China ready to move into the trade and world leadership vacuum created by the US


 China sends out positive signals

CHINA has sent out stabilising messages to the world on its economic, investment and foreign policies since it convened its two most important annual political meetings (“two sessions”) early this month.

The on-going “two sessions” inevitably attract global attention because China’s policies for the year are announced by top leaders at these meetings held in the imposing Great Hall of The People, to the west of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

For this year, it is even more crucial for other nations to scrutinise the policies of China at the sessions, held from March 3 to 15, as US President Donald Trump has injected too much uncertainty into the global dynamics.

The world is weighed down by anxiety as Trump, who took office in January, abandons globalisation and advocates the return of protectionism. Hence, nations are looking for leadership from the world’s second largest economy, according to analysts.

The two sessions or lianghui refer to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that began its session on March 3 and the annual National People’s Congress (NPC, or Parliament) that started on March 5. The CPPCC is China’s top political advisory body set up by the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949 after the CPC, led by Mao Zedong then, won the civil war.

Five years later, the legislative NPC was established.

Steady economic growth

China is expected to grow steadily at 6.5% or higher this year as it continues its restructuring and reforms. Last year, the country achieved growth of 6.7%.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang announced on March 5 that the growth target for this year would be around 6.5%, while he addressed more than 3,000 legislators.

This slower growth target shows China is opting for a steady growth to reduce financial risk from excessive borrowing, according to economists.

Like the rest of the world, China expects to continue to experience global headwinds and uncertainties. Indeed, the premier warned of a far more complicated global picture ahead in light of the threat of protectionism.

Alfred Schipke, an economist from the International Monetary Fund, told the South China Morning Post: “Anything between 6-6.5% will be appropriate. The key is to have sustainable growth.”

For this year, China will have to give its leaders more room to push through some painful reforms to deal with a rapid build-up in debt and over-capacity.

Li said he would tackle state-owned “zombie enterprises” producing more coal and steel than needed. And nationwide pollution, caused largely by heavy industries, has to be addressed to bring back blue skies. His list of China’s difficulties also included laziness of some government officials. But will China’s economy continue to slide?

Global Times, the party mouthpiece of the CPC, has this to say in its frank editorial: “There are many problems in China’s economy at the moment. Given that it is now stable on the whole, we do not fear these problems as they will most likely turn into future opportunities for further development.”

The news portal stated that structural reforms in the Chinese economy had been “comprehensively addressed”.

Many enterprises that are heavy polluters have been shut down. The country no longer helps inefficient enterprises to stay afloat.

The current anti-corruption campaign has curbed improper spending to the extent that businesses in classy restaurants and retail sector are badly hit.

“China’s biggest accomplishments in the past years are that it did not stop to make adjustments in its economic transition. Instead, it adjusted itself while continuing to move forward. Now, society has fully adapted to the new normal in the country’s economy,” said Global Times.

Despite having to tackle its own economic problems, China has sent out a heartening message that it will continue to be the strong engine of global growth. Last year, China contributed about one-third of the world’s economic growth.

“China’s steady growth has brought in greater demand, investment and products to the world economy … China will help improve global prosperity and regional infrastructure as it pushes its belt and road initiative,” said Wang Guoqing, spokesman for CPPCC on March 3.

More than 100 countries and organisations have joined the belt and road initiative and over 40 of them have cooperation pacts with China, added Wang.

The belt and road initiative, proposed by Xi in 2013, aims to build infrastructure and trade network to link Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes.

Since 2013, China has financed and gotten involved in projects on aviation, power, rail, road and telecommunications in participating belt-road countries. It is planning to host a belt and road Summit in May that could see China announcing more multi-billion dollar projects to benefit its trade partners and its own economy.

Opening up further

China had also told the world it would open up further and liberalise more sectors to promote trade and investment.

After the opening of the NPC session on March 5, core leader President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s commitment to “open up wider”.

“China will open up like never before. China’s opening door will not close,” said Xi in his report.

“China’s door will open wider, and China will keep working to be the most attractive destination for foreign investment.”

Xi made the remarks while joining in a panel discussion with lawmakers from Shanghai last Sunday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Foreign firms will be able to get listed on China’s stock markets and issue bonds. They will also be allowed to participate in national science and technology projects.

Foreign firms will also be treated as domestic firms in license applications and government procurement, and will enjoy preferential policies like locals under the “Made in China 2025” initiative aimed at modernising the manufacturing sector.

Service industries, manufacturing and mining will be more open to foreign investment.

Ian Yoong, a former investment banker in Malaysia, opines that Xi’s vows to open up and liberalise sectors “shows that China is ready to take over the mantle from the US as the dominant superpower”.

He tells Sunday Star: “The key themes of President Xi and Premier Li’s speeches are globalisation and liberalisation of trade, totally countering President Trump’s plans for the US.

“This is a signal to the world that China is ready to move into the trade and political leadership vacuum to be created by the US.”

