In one of the most memorable lines from Ernest Hemingway’s classic work, The Sun Also Rises, one of the lead characters was asked how he went bankrupt. His response? “It happened gradually, and then suddenly.”
I often think of that line as I reflect on China’s geo-economic engagement across the Middle East, Central Asia, broader Asia, and Europe. Quietly, gradually, and, then, seemingly suddenly, China has emerged as the most important geo-economic partner and actor across Eurasia. From trade to investment, from the infrastructure of connectivity to the technology investments of tomorrow, China has become a major player across the Eurasian landmass, a region that has been re-integrating in ways that harken back to the Silk Road of the pre-Renaissance era. Of course, as with any major global development today, what distinguishes today’s Eurasian integration from any historical parallel are two things: speed and scale.
Kent Calder’s remarkable new book, Super Continent: The Logic of Eurasian Integration, takes you inside the speed and scale of today’s Eurasian integration with a sharp analytical lens characteristic of his work, loaded with rich data and maps, and a clear-eyed analysis of what it all means for the future of world affairs.
A short excerpt below from the work, but I highly recommend it to all interested in any aspect of geopolitics or geoeconomics today. It’s the biggest story in the world today, and told skillfully by one of the great scholars of our era.
“What seems incontestable is that an increasingly reconnected Eurasia is now emerging — aided, but not created by Xi Jinping’s ambitious BRI. Cargo trains between China and Europe, which only began running in 2011, increased to more than 3,000 during 2017 alone, surpassing the previous six years combined. Those trains carried products such as PCs, clothing, and auto parts westward, with whisky, pharmaceuticals, baby formula, and machinery flowing eastward on the return. The volume of maritime cargo, technical contracts, and air flights across the continent are all expanding, together with political-economic coordination mechanisms like the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the 16+1 summit-conference series between Eastern Europe and China. Reconnection, in short, is the order of the day.”
The Economist magazine had a nice piece on the latest findings from the Arab Barometer, a remarking polling service that surveys virtually the entire Arab Middle East and North Africa region on a regular basis.
An excerpt from the piece
“NO TO RELIGION or sect,” cry the protesters in Iraq. “No to Islam, no to Christianity, revolt for the nation,” echo those in Lebanon. Across the Arab world people are turning against religious political parties and the clerics who helped bring them to power. Many appear to be giving up on Islam, too.
These trends are reflected in new data from Arab Barometer, a pollster that surveys Arab countries. Across the region the share of people expressing much trust in political parties, most of which have a religious tint, has fallen by well over a third since 2011, to 15%. (The share of Iraqis who say they do not trust parties at all rose from 51% to 78%.) The decline in trust for Islamist parties is similarly dramatic, falling from 35% in 2013, when the question was first widely asked, to 20% in 2018.
For the full piece, see here
It’s the biggest online shopping event in the world. China’s Singles’ Day — which took place on November 11 this year — shattered records again last month.
Some eye-popping stats below:
$211 Billion – The amount spent by Chinese shoppers online on Singles’ Day, according to the People’s Bank of China.
$38.4 Billion – The amount spent on Alibaba’s shopping platform on Singles’ Day.
1 million+ – Orders made by voice recognition technology on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform.
22,000 – The number of non-Chinese brands that advertised on Alibaba for Singles’ Day.
Source: Shanghai Daily and News Agencies
Interesting question: Why have India’s leading corporate players remained silent on slowing GDP growth? Are they afraid? NDTV reports
If you are of a certain age (at least 40), you will remember many of the toys you grew up with had a familiar label on them: “Made in Hong Kong.” Gradually, however, as production shifted from Hong Kong to southern China, that ubiquitous “Made in Hong Kong” label quietly disappeared and gave way to “Made in China.”
Bloomberg’s Terms of Trade has a good post and chart (see above) on how Hong Kong exports today are primarily re-exports, mostly of “Made in China” goods. “Where once the workshops of Kowloon churned out low-price merchandise for sale around the world, nowadays the manufacturing is done across the border in Guangdong province,” the blog post notes. “That means almost all the goods Hong Kong sells are actually made somewhere else.”
This leaves Hong Kong more vulnerable to global headwinds even as protests have rocked the city. “Weaker global demand and the impact of the U.S.-China trade war have hit Hong Kong’s cross-border commerce at the same time as domestic economy is crippled by months of political protest. In October, exports shrank 9.2% from a year earlier, while imports dropped 11.5%, according to data released Tuesday.”
Are demographics destiny?
No, but a combination of good demographics and good governance can go a long way toward building a powerhouse economy.
India’s demographics are looking increasingly favorable. India’s governance remains a work in progress.
By the year 2030, India’s population will surpass China as the largest in the world. This piece in the FT had some interesting data on the median ages of several key Asian countries by the year 2030. India and Indonesia win the favorable demographics award, but both have been dogged by poor governance.
Median age of population by the year 2030
South Korea; 47
As Trinh Nguyen, senior economist for Asia emerging markets in the corporate and investment banking division at Natives, writes: “The potential is clear for both countries to transform these demographic booms into engines of domestic demand while positioning themselves as alternatives to China for labour-intensive manufacturing.”
He notes that this is the playbook deployed by both Thailand and Vietnam.
The trouble is, however, that China already handles 1/5 of world manufacturing output. That means enormous sunk costs and supply chain links. There is a great deal of talk about India taking over some of China’s low-cost manufacturing, but that is much easier said than done.
Yes, India will have a strong demand engine going forward, but challenging China on manufacturing is a hard sell.
