Posts Tagged ‘china’


September 25, 2018

It started as we were leaving Guilin, a city in southern China, not all that far from Hong Kong.

We were picked up at the train station by someone from our hotel – Wada Hostel, an excellent place to seek accommodation should you ever have the need – and then started making our way out of the city at what seemed, to our tired state of mind, very much a snail’s crawl.

And then as we were thus making our weary way to our final destination – Yangshuo – I noticed that we seemed to be passing street upon street of buildings devoid of any light. Ghostly black shadows skulking on the edge of darkness as we slunk by .

They all seemed empty. Lifeless. Vacant.

Either that or the whole city had embarked on some energy-saving fad.

The following day we took a raft down the Yulong River, passing dozens upon dozens of half-constructed buildings, or buildings that had been constructed not so long ago but now stood conspicuously empty. A number of these buildings were four or five storeys high, prompting me to remark that some ambitious prospectors were hoping to turn such buildings into lucrative hotels.

I found such buildings – constructed in the uninspiring square block style that seems so ubiquitous throughout communist countries the world over – quite unattractive, and a blight on the surrounding countryside.

“Stop building!” I wanted to yell, and probably did end up shouting aloud during the following days of travelling through fabulous countryside that had been blighted by these damnably ugly buildings for which there appeared little need (since they remained, for the most part, unoccupied).

The day after our river trip we had a similar experience, cycling through this same fabulous countryside of which I have already spoken: time and again our eyes would be sorely wounded – for there is no other word – by some appalling new construction that by rights ought not to have been there.

This, I felt, was to experience the Chinese construction boom that has been sweeping the country, where buildings have been thrown up all over the place in the misplaced belief that China’s vast population – or indeed the growing number of foreign and Chinese tourists – actually want to avail of them.

It sometimes feels that everywhere one goes in the world these days a crazy amount of construction is taking place, and yet no one seems to be questioning this or voicing doubts that it is actually necessary. No doubt for the simple reason that such mindless construction at least gets money circulating, thus providing an artificial gloss to the overall economy.

But sometimes I feel it would just be better to stop the bloody building.


It can only be Carrie Lam

March 20, 2017

I am probably not going to win many friends from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters by saying this, but on Sunday, when Hong Kong holds its “election” (in heavy quotes) for its next chief executive, only one candidate should be considered: Carrie Lam.

Or CY Leung 2.0 as she is somewhat disparagingly being called (CY Leung being the current chief executive).

A quick note on the election. In a democracy, the normal way of electing a head of state is for each member of the voting population to go to the polling booth and indicate who they would like to run the country.

But – and this is important – Hong Kong’s chief executive is not a head of state. It is the most senior official in Hong Kong’s governing body, which in turn is subservient to Beijing.

Hong Kong’s chief executive is not elected by every member of the voting-age population going to the polls. It is elected by a committee of 1200 members, many of whom have been hand-picked by Beijing.

Beijing have made it clear that they want Carrie Lam to replace CY Leung as chief executive.

And they should get their their way.

If Hong Kong was an independent nation, then one person stands head and shoulders above the others: John Tsang, the former financial secretary of the administration. An eloquent individual with a rational understanding of what needs to be done to improve Hong Kong’s lot. He also has a tough streak that seemingly belies his grandfathery moustache and the fact that in every publicity shot he has to be seen clutching a child.

But Hong Kong is not an independent nation and that is important.

It is part of Beijing, and if Beijing makes it clear that they want somebody as chief executive, then they should get what they want.

Hong Kong is a small and relatively insignificant region along the south coast of China. Very few people – either in or out of the territory – are seriously entertaining the notion of independence. And nor should they.

Much more can be achieved with Beijing as an ally than a foe, and the chief executive position is too important a matter for Beijing not to have their say.

But let this one go, maintain a sort of harmony and other victories can be had along the way.


April 19, 2016

I listened last week to two important people extol the many virtues of Hong Kong, and insist how the future success of this semi-autonomous enclave of China was guaranteed because of the tenacity and entrepreneurship of the people that live here, plus of course the robustness of the legal and financial system.

One of these people was John Tsang, Hong Kong’s financial secretary. The other was Stuart Gulliver, chief executive officer of HSBC.

