Governance woes behind US trade war


 

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

For now, there is still no end in sight to the brewing trade war between the world’s two economic heavy hitters. Ignoring voices of objection at home, the Donald Trump administration announced that the second tranche of tariffs on $16 billion in Chinese goods will take effect later this month. Though Trump has yet to fulfill his campaign promise to levy a 45-percent tax on Chinese goods, his logic on trade policy refuses to change.

The reason why the US has provoked and intensified the trade war lies in the incapacity of the global system. Specifically, division of labor in the globalized era has led to the exodus of the US manufacturing industry out of the country. Meanwhile, the US claims that China’s “predatory” economy has developed itself into the biggest beneficiary in the system.

That’s why the Trump administration insists on attacking China’s “stealing” practice in the name of “safeguarding US national interests,” regardless of the cost of torpedoing the existing international order.

The robust stock market and economic growth of the US as well as the decline in unemployment have further boosted Trump’s confidence in escalating the trade war. His trade policy has gained more acceptance among Americans. However, the logic behind his trade war can hardly hold water.

The era of globalization has been an inevitable development of human society. As people in the global village are more interconnected, trans-regional flow of finance, technology, information, service and talent has re-optimized global production resources, inspiring the development of countries and regions.

The unprecedented development of productivity and international division of labor has prompted developed countries which boast capital and technology advantages to transfer their low-end industries to other countries where labor and land costs are relatively low. Then a great many multinationals have mushroomed, which has objectively precipitated the growth of developing countries.

Economic liberalism has become a paragon of democracy with which developed nations dwell upon with relish. It’s also an important pillar for the postwar international order. When developed countries sat on the top of the industrial chain to reap benefits, they never complained about the unfairness of the system but instead became its most powerful defender.

Ironically, the US – the founder of the global system – has now become its most proactive opponent. The Trump administration attacks the “unfair” global system and views China as being complicit in bringing about the fall of the US manufacturing industry and loss of jobs. Such rhetoric has led people to believe that the stature of the US has fallen to a third world country’s.

Globalization is not without problem. Apple is a paradigm of a globalized industrial chain, but it’s not a nice story. Developing countries at the low end of the industrial chain can only get disproportionally meager profits while lucrative gains flow to developed nations. In this way, the US deficit is far less than the book figures.

More severely, low-end manufacturing has worsened the environment, putting the health of the public in jeopardy. But the US-led developed world just passed the buck.

Emerging economies like China are resigned to be just a factory of developed countries, so they work hard to develop hi-tech and produce high-value-added products to create a level-playing field with developed countries. This is the law of market economy, which, however, has become a threat to its national security and an enemy of its economy in the view of the US.

The strange logic can hardly justify itself.

Denying others a share of the spoils is not the essence of the era of globalization. If developed countries think there’s something wrong with the global system, they can appeal to international organizations to carry out reform, instead of resorting to short-sighted practices like threatening with tariffs.

Trump’s trade war actually stems from domestic conundrums notably industrial hollowing-out and loss of everyday jobs. The problems are not a result of globalization but of domestic mismanagement. It seems that forcing jobs back home will create jobs, but it can’t last long because it will fail to stimulate the fundamental driving force of industrial development. If Trump can make more efforts at boosting the real economy instead of waging a trade war, he may get closer to “Make America Great Again.”

Credit: By Zhang Tengjun Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/15
The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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Dr Mahathir’s visit to China tomorrow to witness signing of 3 MoUs


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Malaysia welcomes China’s participation in transport projects:   People
stand beside the high-speed trains built by China Railway Rolling Stock
Corporation (CRRC) in State of Perak, Malaysia, July 9, 2015


PM’s special visit to China

 

PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is scheduled to be in Chi­na from August 17 to 21, during which he is expected to meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

The visit is special because Dr Mahathir is returning to China once again as prime minister after a 17-year gap. His last official visit to China as prime minister was in October 2001 to attend the Apec CEO summit.

Dr Mahathir is a regular visitor to China. In the 22 years of his first stint as prime minister (1981-2003), he visited China seven times. He visited nine more times after he retired, making it a total of 16.

This coming visit has an added significance because he is leading a different government and there are several touchy issues standing in the way of good relations between the two countries.

In his previous official visits, he was leading the Barisan Nasional government. In this visit, he is leading Pakatan Harapan which ousted Barisan in the May 9 general election.

Chinese leaders are familiar with Barisan. Back in 1974, it was the leader of this newly-formed coalition Tun Abdul Razak Hussein who made the ground-breaking visit to China. That visit resulted in Malaysia becoming one of the earliest countries in South-East Asia to recognise China.

Bear in mind that although Indonesia recognised China in 1950, their relationship soured and was suspended between 1967 and 1990. Singapore, a predominantly Chi­nese nation, recognised China only in 1990, and Brunei did so in 1991.

It was not an easy decision for Malaysia because it already had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since its independence in 1957.

The recognition of Taiwan was reflective of Malaysia’s pro-Western stance and staunchly anti-communist policy. The armed communist insurgency starting in 1948 did not help to endear Malaysia to China.

With the disbanding of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) following the 1989 peace accord, which involved the MCP and the governments of Malaysia and Thailand, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) became the last remaining vestige of the Chinese revolution in Malaysia.

