s G20 summit in Hangzhou, which attracted about 30 state leaders.

China plans US$2 billion film studio and ‘One Belt, One Road’ theme park

At a time when established world powers are struggling with domestic problems, Xi sees a chance to push ahead with his oddly worded brainchild, a geopolitical push to extend Beijing’s influence to remote corners of the globe.

The belt and road initiative encompasses 65 countries including China, stretching through Southeast, South, Central and West Asia to the Middle East, Africa and East and Central Europe.

However, with globalisation facing increasing scrutiny and electoral scepticism in developed countries, it’s doubtful whether a one-party state with its own deep-rooted economic woes will be able to bind countries together through a programme viewed by critics as a Chinese plot to export its infrastructure and influence.

In addition, China’s shrinking foreign exchange reserves, the falling value of its currency and a tightening of central government control on big overseas investments have raised questions about whether there will be sufficient funds to grease China’s ambitions.

Hong Kong trade presence needed in ‘One Belt, One Road’ cities

The belt and road initiative was launched by Xi in 2013 as an attempt to boost connectivity between China and other countries along the ancient land-based and maritime Silk Roads through trade and infrastructure projects, including high-speed railway lines and energy pipelines. But the wave of populist, anti-globalisation reflected in Trump’s stunning victory in last month’s US presidential election has put its smooth implementation in doubt.

Previous Chinese infrastructure projects overseas, including energy- and resource-related ones in Africa, have triggered resentment in local communities, with Beijing accused of exploitation and failing to benefit local workers.

Even though an increasing number of key US allies, such as Canada and Britain, have joined the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), set up as part of the belt and road initiative, mistrust over Beijing’s efforts to extend its geopolitical influence are mounting.

James McGregor, greater China chairman of APCO Worldwide, a public relations and consulting firm, said the level of cooperation between Beijing and the incoming Trump administration would be crucial in determining the success of the belt and road initiative.

One of Trump’s policy advisers, former CIA director James Woolsey, has described the current Obama administration’s opposition to the AIIB as a “strategic mistake”.

How One Belt, One Road is guiding China’s football strategy

“Through OBOR and various diplomatic initiatives, China is seeking to lead peacekeeping and economic development efforts in the region,” McGregor said, referring to the belt and road initiative. “But this will be very difficult if the US and China are not aligned and working together in the region to help provide security and promote peace.“

So if Trump pushes an agenda of confrontation with China in regard to trade and security arrangements in Asia, China will have a more difficult time managing its investments in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.”

But Professor Wang Yiwei, from the school of international studies at Renmin University in Beijing, said Trump’s protectionist agenda, most notably with his vow to withdraw the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, would provide an opportunity for the belt and road initiative to “fill the gap in the market”.

“For a long time, countries around the world have been following America’s standards and development model. But now even the US itself has suffered from its system,” he said. “The US has not learned its lesson from the financial crisis – it has failed to adjust and reform its industries – and it is now blaming the problem on globalisation.”

Wang said that with the belt and road initiative, China was becoming more resistant to the risk posed by the incoming Trump administration and the anti-globalisation trend sweeping the West.“

[The belt and road initiative] is designed to counter the risk posed by the market in the West,” Wang said.

Long-term planning: China’s 21st century Silk Road strategy will take time to reap rewards

The decrease in America’s purchasing power in the wake of the financial crisis had caused the surplus production capacity in China, he said, and the belt and road initiative was a new way to boost China’s exports.

AIIB president Jin Liqun said in early November that the AIIB was “on track” to meet its big first-year targets, including lending US$1.2 billion by the end of this year. So far it has lent US$829 million to six projects in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

China invested about US$14.8 billion in 49 countries of the 64 other countries along the Silk Road last year, or 12.6 per cent of the country’s total outbound investment, according to the Ministry of Commerce. The US and the European Union remain the top destinations for Chinese outbound investment, which totalled US$146 billion in the first 10 months of this year.

Whether Chinese companies will be as enthusiastic as they used to be about pouring money into overseas projects remains to be seen, with Beijing banning overseas investment deals of more than US$10 billion until September next year and cracking down on overseas mergers, acquisitions and real estate deals involving more than US$1 billion because of concerns about capital flight.

But economists, citing the unsustainability of a strong US dollar, uncertainty about Trump’s policies and China’s need to push ahead with economic reforms, said the restrictions were more of a short-term constraint than a permanent hurdle.

“Restricting outflows is a step back, but it will not alter China’s long-term direction of capital opening,” said Tim Condon, chief Asian economist at ING.

Professor Zhang Jiadong, a belt and road specialist at Shanghai’s Fudan University, said the impact of foreign exchange controls on the belt and road initiative would be limited.

“Forex controls will mainly affect the speed of approval, but will have little impact on infrastructure investments, which usually involve lengthy preparations for feasibility studies and financing arrangements,” he said.

State-owned enterprises, with their capital size and building expertise, are major participants in the initiative. Foreign exchange clearance is just one of many long regulatory procedures they have to navigate, and they usually needed approval from the state asset watchdog and financial backing from state-owned banks.

“Overall, OBOR investment represents only a small proportion [of their activities],” Zhang said.

