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At the hub of China’s “One Belt, One Road” – a visit to Manzhouli, the frozen city where China, Russia and Mongolian converge

December 27th, 2015 No comments

Manzhouli

Where did you spend Christmas? Mine was spent in temperatures reaching 38-below zero on the frozen lakes and grasslands of Northeastern China. I was there to give a speech on Christmas Day at a conference in Manzhouli on Russian, Chinese and Mongolian economic integration.

Manzhouli is a Chinese city but with a unique pedigree and location. First settled around 1900 by the Russians building the Trans-Manchurian spur of the Trans-Siberian Railway, it was then conquered by the Japanese before China took control after World War Two. It sits at the single point on the map where the borders of China, Russia and Mongolia all converge. Manzhouli’s train and road border crossing between Russia and China is the busiest inland port in China, with most of China’s $50 billion in annual exports to Russia passing through here.

China, Russia and Mongolia are now partners in China’s ambitious new strategic trade initiative known as “One Belt, One Road“, or OBOR, as well as the Chinese-sponsored Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. The conference was meant to encourage closer trade ties among the three. OBOR is designed in part to redirect China’s investment focus away from more developed countries, especially those participating in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.

China’s exclusion from TPP is perhaps the biggest single economic policy setback for China in the last decade. The TPP countries include most of China’s key trading partners. If enacted, TPP will cause trade and investment flows to shift away from China especially towards Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines. The three are all parties to the TPP agreement, and so will benefit from preferential tariffs. All have aspirations to take market share away from China as a global manufacturing center. TPP will grant them a significant long-term cost and market-access advantages.

OBOR is a consolation prize of China’s own construction. The countries inside the OBOR plan look more like a cast of economic misfits, not dynamic free traders like the TPP nations and China itself. I don’t believe anyone in Beijing policy-making circles believes that increased trading with OBOR nations Pakistan, Myanmar and the Central Asian -stans is a credible substitute. China’s best option is to find a way to persuade TPP countries to allow it to enter the group. There’s not even a remote sign of this happening. China was excluded from TPP by design.

China does not live in a particularly desirable or affluent neighborhood. It shares land borders with fourteen countries. Of these, Russia is by far and away the richest of these countries. Mongolia, with its three million inhabitants most of whom still live in yurts as nomadic herdsmen, ranks third. This gives some sense of how poor many of the places that are now the focus of China’s OBOR are.

Another key component of OBOR, but one often overlooked, is to open up new markets to the most troubled part of China’s industrial economy, the manufacturers of basic products like steel, aluminum, basic machinery and chemicals, turbines, cars, trucks, trains. They all are suffering from acute overcapacity with vanishing profit margins up and down the supply chain.

The Chinese leadership recently announced that dealing with overcapacity in China will be one of its major economic policy priorities for 2016. The problems are most severe among state-owned industrial conglomerates. The Chinese government is their controlling shareholder. Two obvious solutions — shrinking capacity and cutting employment — are, for the time being at least, politically off limits. OBOR is meant to be a lifeline.

China itself cannot absorb this excess domestic capacity. Demand for basic industrial products is already evaporating, never to return, China is already well along in the transition to a service economy. China will pay or lend tens of billions of dollars to poorer OBOR countries to finance their imports of Chinese capital goods. The trade won’t likely be very profitable but it will keep jobs and revenues from deteriorating even more sharply.

You may download the seven-page English-language talking points, map and charts from my speech by clicking here.

At night, there was a banquet for political leaders from the three countries. Afterward, a beauty contest was staged, featuring Chinese, Russian and Mongolian contestants in bikinis and evening gowns. You can see photos here, including ones of me with the Chinese winner and the nine Mongolian contestants. An ice fishing expedition was also organized.

If OBOR does achieve its goal by drawing Russia and Mongolia into a closer economic relationship with China, Manzhouli stands to benefit more than anywhere else in China. As if in readiness, Manzhouli storefronts are in Chinese and Cyrillic, the new airport terminal is in the Russian style, and the main park in the city lorded over by a 10-story Matryoshka doll.

For now, though, no one is seeing much sign of OBOR stimulating greater trade. The main focus for investment in Manzhouli is in tourism facilities to attract Chinese summer vacationers to the surrounding grasslands, China’s finest. This time of year, the cement tourist yurts are empty and the long-haired riding ponies are left to graze and amble in the arctic wind and snow.

 

 

 

 

Fosun boss ‘assisting investigation’ — South China Morning Post

December 14th, 2015 No comments

SCMP

 

Fosun arrest

 

Fosun Group chairman Guo Guangchang, who went missing on Thursday, has been “assisting an investigation” since Thursday afternoon but is now in contact with his staff, Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical said in a stock exchange filing last night.