Easing tension in South China Sea

For South-East Asian nations, there was some relief when the Middle Kingdom appears to have softened its tone in South China Sea disputes.

In remarks made on March 3, Wang, the spokesman for the CPPCC placed emphasis on “navigational freedom”, which the US has often advocated.

“As a major trading nation and the biggest country along the South China Sea, China attaches more importance than any other country to navigational freedom and security in the South China Sea.”

This stance was starkly different from the hard tone of previous months, during which China warned the US and Japan to stay away from its “own sea”.

China’s recent naval force demonstrations in South China Sea had also unnerved Asean nations.

Observed Panos Mourdoukoutas, a contributor to Forbes magazine: “The shift in China’s tone in the South China Sea disputes comes as a relief for investors in Asian equities.”

But what is more comforting for Asean is that last Wednesday (March 8), China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that the first draft of a code of conduct (COC) for behaviour in South China Sea disputes has been completed.

He told a press conference: “Tension in the waterway has eased notably.”

Since 2010, China and the 10-member of Asean have been trying to work out a set of rules aimed at avoiding conflicts among nations laying rival claims over the waters.

China, which lays sovereign claim to over 80% of the resource-rich South China Sea through which US$5tril (RM22tril) worth of trade passes every year, has often stated it prefers to resolve disputes via peaceful talks with rival claimants – the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

Wang vowed China would not allow this new stability in South China Sea to be “disrupted and damaged” by outsiders.

There have been sporadic incidents between US and Chinese ships in the South China Sea. Late last year, a Chinese ship seized a US navy underwater drone off the Philippines, but later returned it.

Korean Peninsula crisis

At his press conference, China’s Foreign Minister also addressed the most pressing issue for the region now – the possibility of a war exploding at Northeast Asia.

North Korea recently launched four short-ranged ballistic missile in response to large-scale military drills held by the US and South Korea. It was reported that these launches were aimed at US military bases in Japan.

Wang proposed “double suspension” to defuse the crisis, urging North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile activities while the United States and South Korea to cease their war games.

Describing the two parties as “two accelerating trains coming towards each other”, Wang said China was willing to be a “railway switchman” to switch the issue back to the right track.

But US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley promptly responded that the US must see “some sort of positive action” from North Korea, while Cho Tae-yul, South Korea’s UN ambassador, said: “This is not a time for us to talk about freezing or dialogue with North Korea.”

CPC’s Global Times, in its editorial, opined Wang’s solution is “the only way out” to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully.

The North Korean nuclear issue is not created by Pyongyang alone, it argued.

Although North Korea’s development of a nuclear programme is wrong, Washington and Seoul are the main forces that have pushed North Korea to this path, it added.

“Now, they want to stop Pyongyang from going ahead, while refusing to reduce the impetus they are giving to North Korea. When they failed to reach their goal, they blame China for not being cooperative enough,” said the editorial.

Despite the negative response to China’s proposal, Global Times opines Wang’s handling of the press conference “displays confidence of the country”.

By Ho Wah Foon The Star

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Korean web of intrigue: Malaysia hunting for Kim Jong-nam murder


Two women suspects in Kim Jong-nam assassination remanded for seven days

KUALA LUMPUR: Two women arrested in connected with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, have been remanded for seven days.

Selangor police chief Comm Datuk Seri Abdul Samah Mat said the two women have been remanded until Feb 21 to assist in the investigations.

One of the women has a Vietnam passport bearing the name Doan Thi Huong while the other has an Indonesian passport bearing the name Siti Aishah.

“They have been remanded. So far, there is no press conference as a press statement have been issued. We will update if there is anymore development,” Abdul Samah told The Star Online.

At 11.05am, Magistrate Sharifah Muhaymin Abd Khalib was at the Sepang police headquarters to grant the police’s application to remand the woman with the Vietnam passport.

Jong-nam, 45, was killed by two women who splashed his face with a chemical at the KLIA2 departure hall at about 9am on Monday. He was about to leave for Macau.

The women later got into a taxi and fled.

One of the women, who has the Vietnam passport, was arrested at the airport on Wednesday when she tried to board a flight out.

The woman with the Indonesian passport was arrested at 2am on Thursday.

Police are looking for four men who were in the company of the two women at the airport when Jong-nam was killed.

By Farik Zolkepli and Joash Ee De Silva The Star/|ANN

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Crisis of the West or crisis of faith, year of living dangerously?


Global standard: A man walks past a poster showing a US dollar outside an exchange office in Cairo. The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference. — AP

 

OVER the Chinese New Year holidays, we were all treated to the Trump Reality Show, changing the world we thought we understood with various tweets or executive orders.

This behaviour reminded me of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi waking up and was not sure he was a man dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that it was a man. Mr Trump is either a butterfly disguised as President or a truly smart politician disguised as a butterfly. The tragedy is that the rest of us have to live with the consequences.

This week, after humiliating Mexico and reversing his position on Nato, Trump and his advisers have switched to stoking a currency fire, accusing China and Japan of manipulating their currency and even suggesting that Berlin is exploiting a “gross undervalued” euro.

