Posts tagged ‘markets’

Thursday, April 17, 2014

“Optimizing Something”: Russia centralizes Propaganda, scraps Shortwave Broadcaster and other traditional Institutions

As the end of March drew nearer, central Europeans could still hear the station from afar, a muted signal behind some gentle, steady noise. The “Voice of Russia” targeted Australia and New Zealand with an English-language program of four hours daily, from the transmission site of Angarsk, near Irkutsk. Those appear to have been the last programs in English. Chances are that some programs in Japanese were also still aired at the time. A shortwave listener in Taipei kept listening to VoR’s Chinese programs on shortwave, right to the end on March 31 (his post contains some recordings).

Listeners who wrote inquiries to VoR got a reaction. But overall, very little, if anything, was mentioned in the programs on shortwave, about the nearing end of the service. For sure, no words of respect were lost about the medium’s use during some eighty-five years of Russian external broadcasting. Maybe they hadn’t been of much use after all, as the message never seemed to sink in in the target areas? In that case, you could hardly blame shortwave.

On April 1, all of VoR’s shortwave transmissions had become history.

APN-Verlag, via Radio Moscow

The old-fashioned way: propaganda booklet by mail, Ria Novosti via Radio Moscow, March 31, 1987.

The “Voice of Russia” (VoR), formerly known as Radio Moscow or Radio Moscow World Service, only exists as a brand now, within the media empire of Russia Today, which also swallowed Ria Novosti. “We will use the old brand for the time being, but leading international specialists are already working on the new brands and they will be ready soon, the “Voice of Russia” and/or Interfax quoted Russia Today’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan. A renewed English newswire would be launched on April 1, and it would be available round-the-clock on June 1.

No additional funding would be needed, the editor-in-chief was quoted as saying: “We are not asking additional money for all that, which means we will have to optimize something to get resources for the creation of something more modern. We will stop using obsolete radio broadcasting models, when the signal is transmitted without any control and when it is impossible to calculate who listens to it and where.”

Indeed, this had been the message of Vladimir Putin‘s presidential decree in December, on certain measures to raise the operational effectiveness of state-owned mass media.

Radio Moscow QSL, apparently featuring the Lenin Mausoleum, 1980s.

Radio Moscow QSL, Lenin Mausoleum, 1980s.

On the same day, December 9, Ria Novosti offered a comparatively candid interpretation of the decree: The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape that appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector,

Ria Novosti wrote, and added that

In a separate decree published Monday, the Kremlin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov, a prominent Russian television presenter and media manager recently embroiled in a scandal over anti-gay remarks, to head Rossiya Segodnya.

Russia Today is the English translation for the actual Russian name, Rossiya Segodnya. Rossiya Segodnya, however, is apparently not related to the English-language television channel whose name had also been “Russia Today”, Ria Novosti wrote.

Ria Novosti then added some more information, beyond its own dissolution:

RIA Novosti was set up in 1941, two days after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, as the Soviet Information Bureau, and now has reporters in over 45 countries providing news in 14 languages.

Last month Gazprom-Media, which is closely linked to state-run gas giant Gazprom, bought control of Russian media company Profmedia from Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin. In October, Mikhail Lesin, a former Kremlin advisor, was appointed to head Gazprom-Media.

Reuters also reported the Gazprom-Media story, in November last year.

Radio Moscow, the “Voice of Russia’s” predecessor as the Russian (or Soviet) foreign broadcasting service, was a superpower on the air, during the 1980s. 2094 program hours per week are said to have been produced in that decade,  compared with 1901 hours per week by their American competitors at the Voice of America (VoA).

The discrepancy was even greater when it came to transmitters and kilowatts,according to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel at the time: while Radio Moscow had threehundred transmission sites at their disposal, it was only 110 on the American side – and VoA only had one-twentieth the budget of Radio Moscow.

That was to change, at least in relative terms: the Reagan administration had convinced Congress to provide considerable funding. But as the Cold War came to an end, government interest on all sides in foreign broadcasting faded.

As far as Russia’s external broadcasters, now named “The Voice of Russia”, was concerned, not only the financial or technical equipment weakened, but so, apparently, did their self-image. Religious and esoteric organizations populated many last quarters of the Voice’s – still numerous – broadcasting hours in German, and at least among German-language broadcasters, there seemed to be different concepts of what would be successful or professional coverage of Russian affairs, a feature by German broadcaster DLF suggested.

The broadcasting house certainly no longer came across as the elites’ jumping board, as a place where Egon Erwin Kisch or Bertolt Brecht once worked.

The Kremlin, apparently, saw neither glory and soft power, nor a sufficient degree of checkability in VoR and put an end to the station. It’s hardly conceivable that it could still be revived as a mere “brand”, without actual radio whose signals would reach beyond a few square miles.

But “daily Russian life” – something Russia Today is supposed to cover – may still look different from the ideas of the “new generation” of media planners. On ham radio bands with wide reaches, Russian operators are active above average. And even if Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia’s new propaganda mega-medium, may be unaware of ham radio or finds it uncool, her boss, Dmitry Kiselyov, should still like it: a ham radio contest commemorating Yuri Gagarin’s 80th birthday.

After all, the internet is a rather non-traditional form of propaganda.