Chen Fengying, an economist at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the foreign exchange regulator did not cover belt and road projects.

“Investment in OBOR countries is groundbreaking and needs more government support,” Chen said. “They should be encouraged, rather than regulated.”

The biggest difficulty faced by the belt and road initiative is the need to ease suspicions among countries such as India and Japan, another big investor in Asian development projects, about Beijing’s strategic intentions.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a forum in Beijing on Wednesday that China would be accommodative to the needs of different nations in pushing ahead with the belt and road initiative. The AIIB is regarded as a rival to the Japan-led Asian Development Bank and the US-headquartered International Monetary Fund.

Zhang Jianping, an expert on belt and road policy at the National Development and Reform Commission’s Institute for International Economic Research, said mistrust remained a hurdle for China.

“Just because the US withdrew from the TPP doesn’t necessarily mean that its economic power is in decline,” he said. “All the major global financial and investment standards and institutions are still led by the US and Europe. Any attempt by China to rewrite those rules is bound to meet scepticism from the West.”

Observers said investors’ top concerns were returns on investment and safety, and that made developed countries the top destination for market, technology and management expertise, rather than developing countries . They faced bottlenecks in terms of capital, talent and management expertise in belt and road investment, which usually involved labour-intensive manufacturing or resource projects.

Beijing is pushing to build dozens of economic cooperation zones, which will be used to facilitate bilateral trade and investment and potentially draw more private firms. However, more government guidance in terms of policy and financing is needed to help private Chinese firms better integrate into economic development plans in other countries.

Liang Haiming, chief economist at the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute, said opportunities were opening up for China.

“The yuan’s depreciation against the US dollar will not affect China’s investment plans in OBOR countries,” he said. “The Chinese currency is actually strengthening against major Southeast Asian currencies.

“The capital flowing from emerging economies to the US will leave a good opportunity for Chinese capital to enter those countries.”

The Post’s annual China Conference in Hong Kong on Friday will bring business leaders and policy advisers together to share their latest insights on the business opportunities and challenges brought about by the belt and road strategy.

Source: As Trump retreats, Xi Jinping moves to upgrade China’s global power play | South China Morning Post

30/11/2016

India prisons: Why security needs to be improved – BBC News

Two major jailbreaks in a month have shone a spotlight on security in India’s overcrowded and under-staffed prisons. BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare reports.

On Sunday, five armed men in the northern state of Punjab attacked the high-security Nabha prison and freed six inmates. One of the escapees, a Sikh separatist leader, was recaptured on Monday.

It was a brazen attack. Assailants dressed in police uniforms arrived “on the pretext of depositing a prisoner” but began firing indiscriminately as soon as the prison gate was opened. They escaped with the inmates in a convoy of vehicles.

“This is what happens when there is diversion of jail staff to non-jail work and infrastructure is creaking,” said retired police officer Prakash Singh.

Prison break: Four unusual ways Indians have escaped jail

A bad seven days for Indian justice

More than 180 prisoners have escaped in more than 40 jailbreaks over the past two years, latest government figures say

Last year, two inmates escaped from the high-profile Tihar jail in the capital Delhi by digging a tunnel under a wall.

Last month, eight prisoners escaped from a high-security jail in the city of Bhopal in central Madhya Pradesh state. The inmates, members of an outlawed Islamist group, were killed outside Bhopal after they resisted arrest, police said.

Eight prisoners escaped from this prison in Bhopal last month

The men used bed sheets to scale the walls of the prison before escaping the high-security Bhopal Central Prison, police said.

The police version was questioned when unverified videos of the killing of the men surfaced from the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India. The matter is being investigated.

India’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded and under-resourced.

Some 1,400 prisons house nearly 420,000 inmates against a capacity of 366,7810, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau.

More than a third of positions for prison guards and officers are lying vacant. Nearly half of the staff positions in Tihar are vacant.

Inmates ‘do everything’

It is estimated that more than two-thirds of the prisoners in Indian jails are on trial, contributing significantly to overcrowding.The Bhopal jailbreak, described as an act of coldblooded murder by the inmates’ lawyer, served again to highlight what was wrong with India’s prisons.

The prison houses more than 3,000 inmates against a capacity of 1,400.

Madhya Pradesh also has a history of jailbreaks:In 2011, nine prisoners spiked the tea of six guards of the state’s Dabra prison and ran away

In 2013, five captives broke through the washroom window of the dilapidated Khandwa prison and escaped

Retired jail officials say no one is paying attention to a system that is crying out loud for support.

“Our jails are collapsing,” retired jail official GK Agarwal told me in Bhopal, showing me a number of handwritten official correspondences to officials, in which he had pleaded for reforms.

Two years ago, in a missive to top officials, Mr Agarwal had predicted a “big accident” at Bhopal jail owing to its “structure, vulnerable points, imprudent security and staff’s deplorable situation”.

But Mr Agarwal said nothing had moved.

Lawyer Dr Siddhartha Gupta, who spent two days in the jail on a minor charge of “disturbing peace outside the court” told me: “The presence of guards inside is next to nothing.”

It’s the inmates who do everything. From cooking to office jobs to counting inmates, everything is done by them.