It was no coincidence that while the MCP was fashioned after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), MCA was the mirror image of the Chinese Nationalist Party, Kuomintang.

Abdul Razak’s own party, the United Malay National Organisa­tion (Umno), was staunchly anti-communist. Still, Abdul Razak pulled it off and received overwhelming endorsement from voters at the 1974 general election in which the enlarged Bari­san coalition was contesting for the first time.

So, given this very long history of mutually beneficial relationship and Dr Mahathir’s own affinity with China, his visit is not only special but also offers the two countries the opportunity to clarify and sort out issues that could stand in the way of good relations.

Dr Mahathir had wanted to visit earlier but time was not favourable. Proving his seriousness about wanting to put the relationship between the new Malaysian government and China on a good footing, he sent Tun Daim Zainuddin as his emissary.

Like Dr Mahathir, Daim is a familiar face in Beijing. Back in the 1980s during his first stint as Finance Minister, Daim took an active part in supporting China’s new role in international financial organisations like the Asian Deve­lop­ment Bank, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

During his visit to Beijing on July 18, Daim handed over Dr Mahathir’s letter to Premier Li and had discussions with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

It is clear that neither China nor Malaysia would want the 44-year relationship to be jeopardised by issues that cropped up during the time of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Among these are the Chinese loans for the construction of the East Coast Railway Line (ECRL) and the little known Suria Strategic Energy Resources Sdn Bhd (SSER) pipeline project.

It is highly possible that China, in extending these loans and entering into construction agreements for the projects, was acting in good faith in line with its One Belt One Road (OBOR) policy but along the way, this was perverted by irresponsible elements in Malaysia and China.

Neither China nor Malaysia should suffer the embarrassment and financial losses caused by these people and their associates. The relationship between the two countries is too precious to be allowed to be soured by their irresponsible and criminal actions.

Dr Mahathir said in a recent interview with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that his less-than-favourable view of some Chinese-backed deals, deemed overpriced and lopsided against Malaysian interests, did not mean he was hostile towards Beijing.

More recently, he said Malaysia would seek to do away with these projects if they continue to be unfavourable to the country and a burden to the people.

The Pakatan administration and the people of Malaysia must not be made to shoulder the burden of irresponsible acts of Najib and

As Dr Mahathir has pointed out, ­Malaysia and China developed “a very good relationship” during his first tenure as prime minister and there is no reason why this would not continue during his comeback era.

A. KADIR JASIN

akadirjasin.blogspot.com/akadirjasin.com

 

Dr Mahathir to witness signing of 3 MoUs during China visit

 

KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 16): Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will make an official visit to China from tomorrow until Tuesday (Aug 17-21, 2018) at China’s Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang’s invitation.

Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement today Dr Mahathir and Li will witness the signing of three memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to mark the strengthening of the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing strategic partnership. The MoUs are in the areas of agriculture and agricommodity, the statement said.

According to the statement, Dr Mahathir will be accompanied by his spouse Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali. The delegation includes Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok Suh Sim, International Trade and Industry Minister Ignatius Darell Leiking, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law) Datuk Liew Vui Keong, Entrepreneurship Development Minister Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof and Perak Chief Minister Ahmad Faizal Azumu, according to the statement.

“This is the maiden visit by YAB Prime Minister to the PRC (People’s Republic of China) after assuming office in May 2018. YAB Prime Minister visited the PRC seven times during his term as the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003.

“During the visit, YAB Prime Minister will be visiting Hangzhou and Beijing. In Hangzhou, YAB Prime Minister is scheduled to meet provincial leaders, undertake a visit to Alibaba Group Corporate Headquarters and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. In Beijing, YAB Prime Minister will be meeting Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping respectively to discuss bilateral issues as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest,” the statement said.

Chong Jin Hun
theedgemarkets.com
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New Malaysia’s civil servants must keep it civil of multi-racialism !


Brave new world: The civil service needs to get used to the New Malaysia approach while our ministers need to snap out of the Opposition mode and get down to work.

Wake Up Malaysian Civil Servants: Duty Beckons

by dinobeano

August 16, 2018 Wake Up Malaysian Civil Servants: Duty Beckons by Dr Amar-Singh HSS http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com These Civil Servants pledge to feather their own nest We need to get rid of the culture of censuring those in the civil service who speak up when they see wrong being done. I found the courage to write this […]

Read more of this post

Keeping it civil: The civil service makes up the backbone of any nation, yet the concept of its implementation continues to elude some of the powers that be.

IT’S often said that ministers come and go, but civil servants stay forever. And the good old government machinery runs as before, a fact some of our new ministers will probably be clued into by now.

Ministers who have no experience at state government level may have pre-conceived notions of the privileges they enjoy, like unlimited authority and knowing what they decree would suffice to overrule the bureaucrats.

And that is the biggest mistake they could make as newcomers to Putrajaya, because nothing exemplifies shooting oneself in the foot more than putting down civil servants – they run the ministries, after all.

Making its rounds on the grapevine these days is how some ministers put down their secretaries-general at meetings, believing they know better, or quite possibly, that they can do a better job at improving the performance of their charges.

Some of our ministers were probably not born when British sitcom Yes, Minister (which later became Yes, Prime Minister) aired on BBC Two, and on RTM, from 1980 to 1984.