Will Putin’s message sink in, where Stalin’s, Khrushchev’s, or Brezhnev’s mostly failed? If not, don’t blame shortwave – and don’t blame the internet, for that matter.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

China and the Crimean Crisis: official Statements (from New York and Beijing) and semi-official Interviews (on the Ground)

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An early-morning try to catch up with some Chinese coverage of the Crimea crisis. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

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Xinhua published this communiqué on Thursday morning:
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1. Xinhua online, March 20, 2014

Xinhua, United Nations, March 19. China’s permanent envoy to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi, said on March 19 that in China’s view, a political solution needed to be sought for the Crimean issue, under a lawful and orderly framework. All sides needed to maintain restraint and to avoid action that would exacerbate the contradictions.

新华网联合国3月19日电  中国常驻联合国代表刘结一19日说,中方认为,克里米亚问题应在法律和秩序框架下寻求政治解决。各方应保持克制,避免采取激化矛盾的行动。

The Security Council held a public session that day, concerning the situation in Ukraine. Liu Jieyi said in a speech that China had always paid great attention to the developments in Ukraine. The Security Council had discussed the Ukraine issue several times previously, and China had clearly set forth its principled position concerning the relevant issues. Respecting all countries’ independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity had been China’s consistent position.

安理会当天就乌克兰局势举行公开会议。刘结一发言说,中方一直高度关注乌克兰局势发展。安理会已多次讨论乌克兰问题,中方已明确阐述在有关问题上的原则立场。尊重各国的独立、主权和领土完整是中方的一贯立场。

He said that China had always upheld a just [or impartial], objective attitude. We will continue efforts to promote peace talks and to play a constructive role in a political solution of the Ukraine crisis. China has made a proposal: to establish, as soon as possible, an international coordination mechanism, formed by all parties involved, to discuss ways for a political solution to the Ukraine crisis, with no side taking action during that phase that could aggravate the situation, with the International Monetary Fund starting discussions and assisting Ukraine in maintaining economic and financial stability.

他说,中国在乌克兰问题上始终秉持 公正、客观的态度。我们将继续劝和促谈,为政治解决乌克兰危机进一步发挥建设性作用。中方已就政治解决乌 克兰危机提出建议:尽快设立由有关各方组成的国际协调机制,探讨政治解决乌克兰危机的途径;各方在此期间均不采取进一步恶化局势的行动;国际金融机构着手 探讨,并协助乌克兰维护经济和金融稳定。

He also said that the international community should make constructive efforts to mitigate the tense situation. China supports Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s good offices [mediation] in Russia and Ukraine, and [China] hopes that the international community will continue to make constructive efforts to mitigate the tense situation.

他还说,国际社会应为缓和紧张局势作出建设性努力。中国支持潘基文秘书长今日赴有关国家进行斡旋,希望国际社会继续为缓和紧张局势作出建设性努力。

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon left for Russia and Ukraine on the afternoon of March 19, to make diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution of the current crisis.

联合国秘书长潘基文19日下午已启程前往俄罗斯和乌克兰访问,为和平解决当前危机展开外交努力。

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2. Earlier this month, on March 3 and 4, Qin Gang replied to several Ukraine-related questions:

Q: The Russian Parliament approved the use of force against Ukraine. Does China offer diplomatic support to Russia? Does China recognize the new Ukrainian government?

A: On your first question, please refer to the remarks I made yesterday. With respect to the Ukrainian issue, we uphold China’s long-standing diplomatic principles and basic norms governing international relations, and also take into account the history and complexity of the issue. It is fair to say that our position, which is objective, fair, just and peaceful, follows both principles and facts.

On the second question, judgement needs to be made based on laws of Ukraine.

[...]

Q: Some western leaders believe that what Russia did violates international law. What is China’s comment?

A: Yesterday, I elaborated on China’s view and position on the current situation in Ukraine and you may take a look at that.

I want to point out that we are aware of the historical facts and realistic complexity of the Ukrainian issue. There are reasons for why the situation in Ukraine is what it is today. We hope relevant parties can seek a political resolution of their differences through dialogue and consultation, prevent tensions from growing and jointly maintain regional peace and stability.

Qin Gang, FMPRC spokesman, March 3, 2014

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Q: China says that not to interfere in others’ internal affairs is its long-standing position and it also takes into account the historical facts and the realistic complexity of the Ukrainian issue. What do you mean by historical facts? Does China view Russia’s operation in Crimea as interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs?

A:China has made clear of its position on the Ukrainian issue. As for the historical facts of this issue, please review or refer to the history of Ukraine and this region. I believe that you will understand what we mean after learning about relevant history.

On your second question, please have a complete and comprehensive understanding of China’s position. We uphold the principle of non-interference in others’ internal affairs and respect international law and widely recognized norms governing international relations. Meanwhile we take into account the historical facts and realistic complexity of the Ukrainian issue. You may also analyze why the situation in Ukraine is what it is today based on activities and behaviors of relevant parties in the past months.

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Q: Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers had a telephone conversation yesterday. The Russian side says that China backs Russia’s position on the Ukrainian issue. What is China’s comment? Please give us more details and China’s position on the Ukrainian issue.

A: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov had a telephone conversation yesterday. Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about Russia’s position and viewpoint on the current situation in Ukraine and the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on that. Both believe that a proper settlement of the Ukrainian crisis is of vital importance to regional peace and stability.

We have already issued China’s principle and position on the Ukrainian issue.