“Under pressure to act, Madhya Pradesh’s new head of prisons, Sanjay Choudhary, is promising “speedy modernisation”.

“We are enhancing security, increasing manpower and creating a high-security zone,” he said.

Source: India prisons: Why security needs to be improved – BBC News

25/11/2016

China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

CHINA has long oscillated between the urge to equip its elite with foreign knowledge and skills, and an opposing instinct to turn inward and rebuff such influences.

In the 1870s the Qing imperial court ended centuries of educational isolation by sending young men to America, only for the Communist regime to shut out the world again a few decades later. Today record numbers of Chinese study abroad: over half a million people left in 2015 alone, many for America (see chart).

The Communist Party officially endorses international exchanges in education while at the same time preaching the dangers of Western ideas on Chinese campuses. A new front in this battlefield is emerging, as the government cracks down on international schools catering to Chinese citizens.

Only holders of foreign passports used to be allowed to go to international schools in China: children of expat workers or the foreign-born offspring of Chinese returnees. Chinese citizens are still forbidden from attending such outfits, but more recently a new type of school has proliferated on the mainland, offering an international curriculum to Chinese nationals planning to study at foreign universities. Their number has more than doubled since 2011, to over 500. Many are clustered on the wealthy eastern seaboard, but even poor interior provinces such as Gansu, Guizhou and Yunnan have them.

Some international schools are privately run, including offshoots of famous foreign institutions such as Dulwich College in Britain or Haileybury in Australia. Even wholly Chinese ventures often adopt foreign-sounding names to increase their appeal: witness “Etonkids”, a Beijing-based chain which has no link with the illustrious British boarding school. Since 2003 some 90 state schools have opened international programmes too, many of them at the top high schools in China, including those affiliated with Peking University and Renmin University in Beijing.

New laws are making it harder for such schools to operate. In 2014 Beijing’s education authorities stopped approving new international programmes at public high schools. Several other cities, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan, have also tightened their policies on such institutions. Some have capped fees for international programmes. The Ministry of Education says it is pondering a law that would require public high schools to run their international programmes as private entities (fearing this event, a few schools have already begun doing so).

Earlier this month a new law banned for-profit private schools from teaching the first nine years of compulsory education. That came only days after Shanghai started to enforce an existing ban on international schools using “foreign curriculums”. Some such institutions already offer a mixture: Wycombe Abbey International, which is based in Changzhou in eastern China and affiliated to a British girls’ boarding school, teaches “political education”, a form of government propaganda, and follows a Chinese curriculum for maths. But the new regulations threaten to nullify the very point of such institutions for most parents, which is to offer an alternative to the mainstream Chinese system, in which students spend years cramming for extremely competitive university-entrance exams that prize rote learning over critical or lateral thinking.

Lawmakers say the rules are prompted by concerns about the quality of international schools. The expansion of international programmes within regular Chinese schools also spurred a popular backlash against the use of public facilities and funds to teach pupils who plan to leave China. Since the number of people attending public schools is fixed, the elite high schools are accused of squeezing out regular students to feed their lucrative international stream. Local governments often provide capital for private schools, too.

The move to control international schools is “the next logical iteration” of a wider campaign against Western influences, reckons Carl Minzner of Fordham University in America. In 2015 China’s education minister called for a ban on “textbooks promoting Western values” in higher education.

This mission extends far beyond the educational realm: the government has called for artists and architects to serve socialism, clamped down on video-streaming sites that carry lots of foreign content and even proposed renaming housing developments that carry “over-the-top, West-worshipping” names. Chinese organisations that receive foreign funding, particularly non-governmental ones, face increasing scrutiny.

The Communist Party is instead seeking to inculcate young Chinese with its own ideological values: the new directive on for-profit schools calls on them to “strengthen Party-building”. After pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, nationalistic “patriotic education” classes were stepped up in schools, a move that Xi Jinping, the president, has taken to new levels since 2012, seeking to infuse every possible field with “patriotic spirit”. “Morals, language, history, geography, sport and arts” are all part of the campaign now. Unusually, he also seeks to include students abroad in this “patriotic energy”.

But lashing out against international schools could prove risky. Any attack aimed at them essentially targets China’s growing middle class, a group that the ruling Communist Party is keen to keep onside. Chinese have long seen education as a passport to success, and it is not just the super-rich who have the aspiration or means to send their offspring abroad to attend university. Some 57% of Chinese parents would like to do so if they could afford it, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Even Mr Xi sent his daughter to Harvard, where she studied under a pseudonym.

Since school is optional after 15, and parents must pay for it, even at public institutions, the state will find it tricky to prevent high schools from teaching what they want. Moreover, constraints on international schooling in China are likely to swell the growing flow of Chinese students leaving to study abroad at ever younger ages. This trend is the theme of a 30-episode television series, “A love for separation”, about three families who send their children to private school in America.

Restricting for-profit schooling also risks hitting another growing educational market: urban private schools that cater to migrant children who cannot get places in regular state schools because they do not have the required residence permits. A law that undermines educational opportunities for the privileged and the underprivileged at once could prove far more incendiary than a little foreign influence.