Whatever you think of Trump, he was smart enough to appoint someone like Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. You always can judge a leader by the people he or she surrounds himself with. Steve Bannon is pure American success story – Harvard trained, ex-Goldman Sachs, ex-navy, and founding entrepreneur of Breitbart news, a platform that claims to represent the alt-right and third most influential news channel after Bloomberg and Reuters.

In a remarkable 2014 speech (https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world), Bannon claimed that (this) … “is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”

Taken on its own, there is nothing wrong with someone having a view of the world in crisis. But Bannon is now in a pivotal position to do something about it.

The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference.

The rest of the world is now stuck with a “damned if we do, and damned if we don’t” dilemma. If we continue to rely on the dollar, how do we avoid being accused as manipulators, when in reality, so far the market forces are stronger than any central bank on its own? If we don’t rely on the dollar, we will anyway be accused as manipulators, particularly if the currency depreciates against the dollar.

In other words, what is at stake is not a crisis of the West or its faith (which the Rest cannot change), but a crisis of faith within the Rest on the leadership in the West. The dollar remains the anchor of global stability, but when the solo anchor itself is adrift, we need to find alternative anchors. Single anchors are efficient but dangerous if they wobble. We need two or three anchors to triangulate global stability.

Here is another inconvenient truth – it’s Trump’s dollar, but the Rest’s savings. Based on the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US has net global liabilities of US$7.8 trillion or 41.7% of GDP at the end of the third quarter 2016. This has deteriorated from US$2.5 trillion or 16.8% of GDP at the end of 2010. The cumulative current account deficit (from trade) between end 2010-2016 Q3 was only US$2 trillion, which meant that the rest (US$3.3 trillion) was due to valuation changes (change in US dollar exchange rate) or financial account flows.

In other words, it is capital flows rather than trade that is the major driver of the exchange rate, with interest rate differentials influencing also the exchange rate.

If that is the case, going forward, the US net debt position will depend largely on the future global savers, mostly Europe and Asia. And if the savers are subject to constant lecturing by the Trump Administration, an alt-dollar solution will have to be found.

During the Asian financial crisis, Europe sided with the US to reject an Asian Monetary Fund in a move against regionalisation. But if today, the America First strategy is designed at isolating the Rest, then the Rest must unite to protect global trade and investments. If the non-dollar zone can maintain currency stability against the dollar, then there will be less accusations of currency manipulation, forcing the debate into how the US can restore its own fiscal and trade balance to maintain its own savings equilibrium.

In short, the Rest needs to remind the US that she is important, but cannot blame the Rest for all her own problems.

The reserve currency central banks have a major role to ensure currency stability, which can be only preserved by ensuring liquidity and discipline. So far, the Fed has shown responsible leadership, with strong support from the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank. But if the dollar is being politicised, then alternatives can and should be found.

All options are now on the table. If the US is no longer dependent on oil and energy, then oil and energy suppliers can price oil trade in currencies other than the dollar. We have seen this before in the competition between different technology standards. The leading standard becomes dominant because it is willing to provide public goods (lots of freebies). But when the dominant standard becomes predatory or extractive in using its monopoly position, then it is time to use alternative standards.

No one should take their position or customers from granted. The Rest will not stand still whilst Trump and his cohorts decide to change allies and foes by the tweet. None of us are against the dollar but for global stability, common sense and mutual respect. The euro, sterling, yen, yuan and SDR’s time has come.

Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

By Andrew Sheng

Year of living dangerously

 

Rash move: The effectiveness of Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the US is highly questionable. — AFP

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

WHEN the world’s most powerful man conducts diplomacy over Twitter, keeping his words to 140 characters, we’d better prepare ourselves for trouble.

And indeed, since Donald Trump took over as President of the United States, there has been a series of totally unpredictable and unconventional decisions made, some mind boggling, even bordering on insanity.

And it has just been a little over two weeks since he moved into the White House.

There is no question that many Americans are troubled by a possible mass influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

This does not involve just the US but also affects several parts of Europe, including Britain, France and Germany, which explains why politicians who play the right-wing card – with the anti-immigrant agenda – are winning.

Trump clearly understands the pulse of the average American, especially those in the rural mid-west, the US heartland.

These are folks who watch conservative Fox TV and whose interaction with people of other races, religions and cultures is limited.

They are not like the liberal city folks of New York or Los Angeles, who turn up at airports and train stations, waving placards and hugging Syrian refugees, as shown on international TV news.

It is probably a different story in Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas or South Carolina but we do not hear the voices of these rural folks on CNN.

Trump won simply because he understood the fears of the average American well. He has continued to play the Islamophobia card because he knows his fearmongering works.

It doesn’t help that most of these refugees want to go to the US or Britain and not the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East. The question remains if these Arab countries are even offering places to the refugees or do the refugees themselves prefer Western secular and democratic values.