Qin Gang, FMPRC spokesman, March 4, 2014

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3. Life in Crimea, according to a Chinese press article

“(The turmoil) doesn’t have a great impact on daily life and on Chinese overseas students studying here in Crimea”, Yu Junwei, a second-grade graduate student at  Crimea Comprehensive University’s Faculty of Management tells the “Huanqiu Shibao” reporter[s]. “The most tense two days were those of the stand-off in front of the Crimean parliament building, between pro-Russian forces and anti-Russian factions, when classes were suspended. At all other times, we regularly had classes.” A student from Sichuan who is interviewed together with Yu says: “I’ve been here as a student for five years, and after graduation, I want to stay here to work for some time. After that, I will think about returning home.” She says that Crimea is a good human and natural environment, with a rather high ecducational level, a comfortable pace of work and rather little stress in life which made her “feel at home” [or, possibly meant this way: having such a good time that one forgets to go home]. Yu Junwei has similar feelings: “Apart from studying, I also guide some domestic business delegations and earn some money to reduce my family’s burden, and also gather some social experience.” Yu Junwei says: “After Crimea has joined Russia, it should be easier to come from China to travel here, and adding Chinese peoples’ historic feelings for Yalta in Crimea, its tourism industry should develop faster, which would also somewhat improve my work prospects.”

“从生活角度来说,(动乱)对正在克里米亚求学的中国留学生 影响不大。”正在克里米亚综合大学管理系上研究生二年级的余军伟告诉《环球时报》记者:“局势最紧张的两天,也就是亲俄力量与反俄派在国会大厦对峙的时候 学校停课,其他时候我们都正常上课。”和余军伟一起接受采访的一位四川籍女生表示:“我在这里学生生活5年时间了,毕业后也想继续留在这里工作一段时间, 然后再考虑回国。”她表示,克里米亚良好的自然与人文环境,相对较高的教育水平,闲适的工作节奏和相对较小的生活压力让她“乐不思蜀”。余军伟也有同样的 感受:“学习之余,我也带一些从国内来的商务考察团,赚一些钱来减轻家里的负担,同时也能积累更多的社会经验。”余军伟表示:“克里米亚加入俄罗斯之后, 从中国来这里旅游会更加方便,加上中国人对克里米亚的雅尔塔所抱有的历史感情,该地旅游业未来会有更快的发展,我的工作前景也会更好一些。”

Because of rather high educational levels and comparatively low costs of studying abroad, Crimea has been an important place for many Chinese overseas students. [A local, employee at] Crimea Comprehensive University’s foreign affairs office] tells the “Huanqiu Shibao” reporter[s]: “1995 to 1998 were the years when most Chinese overseas students studied here, more than three hundred every year, a peak time.” Yu Junwei says: “Originally, you paid seventy US dollars a year for a bed. Now the price has risen to 500 dollars. All expenses have risen. A Chinese overseas student spends 50,000 to 60,000 Yuan RMB a year, but to study in America or Europe comes at amounts as high as 300,000 to 400,000 Yuan RMB.” However, given much lowerd thresholds in America and Europe, the numbers of Chinese overseas students in Crimea are going down. In 2014, a total number of 28 Chinese overseas students studied at Crimea Comprehensive University, Crimea Medical University and other schools.

因为当地较高的教育水平和相对低廉的留学费用。克里米亚曾经是中国留学生的重要求学地。曾在克里米亚综合大学外事办工作 的当地人吴成克告诉《环球时报》记者:“1995年至1998年间,克里米亚的中国留学生最多,一年多达300人左右,是一个高峰期。”余军伟说:“这里 原来的学校住宿费是一张床一年70美元,现在涨到500美元。所有费用加起来,一个中国留学生一年的开销也就是5万至6万人民币,而在美欧留学一年开销高 达三四十万人民币。”不过,由于美国与欧洲留学门槛近年来降低了许多,现在在克里米亚求学的中国留学生逐年减少。2014年,克里米亚综合大学、克里米亚 医科大学和其他学校的中国留学生总计28人。

After a paragraph about the technicalities of continuing studies with old or new visas in Crimea, the article turns to Kiev, where a Chinese students is quoted as saying that the most tense areas had been confined to Independence Square [Maidan] and the streets around there. The student also has words of approval for the educaton department at the Chinese embassy in Kiev: “The diplomats are OK, just great.”

[The student] says that there are about ten thousand Chinese overseas students in Ukraine, many of them in Kiev. “Costs of studying are much lower here, than in America and Europe, as well, but the educational level is not low. Therefore, the political unrest doesn’t affect the lessons, and most overseas students will continue and complete their studies here.”

[...] 表示,在乌克兰留学的中国学生有一万人左右,其中不少在基辅:“同样,这里的留学费用相对于美国与欧洲要低很多,而教育水平并不低,所以眼下的政治动荡并不影响学生们的功课,多数的留学生也会继续在乌克兰完成学业。”

Huanqiu Shibao ["Global Times"], March 26, 2014

Friday, November 8, 2013

Press Review: the “Magic” of Third Plenary Sessions

The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Central Committee’s third plenary session is scheduled to begin on Saturday, and to close on Tuesday. The Economist is full of joy and great expectations:

When colleagues complain that meetings achieve nothing, silence them with eight leaden words: “third plenary session of the 11th central committee”. This five-day Communist Party gathering in December 1978 utterly changed China.