Never underestimate the human will to seek a better life — even in the face of immense danger.
A UNHCR unofficial estimate suggests that some 57,000 people may have died over the past five years trying to get to Europe from Africa. That’s more than 31 deaths per day. Let that sink in.
And here’s the kicker: those deaths are not all at sea. In fact, Vincent Cochetel, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said in an interview with a German newspaper that around twice as many migrants die crossing Africa to get to the coast as they do crossing the Mediterranean.
With 19,000 deaths in the Mediterranean waters since 2014, that would amount to some 38,000 deaths on land – a total of 57,000.
Again, 31 deaths per day. And with Africa’s demographic numbers – potentially a doubling of the continent’s population by 2050 — this is one of the great challenges of our era. No matter how bullish one is on Africa’s promise and its economic potential (consider me one of the bulls), it will be hard to imagine creating enough jobs in the short to medium term to stem this flow.
For more, see this piece in DW.
Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative has become a marquee event on the global business, Davos-ish circuit, attracting some of the biggest of the big names in finance and investment at their recent confab.
More to come on this…
By Michael O’Sullivan
Editor’s Note: Michael O’Sullivan, one of the sharpest geopolitical and global markets thinkers out there, writes a must-read weekly letter to subscribers. I always find it fascinating, rich, sober, and erudite. You can see more of Michael’s work here.
10 November, 2019 – In last week’s missive, I discussed the role of rising food prices as a trigger for public protest and I suspect, as a cause of future geopolitical strife. It is not a very happy topic but one that deserves some further analysis given that in recent weeks there has been a remarkable outbreak of protests across a range of countries – from riots in Honduras, to ongoing tension in Hong Kong to climate related demonstrations in India.
Were I one of the many apocalyptic writers who seize upon every misfortune as confirmation of their worldview I would tell you that this is the start of ‘The Levelling’, and that the ‘end’ will follow shortly.
Though I will spare my readers such a gloomy outlook, there is nonetheless a ‘Levelling’ like narrative that unites the motivation for the many international protests in the sense that most of them are provoked by factors that are associated with globalization (though in reality not usually caused by it).
For example, climate change has spurred Extinction Rebellion movements in Europe and environmental protesters in India. Factors that are associated with a lack of what I call ‘country strength’, such as corruption and weak institutions have been amongst the triggers for protests in Lebanon and Iraq, whilst the cost of living and rising fuel costs have brought people out onto the streets in Chile, Egypt, Ecuador and France. Inequality is also a driver, especially so in Chile, Mexico and Turkey.
Together these protests (by the way the number of Google searches on the world ‘protest’ is at a five year high) point to a world where there is limited patience for policy negligence and its negative socio-economic effects. I’ve had a look across the IMF and World Bank databases to find countries that are exposed to corruption, indebtedness, inequality and climate change. Many ‘candidates’ if I can put it like that are in Africa. One country worth watching – where inequality and indebtedness are high (as high as Jamaica), and where climate change is having a growing impact, is the US. It still has strong institutions but consider what might happen in the context of a deep recession (with no fiscal buffer).
While there is no sense that the various protest movements are in anyway coordinated, they may still be contagious within and across countries.
Within countries, social media makes protests easier to organize at short notice, easier to spread (dis)information and easier to bring to the attention of the wider public. It was no surprise that in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, protestors faced massive social media and cyber counterattacks from the Egyptian and Syrian authorities.
Protests are contagious across countries to the extent that social media can heighten sensitivity to issues and spread the ‘methodology’ of either violent or peaceful protest. For example, one image that crops up in protests around the world is the clenched fist of the Serbian peaceful protest group Otpor. There is also increasing contagion in financial markets in the sense that in emerging markets at least investors are reacting negatively to signs of political strife.
The troubling thought for the outlook is that the economic stresses underlying these protests will not go away anytime soon – inequality takes time to tackle, most governments are fiscally constrained, and many have high debt levels (i.e. Lebanon). To make matters worse, climate change points towards a more radically stressed environment.
However, the positive reading from all of this, at a time when it should be said that the quality of democracy and the rule of law internationally are deteriorating (according to the latest Freedom House ‘Freedom in the World’ report and the Rule of Law indicators in the World Justice Project dataset) is that people want less corruption, more equal societies and better balanced growth.
In that context, what is to be done? There are specific actions that can help, such as the relocation of the World Bank to Africa to act as an anchor against corruption and to spread best practice in institution building.
More broadly, I see a lot of space opening up for new political parties and movements, some that are interlinked across countries and others that are connected by their political methodology (i.e. use of social media). Then, eventually I see the such protests leading to efforts to remake social and political contracts along the lines of the Levellers’ Agreement of the People’, at least in democratic countries, so that policy issues such as climate change, inequality and corruption are more formally recognized and curbed at a policy level.
It will be a bumpy road politically, but the flourishing of protests around the world shows that something profound is occurring.
The Journal of Commerce, in conjunction with research firm Alphaliner, has just published the top 40 Global Container Shipping operators list. What is striking is the dominance of the Top Ten – which control 87.9% of the market.
Here are the Top Ten Global Shipping Container Operators, with their market share.
- Maersk Group – 18.9%
- MSC – 16.3%
- Cosco Shipping – 13.3%
- CMA CGM Group – 12.3%
- Hapag-Lloyd – 7.6%
- Ocean Network Express – 7.1%
- Evergreen Line – 5.9%
- Yang Ming Line – 2.9%
- HMM – 1.8%
- Pacific International Lines – 1.8%