Set principally in the private office of a British Cabinet Minister in the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in Whitehall, it follows the ministerial career of the Right Honourable Jim Hacker.

In it, he attempts, or rather, struggles to formulate and enact laws or effect departmental changes and meets with resistance from the civil service, in particularly his Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby.

The obstructions (sabotages, some would say) were often carried out so deftly that the minister would often rarely know what hit him or possess a trail of evidence to prove insubordination.

In fact, the delays (such as total rejection of policy) were cited to impress upon the minster that the shenanigans were for the benefit of his political mileage.

But of course, the sitcom was totally fictional and in real life, not all civil servants could get away like that.

Respected banker and commentator Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid wrote that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had put together a Cabinet with a mix of races and genders, and a range of ages, which is unprecedented in the political governance of our country. However, except for a handful of ministers, the Cabinet falls short on experience.

Dr Munir urged Pakatan ministers to get out of “Opposition mode” so they can function and deliver with all the advice and support available.

“They would need to get the government machinery – the civil service – to implement their decisions effectively.

“Here, there is another problem. The largely Malay civil service is not used to having political masters committed to a multi-racial Malaysia and a no-nonsense regime,” he wrote.

That simply means our ministers, who have been used to merely delivering fiery speeches, now need to roll up their sleeves and get down to work and show the fruits of their labour. They can only blame the ills and corruption of the previous government to an extent.

A few ministers, and even the Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, must now grapple with all the documents being in Bahasa Malaysia, unlike in the private sector where the medium of communication is English.

Their staff would most likely be entirely Malay, except for their aides, who are political appointees. Directives would be issued in an entirely different way, obviously reflected by the work culture and style of communication.

That is just how the civil service works, so, they simply need get used to it. Of course, stories of all this being a culture shock for some have surfaced recently.

Dr Munir reminded that “there is still some way to go to arrive at a New Malaysia in terms of multi-racialism. After two generations of ‘Malay First’ and subsequently ‘Malay and Muslim First’ political ethic, there is a mountain to climb to make it New Malaysia.”

The reality is that about 75% of the Malay electorate in GE14 voted for Umno or PAS, in comparison to 95% of the Chinese voters who voted for Pakatan Harapan (an increase from the 85% who supported the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat coalition in 2013). About 70% – 75% of Indians voted for PH, the figures show.

It has been reported that only 25% – 30% of Malays voted for PH, according to figures from Merdeka Centre. Apparently, 35% – 40% of Malays voted for Barisan Nasional while 30% – 33% supported PAS.

The findings displayed that although a higher percentage of Malays voted for Pakatan Harapan in Johor and in west coast states such as Melaka and Negri Sembilan, the coalition’s overall Malay support was diminished by its weak performance in Kelantan and Terengganu.

It’s no secret that as the new government reaches its 100-day mark, some ministers are still struggling to assemble their offices.

It’s just as well that some have yet to meet the press or make statements, because they are still learning to juggle the workload as others continue their scramble to find the ideal personnel.

The job has been so overwhelming that they have been unable to meet their key officers to solidify plans and directions.

With no appointments in sight, some staff are wondering if they are being snubbed, or simply that the ministers are too busy with other engagements. It doesn’t help that they don’t even reply messages.

But the civil service needs to accept that this is New Malaysia. There is no turning back. The culture of openness, accountability, engagement and success must take centre stage, with any form of prejudice left by the wayside.

The strategy of using race and religion to stir emotions seems hollow now.

Millions of ringgit were stolen from the people by those in power, and as the facts have revealed, they weren’t Chinese, Indians or Christians, contrary to what these politicians still want the Malays to believe.

And certainly, the civil servants who sniffed out the moral decay under their very noses knew exactly what was happening.

Clean, trustworthy and competent ministers, and a loyal, non-corrupt and efficient civil service will make Malaysia great.

After all, as the saying goes, it doesn’t matter what colour the cat is, as long it catches the mice.

In this context, what’s important is surely them being good Malaysians.

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and
has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star

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Coming recession in 2020? Possibly earlier


Negative rates: Pedestrians walking past the Bank of Japan (BoJ) headquarters in Tokyo. BoJ’s goal remains
at keeping real interest rates as negative as possible, as long as the economy performs. — Bloomberg

IT’S mid-term review time as the US yield curve begins to flatten.

This curve tracks the relationship between interest rates of US government debt obligations. Normally the yield curve is rising, with long-term bonds having yields higher than short-term obligations.

But occasionally the curve inverts, with long bonds yielding less than short Treasury bills – a historical predictor of future recessions and bear markets in stocks. Recently, the curve has become noticeably flatter, with short rates rising and longer yields remaining stagnant. This has led many analysts to think that the yield curve will soon invert.

But that does not mean a recession is imminent. Just returned from an extended visit back to Harvard. Touched base with my mentors and professors at both extremes of the economic spectrum. They are all split on what this flattening really means. In the event it does invert (the gap today being below 0.3%), recession has almost always (over the past 50 years) followed within a year or so. But few see a recession soon on the horizon.

The first half has come and gone. The ongoing transition to more normal conditions continue in the context of a robust US economy; continued progress in the orderly normalisation of US monetary policy; and re-awakened sensitivities to geopolitical and protectionist risks.