Why should Xi Jinping be in a position to repeat a similar plenum tomorrow, 35 years after the 1th Central Committee? Because Xi, and chief state councillor Li Keqiang, have assembled an impressive bunch of market-oriented advisers, and because Xi himself appears to have more authority than any leader since Deng. And he had done nothing downplay expecations.

press review

The outland expects nothing short of a (counter) revolution.

The Economist’s editorial mentions two fields on which the central committee – in its view – should focus: state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and the countryside. The magazine has been banging on about the latter issue since March 2006 – if not earlier. In its March 25, 2006 edition, it suggested land reform (“how to make China even richer”), and it saw some of its expectations met in winter 2008, but the third plenum that Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao chaired in October 2008 proved an anticlimax.

If the next days should not produce spectacular decisions, neither the Economist nor the Financial Times appear to be too worried: bloated phrasing, the FT suggests, has not been an obstacle to far-reaching economic policy changes in China over the past 35 years. The FT also agrees with the Economist’s 2008 finding that

for Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor, the 2003 third plenum became a marker of his administration’s shortcomings. Mr Hu vowed at the plenum to tackle China’s unbalanced growth, but a decade later left office with the economy even more reliant on investment.

But contrary to the Economist, the FT doesn’t seem to believe that the input from the market-oriented advisers, assembled by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, will translate into results quite as dramatic as the think-tank papers. Incremental change would prevail.

One of the ideas – certainly not shared by all Chinese leaders alike – behind the right to farmers to sell their land is that the money earned from sales would enable them to start new lives in the cities or in urbanized areas. This would, apparently, require loosening or abandoning the household-registration system, even if some more conservative models of trading land-related rights rather seem to encourage rural citizens to stay where they are.

This should make sense – maybe not everywhere, but in many places. After all, Hu Jintao’s and Wen Jiabao’s caution wasn’t unfounded. The history of Chinese agriculture seems to have been about making farmers owners of their land – with concepts of ownership which most probably differ from our days -, even if for different goals. The idea then was to make agriculture work, not to make urbanization work. And time and again, land concentrated, back into the hands of small elites, Erling von Mende, a sinologist, suggested in a contribution for a popular-science illustrated book published by Roger Goepper, in 1988.*)

If a peasant in Gansu province sells his few mu of land – to a local developer, for example – and heads to a big city, one may doubt that his small capital would get him very far. He might return to his home province as a poorer man than ever before. It’s unlikely that the center would loosen all the brakes at once.

The most striking thing to me about recent foreign coverage of the plenary session aren’t the technicalities, however. It is the way China is being looked at as just another kind of political system. The potential of big business seems to have squashed ethical issues.

That’s not soft power, but it is Beijing power. A number of former foreign officials, among them Mexico’s former president Ernesto Zedillo and former British prime minister Gordon Brown, pilgrimaged to the Chinese capital to attend a conference of the 21st Century Council, a global think tank (apparently formed by them). They got an invitation for tea met with Xi Jinping, too, who informed them that China would not fall into the middle-income trap.

There is no reason to believe that elites who worship abusive power abroad will show more respect for human rights at home.

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Note

*) Roger Goepper (Hrsg.): “Das Alte China”, München, Gütersloh, 1988, pp. 164 – 166

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Related

» Is China misunderstood, Oct 24, 2012
» Middle-income trap, Wikipedia, acc. 20131108

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chinese Press Review: Syria, very clever

At a moment when everything had seemed to be set for a showdown, things changed dramatically, writes People’s Daily. Yesterday night, Syria officially responded to the international community and said it was willing to hand over all its chemical weapons so as to avoid American attack.  (叙利亚危机剑拔弩张的气氛出现戏剧性变化。
昨日晚间,叙利亚正式回复国际社会,叙利亚愿意交出全部化学武器以换取免遭美国打击。)

After a short account of Kerry’s sudden suggestion on a press conference in London that Syria could only avoid U.S. military strikes by handing over its chemical weapons, and Russian foreign minister Lavrov’s and Syrian foreign minister Mouallem’s statements, amounting to a Syrian willingness to do just that, plus Obama’s ABC interview, People’s Daily quotes an old diplomat and professor, Zhou Zunnan (周尊南) of the Chinese Foreign Affairs University, in an interview with the “International Financial Journal”:

Russia is very clever. They have successfully used diplomatic techniques, and the important thing is that in the current situation, with all the different parties’ interveaved interests, this is a “good move” [in a game of chess].  On the one hand, America gets under international pressure by gradually lowering other countries’ support for unilateral American war, and on the other, objectively, Russia showed support for Syria, perhaps implicating that “no matter if you use force or if you don’t, we will stand on Syria’s side.”

“俄罗斯很聪明,他们成功利用了外交技巧,重要的是,在目前各方面利益交织的格局下,这是一步‘好棋’。”老外交官、外交学院教授周尊南对《国际金融报》记者表示,“一方面,美国会陷入国际压力,进一步压低其他国家对美国单方面发动战争的支持度;另一方面,俄罗斯客观上表达了对叙利亚的支持,言外之意可能是‘不管你动不动武,我都会站在叙利亚’这边。”

People’s Daily is hedging its bets, regarding the likelihood of open American military intervention. From the Third Middle-East War (meaning the Six-Day War) to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon in 1976, and to Syria’s “flirting glances” (与伊朗保持“眉来眼去”的关系) with Iran, things had put this Middle-Eastern country’s relations with Western countries “out of sorts”, the paper writes. In the latest stage of the Syrian conflict, America had sought an “pretext” (quotation marks by People’s Daily), which was the chemical weapons.  There were several indications, People’s Daily quotes Zhou Zunnan (周尊南), still from the “International Financial Journal”, that the issue of chemical weapons was just an excuse. It would have looked bad to take military action against Syria before the UN inspectors delivered their findings, and besides, Russia had borrowed the position Kerry stated in London, Syria had cleverly strengthened its alliance with Russia, thus putting America into a difficult position. A third problem was American public opinion, according to Zhou.