Nationalist politicians have already whipped up anger, pointing out that if these Middle East refugees hate Western culture so much and refuse to assimilate, then why should they be let in.

But Trump’s executive order banning the citizens of seven countries from entering the US, supposedly to protect the nation from “radical Islamic terrorists”, is highly questionable, especially its effectiveness.

The president has signed the order temporarily suspending the entry of people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen into the US for at least 90 days.

This is odd because if we wish to identify terrorism acts, then surely there’s a high number of terrorists from Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Why were these countries not on the list?

Obviously, Trump did not want to offend US allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Despite the US’ constant lecture on democracy, we all know these two countries are often “spared”, despite their horrifically poor human rights record because they are strategically important to the US. We also should not forget that at one time, the vital oil supply was from Saudi Arabia.

The fact is that in the past four decades, 3,024 people have been killed by foreign terrorists on US soil.

The reality is that the Sept 11 attacks, perpetrated by citizens of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, account for 98.6% of those deaths – 15 of the 19 Sept 11 hijackers once called Saudi Arabia home.

In fact, over that period, no American has been killed on US soil by anyone from the nations named in the present president’s executive order.

The San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people were killed and 22 injured in 2015 was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, who is of Pakistani descent, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, who grew up in Saudi Arabia.

The Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, where 49 died and 53 were injured last year, was carried out by Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was orchestrated by the Tsarnaev brothers, both of whom were Russian, killing three and injuring several hundred people.

But as the world jumped on Trump, news reports have emerged that Kuwait does the same.

Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghans have reportedly not been able to obtain tourism or trade visas to Kuwait since 2011.

Passport holders from the countries are not allowed to enter the Gulf state while the blanket ban is in place, and have been told not to apply for visas, it has been reported.

Likewise, the ban on citizens from fellow Muslim-majority nations has failed to prevent Kuwait from being targeted in a number of terrorist attacks over the past two years – including the bombing of a mosque in 2015 which left 27 Kuwaitis dead.

Kuwait is the only country in the world to officially bar entry to Syrians, until the US named Syria among the seven countries whose citizens were banned from entering its borders.

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style of leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

There will be homegrown terrorists, including Americans – and even radicals entering the US holding other passports – who plan to carry out their crazy acts.

He has also made the work and lives of career diplomats more difficult with his brazen diplomacy. It came as no surprise that 900 State Department diplomats signed a memo to oppose his ban.

According to CNN, the “memo of dissent” warned that not only will the new immigration policy not keep America safe but it will harm efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

The ban “will not achieve its stated aim of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” the memo reportedly noted.

Trump has actually provided oxygen to the radicals, who will now thump the noses of moderates in Muslim countries.

There should be no surprises if the recalcitrant Trump expands his list of countries whose citizens would be banned from entering the US.

It won’t be wrong to suggest that 2017 will be a Year of Living Dangerously under Trump. Let’s be prepared for the unexpected from him.

Source: On the beat Wong Chun Wai The Star

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The world at a T-junction


Jan 20, 2017, marked the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump. Next week, the Lunar Year of the Monkey ends, ushering in the Year of the Rooster. This is where monkey business ends and the chickens come home to roost.

Trump’s election marks a watershed between the old liberal order and a new populist phase that is clearly a rejection of the old order. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer defined this change as “Goodbye to the West” – a concept that the US was committed to the defence of its allies, mostly Western Europe, Australia and Japan.

Trump has turned the old establishment on its head. Policy is not made by consensus, but by tweets. World thought leader Mohamed El-Erian, whom I had the great fortune to moderate at his keynote address to the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong earlier this week, argued that the world is at a T-junction.

The old order has come to a dead-end. It is not even at the cross-roads, where you have the option of moving forward. At a T-junction, you either move right or move left. Volatility and the range of possibilities have increased, because no one knows which policy and which rule will change with the next tweet.

There is, of course, no difficulty in picking where Trump will move. Indeed, anyone who said Trump is unpredictable is wrong – he is very predictable.

He will do whatever is in his best interest, saying that it is in America’s interest. He will move right, because the populist sentiment has rejected the old leftist liberal order. Our only concern is – how far right will he go? Based upon the inclinations of his appointees so far, it looks pretty far right.

Trump’s election marks a very important juncture in Pax Americana. Two Democratic presidents marked the rise of the present American Exceptionalism – Franklin D Roosevelt (1933-1945) and John F Kennedy (1961-1963). The first brought in the New Deal to get America out of the Great Recession and then won the Second World War, confirming the new American order. The second inaugurated a more inclusive America, ushering global idealism of the American dream, providing aid, trade and culturally, an Age of Camelot.

New deal

Trump’s ascension signals the end of the rule-based era for the public good, with a new era of clear and present self-interest, changing allies and allegiances by the tweet. Allies and foes alike do not know how to react to this new Art of the Deal.

Crossing the river by feeling the stones is possible, when there are still some stones. But crossing the swamp where waters are murky with crocodiles and leeches will be much more complicated.