They used phases such as “the highly-developed legal system and a heavy concentration of skilled professionals means that Hong Kong will be too far advanced… to be displaced [by China]” (Gulliver) and “Hong Kong’s success is built upon the rule of law [and] the persistence in upholding economic freedom, an extensive business network, sound financial infrastructure, a robust regulatory regime, [and] a well educated and resourceful workforce” (Tsang).

The problem was that such comments – which was what you would expect both of the parties to say – were overshadowed by the most eloquent speaker that went before them: Tsim Tak Luk, chairman of the Project Citizens Foundation, writer and intellectual.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that, to be honest, neither Tsang nor Gulliver proved to be particularly good speakers. Okay, I’ll accept that for Tsang English isn’t his first language. And, with the Sunday Times preparing to publish a story on Sunday about how Gulliver was for the chop in two years time, the HSBC CEO may have had other things on his mind.

But still they could have given a more robust defence against Luk’s invective.

Luk used such confrontational rhetoric as “Hong Kong is a city of broken promises, and the Hong Kong people is a people misruled” and “We have seen instead plenty of examples of mediocre people making dumb decisions for I don’t know whose benefit”.

Not perhaps the best choice of words when you are trying to introduce a member of the government that, in none too subtle a way, you are hell bent on criticising.

Luk pulled no punches when he spoke about Beijing: “Before 1997, the then sovereign, Her Majesty the Queen of England & the United Kingdom, was affectionately referred to as The Proprietress. After 1997, the new sovereign in Beijing is referred to, also affectionately, as The Grandfather. And the difference is this – the Proprietress left you alone to go about your business provided you made money for her, whereas the Grandfather loves to give orders and broaches no arguments.”

Grandfather does not always know best, said Luk, especially not high finance (the thought of making a reference about what happened to markets in China cannot have been far away from his mind).

The fear in Hong Kong is palpable – and Luk’s comments embodied perfectly the sentiments that I am hearing an increasing number of local Hong Kongers express: China needs to move carefully for the future success of Hong Kong to be guaranteed.

This fear didn’t go away as Hong Kong protestors closed their umbrellas at the end of 2014. It is still very much there, and with this being an election year, expect it to resurface in some form or another. Joshua Wong, the poster boy from the 2014 protests, has just launched his own political party.

I tend to see Beijing as largely pragmatic. I think many in the West do. If they’re making money they are happy, and they don’t want to derail Hong Kong’s success just for the sake of doing so.

But there is a danger here that many are increasingly sensing.

Luk concluded: “As we survey the current political landscape in Hong Kong, it is obvious that the politicization, polarization and radicalization of Hong Kong politics – and their relentless escalation – is the number one cause for concern… As Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of NPC said, the intelligent Hong Kong people will be able to find their own solution. If this is true, Hong Kong’s political risk goes down several notches, and our Financial Secretary Mr John Tsang’s bullish scenario may come to pass. But if the reverse is true, and Beijing chooses outright confrontation – the sledgehammer approach – then we are only one riot away from Hong Kong’s own June 4th  moment.”

This last was a reference to the terrible Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Which sounds bad to me. To be avoided at all costs.

Beijing has more sense these days.

One hopes.

Beating China

July 23, 2013

That Ghana was significantly richer than Thailand when it achieved independence from the British in 1957, and yet is now more than five times poorer, has been repeated so much that it has gone beyond the cliché.

Well, here’s Africa’s chance to get back into the game.

The past 20 years has seen the wholesale dismantling of Europe’s consumer-based industries, and the emergence of these sectors elsewhere in the world, primarily Asia (shoes: made in China, toys: made in China, chic fashion accessories: made in China) .

For some time, folk have also been speculating about a similar phenomenon happening in Africa – the African Lion or the African Elephant, perhaps. What appears to be happening on the continent, though, is slightly different to the Asia success story – and could explain why the 21st Century will remain Asia’s to dominate.

There have been signs of significant growth in certain sectors in Africa, agribusiness being an obvious one that I write regularly about. Here, throughout the continent, subsistence farming is developing into commercial farming at a breathtaking rate, with dramatic and largely positive results. It means, for one thing, that we’re not going to starve. At last, the idea that Africa can be the “breadbasket of the world” is coming to fruition.

At the same time, many countries are seeing a huge surge in the affluent middle class. Nigel Bannerman, an investment director at Silk Invest, an investment fund, says Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt and Morocco are looking particularly strong in this respect.

This has meant that many investors can set up a manufacturing base in certain countries and sell to the local populace. Silk Invest bases its entire strategy around this philosophy.