And after all, the situation was complicated: Turkey would have to forget about a four-country economy including Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, if the Assad stepped down. And Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean was Tartus, in Syria. Syria was at the center of solving or mishandling the big Middle-Eastern issues.

Referring to further sources, People’s Daily suggests that oil prices had to be critical factors in Washington’s deliberations, too – with repercussions for the U.S economy. And still, this could also help America to replace the Middle East as the world’s center of energy sources, with an impact on countries depending on those, such as China and India. Therefore, the possibility of military action could not be ruled out. People’s Daily quotes a Russian political scientist (波利卡诺夫) who was also quoted by Xinhua a day earlier as suggesting that the military strikes were only delayed, but had not been stopped by Moscow’s and Damascus’ decisions.

Even China wasn’t on the sidelines in Syria, writes People’s Daily.  Syria had maintained close oil trade with China, and Chinese state-owned energy companies had business in Syria. A SINOPEC spokesperson is quoted as saying (again from “International Financial Journal”) that his company had temporarily closed their branch company in Syria, with most of the staff returning to Beijing, and some staying in Lebanon. Despite all the emphasis on diversification, about fifty percent of China’s crude oil imports were still coming from the Middle East, an expert from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is quoted.

Economics aside, People’s Daily concludes, there had also been a close Sino-Syrian relationship in other fields. Reports say that when China was treated unfairly in the international arena, it could always count on Syrian support.

This is about as far as official Chinese media go in their support for Damascus. Voicing official or semi-official positions is frequently the job of high-ranking academics, when Zhongnanhai prefers to remain silent or low-key. Zhou Zunnan’s comments in the “International Financial Journal”, which is in fact a branch of People’s Daily itself, probably play this kind of role.

On September 4, another academic, Li Shaoxian (李绍先) of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, was quoted by Huanqiu Shibao with a rather candid statement (which may or may not mirror the official Chinese position, obviously):

Besides, Li Shaoxian believes that, when Bashar al-Assad said that China and Russia were Syria’s allies, that was the great banner used as a tiger-skin [a way to impress enemies]. China wasn’t Syria’s ally.  “Although China and Russia both insist on a peaceful solution and both oppose foreign military intervention, Russia has major actual interests in Syria to protect, while China’s interests in Syria are small.”

李绍先还认为,叙利亚总统巴沙尔说中国、俄罗斯是其盟友的说法是“拉大旗作虎皮”,中国不是巴沙尔的盟友。
“尽管中俄对坚持和平解决、反对外来军事干预是一致的,但中俄的考虑并不完全一致,俄罗斯在叙利亚有重大的现实利益要保护,而中国在叙利亚的利益很少”。

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Related

» Netzschau (German blog), Sept 10, 2013
» Less than 40 percent, Global Times, Dec 12, 2011

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Local Government Debts: Beijing seeks the big Picture

New bosses usually want to know the status they’ve inherited. The new collective leadership around Xi Jinping is no exception: the state auditing administration, in accordance with the demands of the state council, is going to arrange a national audit concerning governmental debt. The focus is on local governments, according to Economic Reference ( 经济参考报, via Enorth):

The “black hole” of local government debt has triggered the vigilance of the center. Experts believe that illegal financing by local governments will be in the audit’s focus, and that the audit will include the financial situations of township and village governments.

“近日,根据国务院要求,审计署将组织全国审计机关对政府性债务进行审计。”国家审计署网站28日挂出的一条短消息,瞬间传遍市场,释放出强烈的信号———地方政府债务“黑洞”已经引发中央高度警觉。专家认为,地方政府的违规融资行为将是此次审计的重点,同时乡村一级政府债务情况也有望纳入审计。

This would include the debts/repayables of local investment platform companies (地方融资平台公司), says the article – however, this wasn’t the first audit of this kind. From March to May 2011, the state auditing administration had examined 31 provincial governments (including autonomous regions and municipalities) as well as five state-planned and administration levels within city-level. As of the end of 2010, with the exception of 54 county governments with no debts, provincial, city and county-level governments had accumulated 10.7 trillion Yuan RMB of debts (10,700,000,000,000).

After that, no nation-wide audits had been carried out, however, 36 local governments and their sub-levels had been examined from November 2012 to February 2013.

The article also quotes an IMF estimate as saying that Chinese government debt in its broad sense (including the central government’s and local governments’ spending on infrastructure which wasn’t included in governmental (official) budgets would already exceed 45 percent of GDP.

Other sources quoted put the percentage even higher, such as 78 percent by the end of 2012, according to a report by the Standard Chartered Bank, but despite many estimates abroad and at home, there were no official, authoritative statistics yet.

The article quotes a number of experts with their assessments, and a person close to the ministry of finance. The latter is quoted as saying that “in some counties and counties, the problem of government finance and government debts is very serious and has to be taken seriously.”

