An Open China

The long-awaited move has come. Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked the nation’s top political body to amend the “Basic Law” or constitution to allow him to stay for a third five-year term.

The wave of protests in response was anticipated, but still extraordinary. It is China, after all, and the authoritarian government does not allow protests – except when it does. Xi’s action has setup a showdown of sorts in a nation which has experienced more cultural turmoil than perhaps any other and still retained a Confucian sense of order.

But can that last, or is this the start of something different?

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China, Standing Up

Nothing causes anxiety in America quite like China. The rise of this nation is perceived as our greatest threat in many critical places the US is used to dominating – economic power, military might, and technological leadership. It’s not a question of where China is today as much where it might be if the growth keeps up.

Yet for all of this, Richard Nixon’s observation in 1972 remains true – “China is not a threat.” To understand why it’s best to turn not to the policies and pronouncements of politicians but to popular culture. This is ultimate gauge of the most important resource of China and every other nation, the people.

On the surface, the huge summer hit “Wolf Warrior 2” may seem like everything we have to fear. Yet it shows exactly how China’s self identity and culture are evolving as much as their economy.

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Xi on the Brink

Elections in a large nation are always a time for musing about the future direction of the nation. This is especially true in China for the simple reason that they don’t have elections. The 19th Communist Party Congress will convene for a week starting on 18 October, determining who will run the largest country on earth for the next five years.

China is a true republic, meaning that the outgoing leadership picks the new leadership – independent of the wishes of the vast majority of population. It’s not exactly a dictatorship in that no one person or faction has complete control, at least not since Mao Zedong died in 1976. That may change as Premier Xi Jinping is poised for a dramatic consolidation of power.

Much has been and will be written about it. Like the Communist Party of China (CPC) itself, the articles are dense and almost impossible to understand without a lot of background material. Here is an attempt at a quick guide.

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How About That Economy?

With all the noise after the election, it’s been a while since we checked in on the state of the economy. There’s a reason for that. Will the election results change what has been a slow but steady march to a strong economy? Will 2017 still be the year when we look around and realize that everything has changed?

It seems that, so far, it’s all still marching along. There is a good chance that jobs and general growth will indeed strengthen, making Trump look like a genius. Last Friday’s employment situation survey showed that it is still moving forward – and combined with a strong holiday season there is at least some reason to cheer as a dreary 2016 starts to fade into what promises to be a crazy 2017.

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Spatters of Dragon Blood

The “Panama Papers” were a delight for conspiracy theorists, who have long contended that the global monetary system is fundamentally corrupt and that world leaders are skimming huge amounts of money off the top of it. They are, of course, correct.

But lost in the salacious details of the story has been the real business of Mossack Fonseca, which is moving money out of China. We’ve covered this story before when the official estimates were that half a trillion left China last year alone. That number, it turns out, was off by at least as much again – and possibly much more.

At least a trillion dollars left China last year through a wide variety of creative means. Mossack Fonseca’s offices in Hong Kong handle a third of their total business, moving money around the globe through over 60k shell companies at an incredible pace. How much? That’s the multi-trillion dollar question.

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Trade Deals – Bad Deals?

Through this populist uprising standing in for an election, one issue unites all the candidates that are left. Sanders was always against free trade agreements, like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Clinton is too, at least now she is. Cruz doesn’t seem to have much time for them, and after years of talking both ways Trump is now firmly against these “bad deals”.

It’s not about TPP or any new trade pacts, either – it’s about (supposed) horrors of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and our current deal with China.

Going over the past is a way to pin down the establishment, which is to say Clinton. But Trump, at least, once to re-negotiate the old deals and turn them back. Was free trade such a bad deal for the US? Is it worth going over old ground?

For all the noise on this issue this year it’s actually not a good issue outside of its value as a populist rallying cry.

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No More Games

With the Superbowl done, the nation settles in to the depths of Winter. This has been a hard time of year for many reason, not just the sudden end of football. The last few years have been harder to take than what the Panther fans are feeling about now.

This year? It may yet be worse, according to prognosticators. Then again, the worst may be over. Let’s update last year’s big stories to see how this year is coming along to see if there’s reason to hope.

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