Source: China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

21/11/2016

A victory for China? | The Economist

THE relationship between China and America, as diplomats often intone, is more important than any other between two countries. But that did not help China understand the election of Donald Trump any better than anyone else. The government’s initial reaction was one of confusion, verging on denial. Many ordinary citizens expressed horror, but even more voiced admiration. Mr Trump, it seems, has a remarkable following in a country he blames for America’s malaise.

When news broke of Mr Trump’s victory, official media buried it. That evening, the flagship news programme on state television informed viewers of events in America in the final four minutes of a half-hour broadcast. While the rest of the world was glued to Mr Trump’s victory speech, Chinese viewers had to make do with Xi Jinping, China’s president, talking to Chinese astronauts orbiting the planet.

Chinese officials pay obsessive attention to ensuring the Communist Party’s line is reflected accurately by the country’s main media. But Mr Trump’s victory caught them in a muddle. Several outlets said Mr Xi had telephoned his compliments to Mr Trump. But Mr Trump said he had spoken to or heard from most foreign leaders—except Mr Xi. The phone call did not take place until six days after the vote. In most countries such a mistake would be insignificant, the result of sloppy reporting or ambiguous phrasing (in Mandarin, the phrase “sent a congratulatory note” can also mean “congratulate by phone”). In China it suggested that media overlords were not sure what line to take.

They had hoped the message from the election would be clear: that American democracy is in disarray and that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the best choice for China. For the first time, an American election was given extensive coverage (the third presidential debate was broadcast in its entirety). The authorities may have made the right call, as they would see it. “Thank God we don’t use this voting system,” said one blogger.

Unlikely hero

But if some netizens disliked what they saw of the process, many more were captivated by the electoral drama and, especially, by one of the candidates. Ordinary citizens followed the campaign with unprecedented interest. Online, 20 times more posts referred to Mr Trump in the past year than to Barack Obama in the past eight years. One blogger compared Telangpu, as Mr Trump’s name is commonly rendered in Chinese, to the late Deng Xiaoping. Both, apparently, are visionary dealmakers. In China’s online world, wrote another netizen, “Trump has this almost untouchable presence.”

Having digested the news of the victory, Chinese officials have begun to see possible benefits in a Trump presidency (see Banyan). But Ma Tianjie, who runs a website called Chublic Opinion, argues that support for the president-elect is based on culture and values, not calculation. This suggests it has three significant things to say about Chinese society.

First, younger Chinese are not so dissimilar to Mr Trump’s American supporters. As one user wrote on Zhihu, a question and answer site: “Most Chinese born after the 1980s are from a working-class background, who can still sympathise with the uneducated ignorance demonstrated by the less refined.” Anti-elitism retains a broad appeal. “Trump won because he truly spoke in the people’s voice,” wrote one microblogger.

Next, decades of unbridled economic growth have created a Trump-like worship of money and winners. As Lao Lingmin argued on the Financial Times’s Chinese-language website, support for Mr Trump reflected China’s “law of the jungle”. Chinese society, he wrote, “does not exist for the protection of vulnerable groups”.

Thirdly, says Mr Ma, pro-Trump sentiments in China show how far views can be swayed by zealotry, fanned by social media. On Zhihu, a supporter of Mr Trump repeated the president-elect’s falsehood that “there are towns in Britain that are completely under the control of Muslim extremists, who are openly using white girls as sex slaves.” The post got 18,000 likes.Yet online reactions also showed that Chinese opinions are sharply divided. A well-known blogger on Weibo called Chinese Trump supporters “spiritual rednecks”. Another pointed out that China may suffer: “Don’t they know his policies will give China a really hard time?” Intellectuals were aghast.

A news website in Shanghai, however, published an article by an academic who said Mr Trump’s win revealed America’s “ever greater decline”. Official opinion is closer to this view than to Mr Trump’s Chinese cheerleaders.

Source: A victory for China? | The Economist

21/11/2016

A China-America romance? | The Economist

AFTER the wildest political upsets this year, here’s a prediction for next: China will deem its relations with America to be entering something of a golden period.

The prediction is no more outlandish than others that have recently come true. But is it madness? On the campaign trail, Donald Trump singled out China as the prime culprit ripping jobs and business out of the United States “like candy from a baby”. Mr Trump threatened a trade war. He promised that, on day one as president, he would label China a currency manipulator. He said he would slap a punitive tariff of 45% on Chinese imports. For good measure, he also promised to tear up the climate agreement that President Barack Obama signed with his counterpart, Xi Jinping, in September—a rare bright point in the bilateral relationship.Throw in, too, amid all the disarray inside Mr Trump’s transition team, the names being bandied about for those who will be in charge of dealings with China. They hardly reassure leaders in Beijing. Possibles for secretary of state, for instance, are Rudy Giuliani, New York’s former mayor, who has little experience of China, and John Bolton, a hawk who is actively hostile to it.