There will be higher interest rates, some inflation concerns and trade tariffs coming-on in the context of markets more readily accepting two to three more rate hikes by the Fed in 2018. The prospect of a global trade war makes everyone very cautious.

Once we start down the road of tariff increases and threats of more to come, the dangers of retaliatory miscalculations are real and very scary. Still even an inverted yield curve should not be on top of our worry list under today’s accommodative monetary conditions.

Synchronised pick-up

The world economy benefitted from four drivers of higher growth: the healing process in Europe, re-bound from slowdowns in Brazil, India and Russia; soft landing in China; and pro-growth measures in US.

To persist, Europe needs to do much more. Also, there is hope that recent tariff tensions would eventually lead to fairer and still-free trade which recognises the inter-dependent nature of global supply chains, and show greater willingness to protect intellectual property rights, modernize trade arrangements and reduce non-tariff barriers. Yes, more rate hikes from the Fed are still on the cards. But the same by the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of Japan (BOJ) demand trickier manoeuvring.

This is an area that warrants close monitoring since volatility will likely persist. At least for now, fears of Japan-like deflation in US and Europe are effectively gone. But OECD is worried global growth is not yet self-sustaining. It’s strength in 2018 is largely due to monetary and fiscal policy support – and lacking in rising productivity gains and sweeping structural reforms. In Europe, the “clock is ticking”; without reforms, more populist uprisings will appear as the upswing ages and then fades. US inflation is not only returning to the Fed’s 2% target, but also likely to exceed it. In Europe, consumer prices were last still lower than a year ago – below the ECB’s target of just below 2%. Fear of the spectre of deflation has led BOJ to remain cautious about tapering its monetary easing program. Will just have to wait and see.

IMF warns that the world’s US$164 trillion debt pile (at 225% of GDP) is bigger than at the height of the financial crisis a decade ago. One-half was accounted for by US, Japan and China. What’s needed is for US fiscal policy to be recalibrated to bring down the government debt to GDP ratio (80%) and for China to deleverage its US$ 2.6 trillion private debt. There is no sign either is being done which runs the risk of triggering yet another financial crisis.

Growth will falter

Growth in US can slow considerably when the boosts from last year’s tax-cuts in US fades in 2019 and 2020. IMF now warns that US will grow at about one-half the 3% annual pace forecast by the White House over the next 5 years, reflecting the effects of growing massive fiscal deficit and continuing trade imbalance. For US, sluggish productivity remains a key determinant. In 2Q18, GDP picked-up to rise 4.1% (2.2% in 1Q18) the fastest pace in nearly four years, reflecting broad-based momentum.

But worker productivity advanced 1.3% from a year earlier, consistent with the sluggish 1.2% average annual rate in 2007-2017, well below the better than 2% annual average since WWII. Spending by consumers, businesses and government as well as surging exports all appeared solid in 2Q18. The expansion enters its 10th year this month, building on what is already the second longest expansion on record. Faster growth which has helped to drive the unemployment rate to its lowest level in 18 years, fueled quick corporate profit growth.

Median estimates place GDP growth at 2.8% in 2018, 2.4% in 2019 and 1.8% over the long run. But everyone has growth slowing next year because of falling business and consumer sentiment, reflecting trade disputes with China and many US allies, and uncertainty whether rising business investment is sustainable.

The big concern is the economy overheating – already, it is bumping up against capacity constraints as labour markets tighten. Still, the consensus is that the next downturn will not arrive until 2020. Most economists expect 3% inflation over the next year. What worries me most is the deteriorating global political and strategic environment.

Not so much the economic outlook directly. The world is changing too much, too fast.

So much so, the geopolitical situation is getting worse – open warfare between Israel and Iran, the disgraceful state of Palestine, and uncertainties surrounding Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and lack of leadership in Europe. Trade barriers are causing much anxiety. It is as though what’s put in place since WWII isn’t worth a damn anymore.


Europe and Japan

Latest indications from the Brookings-FT Index for Global Economic Recovery (Tiger) show global growth has peaked and momentum has started to fade. Indeed, financial markets are already reflecting mounting vulnerabilities. With weak economic data in 1H’18, Europe and Japan have since cooled. In late 2017, eurozone was still growing at 3.5%: Germany at 4%, France 3%, Italy 2% and Spain 3.5%. But activity slackened to only 1.2% in early April; even Germany recorded a sharp dip – down to only 1%, reflecting waning monetary easing effects and supply-side constraints. The outlook is for a strong above trend upswing for the rest of the year. OECD now expects GDP growth in 2018 to be 2.2% (2.6% in 2017) and in 2019, 2.1%.

For eurozone, the window for reforms is closing – ranging from the implementation of dual currencies for its members to putting European Parliament in charge of economic policy, including the euro-budget. Japanese GDP shrank 0.1% in 1Q18 despite a rise in capital investment. Household spending unexpectedly fell. Still, recovery is expected to be driven by a weak yen brought about by monetary stimulus (BoJ has been buying assets at US$740 billion a year to drive down long-term interest rates). But underlying inflation is stuck at 0.5%. BoJ’s goal remains at keeping real interest rates (after inflation) as negative as possible, as long as the economy performs. OECD forecasts growth in Japan to be 1.2% in 2018 (1.7% in 2017); the same in 2019.