It’s a fairly candid article, and it is in line with generally more sober reports on the state of the economy, but it is strictly focused on pointing out what needs to be done, and carefully avoids any “doom-and-gloom” scenarios of the kind which would hardly be missing in a European description of either a Chinese or a European mess. The article also avoids pointing out the central government’s responsibility for the ambiguous financial status of lower government levels.

In the wake of the global financial crisis since 2008, stimulus programs – particularly investment in infrastructure – had been China’s answer to slowing global demand for Chinese products. Reportedly, the central government decided on the stimulus, but most of the investments actually had to be made (and financed) by local governments, and they were carried out by provincial or locally-owned investment companies.

As early as in March 2010, Victor Shih (Northwestern University), who apparently dug comparatively deep into the issue at the time, foresaw no Chinese financial crisis, but a costly process to restructure and recapitalize the banks.

That process is now in its infancy – and it is hard to tell if it will even manage to depict the as-is status accurately. The CCP is facing a number of options or necessities beyond financial restructuring, too, which might look like this, more or less. It won’t just be a matter of financial restructuring, but a matter of restructuring the economy: in the long run, misallocated capital can’t come cheaply.

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Related

» Who will bear the Costs, July 7, 2013

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Reforming China’s Financial System: who will bear the Costs?

Warning: JR is trying to explain the economy to himself. His word pool and previous knowledge about this topic are shaky, and the following may or may not make sense – you’ll have only have yourselves to blame if you base your homework (or investment decisions) on this post.

This is not the first time that a “financial crisis” is predicted for China, and certainly not so in Western media, which seem to have become aware of problems in China’s financial system by 2011. It doesn’t seem unlikely that the times of export-led growth in China are coming to an end – a new policy needs to be found, and it will need to be more specific than these.

The third wave of the global financial crisis is likely to occur in the emerging markets, and it is in its preliminary (or brewing) stage in China, Hong Kong’s Beijing-leaning Wen Wei Po (文匯報) quoted Guan Qingyou (管清友), assistant dean of the Minsheng Securities Research Institute, on June 21. However, it hadn’t started yet, Guan added, and there were two reasons for that. America’s Federal Reserve Bank hadn’t sufficient reason yet to exit its quantative easing policy, and the Bank of Japan, Japan’s central bank, was firm in its radical easing policies.

But that was no reason to lean back, Wen Wei Po continues to quote Guan Qingyou. The longer the brewing stage of the crisis lasted, the more fiercely it would become once it broke out. For the time being, there were three firewalls, Guan suggested: China’s current account suprlus with a corresponding amount of foreign-exchange reserves, a capital account that hadn’t yet been completely liberalized, and short-term capital flight would therefore be limited, and thirdly, China’s financial system was relatively stable – this third aspect had allowed China to escape the Asian financial crisis (of 1997) rather unharmed. Despite these reassuring short-term “firewalls”, an aging population, growing financial risks and excess production capacity stemming from overinvestment as well as high housing/property prices were burdens that made it difficult for China to prosper.

It would therefore be possible to avoid an acute currency crisis, Wen Wei Po quotes Guan Qingyou.

On July 2, China News Service quoted excerpts from Hong Kong’s Ming Pao‘s (明報) July 2 edition. Here, too, the Federal Reserve got a mention: there was no fixed end to the third round of quantative easing, and it would continue until the US economy’s recovery was really steady. This positive change would occur later this year, the Federal Reserve is quoted as predicting – “we hope that the Fed is right”, China News Service quotes Ming Pao.

The Fed’s “quantative easing” was at times cussed in the Chinese media (I can’t tell if that was also true for Hong Kong media) during the first years of the financial crisis, for destabilizing the global economy (and, presumably, for devaluing both the dollar and the U.S. bonds China holds  as America’s creditor). But few Chinese observers appear to be waiting for an end to quantative easing too impatiently.
Ming Pao, according to China News Service, uses some stronger language than Wen Wei Po in describing the need for Chinese financial market reforms: just as the economy was slowing down in China, and while the global markets weren’t stable, the Chinese central bank was trying to defuse the bomb in China’s financial system:

To meet their needs for working capital, mainland private enterprises are often seriously dependent on short-term funding. And if Chinese everywhere scramble for working capital, the whole Asian supply chain may become affected. This is bad news for the close regional ties between exporting and processing enterprises in mainland China. If the tightening period drags on, this will also negatively affect northeast Asian countries depending on Chinese growth.

内地的私营企业为满足营运资金的需求,往往 严重依赖短期资金。因此,若中国供货商到处争夺营运资金,整条亚洲供应链都可能会受到干扰。对于与内地出 口加工企业关系密切的地区出口商来说,这是个坏消息。若内地的紧缩周期拖长,对于那些俨如中国经济增长寒暑表的东北亚国家来说,将会不利。

The more resolute China’s [financial?] reform plans, the more painful the labor pain will be. The decision makers will try to increase the efficiency of capital use within the financial system. There is no “painless” way of dealing with the problem of debt dependence.

中国的改革计划愈有决心,这种阵痛的时间就愈长。决策者试图提高资金在金融系统内的运用效率。要处理之前遗留下来的债务依赖问题,实在没有“无痛”的方法。

Access to loans had long been a problem for smaller and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Occasionally even the press seemed to confront the central bank with the issue. A Zhejiang Satellite TV reporter asked People’s Bank of China (PBoC)  governor Zhou Xiaochuan in March 2011 how, under a tightening policy, harm for the SMEs can be avoided, given that banks could easily raise interest rates, and the SMEs had absolutely no bargaining power. Zhou’s answer amounted to a speech, rather than to an answer, and the only “practical advice” it contained basically amounted to a one-liner: We also encourage small companies to choose from the market.