And yet China is starting to look on the bright side. Driving the growing optimism in Beijing is a calculation that, if Mr Trump is serious about jobs and growth at home, he will end up in favour of engagement and trade. Put simply, protectionism is inconsistent with “Make America Great Again”. From that it flows, or so Chinese officials hope, that Mr Trump’s campaign threats are mainly bluster. Yes, he is likely formally to label China a currency manipulator. But that will trigger investigations that will not be published until a year later. Even after that, there may be few immediate practical consequences.

What is more, China’s leaders may divine in Mr Trump someone in their mould—not delicate about democratic niceties and concerned above all about development and growth. Reporting on the first phone conversation earlier this week between Mr Xi and Mr Trump, the normally rabid Global Times, a newspaper in Beijing, was gushing. After Mr Xi urged co-operation, Mr Trump’s contribution to the phone call was “diplomatically impeccable”; it bolstered “optimism”, the paper said, in the two powers’ relationship over the next four years. Indeed, thanks to his “business and grass-roots angles”, and because he has not been “kidnapped by Washington’s political elites”, Mr Trump “is probably the very American leader who will make strides in reshaping major-power relations in a pragmatic manner.”

No doubt optimism among more hawkish Chinese is based upon calculations that Mr Trump’s administration will prove chaotic and incompetent, harming America first and playing to China’s advantage in the long game of America’s decline and China’s rise. “We may as well…see what chaos he can create,” the same newspaper was saying only a week ago. And Chinese leaders are delighted to see the back of Barack Obama. They hate his “pivot” to Asia. They are bitter that Mr Obama’s “zero-sum mindset” never allowed him to accept Mr Xi’s brilliant proposal in 2013 for a “new type of great-power relations” involving “win-win” co-operation. How could Mr Obama possibly think that the doctrine boils down to ceding hegemony in East Asia to China?

And so, it is not hard to imagine what gets discussed in the first meeting between the two leaders, after Mr Trump’s inauguration. In his victory speech, the builder-in-chief promised a lot of concrete-pouring: “highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals”. Mr Xi will point out that he has a fair amount of expertise in construction, too. It comes from running a vast country with more than 12,000 miles (18,400km) of bullet-train track where America has none, and a dam at the Yangzi river’s Three Gorges which is nearly as tall as the Hoover Dam and six times its length. Mr Xi will offer money and expertise for the president-elect’s building efforts, emphasising that China’s help will generate American jobs. In return, it would be an easy goodwill gesture for Mr Trump to reverse Mr Obama’s opposition to American membership of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and to lend more support to Mr Xi’s “Belt and Road” plans for building infrastructure across Asia and Europe. Advisers to Mr Trump suggest that is already on the cards.

The other leadership transition

A honeymoon, then, that few predicted. China certainly wills it. A calm external environment is critical for Mr Xi right now. He is preparing to carry out a sweeping reshuffle of the party’s leadership in the coming year or so. His aim is to consolidate his own power and ensure that he will have control over the choice of his eventual successors. That will demand much of his attention.

But don’t expect the honeymoon to last. For one, China may well have underestimated the strength of Mr Trump’s mercantilist instincts. It may also have second thoughts should a sustained dollar rally complicate management of its own currency. And even though America’s panicked friends have been this week, as the New York Times put it, “blindly dialling in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world”, Trumpian assurances of support have been growing for the alliances that China resents but that have reinforced American power in East Asia since the second world war. (As The Economist went to press, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was about to become the first national leader to meet the president-elect; he will reassure Mr Trump that Japan is taking on a bigger role in defending itself.)

And then who knows what might roil the world’s most important relationship? No crisis has recently challenged the two countries’ leaders like the mid-air collision in 2001 of a Chinese fighter jet and an American spy plane. Yet some similar incident is all too thinkable in the crowded, and contested, South and East China Seas. Remember, it is not just Mr Trump who is wholly untested in a foreign-policy crisis of that scale. Mr Xi is, too.

Source: A China-America romance? | The Economist

15/11/2016

The Economist explains: Why India scrapped its two biggest bank notes | The Economist

In a surprise televised address on the evening of November 8th, Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, delivered a bombshell: most of the money in Indians’ wallets would cease to be accepted in shops at midnight. The two most valuable notes, of 500 and 1000 rupees ($7.50 and $15), were to be “demonetised”, economist slang for taken out of circulation. Indians have until the end of the year to visit banks to either exchange their cash against newly printed notes or deposit it in their accounts. After that, their notes will become mere pieces of printed paper with no value at all.

Citizens and businesses face weeks or months of disruption as the new currency stock is deployed. So why bother?

The government justified the move in part due to concerns over a proliferation of counterfeit notes (not unusually, it pointed the finger at neighbouring Pakistan), which it claims is fuelling the drug trade and funding terrorism. But its main impact will be on “black money”, cash from undeclared sources which sits outside the financial system. Perhaps 20% of India’s economy is informal. Some of that is poor farmers, who are largely exempt from tax anyway. But the rich are perceived to be sitting on a vast illicit loot. Though a large part of that sits in bank accounts in predictable foreign jurisdictions, a chunk of it is held in high-value Indian notes. Purchases of gold or high-end real estate have long been made at least in part with bundles (or suitcases) of illicit cash. The impact of the move is that everyone will have to disclose all their cash or face losing it. Those with mere bundles of 500 rupee notes clearly aren’t the target: the government has said tax authorities won’t be told about deposits of less than 250,000. But those who have stashed large piles of notes are in a bind. A recent amnesty programme for “black money” has just passed meaning the tax man is unlikely to look upon undeclared cash piles with sympathy.