China and BRICS

Many emerging markets (EMs) are still enjoying momentum from 2017, but there is growing concern about rising debt and vulnerabilities to capital flight as interest rates in US rise. For those recently emerged from recession, viz. Russia, Brazil and South Africa, their urge to return to strong levels of activity remains sluggish.

China and India have fewer concerns for their immediate outlook. Still, they need to reform their economies to help raise living standards to catch up. The main challenges will be to execute particular reforms – not just to the financial system but also to SOEs and local governments, including getting rid of corruption.

China’s GDP rose 6.7% in 2Q’18, the slowest pace since 2016. Retail sales held up rather well as did exports. Still, measures to curb rampant borrowing are biting – investments in infrastructure and manufacturing by SOEs and local governments have since slackened. These efforts, in the midst of headwinds from abroad (especially protectionist tariffs), have led to downgrades in growth for the rest of the year. IMF now forecasts GDP growth in China to average 6.5% in 2018 (6.8% in 2017) and about the same in 2019.

Recent depreciation of China’s currency, the yuan, exposes crucial vulnerabilities within the world’s second-largest economy as it faces escalating trade tensions with the US. The currency posted its biggest ever monthly fall against US$ in June (3.4%) and has since lost more ground. This slide marks a departure for the currency often regarded as an anchor of stability for Asia and other EMs.

As Beijing assesses the options, it finds itself between a rock and a hard place because (i) People’s Bank of China (PBoC) intervention means selling its US dollar stash of reserves – which stood at US$3.11 trillion in June; (ii) it could instead raise domestic interest rates, thereby making the currency more attractive which might help to shore up the yuan. But it also risks weakening an already slowing Chinese economy just as the trans-Pacific trade war starts to bite; and (iii) it could impose stricter controls on China’s capital account which will likely spook overseas funds that have rushed into China’s domestic bond and equity markets this year at an unprecedented rate.

However, to internationalise the yuan, China has to keep fund flows relatively unencumbered. The PBoC has sensibly pledged to keep the RMB “generally stable.” In July, China implemented a mix of tax cuts and greater infrastructure spending citing growing uncertainties, as it ramps up efforts to stimulate demand to counteract a weakening economy.

As for India, I wrote extensively on what’s happening there (my July 2018 column: “India: Chugging Along but Needs More Firepower” refers).

What then are we to do

As I see it, China and China-India centred Asia is now the heart of the world economy. Their steady growth has been a source of stability in an otherwise unsteady world.

Of late, developments in China received more scrutiny than usual because of the context: Chinese stock market has since fallen into bear territory, and a growing trade dispute with the world’s largest economy, US. Despite China’s astonishingly sustained expansion, the economy is widely considered vulnerable because growth in output has been underwritten by an even faster increase in debt.

The nation’s gross debt – both public and private – is now estimated at over 250% of GDP. The worry is not just the volume of debt but its quality. China’s domestic policies encourage high savings.

Those savings, held in banks, have been funneled to companies, especially SOEs. The credit quality of the loans is hard to assess but is likely to be uneven. China has since begun to slowly tighten the credit taps, with even tighter rules on shadow banking and more scrutiny for both local government financing and public-private investment projects.

At the same time, a sharp increase in the number of defaults by corporate issuers has revived anxieties about Chinese debt. In my view, it is the tighter credit conditions and defaults, rather than worries about a trade war, that best explain the recent 22% decline in the Shanghai Composite index from its January highs.

Tightening credit policy is also a compelling explanation for the weak macro-economics. Credit growth fell, and growth in fixed investment followed. This appears to be having some effect on consumer sentiment as well.

No doubt, Trump’s tariffs on US$50bil of Chinese imports (and threatens US$200bil more) will have a direct (but unlikely to be catastrophic) impact on growth. But China is now an investment-led rather than an export-led economy.

Still, it is the knock-on effects that are most feared. If the escalation of hostilities leads to a reduction in foreign direct investment in China, the long-term impact could be significant. True, China may be facing a delicate moment economically.

But given China’s deepening role in the world economy, any pain that the US manages to inflict on it would be quickly shared with the US and the broader world – at a moment when Europe’s economy is slowing, and many EMs looking unstable.

On the whole, China’s economy will remain strong and resilient. Whatever happens, I think this won’t change the Chinese situation much.


By Lin See-yan – what are we to do?

Former banker Tan Sri Lin See-Yan is the author of The Global Economy in  Turbulent Times (Wiley, 2015) and Turbulence in Trying Times (Pearson, 2017). Feedback is most welcome.

 

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Trade war’s twrist: US and EU gang up deal against developing countrries?


IN the past few days, there has been a new twist to the global trade war. The United States, which had threatened to impose a 25% additional tariff on European cars, made a deal with the European Union.

US President Donald Trump suspended the automobile tariff plan and may exempt the EU from the earlier US tariffs on aluminium and steel.

In exchange, the EU countries will buy more soybean and energy products from the US, and the two giants will work to eliminate tariffs and subsidies in all industrial pro­ducts traded between them.

Trump and European Commis­sion president Jean-Claude Juncker also agreed to work to reform the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and to tackle China’s market abuse, according to a Reuters report.
“If it holds, the US-EU pact could allow both to focus on China, whose economic rise threatens both,” added the report.

Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow said that, “US and EU will be allied in the fight against China, which has broken the world trading system, in effect”.