I was forced to dust off my copy of German historian Oscar Spengler’s Decline of the West, written between 1911 and 1922, to get a sense of how we should think about this era from a long-term historical perspective. Vastly simplifying his magnum opus, Spengler’s thesis is that when parlimentarian politics fail, history tends to replace disorder with great men like Julius Caesar or Napoleon.

Of course, one has to recognise that troubled times do not always get great statesmen, but may get little despots and decadent failures like Caligula or Nero, who eventually bankrupted Rome.

A significant minority of Americans voted for Trump because he argued that he could make America great again. But the irony is not that America is weak, but that America is strong and on the verge of achieving the strongest recovery among the advanced economies.

The perceived weakness comes from the insecurity of a significant majority of the working class that has become disadvantaged, not by globalisation, but by the benign neglect of the Washington/Wall Street elite who favoured themselves at the expense of the working class.

Globalisation has not failed. It is the high priests of globalisation trying to deflect the populist anger against anyone but themselves that created Trump. The same high priests are joining the Trump camp, cheering the markets for the greater suckers.

What are Asians going to do in this Trumpian Reality Show?

First, we need to distinguish the signal from the noise.

All the breast-beating at the Davos World Economic Forum this week was about how the caviar-champagne-forecasters got it all wrong. They were simply too self-congratulatory, self-referential and self-satisfied. They did not do the reality checks of simply looking at what was truly happening – the anger of the masses.

Second, despite the fact that the dollar is strong and will remain strong if Trump gets his economic policies right, the US is still funded by global savings – mostly from Asia. Asia remains the world’s largest and fastest growing region with the highest savings. What we need to do is to channel that savings to Asian markets, even as the US and European banks retreat home.

Third, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was always an empty promise because going forward, technology and moving manufacturing jobs back to the US will not create greater exports for US trading partners.

The Asian global supply chain is changing very fast from all points-to-one market (US) to point-to-point; South-to-South, because with more than half of world population and a growing middle class, the potential for global trade, investment and financial expansion is still in trade between India, China, Indonesia and all the emerging markets of the world.

If the US turns inward under Trump, then Asians need to heed Franklin Roosevelt’s wake-up call at his inauguration, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

Under Trump, we have much to fear, but remember, it’s “his dollar, but our savings”. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis data showed that the US had net foreign liabilities of US$7.8 trillion or 41.8% of GDP at the end of the third quarter 2016. In the Year of the Rooster, this is not chicken-feed.

As America moves to a new T-(for Trump) junction, the choice is not between left or right, but between a Great America or a small-minded America.

Time for Asians to think and act for themselves.

By Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

 

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2017 – expect a bumpy year ahead worldwide


This will be a year like no other, as there will be a thunderous clash of policies, economies and politics worldwide. We should prepare for the challenges ahead and not be only spectators.

THE new year has dawned. Everyone agrees 2017 will be very interesting.

It will also be most problematic. From politics to economics and finance, we’ll be on a roller-coaster ride.

With his extreme views and bulldozing style, President-elect Donald Trump is set to create an upheaval, if not revolution, in the United States and the world.

He is installing an oil company chief as the Secretary of State, investment bankers in key finance positions, climate sceptics and anti-environmentalists in environmental and energy agencies and an extreme rightwing internet media mogul as his chief strategist.

US-China relations, the most im­­por­­tant for global stability, could change from big-power co-existen­ce, with a careful combination of competition and cooperation, to outright crisis.

Trump, through his phone call with the Taiwanese president and after, signalled he could withdraw the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy and instead use Taiwan as a negotiating card in overall relations with China. The Chinese perceive this as an extreme provocation.

He has appointed as head of the new National Trade Council an economist known for his many books demonising China, including Death by China: Confronting the Dragon.

Trump seems intent on doing an about-turn on US trade policies. Measures being considered include a 45% duty on Chinese products, extra duties and taxes on American companies located abroad, and even a 10% tariff on all imports.

Thus 2017 will see protectionism rise in the United States, the extent still unknown. That is bad news for many developing countries whose economies have grown on the back of exports and international investments.

Europe in 2017 will also be pre­occupied with its own regional problems. The Brexit shock of 2016 will continue to reverberate and other countries facing elections will be less open to the world and become more inward-looking.

As protectionism, xenophobia and narrow nationalism grow in Western societies, Asian countries should devise development strategies based more on domestic and regional demand and investments.

2017 may be the year when resource-rich China, with its deve­lopment banks and its Belt and Road Initiative, fills in the economic void created by Western trade and investment protectionism.

But this may not be sufficient to prevent a finance shock in many developing countries now beginning to suffer a reversal of capital flowing back to the United States, attracted by the prospect of higher interest rates and economic growth.

In 2017 Malaysia will be among the countries most vulnerable to this, due to the large foreign ownership of local bonds and shares.

As capital flows out and the currency depreciates further, the affected countries’ companies will have to pay more for servicing loans contracted in foreign currencies and imported machinery and parts, while consumers grumble about the rising cost of living.