The question is not whether the scheme will work but whether the cost of implementing it is worth it. The notes being nixed represent 86% of all cash in circulation: everyone is impacted. Queues have snaked around banks for days as Indians have tried to convert their notes into new money. And the “black money” hoarders have ways to liquidate their loot, for example hiring lots of people to deposit their notes into their own accounts and then send it back, all for a fee. The benefits are hard to gauge for now. The government is keen to be seen to be cracking down on tax-dodgers on behalf of the “common man”. But if the poor fellow then has to spend his days (like your correspondent) scouring the streets for an ATM that works, he may end up wondering if he is a beneficiary of the scheme or its victim.

Source: The Economist explains: Why India scrapped its two biggest bank notes | The Economist

10/11/2016

PM Modi heads to Japan to seal nuclear deal amid uncertainty over U.S. policy | Reuters

Prime Minister Narendra Modi headed to Japan on Thursday to seal a landmark nuclear energy pact and strengthen ties, as China’s regional influence grows and Donald Trump’s election throws U.S. policies across Asia into doubt.

India, Japan and the United States have been building security ties and holding three-way naval exercises, but Trump’s “America First” campaign promise has stirred concern about a reduced U.S. engagement in the region.

Such an approach by Washington could draw Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe even closer, said foreign policy commentator and former Indian ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar.

Officials in New Delhi and Tokyo said a deal that will allow Japan to supply nuclear reactors, fuel and technology is ready for signing after six years of negotiations to find a way around Tokyo’s reservations about such an agreement with a country that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

India says the NPT is discriminatory and it has concerns about nuclear-armed China as well as its long-time rival Pakistan.

Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, has been seeking assurances from New Delhi that it would not conduct nuclear tests any more.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said the two sides had reached a broad agreement on nuclear collaboration as early as last December and had since been trying to finalise the document.

A “legal, technical scrub” of the agreed text has now been done, he said, but added that he could not pre-judge the outcome of Modi’s summit talks with Abe over Friday and Saturday.

A Japanese ruling party lawmaker said the two sides will sign an agreement during Modi’s visit. A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment.

JAPANESE AIRCRAFT ALSO DISCUSSED

The nuclear agreement with Japan follows a similar one with the United States in 2008 which gave India access to nuclear technology after decades of isolation.

That step was seen as the first big move to build India into a regional counterweight to China.

India hopes to lift ties with the United States to a new height, Modi said in a message to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday.

A final deal with Japan could also benefit U.S. firms.

India is in advanced negotiations with U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric, owned by Japan’s Toshiba, to build six nuclear reactors in southern India, part of New Delhi’s plan to ramp up nuclear capacity more than ten times by 2032.

“Japan is keen to put aside it’s staunch non-proliferation principles and engage with the lucrative Indian programme,” said Manpreet Sethi, nuclear affairs expert at the Centre for Air Power Studies, a New Delhi think-tank.

But the agreement will still have to be ratified by the Japanese parliament, she said.

Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper said the main accord will likely be accompanied by a separate document stipulating that Tokyo will suspend nuclear cooperation if India conducts a nuclear test. Initially, Japan wanted that inserted into the agreement itself, but India resisted, it said.India has declared a moratorium on such testing since its last explosions in 1998.

The two countries have also been trying to close a deal on the supply of amphibious rescue aircraft US-2 to the Indian navy, which would be one of Japan’s first sales of military equipment since Abe lifted a 50-year ban on arms exports.

India’s Defence Acquisitions Council met earlier this week to consider the purchase of 12 of the planes made by ShinMaywa Industries, but failed to reach a decision.

An Indian government source said opinion within the military was divided over whether to buy the aircraft when it was struggling to find resources to replace ageing and accident-prone submarines and address a shortage of helicopters.

A Japanese defence source said Japan was considering a cost reduction, which would mean a price cut for India as well as for the Japanese navy which it supplies. A US-2 currently costs about 13 billion yen ($123 million).

Source: PM Modi heads to Japan to seal nuclear deal amid uncertainty over U.S. policy | Reuters

10/11/2016

China state media warns Trump against isolationism, calls for status quo | Reuters

Chinese state media has warned the U.S. president-elect against isolationism and interventionism, calling instead for the United States to actively work with China to maintain the international status quo.

President-elect Donald Trump threatened to tear up trade deals and pursue a more unilateral foreign policy under his “America First” principle during a tempestuous election campaign.

But China and other foreign governments are uncertain how much of Trump’s rhetoric will be translated into policy because he has at times made contradictory statements and provided few details of how he would deal with the world.

Trump often targeted China in the campaign, blaming Beijing for U.S. job losses and vowing to impose 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports. The Republican also promised to call China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. U.S. isolationist policies had “accelerated the country’s economic crisis” during the Great Depression, warned a commentary by China’s official Xinhua News Agency, though it added that “election talk is just election talk”.

The commentary also cautioned against any tilt towards intervention.