Thus, the US-EU deal appears to be both good and bad news. Good because there is a cooling off on one front of the global trade war. Bad because the traditional Western allies may gang up to attack not only China but also the rest of the developing countries.

The US and EU may now jointly pressurise China on various issues. A bigger aim is to hinder China from its Made in China 2025 plan to upgrade its domestic industry in 10 high-tech areas including robotics, autonomous and electric cars, artificial intelligence, biotech and aviation. They do not want Chinese firms to emerge as world-class cham­pions that rival American and European companies.

The US, EU and Japan last December signed an understanding to jointly act against China on trade issues, including steel overcapacity, technology transfer, and the role of subsidies, state financing and state-owned enterprises.

Over the years, the EU has turned to some developing countries as potential allies when it has a conflict with the US but eventually it strikes a deal with the US and then the two Western powers unite and take aim at the developing countries.

This famously happened in the early 2001-2003, when the EU fought the US in the WTO over agriculture subsidies. Then they reached an understanding to protect their own subsidies while pressurising developing countries to open up their agricultural markets.

Today, developed countries continue to spend many hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, as well as maintain high tariffs, to keep their farms in business.

The US and EU also flood the world market with their artificially cheapened farm goods, while insisting that developing and poor countries open their markets through lower tariffs for both agricultural and industrial products. This hypocritical practice is at the heart of the imbalances and inequities of the world trading system.

Now, as part of their deal, the US and EU seem to want to continue maintaining double standards. They agreed to cut indus­trial tariffs and subsidies to zero, but to leave alone their agriculture tariffs and subsidies.

Moreover, they agreed to work on reforming the WTO, without spelling out what this means. At the WTO, the US and EU have recently moved to change the way the system has differentiated between developed and developing countries.

Recognising the weaknesses of developing countries, the WTO long ago adopted the principle of special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries.

Under this principle, in talks to cut tariffs, developed countries have to cut by a higher percentage than developing countries, and the least developed countries (LDCs) need not reduce tariffs at all. In various rules, developing countries and especially LDCs are mandated to take on less obligations.

However, the developed countries are now challenging the SDT principle.

“Developing and least-developed countries are facing the worst crisis yet at the WTO due to the sustained assault by the US along with the EU and Japan,” according Ravi Kanth in the Geneva-based South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) on July 4.

“Using Trump’s aggressive trade demands as a pretext, some major developed countries such as the EU and Japan have been attempting to deny the SDT flexibilities to deve­loping countries,” SUNS added, quoting a trade envoy from a major developing country.

“The entire system of the WTO is under threat following the Trump administration’s trade initiatives based on reciprocal market access as well as the attempt to foist plurilateral outcomes without multila­teral consensus, and intensified moves to undermine the SDT flexibilities by industrialised countries, particularly the EU.”

Meanwhile, the US actions of unilaterally raising tariffs on alumi­nium and steel, and on US$250bil (RM1 trillion) of Chinese products, violate the WTO’s main principles, threatening the creditability and viability of the organisation itself.

But Trump is not worried or sorry at all. At the beginning of July, he said: “The WTO has treated the United States very badly and I hope they change their ways. They have been treating us very badly for many years, many years and that’s why we were at a big disadvantage with the WTO.”

Said the SUNS article, “In short, the developing and least-developed countries face the prospect of their hard won SDT flexibilities being taken away once and for all to ensure the US stayed at the WTO.”

When the US and EU were locked in a big conflict over auto tariffs, the main enemy of the EU, China and other countries would have been the US.

Now the EU and US have agreed to “reform the WTO” as part of their bilateral deal. It is likely that such an initiative would attempt to reduce the rights of the developing countries, and even to entirely remove the principle of special treatment or even the status of “developing countries” in the WTO.

The trade war could thus have huge collateral damage. All the more reason for the developing countries’ political leaders to pay close attention to what is happening in the trade negotiating and policy­-making arena.

Global Trend by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is advisor of the Third World Network. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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 China sends Donald Trump a message about free trade and the WTO

China hits back after US imposes tariffs worth $34bn


Video:  https://www.bbc.com/news/av/embed/p06cvv5k/44697671

US tariffs on $34bn (£25.7bn) of Chinese goods have come into effect, signalling the start of a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

The 25% levy came into effect at midnight Washington time.

China has retaliated by imposing a similar 25% tariff on 545 US products, also worth a total of $34bn.

Beijing accused the US of starting the “largest trade war in economic history”.

“After the US activated its tariff measures against China, China’s measures against the US took effect immediately,” said Lu Kang, a foreign ministry spokesman.

Two companies in Shanghai told the BBC that customs authorities were delaying clearance processes for US imports on Friday.

The American tariffs are the result of President Donald Trump’s bid to protect US jobs and stop “unfair transfers of American technology and intellectual property to China”.

The White House said it would consult on tariffs on another $16bn of products, which Mr Trump has suggested could come into effect later this month.

Video:  https://www.bbc.com/news/av/embed/p06d06gb/44707253

The imposition of the tariffs had little impact on Asian stock markets. The Shanghai Composite closed 0.5% higher, but ended the week 3.5% lower – its seventh consecutive week of losses.

Tokyo closed 1.1% higher, but Hong Kong fell 0.5% in late trading.