On the positive side, exporters will earn more in local currency terms and tourism will increase, but this may not be enough to offset the negative effects.

Thus 2017 will not be kind to the economy, business and the pockets of the common man and woman. It might even spark a new financial crisis.

The old year ended with mixed blessings for Palestinians. On one hand, they won a significant victory when the outgoing President Barack Obama allowed the adoption of a United Nations Security Council re­solution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories by not exercising a veto.

The resolution will spur international actions against the expansion of settlements which have become a big obstacle to peace talks.

On the other hand, the Israeli lea­dership, which responded defiantly with plans for more settlements, will find in Trump a much more sympathetic president. He is appointing a pro-Israel hawk as the US ambassador to Israel.

With Trump also indicating he will tear up the nuclear power deal with Iran, the Middle East will have an even more tumultuous time in 2017.

The commencement of floods in some parts of Malaysia during the holiday season, ironically following days of the taps going dry for millions in the Klang Valley, is a pre­lude to the environment continuing to be a critical issue in 2017.

Unfortunately, low priority is given to the environment. Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated for highways, railways and urban buildings but only a trickle for conservation and rehabilitation of hills, watersheds, forests, mangroves, coastal areas, biodiversity or for serious climate change actions.

2017 should be the year when priorities change, that when people talk about infrastructure or deve­lopment, they put actions to protect and promote the environment as the first items for allocation of funds.

This new year will also be make-or-break for climate change. The momentum for action painfully built up in recent years will find a roadblock in the United States as the new president dismantles Oba­ma-initiated policies and measures.

But Trump and his team will face resistance domestically, including from state governments and muni­cipalities that have their own climate plans, and from other countries determined to carry on without the United States on board.

Indeed, if 2017 will bring big changes initiated by the new US administration, it will also generate many counter-actions to fill in the void left in the world by a withdrawing United States or to counter its new unsettling actions.

There are opportunities to think through and alternatives and re­forms that are needed on global and national economies, on the environment and on geo-­politics.

Most of the main levers of power and decision-making are still in the hands of a few countries and a few people, but there has also been the emergence of many new centres of economic, environmental and intellectual capabilities and community-based organising.

2017 will be a year in which ideas, policies, economies and politics will clash, thunderously, and we should be prepared for the challenges ahead, not just be spectators.

Global Trends By Martin Khor

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

 

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Trump and China’s bumpy ride begins


Trump’s diplomacy
Hot button: Trump’s unpredictability is making him a big topic in China.— AFP

THE rest of the world will have to fasten its seat belts while the current worrying clash of superpowers China and the United States plays itself out. Although the saga of the underwater drone ended peaceably earlier this week, the drama signalled that the competition between the two has entered a new era. With help from the ubiquitous social media, their diplomatic engagement is taking place in real time swiftly, unpredictably and amid considerable tension.

The inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan 20 is expected to see US-China ties transformed into a guarded quasi-friendship requiring day-to-day reassessment. The stability that prevailed during the eight years of the Obama administration is unlikely to survive. Trump is given to knee-jerk reactions and ill-considered grandstanding for the sake of quick gain and publicity, as well as for his brash pursuit of the art of the deal, none of which bodes well for US’ relations with Beijing.

Still a month from taking office, Trump has already endangered his country’s long-standing recognition of the One China Policy by accepting a phone call from Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wan, a breach of protocol adopted after Washington formally recognised communist China in the early 1970s.

President Barack Obama immediately warned that any shift from this policy would have a serious impact on American dealings with Beijing, an important trading partner and backer of the US economy. Aiming to renegotiate extant overseas deals, Trump does not appear to care, and seems ready to test Chinese mettle on every issue.

China’s regional neighbours are aware that the nature of its relationship with the US increasingly depends on Beijing’s dealings with other countries, including the 10 nations of South-East Asia.

The attitude in the Philippines has radically changed. Whereas Manila traditionally regarded the US as the region’s military guardian, current President Rodrigo Duterte- taking umbrage at perceived American slights-has welcomed Chinese overtures. Thanks to Washington’s tendency to overreach in its authority, perceptions elsewhere are not so different.

Thus, its chief justification for wielding influence here to serve as a stopgap against China assertiveness is on the wane.

The Philippines’ abrupt refusal to be a pawn in either of the major powers games is admirable, even if it comes with risks. With sovereign territory in the South China Sea at stake, Duterte is taking a gamble in realigning with Beijing, but if those two countries can settle their differences amicably and equitably, it will have been worthwhile. The other South-East Asian claimants to maritime territories in dispute are sure to follow suit.

During the Trump presidency, more than at any time before, China has a golden opportunity to show the region and the world that it is rational and responsible in its overseas dealings. With goodwill and a commitment to peace and stability, it can take advantage of America’s loss of credibility over the election of a man who is ignorant of foreign affairs and absent in the spirit of international diplomacy. Patriotism and profit alone guide Trump, and nearly half the American electorate stands by him.