POTENTIAL PRAGMATIST

The Chinese media in the past have criticized the United States and other Western powers for intervening in Afghanistan and Iraq and meddling in international hot spots such as Ukraine.

“History has proven that U.S. overseas military interventionism causes them to pay disastrous political and economic costs,” the commentary said. Hillary Clinton was widely seen in China as the more hawkish of the two candidates, while some Chinese commentators saw Trump as a potential pragmatist on foreign policy. But Beijing fears the unpredictability of a Trump presidency as it seeks to maintain an equilibrium in Sino-U.S. relations while dealing with the daunting tasks of a reform agenda to combat a slowing economy at home.

A second Xinhua commentary published on Thursday morning said the new U.S. president and China should “jointly build a new model of major power relations”. That echoes the position of Chinese President Xi Jinping that says global powers should work to accommodate, not contain, a rising China in the international system.

‘SHOCK OF HERESY’

Trump’s victory was watched closely on the Chinese internet with the tag “Trump has won” becoming the most-searched term on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblog service, on Wednesday afternoon in Asia, well before the race was conceded.

Some of the posts agreed that Trump might be just the change agent the United States needs now.

The U.S. has chosen indeterminacy in order to create change,” according to a post by Tsinghua University professor Sun Liping on Thursday that has been shared over a thousand times. “When the usual, determined method has already been unable to solve the problems, then you need the shock of heresy instead.”

Chinese state media had previously said the U.S. election process reflects a troubled political system, and showed an increasingly divided, disillusioned and indignant U.S. citizenry. “This election has also made clear that the U.S. political system is already caught in a predicament,” a third Xinhua commentary said. “As for when it will exit this predicament, the answer is still unknown.” The Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling party’s People’s Daily newspaper, said Trump’s victory had “dealt a heavy blow to the heart of U.S. politics” but that he would be unable to make many changes in U.S. foreign policy.”

In an elite-controlled U.S., most of those holding power don’t support Trump. And U.S. allies across the world will pressure Washington to restrain Trump from isolationism,” it said.

Source: China state media warns Trump against isolationism, calls for status quo | Reuters

10/11/2016

How the Trump Win Played Out in South Asia – India Real Time – WSJ

As Donald Trump was winning his first states in the U.S., South Asia was getting up to follow the results.In Pakistan, Javed Hassan, a former investment banker who previously worked in London and Hong Kong, got up early, at 4 a.m. local time (6 p.m. Tuesday ET), to watch election results come in at his home in the city of Karachi. On Whatsapp, he started trading messages with his son, Ali, a 20-year-old studying economics and politics at New York University.

The younger Mr. Hassan, Ali, watching TV with friends at his dorm at NYU, started his evening telling his worried father that there was no chance of a Trump victory.

“Trump won’t get enough votes in the north and the American people will not go for his racism,” he told his father.

The elder Mr. Hassan, however, was switching between CNN and BBC coverage and was seeing “long queues of white people” waiting to vote, he said, and seeing the state-by-state projections.

By 7 a.m. Pakistan time (9 p.m. Tuesday ET), father and son started to see the trends in states like Michigan.

“What really did it was when Hillary started losing in Wisconsin,” said Mr. Hassan, 51, who now runs a non-governmental organizational that provides vocational training across Pakistan. His son, enveloped in a New York bubble, with all his friends voting for Mrs. Clinton, could not see it coming, said Mr. Hassan.

Meanwhile in India, Sagar Chordia, executive director of Panchshil Realty, a real estate firm which this year built the country’s first Trump Towers in the western city of Pune, had gotten up at 5 a.m. (6.30 p.m. Tuesday ET) to watch the results on television.

Mr. Chordia said he tracked the Twitter and Facebook updates of Donald Trump Jr., who was instrumental in signing the deal with his company.

Mr. Chordia typically leaves for the office around 9 a.m. (10.30 p.m. Tuesday ET), but on Wednesday he stayed at home in Pune, glued to the TV for another hour or so, until Mr. Trump had garnered 220 electoral votes. “Now, I know he’s the winner,” he thought at the time.

Mr. Chordia said that once he got to the office, he found his staff were happy with the result, as many of them met Mr. Trump when he visited Pune in 2014. Then, Mr. Chordia said, he and his team threw a big party for Mr. Trump, with 800 guests.

He said Mr. Trump’s election is good for India, because the president elect has traveled to the country and has praised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “They really love India and they want to do more and more projects in this country,” he said of the Trumps.

In Mumbai, India, Alok Churiwala, a 48-year-old stock broker, was waiting for the benchmark stock index to open at 9.15 a.m. (10.45 p.m. Tuesday ET). Mr. Churiwala was tracking the election results on television, as well as Twitter and on his Whatsapp account.

He prepared for the market to open down, given that the Dow Jones futures were already trading lower, but he wasn’t ready for the 5% fall.“We were horrified when the markets opened,” he said.

At his morning meeting with dealers, Mr. Churiwala told his staff that clients should be kept from doing anything reckless. They were not to encourage clients to short the market, bet against it, or borrow for day trades.

As stocks swooned, he was swamped by clients calling to ask what was happening.