Hikaru Sato at Daiwa Securities said markets had already factored in the impact of the first round of tariffs.

list of products

Mr Trump has already imposed tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels, and started charging levies on the imports of steel and aluminium from the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

He has also threatened a 10% levy on an additional $200bn of Chinese goods if Beijng “refuses to change its practices”.

The president upped the stakes on Thursday, saying the amount of goods subject to tariffs could rise to more than $500bn.

“You have another 16 [billion dollars] in two weeks, and then, as you know, we have $200bn in abeyance and then after the $200bn, we have $300bn in abeyance. OK? So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300,” he said.

The US tariffs imposed so far would affect the equivalent of 0.6% of global trade and account for 0.1% of global GDP, according to Morgan Stanley in a research note issued before Mr Trump’s comments on Thursday.

Analysts are also concerned about the impact on others in the supply chain and about an escalation of tensions between the US and China in general.

Timeline

 

US-China trade war

16 February, 2018
US Commerce Department recommends a 24%
tariff on all steel imports and 7.7% on aluminium. It’s seen as a policy
directed at China, which is the world’s largest maker of steel.
22 March, 2018
China says it will impose tariffs on US goods worth $3bn.
22 March, 2018
President Trump announces a plan to impose
further tariffs on Chinese imports worth $60bn but grants temporary
exemptions from aluminium and steel tariffs to the EU, South Korea and
other countries.
2 April, 2018
China imposes 25% tariffs on 128 US products including wine and pork.
3 April, 2018
The US Government proposes new additional
tariffs on Chinese imports worth $50bn. These include: televisions,
medical equipment, aircraft parts and batteries.
4 April, 2018
China proposes tariffs on US goods worth $50bn.
5 April, 2018
President Trump announces he’s considering additional tariffs on Chinese products worth $100bn.
15 June, 2018
President Donald Trump announces new
tariffs on goods worth $34bn will come into force on 6 July 2018. He
also proposes a new list of tariffs for imported goods worth $16bn.
15 June, 2018
China says it will respond to these new US
impositions with it’s own new tariffs on agricultural products and
manufactured goods.

China staunch defender of free trade under WTO, meet the ‘selfish giant’ of global trade


Photo taken on April 12, 2018 shows the World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. [Photo/Xinhua]

China staunch defender of free trade under WTO

There can be no order without rules. And trade is no exception to this. The World Trade Organization regulates the trade between nations to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

China has spared no efforts in honoring the promises it made to join the WTO, and the country has not only abided by the WTO rules over the past 17 years. It has contributed a great deal to the development of the world economy and is a staunch defender of the WTO trade system.

In contrast, the Donald Trump administration’s unilateralism and trade protectionism pose an ever greater threat to free trade. Under the unjustifiable pretext of national security, it has violated the United States’ WTO obligations by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and discriminating among its WTO trade partners.

There is no denying that China has benefited a lot as a member of the WTO, which has facilitated its opening-up and reform. Without integrating its economy with that of the world, it would have been impossible for the country to maintain its double-digit economic growth for more than a decade.

Yet the other side of the coin is that as a rule-abiding member of the WTO, China has also contributed to the world economy. Had it not been for China’s help and support, it would not have been possible for the US and other major Western countries to have emerged from the devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis so quickly.

And without China’s opening-up, it would not have been possible for so many transnational corporations to benefit from their business in China. And of course, those businesses have provided jobs for China and enabled the country to earn more from international trade.

Free trade is undoubtedly reciprocal. China is a beneficiary of free trade within the framework of the WTO, but it also benefits others. It is a contributor to the development of the world economy and defender of the current world economic order.

Because they fail to appreciate this, some Western countries regard China as simply a free rider on globalization and refuse to recognize China’s status as a market economy as they should.

That the US refuses to settle its trade dispute with China within the framework of the WTO only points to its own lack of respect for the WTO trade rules.

China will continue to abide by WTO rules and firmly defend the current world economic order, as it believes that rules-based multilateralism is essential for the healthy development of the world economy.

By China Daily editorial

Amid trade row, US losing international legitimacy

The Trump administration should find a balance between its
new strategy, which can be partly reasonable, within the existing highly
interconnected world. The US should understand that emerging countries
cannot be treated like in the past.

 Meet the ‘selfish giant’ of global trade

Donald Trump has opened a Pandora’s box which, if not shut soon, will cause mayhem in global trade and seriously undermine the multilateral trading system

At a time when globalization needs to be safeguarded and promoted, some countries are doing exactly the opposite by violating even the normative axioms of international relations. In particular, the Donald Trump administration seems hellbent on instigating a trade war with major economies by using anti-globalization and protectionist measures, which are disrupting the international trade order.

Claiming to resolve domestic structural problems and meet global challenges with a combative approach, US President Donald Trump has become the most powerful force behind the wave of trade protectionism. The trade disputes he has stirred up pose a big challenge to globalization, which is based on the division of labor in the global value chain. Trump’s protectionist moves would disrupt the global production network, leading to a contraction, if not dismantling, of the global value chain. In fact, he has put the global free trade system and international trade order at great risk of being destroyed.

In his one and a half years in office, Trump has not only expedited investigations by the US International Trade Commission into anti-subsidy, anti-dumping allegations under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, but also used unconventional protectionist measures, such as Section 301 and 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, to order investigations against imports, including those from China, and the trade practices of other economies.