What does not appear to be happening, however, is the establishment of a dedicated consumer industry that can export to the rest of the world, in the same way as has happened in places like China and India.

Costs in Asian factories – particularly labour costs – now appear to be rising, particularly as governments start playing around with the minimum wage.

So is the time yet ready for Africa – which has a large unemployed population, and correspondingly lower wage demands – to step into Asia’s ready?

Conversations that I have been having recently suggest that it probably isn’t, and this could become the continent’s greatest missed opportunity so far in the post-colonial world. For whilst labour costs might appear cheaper in Africa, corresponding productivity remains low, making the cost competitiveness less attractive than in Asia. The World Bank has done some research on this.

The Asian miracle has come about not just because of cheap labour costs, but because of a committed workforce, strong work ethics and efficiency. If Africa can reinvent itself in this way, it has a lot to gain, but my fear is that it won’t and this great opportunity will slide by.

Bashir goes AWOL

July 2, 2011

It’s not every day that a President goes missing, so that even close members of his party aren’t too sure what is going on. But that seems to be exactly what happened to Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, as he made his way over to China, no doubt to persuade Beijing to continue to invest in the North even though much of the oil was now going to be in the South.

President al-Bashir arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, a day after he was supposed to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao. I realise that the man in Khartoum’s Presidential Palace these days is Sudanese. But, even so, turning up a day late to meet one of the most important leaders in the world is taking things a bit too far.

It seems that President Bashir was in Iran before flying over to China. It was between leaving Iran and arriving in China that something appear to happen to delay his arrival by a day.

With al-Bashir wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and with China under heavy fire from the international community (especially the US) for inviting the President, rumours were bound to fly.

Had al-Bashir in fact been arrested as he travelled from Iran to China? Did US special forces hijack the plane he was on and nab the President that way?

But no. It seems that President al-Bashir returned safe and sound to Sudan late last night. But no one’s any the wiser about what happened – and aides have given no explanation about what happened to al-Bashir to make him so late.

Did Washington actually make a move to try and apprehend al-Bashir? And did America’s banker weigh in to protect al-Bashir from the merciless clutches of the Western powers and the ICC?

The integrity of China

October 21, 2008

Say what you like about the Chinese, at least they are honest about their ambitions. They want money. Lots of it. Right now.

This is in stark contrast to how the West seem to have been behaving in the past couple of decades, all over the world. In Afghanistan. In Iraq. In Sudan. Watching the latest excerpts of a speech by some smarmy Western politician or other, one never quite believes that foreign policy is being carried out in the way that it is solely for humanitarian reasons. “It’s all about oil!” is increasingly becoming not just a pitiful whine of the long-haired lefties, but used by people from all political persuasions who can’t stomach another thinly-disguised attempt to dress up foreign intervention as humanitarian aid.

At least China has a direct approach to its foreign policy in Sudan. It is going to rape the country for all it is worth, and then bugger off. This may be a shame, and in 20 years’ time Khartoum may look ruefully back on the days when it tangoed with Beijing, but at least China is making no bones about its intentions. No wearing the Texas cowboy hat and exclaiming: “If we do not take action now, then we will have to live with ourselves knowing that we are depriving hundreds of thousands of children of a future.”

I was thinking of these thoughts today on the bus when I came across the following comment in Executive Magazine (author: Dr Ali Abdalla Ali): “It is… especially China that Sudan is looking forward to deal with in developing and promoting its huge agricultural potential… The reason behind this choice is that the Chinese, unlike some of Sudan’s neighbors (sic.) and especially Egypt, does not have its own designs.”

So, even Sudan (China’s host) recognises the integrity of the country.

The other day, nine Chinese oil workers were kidnapped in South Kordofan, not far from Abyei. With a certain amount of bravado, Beijing reputedly insists that this will not change their foreign policy – and it probably won’t. As Dan Large, a research director from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), notes, Chinese oil firms have a rather different attitude towards risk than their Western counterparts.

And what of the kidnappers? Apparently members of that dreadful rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Publicly, they claim to be campaigning against the marginalisation of Darfur – and want China, who they claim is adding to the region’s woes, out of the country. But one can’t help feel that, somewhere behind the scenes, these rebels are making a packet by kidnapping rich foreign expats.

Maybe it is not just the West that is disingenuous about their intentions.