HONG KONG: A FIGHT AGAINST SUBORDINATION

The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

Sanjana Dhar, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Hong Kongers are known for mass protests whenever they have been pushed to a corner by their government. The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, or the Extradition law of Hong Kong has garnered widespread attention. The proposed law deals with the extradition of fugitives from Hong Kong to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. It was initiated by Carrie Lam in February 2019 and the motivation for it was due to a murder case, where a man from Hong Kong murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and fled back home. Extradition requests made by Taiwanese officials could not be carried forward due to the absence of an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Carrie Lam proposed this law in the hopes of filling a “legal loophole” because without a prior treaty in place, extradition cannot be carried out. With the formulation of a new extradition treaty, criminals cannot evade punishments for crimes committed in a different country.

The present situation of mass protests in Hong Kong is driven by the fact that the extradition law will give Beijing more leeway in matters of suppressing democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. Central authorities could arbitrarily arrest individuals who oppose their authority and bring them to justice under the opaque and politicised judicial system in the mainland. This is in contrast with the judicial system in Hong Kong, which is guided by rule of law. Beijing’s overbearing involvement in Hong Kong is in contradiction to the “one country, two systems” policy, which allows Hong Kong to maintain its partial democracy and free market within the territory of China. Fear of erosion of this policy has shaken the minds of the public and they are choosing to express this fear in the form of fierce protests.

Amidst popular discontent for the law, Carrie Lam initially had a strong position and vouched that the proposed law would in no way compromise human rights principles of Hong Kong. The final say in the granting of extradition requests would rest with Hong Kong and religious and political matters would be kept out of the purview. Yet, growing public dissatisfaction against the bill has undermined her image and created demands for her resignation.

The mass protests of 9 and 12 June is evidence of the dissatisfaction among Hong Kong citizens with the turn of events. It is testimony that Hong Kongers are ready for what has been touted as the “last fight” for safeguarding their democracy and freedom.

The protests on 12 June gave the people a temporary relief as the second round of discussions of the bill was cancelled due to blockades by protesters near the government headquarters. However, the protests took an unprecedented turn as the police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at the protesters. Media outlets have dubbed it as violence which has never been witnessed in the history of Hong Kong and the police force is being held accountable by the public for such a blatant act. Rising protests after such violence has forced Carrie Lam to suspend discussions on the law indefinitely. Her apology for the negligence on her part in involving the opinions of the society in making the law and expediting the passing of the law at the cost of peace in Hong Kong has brought temporary relief, but the people do not intend to stop until the bill is entirely withdrawn.

Undoubtedly, these events have drawn the attention of the international community. Leaders all over the world have come out in support of the anti-extradition protests and voiced their concerns of Hong Kong transforming into an illiberal region, not suitable for its once reputed liberal, market oriented society. Multiple rallies have taken place worldwide in support of the protesters. Hong Kongers have also urged foreign leaders to discuss the situation in the G-20 Summit and back demands of withdrawal of the bill.

China is at the center of this issue, although its direct involvement in the matter is not clear. Regardless, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang initially came out in full support of the administration in Hong Kong. Beijing believed the involvement of “foreign forces” was aggravating the situation and filling the public with animosity towards the law, which would not jeopardise the rule of law and justice in Hong Kong. But Beijing has now backtracked and is in support of the suspension of the bill.

The shift in Beijing’s stance reflects the precarious condition China is presently in, due to the trade war with the USA and the slowing economy. Can Xi Jinping afford to counter the situation in Hong Kong through force and add another tragedy in China’s history or could the protests in Hong Kong further attenuate Beijing’s vulnerabilities, are some of the questions which are yet to be answered. But at the moment, Hong Kongers seem to have gotten the better of Beijing.

The black clad protests of 16 June of nearly two million people sent a strong message to the administration over the people’s demands of complete withdrawal of the bill. Protesters won’t be satisfied only with the suspension of the bill because they speculate the administration will bring back discussions once the protesters have calmed down.

The situation in Hong Kong demonstrates the resolution of the protesters and their concerns about erosion of the “one country two systems” and its eventual merging with the system present in mainland China. Fierce resistance of the people is not just against the extradition law, but this upheaval is critical for Hong Kongers to safeguard their prized rights and freedoms in the face of arbitrariness and subordination from Beijing.

Agricultural Industry amidst the 2018 US-China Trade War

This article discusses the current scenario of the two markets, with a particular focus on soybeans and associated businesses.

VIDUSHI R SINGH, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

The US-China trade war of 2018 began with tariffs being imposed on core sectors, such as industry inputs (steel, aluminium tariffs by the US) and agriculture (grain and seed tariffs by China). These attacks on primary industries have led to huge outcries on both sides, with several calls for the hurrying up of ongoing trade negotiations so that the political agendas of the leaders do not hurt the ordinary people.