‘Trump trap’ versus ‘Thucydides trap’

No wonder many overseas scholars are more worried about a “Trump trap” rather than the “Thucydides trap”, because the former will harm not only China but also the rest of the world.

Essentially, the Trump administration’s trade policies are not different in nature from those of the Barack Obama administration. But compared with Obama’s trade policies, Trump’s policies exhibit some new features.

First, for Trump, his “America First” policy is more important than international rules and the world trade order. Trump has been exhibiting a tendency to either take advantage of or discard the multilateral global trading system to fulfill US interests. The president’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda stresses that the efficiency of the open and multilateral trading system, built by the US itself, needs to be reassessed to realize and promote US national interests.

Apart from complaining about China’s so-called restraints on foreign capital’s access to some service industries, including telecommunications, banks and healthcare, the US Trade Representative has also accused China of forcing technology transfers despite China gradually opening up these industries in accordance with the General Agreement on Trade in Services of the World Trade Organization.

Second, the US administration has raised economic security to a new level, by incorporating economic and trade policies into national security, with Trump’s first National Security Strategy emphasizing that economic security is national security. Declaring that the US would use all applicable tools to defend national security, Trump has said the US will adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward any move it considers unfair or harmful to the US economy.

Third, Trump is trying to weaken, even overthrow the multilateral trading system, a system based on rules that has played a central role in promoting cooperation and opening-up of trade and investment, apart from offering a stable and reliable system for WTO members to resolve trade disputes.

Evidently, the Trump administration is making all-out efforts to skirt and marginalize the WTO, most recently by saying appeals against WTO rulings should not take more than the mandated 90 days to deal with. What it has conveniently ignored, however, is that the delay is caused as the US, from time to time, has thwarted the Appellate Body from starting the procedure of selecting new judges, leading to a paralysis in the WTO’s dispute-settlement mechanism.

Trump mantra: Trade good, imports bad

Fourth, Trump is trying to defend fair trade, ironically, through unilateral trade sanctions. The Trump administration has ordered an estimated 94 investigations into so-called unfair trade practices involving dozens of countries in just one and a half years, a year-on-year increase of 81 percent. In fact, the fair trade principle advocated by Trump stresses a kind of equality that promotes a unilateral (as opposed to multilateral) open market and regards trade beneficial but imports harmful.

Generally speaking, the fair trade Trump demands mainly constitutes of even tariffs and competition on an equal footing. Yet the disparity in tariff rates among WTO member states is largely attributable to multilateral trade negotiations. More important, uneven tariffs have enabled smaller economies at a primary stage of development to enter the global trading system.

Since different countries are at different development stages, and have different economic scales, production factors and political sensitivity toward trade liberalization and tariff policies, it is practically impossible to fix a unified tariff rate, which Trump effectively demands.

So, what is the truth behind the uneven Sino-US trade tariff rate? This can be better explained using hard data, instead of selectively ignoring unfavorable facts like the Trump administration has been doing. China’s actual trade-weighted average tariff rate is 4.4 percent, which is almost the same as that of developed economies, including Australia that has a trade-weighted average import tariff rate of 4 percent and the European Union 3 percent.

Correspondingly, more than 3,335 of the US’ most-favored nation tariff rates are higher than 5 percent and 1,120 above 10 percent.

Also, to prevent others from catching up, the US has invoked more than 125 Section 301 investigations since 1974, causing significant damage to other economies-the EU has faced 27 investigations, Japan 16, and Canada 14.

In January 2017, the US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended in a report titled “Ensuring Long-Term US Leadership in Semiconductors” that the US restrain the development of China’s technology industries because China’s rise in the field of semiconductors posed a threat to the US.

China’s high-tech sector a key target

Besides, the US is attempting to thwart the Made in China 2025 plan by launching more Section 301 investigations. And the 578 high-tech products on the US’ sanctions list against Chinese imports, which account for 43.36 percent of the total number and 56.15 percent of the total amount of high-tech products, show the US is indeed trying to contain the development of China’s high-tech industry.

Trump also is seeking to restrict Chinese investment in the US’ high-tech sector, by extending the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US and accelerating the legislation procedure of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act.

Do we need more evidence to prove the US is the most potent destructive force in the global market and technology competition?

Furthermore, Trump seems to be preparing to take new measures in the escalating Sino-US trade conflict to restrict Chinese enterprises from investing or acquiring US companies in strategic industries listed in the Made in China 2025 plan, by using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

And as part of its new tax reform, the Trump administration plans to prevent US companies from transferring their operating activities, high-value patents, copyright and trademarks to low-tax countries. Particularly noteworthy is a provision in the Senate version of the tax reform plan, which says a tax of 13.1 percent would be levied on global intangible low-taxed income. The move is aimed at foiling the efforts of US companies such as Apple, Google and Qualcomm to transfer their technologies to or conduct innovative cooperation with companies in other countries.

Trump is trying to instigate a trade war without realizing, rather refusing to accept, that a trade war will hurt all and sundry, including the US. The challenge for and obligation of the rest of the world is to find a way, and find it fast, to safeguard the multilateral trading system and protect it from the assaults of Trump Inc.

By Zhang Monan China Daily.  The author is a researcher at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.

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