Also to be expected is a cautious realignment among the more developed Asian powers particularly Japan, India and South Korea which might pursue greater mutual cooperation as a safeguard against potential American error and affront under Trump.

No one will be surprised, meanwhile, if President Trump cosies up to Russia. While he and Vladimir Putin deny there is any special bond between them, evidence to the contrary has mounted. But using Russia as a foil against China would be detrimental to American financial and geopolitical interests. And, for Asia, while Russian investment is welcome and valued, Moscow has only a modicum of Beijing’s economic clout.

Sources: The Nation/Asia News Network

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Global Reset 2016~2017


In a world facing challenges and uncertainties, embrace opportunities for success through innovation.

“I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it. –Anne Shirley”

THE world is currently at a paradox. Tensions and uncertainty for the future are rising in times of prevailing peace and prosperity. While changes are taking place at an incredibly fast speed, such changes are presenting unprecedented opportunities to those who are willing to innovate.

Recently, most global currencies had weakened against the US dollar (USD). This may give rise to some concern, but it is worth placing in proper perspective that most countries would trade with a few countries instead of just one. Furthermore, we are living in a world with low economic growth, increased mobility and rapid urbanisation.

In such a global landscape, it is important to embrace change and innovation in a courageous way to shape a better future. In L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley said, “I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it.”

Paradox, change and opportunity

In the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017, World Economic Forum head of the centre for the global agenda and member of the managing board Richard Samans stated that at a time of rising income inequality, mounting social and political tensions and a general feeling of uncertainty about the future, growth remains persistently low.

Commodity prices have fallen, as has trade; external imbalances are increasing and government finances are stressed.

However, it also comes during one of the most prosperous and peaceful times in recorded history, with less disease, poverty and violence than ever before. Against this backdrop of seeming contradictions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings both unprecedented opportunity and an accelerated speed of change.

Creating the conditions necessary to reignite growth could not be more urgent. Incentivising innovation is especially important for finding new growth engines, but laying the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth requires working on all factors and institutions identified in the Global Competitiveness Index.

Leveraging the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require not only businesses willing and able to innovate, but also sound institutions, both public and private; basic infrastructure, health and education, macroeconomic stability and well-functioning labour, financial and human capital markets.

World Economic Forum editor Klaus Schwab stated in The Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are at the beginning of a global transformation that is characterised by the convergence of digital, physical and biological technologies in ways that are changing both the world around us and our very idea of what it means to be human. The changes are historic in terms of their size, speed and scope.

This transformation – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – is not defined by any particular set of emerging technologies themselves, but by the transition to new systems that are being built on the infrastructure of the digital revolution. As these individual technologies become ubiquitous, they will fundamentally alter the way we produce, consume, communicate, move, generate energy and interact with one another.

Given the new powers in genetic engineering and neurotechnology, they may directly impact who we are, and how we think and behave. The fundamental and global nature of this revolution also pose new threats related to the disruptions it may cause, affecting labour markets and the future of work, income inequality and geopolitical security, as well as social value systems and ethical frameworks.


A dollar story

When set in a global landscape where there is uncertainty for the future, when compared to other countries, Malaysia’s economy is performing quite well.

ForexTime vice president of market research Jameel Ahmad said, “When you combine what is happening on a global level, the Malaysian economy is in quite an envious position.”

For 2016, the USD has moved to levels not seen in over 12 years. The dollar index is trading above 100. This was previously seen as a psychological top for USD.

The Malaysian ringgit (MYR) is not alone in the devaluation of its currency. All of the emerging market currencies have been affected in recent weeks.

Similarly, the British £(GBP) has lost 30% this year, falling from US$1.50 to US$1.25 per GBP. The Euro (EUR) has fallen from US$1.15 to US$1.05 in three weeks.

The China Yuan Renmenbi (CNY) is hitting repeated historic lows against the USD. The CNY is only down around 5%.

Jameel believes that the outlook for the USD will be further strengthened. While the dollar was already expected to maintain demand due to the consistent nature of US economic data, the levels of fiscal stimulus that US Presidentelect Donald Trump is aiming to deliver to the US economy will encourage borrowing rates to go up.

This means that it is now more likely than ever that the Federal Reserve will need to accelerate its cycle of monetary policy normalisation (interest rate rises).

Most were expecting higher interest rates in 2017. Trump has also publicly encouraged stronger interest rates. However, when considered that Trump is also promising heavy levels of fiscal stimulus, there is a justified need for higher interest rates, otherwise inflation in the United States will be at risk of getting out of control.

The probability for further gains in the USD due to the availability of higher yields from increased interest rates will mean further pressure to the emerging market currencies.

With populism resulting in victories in both the United States’ presidential election and the EU referendum in the United Kingdom in 2016, attention should be given to the real political issues in Europe and the upcoming political elections in 2017, such as those in Germany and France.