The central bank hasn’t earned itself better grades very recently either, at least not by the Economist‘s standards: stirred by one trillion yuan added to the commercial banks’ loanbooks during the first ten days of June, the PBoC concluded that some banks were expecting a fresh government stimulus to revive a slowing economy and had “positioned themselves in advance”. But rather than going into another illicit lending orgy, the commercial banks had – arguably – only recognized existing loans in deference to the regulator’s instructions.

The message the BBC‘s Laurence Knight reads into the PBoC’s decisions is that the newly-ensconced government of President Xi Jinping is deadly serious about “rebalancing” China’s economy. (Knight’s story also contains a history of China’s recent “cheap-money era”, i. e. the stimulus package, and how small borrowers have been marginalised from the mainstream financial system.

But if the Xi leadership is indeed deadly serious about addressing the reform of the financial system, the question remains who will need to bear the pain Ming Pao (as quoted by China News Service) predicted on July 2. Michael Pettis, finance professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, can think of one sector which must not take the burden:

You can only resolve a bad debt problem by assigning the cost to some sector of the economy. In the past it was the household sector that implicitly paid to clean up the debt, but if we expect rapid growth in household consumption to lead the economy going forward, and this is what rebalancing means in the Chinese context, we cannot also expect the household sector to clean up the bad debt in the same way it has done so over the past decade.

But if growth led by domestic demand – instead of export-led growth – is indeed the goal, neither Guan Qingyou’s comments as quoted by Wen Wei Po nor Ming Pao’s article as quoted by China News Service seem to hint at such a solution.  And when it comes to China’s colonial possessions, investment appears to remain the only answer, to economic and political problems alike. But then, excess production capacity may hardly be the main issue there, in the short run.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

“China is Alright”: a Summer Camp for Overseas Chinese students from Laos

China Radio International‘s Mandarin service renders a newslet by China News Service (中国新闻社), China’s second-largest state-owned newsagency after Xinhua, on the field of public diplomacy.

Original title: Ethnic Chinese Laotians go to Yunnan to experience Chinese culture

CRI Online news: according to China News Service, the “2013 China is alright – the perfect Yunnan summer camp” has started in Kunming, with fourty campers and group leaders from Chinese schools in Laos. It is scheduled to go on for ten days. Apart from developing [an awareness or knowledge of, apparently] Yunnan ethnic culture, knowledge of China, and exchange, the overseas Chinese students will also experience Yunnan province’s local conditions and customs.

国际在线消息:据中新社电,“2013中国文化行—完美云南营”4日在昆明开营,来自老挝华文学校的40名营员和领队将开启为期10天的“中国文化之旅”。除了开展云南民族文化、中华知识学习和交流外,海外华裔学生还将体验云南的风土人情。

With Chinese-Laotian cooperation growing closer and the surging “Chinese language fever” in Laos, more and more ethnic Chinese and Laotians want to understand the Chinese way of life and traditional culture. Luo Bailan, a teacher and group leader with the camp, says that the Chinese schools in Laos are continuously adjusting their educational methods, to allow the students to learn by experience.

随着中老两国合作日益密切,老挝掀起了“汉语热”,越来越多的华裔和老挝人希望了解中国的生活方式与传统文化。老挝领队老师罗白兰表示,老挝的华文学校在不断调整教学方式,让学生们进行体验式教学。

Chinese Language and Culture Education Foundation of China deputy secretary general Li Xianguo says that “China is alright” is an important part of the foundation’s “Young Ethnic Chinese Chinese Culture Heritage Project”.

中国华文教育基金会副秘书长李献国表示,“中国文化行”是中国华文教育基金会“华裔青少年中华文化传承工程”的重要组成部分。

Chinese fever, Kunming

Chinese fever – click pictdure for China News Service coverage

The State Council Information Office (SCIO) is more elaborate, adding that most of the students haven’t been to Yunnan before. Even though it has been rainy for days, and temperatures in the spring city [i. e. Kunming] are a bit low, this hasn’t affected the campers’ high spirits in the least. They are reading the course schedules of the camp reader, excitedly discuss the coming lessons and the tourist attractions. A student tells the SCIO reporter that he is most interested in poetry recital and calligraphy, and in touring the Stone Forest, the birthplace of Ashima:

“We also want to experience the culture of national minorities in the Yunnan Nationalities Village I don’t know a lot about national minorities and hope to experience a lot of interesting things”, Lin Yingcai says in fluent Chinese.

“我最期待看石林的奇山怪石,听说那里是阿诗玛的故乡,我们还要去体验云南民族村的少数民族文化,我对少数民族了解不多,希望能体验很有意思的东西。”林英才用流利的中文说。

Many Laotians and Burmese and Cambodians and North Koreans see China as a promised land, Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in his 2007 book Charm Offensive (p. 137). And America, he warned, had earned itself a bad image in the past, and was still doing so:

For decades, the United States still did not grant Laos normal trading relations, though Laos’s human rights record was no worse than the record of China, with whom America traded vigorously. American sanctions on Laos infuriated Lao officials, who didn’t understand why such a big country like the United Stateswould punish a minnow – especially since during the Vietnam War, America had dropped more bombs on Laos than it dropped on Germany and Japan together during World War II, leaving Laos riddled with unexploded ordnance.