“Phones were ringing off the hook, because everybody was worried,” he said. “You’d think that this is apocalypse,” said Mr. Churiwala.

He skipped lunch.

He said one client who is based in the U.K. called. “What is it about Trump that is so horrifying for the market?” he said she asked him.

He said that he was neutral to both U.S. presidential candidates and he believed that Mr. Trump may not carry through on some drastic steps he had suggested on the campaign trail. “Politicians are known to make promises before elections when they want to woo voters,” he said.

In India’s capital New Delhi, members of a small Hindu nationalist group were ready for the news of Mr. Trump’s win. They began gathering at 11 a.m. (12:30 a.m. Wednesday ET) to celebrate a Trump lead they were certain would result in a victory. The group, known as the Hindu Sena, or Hindu army, had hosted a prayer ritual for such an outcome a few months ago. It even held a birthday celebration for Mr. Trump in June.

A member of Hindu Sena celebrated Mr. Trump’s victory, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 9, 2016. PHOTO: CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS

More than four dozen supporters gathered at a prominent square on Wednesday. They distributed Indian sweets to passers-by and beat traditional drums. Modifying a popular slogan from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign two years ago, they chanted in Hindi, “this time, a Trump government.”

Vishnu Gupta, who founded the group in 2011, said he’d sent out text messages at 7 p.m. (8:30 a.m. Tuesday ET) the previous day, asking supporters to watch the news closely and gather in the late morning. Mr. Gupta himself hadn’t slept all night, he said, glued to the television as Americans cast their ballots.

To Mr. Gupta, Mr. Trump, represents strong leadership against what he called Islamic terrorism, much like India’s Mr. Modi, he said. “Many people criticized Trump’s proposals to stop radical Muslims from entering the U.S. and mocked us for celebrating the man,” he said. “But today, we’ve come out ahead.”

Back in the U.S., the younger Mr. Hassan didn’t wait up for Trump’s victory speech. “Screw this,” he told his father in Pakistan and went to sleep at around midnight in New York.

The elder Mr. Hassan said that he was worried about his holdings on the local Karachi Stock Exchange, which plunged 2% early on Wednesday, before recovering.

Source: How the Trump Win Played Out in South Asia – India Real Time – WSJ

09/11/2016

Watching Trump Inch Towards Victory, With Cheers, in China – China Real Time Report – WSJ

As vote tallies came in late Tuesday night, it was Wednesday morning in China and inside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, many Chinese watchers were celebrating the increasingly likely prospect of a Donald Trump win.

The event, intended to give Chinese locals the opportunity to experience a U.S. election, featured a mock vote and the opportunity for locals to pose with large cut-out photos of Mr. Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as remarks from U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus.

As he stood and watched the results roll in on a large overhead screen, Tian Junwu, a professor at the Beihang University School of Foreign Languages, said he was rooting for Mr. Trump’s victory.

“I’m a man. I don’t like a woman to be too strong,” said Mr. Tian. “She is too overbearing, like my wife. I think Trump is funny.”

Though the Republican candidate has threatened to slap a 45% tariff on Chinese goods, Mr. Tian said such a prospect wasn’t too alarming. “We [Chinese people] know now that candidates say one thing when they are running, but becoming a president is a different thing.”

Zhong Shaoliang, the Beijing representative of the industry group World Steel Association, said that the candidates seemed similar to him, but that he preferred Mr. Trump because he seemed more authentic. “He’s more American that way,” he said.

Still, he said that if he was American himself, he would see some perhaps worrying aspects at the prospect of a Trump win. “Hillary would be better for overall harmony. Trump will likely continue to further divide America up.”

As Florida was called for Mr. Trump, a pair of second-year college students studying English at the Beijing Language and Culture University said they were pleased.

“Clinton gives me kind of a sinister feeling, I’m kind of scared of her,” said Xu Xiayan, 19, who said she and her friends were paying more attention to the election this year, mostly for its entertainment value. “She’s good at pretending. Like when Trump is saying things and making her angry, she still maintains a slight smile.” Her friend agreed.Kang Xiaoguang, a professor at Renmin University’s China Institute for Philosophy and Social Innovation, said many of his friends were also cheering for Mr. Trump. “He’s saying things that people in America in their hearts might really feel — like about immigrants, about Muslims — but don’t dare say.” And from a foreign-policy perspective, he said, he thought Mr. Trump would be more likely to pull back on a global stage, including in places such as the South China Sea. “That way, China won’t have so much pressure on it,” he said.

“Also, some people feel the U.S. makes too much trouble for China, so if there’s a person making trouble in the U.S., they think Trump becoming president is a good thing,” he added.

Given the chance, he said, he might have cast his ballot for Mrs. Clinton, who he sees as steadier and easier to predict. A recent Pew survey found that Chinese respondents have a poor image of both presidential candidates, but viewed Mrs. Clinton slightly more favorably than her opponent.

Still, no matter what he does in office, Mr. Kang said he didn’t think that Trump’s impact would necessarily be too great. “America is a very mature system,” he said. It won’t be easily rocked by one person.”

Source: Watching Trump Inch Towards Victory, With Cheers, in China – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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