The tycoon, whose disappearance triggered speculation that he may have become the latest victim of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption, can participate in his company’s decision making “in proper ways”, Shanghai Fosun said.

Shares of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical will resume trading on Monday. It was suspended yesterday along with six other Fosun companies, including two listed in Hong Kong.

Two Fosun officials told the South China Morning Post that Guo was allowed to make phone calls but his movements have been restricted.

The Guo incident comes amid a nationwide probe into alleged market wrongdoings in the wake of the summer’s stock market rout that has already netted senior government officials and top executives at state-owned banks and brokerages.

“Chinese entrepreneurs are struggling with the most complicated legal environment in the world, given the government’s heavy meddling in the economy and business. It is just too easy to take away their wealth by abusing the judiciary,” said Hangzhou-based lawyer Chen Youxi.

The pillars of China’s powerful private sector are shaking, said Peter Fuhrman, chairman and chief executive of investment advisory firm China First Capital, “possibly for the first time ever”.

Fosun, more than any other of the 60-million-plus private companies in the mainland, embodies and exemplifies the rise of the private sector from illegality and irrelevance 20 years ago to its current position as the main source of growth, employment and taxes in China, Fuhrman said.

“The incident brings home, as no previous event has, the fact that China’s anti-corruption campaign means to usher in a new way of doing business for all of China Inc, not only the state-owned rump.”

Industry sources said the investigation into Guo started as early as the summer. A source with knowledge of the matter said Guo was detained in July by graft busters to assist in probes into high-level party officials, including some from Shanghai.

In August, Wang Zongnan, a former head of state-owned Bright Food Group, was sentenced to 18 years in jail for embezzlement and bribery. A court verdict said Fosun had sold property below market rates to Wang.

A businessman, who cannot be identified, told the Post that Guo could have been questioned over his relationships with either Yao Gang, a vice-chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, or Ai Baojun, a vice-mayor of Shanghai.

Meanwhile, several mainland media sources reported orders from their headquarters to delete articles related to Guo. Fosun holds substantial stakes in many mainland media, including the influential 21st Century Media.

Dollar bonds of Fosun International fell by a record yesterday while stocks related to Guo’s companies trading in the US and Europe took a beating as well.

 

Download article here.

China SOEs, the meaning of their existence — Week In China Magazine

December 4th, 2015 No comments

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His was a deceptively simple question. “What exactly is the purpose of a Chinese SOE?”

I had just finished speaking to the Asian management committee of one of the larger and more successful Fortune 500 companies operating in China. They have for years done profitable business with large SOEs in China. That business has begun to evaporate. Having just heard me summarize the deteriorating situation at many SOEs, and the decision last month by the Chinese government to quietly shelve plans for a root-and-branch restructuring, one senior executive wanted to know what Chinese SOEs are now in business to do. Make money? Provide and protect jobs? Project national power?

I reminded him Chairman Mao was a keen student and devoted follower of Lenin. He fully embraced the Leninist concept of the state and party controlling the “commanding heights” of the economy. China’s SOEs are still very much in that business: owning most, sometimes all, of China’s large-scale assets in petroleum, gas, electricity generation and distribution, coal, banking and finance, transport, steel, aluminum and a wide range industrial chemicals.

The executive then reminded me that Mao had been gone a long time and anyway hadn’t Deng Xiaoping begun 35 years ago dismantling state power to create the conditions where today’s vibrant Chinese private sector could emerge. The private sector is the source of all net new job creation in China and contribute far more to GDP than the SOE segment. The country’s best companies are private sector firms, not SOEs. What, he insisted, were SOEs in business to do?

It was obvious he wasn’t going to accept an answer based on Leninist political economic theory. “Why don’t they just privatize the state-owned sector?”, he pushed back. That, I told him, was out of the question, at least for now. “Why?” he wanted to know.

Looking for an opening to collect my thoughts, I steered him toward the coffee machine.

Above all” I started in again, “an SOE is an instrument to achieve Chinese government and party policy goals. This is as true today as it was at their origin. Sometimes those policies, at least originally, were quite high-minded, even socialistic, like providing sufficient energy at an affordable price to everyone in the country.

Energy is today plentiful in China, but cheap it’s not. Subsidies have been eliminated and prices hiked to levels generally well above those in the US. The money paid to the petroleum and power monopolies are a transfer of private wealth to state-owned coffers, in other words, a mechanism for hidden tax collection.

 

Download complete article here.

http://www.weekinchina.com/2015/12/fit-for-purpose-2/