(Kurlantzick, p. 59)

Jiang Zemin visited Laos in November 2000, reportedly the first visit by a Chinese head of state. In November 2006, Jiang’s successor Hu Jintao followed up, and moved China Radio International (CRI) one step ahead of the BBC and the VoA, by pushing a button for a rebroadcasting FM station – the inauguration ceremony was reportedly broadcast live, as the rebroadcaster’s first program ever:

So, Vientiane listeners, for the first time, clearly and vividly heard the the warm voice of state chairman Hu Jintao, a visitor from a friendly neighbor.

万象听众第一次如此清晰真切地听到了来自友好邻邦——中国国家主席亲切的声音:

[...]

A CRI official said that the friendly relations between China and Laos created good conditions for CRI’s operations in Laos. According to the official, the Laotian government’s approval of CRI’s Vientiane frequency was one of only few. Before, the BBC and the VoA had applied for frequencies to the Laotian government, but had received no approval.

中国国际广播电台一位负责人说,中老两国的友好关系为国际电台节目在老挝落地创造了良好的条件。据这位负责人透露,国际电台在老挝调频落地是老挝政府已批准的为数不多的落地项目之一。之前,英国广播公司、美国之音等广播电台,均向老方提出过调频落地申请,但老挝政府未予批准。

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Related

Branding China, May 18, 2008
Meeting the Volunteers, CRI, Nov 21, 2006

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney has no China Strategy

When it comes to China, it becomes obvious to me that Mitt Romney has a problem. Heard on the radio this morning, and found on a transcript of the debate.

Barack Obama:

And that’s the reason why I set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade. That’s the reason why we have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the other — the previous administration had done in two terms. And we’ve won just about every case that we’ve filed, that — that has been decided. In fact, just recently, steelworkers in Ohio and throughout the Midwest, Pennsylvania, are in a position now to sell steel to China because we won that case.

We had a tire case in which they were flooding us with cheap domestic tires — or — or — or cheap Chinese tires. And we put a stop to it and, as a consequence, saved jobs throughout America. I have to say that Governor Romney criticized me for being too tough in that tire case, said this wouldn’t be good for American workers and that it would be protectionist. But I tell you, those workers don’t feel that way. They feel as if they had finally an administration who was going to take this issue seriously.

Over the long term, in order for us to compete with China, we’ve also got to make sure, though, that we’re taking — taking care of business here at home. If we don’t have the best education system in the world, if we don’t continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to — to create great businesses here in the United States, that’s how we lose the competition. And unfortunately, Governor Romney’s budget and his proposals would not allow us to make those investments.

-

Mitt Romney:

Well, first of all, it’s not government that makes business successful. It’s not government investments that make businesses grow and hire people.

Let me also note that the greatest threat that the world faces, the greatest national security threat, is a nuclear Iran.

Let’s talk about China. China has an interest that’s very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don’t want war. They don’t want to see protectionism. They don’t want to see the — the world break out into — into various forms of chaos, because they have to — they have to manufacture goods and put people to work. And they have about 20,000 — 20 million, rather, people coming out of the farms every year, coming into the cities, needing jobs. So they want the economy to work and the world to be free and open.

And so we can be a partner with China. We don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them. We can collaborate with them if they’re willing to be responsible.

Now, they look at us and say, is it a good idea to be with America?

How strong are we going to be? How strong is our economy?

They look at the fact that we owe them a trillion dollars and owe other people 16 trillion (dollars) in total, including them. They — they look at our — our decision to — to cut back on our military capabilities — a trillion dollars. The secretary of defense called these trillion dollars of cuts to our military devastating. It’s not my term. It’s the president’s own secretary of defense called them devastating. They look at America’s commitments around the world and they see what’s happening and they say, well, OK, is America going to be strong? And the answer is yes. If I’m president, America will be very strong.

We’ll also make sure that we have trade relations with China that work for us. I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency. It holds down the prices of their goods. It means our goods aren’t as competitive and we lose jobs. That’s got to end.

They’re making some progress; they need to make more. That’s why on day one I will label them a currency manipulator which allows us to apply tariffs where they’re taking jobs. They’re stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods. They have to understand, we want to trade with them, we want a world that’s stable, we like free enterprise, but you got to play by the rules.

Ezra Klein explained ahead of the debate why this is unlikely to impress Beijing, and why it shouldn’t impress the Chinese leadership. The New York Times adds some more points.

If Romney uses this one argument when it comes to U.S.-chinese trade relations (it’s been his leitmotif throughout his campaign), it only shows that he has no comprehensive strategy – other than doing business with China, and that would be that. What he refuses to see – ostensibly, anyway – is that as a president, he wouldn’t be in a position to talk to Xi Jinping the way Ronald Reagan talked to Zhao Ziyang. This is 2012, not 1988. There have been many crackdowns and many years of Chinese economic and political growth in between. And mind you, Reagan had come to office promising that he would seek to restore normal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. We know where that promise ended.

Obama on the other hand hasn’t talked tough, but he has been tough in defending his country’s industrial base. Basically, the choice between Obama and Romney boils down to a choice between these concepts.

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Related

» Can China Handle America’s Return, The Diplomat, Dec 14, 2011

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