Jameel said, “Until recently, political instability was only associated with developing economies. We are now experiencing a strong emergence across the developed markets. This might lure investors towards keeping their capital within the emerging markets longer. Only time will tell.”

In Malaysia’s case, the economy is still performing at robust levels, despite slowing headline growth. Growth rates in Malaysia are still seen as significantly stronger than those in the developed world.

There are going to be challenges from a stronger USD and other risks such as slowing trade, but the emerging markets are still recording stronger growth rates than the developed world.

Adapting to creative destruction

In a world where changes are taking place rapidly, the ability to adapt to changes plays an important role in encouraging innovation and growth. Global cities are achieving rapid growth by attracting the talented, high value workers that all companies, across industries, want to recruit.

In an era where 490 million people around the world reside in countries with negative interest rates, over 60% of the world’s citizens now own a smartphone and an estimated four billion people live in cities, which is an increase of 23% compared to 10 years ago, these three key trends are shaping our times.

Knight Frank head of commercial John Snow and Newmark Grubb Knight Frank president James D. Kuhn shared that the era of low to negative interest rates has reduced investors’ expectations on what constitutes an acceptable return. The financial roller coaster ride that led to this situation has made safe haven assets highly sought after.

A volatile economy has not stopped an avalanche of technological innovation. Smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi and 4G have revolutionised the spread of information, increased our ability to work on the move, and led to a flourishing of entrepreneurship.

Fast-growing cities are taking centre stage in the innovation economy and in most of the global cities, supply is not keeping pace with demand for both commercial and residential real estate.

Consequently, tech and creative firms are increasingly relying upon pre-let deals to accommodate growth, while their young workers struggle to find affordable homes.

As the urban economy becomes increasingly people-centric, regardless of a city being driven by finance, aerospace, commodities, defence or manufacturing, the most important asset is a large pool of educated and creative workers.

Consequently, real estate is increasingly a business that seeks to build an environment that attracts and retains such people.

Knight Frank chief economist and editor of global cities James Roberts said, “We are moving into an era where creative people are a highly prized commodity. Cities will thrive or sink on their ability to attract this key demographic.

“A characteristic of the global economy in the last decade has been the phenomenon of stagnation and indeed decline, occurring alongside innovation and success. If you were invested in the right places and technologies, the last decade has been a great time to make money; yet at the same time, some people have lost fortunes.

“The locations that have performed best in this unpredictable environment have generally hosted the creative and technology industries that lead the digital revolution, and disrupt established markets.” The rise of aeroplanes, automobiles and petroleum created economic booms in the cities that led the tech revolution of the 1920s and 30s. Yet elsewhere, recession descended on locations with the industries that lost market share to those new technologies like ship building, train manufacturing and coal mining.

In a world where abundant economic opportunities in one region live alongside stagnation elsewhere, it is not easy to reconcile the fact that countries that were booming just a few years ago on rising commodity prices are now adapting to slower growth.

Just as surprising are Western cities that are now thriving as innovation centres, when they were dismissed as busted flushes in 2009 due to their high exposure to financial centres.

Roberts said, “This is creative destruction at work in the modern context. The important lesson for today’s property investor or occupier of business space, is to ensure you are on-the ground where the ‘creation’ is occurring and have limited exposure to the ‘destruction’. This is not easy, as the pace of technological change is accelerating at a speed where the old finds itself overtaken by the new.

“However, real estate in the global cities arguably offers a hedged bet against this uncertainty due to the nature of the modern urban economy, where those facing destruction, quickly reposition towards the next wave of creation.”

The industries that drive the modern global city are not dependent upon machinery or commodities but people, who deliver economic flexibility.

A locomotive plant cannot easily retool to make electric cars, raising a shortcoming of the single industry factory town. Similarly, an oil field in Venezuela has limited value for any other commercial activity.

However, a modern office building in a global city like Paris can quickly move from accommodating bankers in rows of desks to techies in flexible work space. Therefore, there is adaptability in the people in a service economy city which is matched by the city’s real estate.

In the people-driven global cities, a new industry can redeploy the ‘infantry’ from a fading industry via recruitment. Similarly, the professional and business service companies that served the banks, now serve a new clientele of digital firms.

In contrast, manufacturing or commodity-driven economies face greater barriers when reinventing themselves.

Today, landlords across the world struggle with how to judge the covenants of firms who have not been in existence long enough to have three years of accounts, but are clearly the future.

Consequently, both landlord and tenant need to approach real estate deals with flexibility. Landlords will need to give ground on lease term and financial track record, and occupiers must compensate the landlord for the increased risk via a higher rent.

Another big challenge for the Western global cities will be competition from emerging market cities that succeed in repositioning themselves away from manufacturing, and towards creative services. The process has started, with Shanghai now seeing a rapid expansion of its tech and creative industries.

The big Western centres still lead in services, but the challenge from emerging markets cities did not end with the commodities rout. They are just experiencing creative destruction and will emerge stronger to present a new challenge to the West.

From Mak Kum Shi The Star/ANN
 

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