This article discusses the current scenario of the two markets, with a particular focus on soybeans and associated businesses. Both countries have faced losses and market instability as a result of tariffs being put on agricultural commodities this manoeuvre, but while neither of the countries have ‘won’ in this particular sector, China seems to have incurred a lesser loss than the US.

US Agricultural Industry

The first round of the trade war saw China putting a 25 per cent retaliatory tariff on several US goods. One of the most critical commodities in the Chinese list was soybean – produced in regions that were majority supporters of Trump in 2016. The cleverly targeted tariffs have wreaked havoc on the US soybean market, with prices falling by over 13.4 per cent (based on the author’s calculations and data from United States Department of Agriculture) since May 2018. The fall in prices has further been caused by an approximate 78.6 per cent fall in demand from Chinese importers as of April 2019, based on a year on year comparison. The trade negotiations between President Trump and President Xi have included promises by the Chinese government regarding buying of over 5 million tonnes of soybean from the US, but no deadline has been set. It is possible that the unreliability of the US as a supplier of essential commodities to China has encouraged the Chinese populace to look for substitutes elsewhere, and US farmers are unlikely to have the same access to the Chinese market as they once enjoyed. As of now, there has been an almost complete crowding out of US soybean from the Chinese market, due to its inability to compete with local and Brazilian substitutes on prices. If the Chinese tariffs stay in place, the USDA projections have concluded that US soybean exports will not be able to reach pre-trade war levels even by 2024.

Another factor creating problems for the US agriculture industry is the increased costs of farm equipment and machinery. The tariffs on steel and aluminium imposed by Trump have led to a rise in the production costs of farm machinery. This, combined with the low expectations farmers have for the coming planting seasons, has resulted in a situation where farmer bankruptcies are on the rise, and US agricultural trade surplus has hit an unprecedented low, the lowest it has been since 2007. The plantation of soybean has fallen by 5 per cent in the last one year and is anticipated to reduce further, as farmers move away from soybean to other, more profitable crops. While the US Department of Agriculture has promised aid to farmers adding up to USD 12 billion, they have also asserted that this will only be a one-time assistance to help farmers regain control of farm operations.

Chinese Agricultural Industry

As for the Chinese side of the agriculture industry, the scenario seems to be mixed, as opposed to the blatantly negative situation that the US agricultural industry is facing.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council unveiled its Number 1 Agricultural Document on 19 February 2019. The document focused on agricultural and rural issues and outlined policy goals for 2019 and 2020. Its focus on the “profound changes in the external environment” and ways to mitigate the same highlights China’s wariness with regards to the rising tensions in the trade war. This announcement falls in line with China’s 2015 mission to achieve absolute food security by balancing production and environmental concerns. While the agricultural reforms and the shift to the household responsibility system have helped increase productivity of land, China’s reliability on foreign markets for soybean has become a cause of concern, bringing down the agricultural trade balance, which would otherwise have been positive.

The government has, however, acted commendably fast in the past year to shift all soybean imports from the US to Brazil, which has allowed Chinese consumers some protection from the increased prices of US soybean. This has been followed by government encouragement of increased domestic production of soybean and other feed grains. However, the lower profitability of cultivation of soybean over rice or wheat has created a new need for subsidy and minimum procurement schemes.

Another factor cushioning Chinese soybean market has been the outbreak of African swine fever in various parts of the country since August 2018. The hog population in China has fallen by an estimated 13 per cent, and this has created a consequential fall in demand for feed grains and seeds. Since swine feed in China is 20 per cent composed of soybeans, this fall in demand has allowed for market prices to stabilize at a lower level than previously anticipated.

These steps have also been accompanied by reduced quality restrictions on imports and increased incentivisation for agricultural investment, as announced in the latest Number 1 document. So while there has been an undeniable fall in supply and increased uncertainty in the market, the government’s response has been able to prevent the need for total abstention from the consumption of soybean and several other vital parts of people’s diets as well as livestock feed.

Conclusion

The attempts by the two countries to regain equilibrium in their respective agricultural markets have provided some comfort to the consumers and producers of the tariffed products. The Chinese government, however, seems to have leveraged its position better to create changes very quickly to shield its populace from the worst impacts of the trade war. The US government, on the other hand, has only implemented superficial steps to manage the impact of the trade war in its borders, instead choosing to leave the outcome to market forces.

Irrespective of these safeguarding attempts by the governments, the agricultural markets in both countries are doing worse than previous financial years. Falling demands and accumulating stocks have created an imbalance in the global market. In the absence of intervention, this may result in an economic crash, as US farmers find themselves unable to repay loans and Chinese livestock producers fall short of sufficiently nutritious feed. Relaxing quality controls and giving out aids are sure to help in the short run; however, given the inconsistencies in the market, long-term solutions are necessary.

The State of China’s Automobile Sector

Amidst the uncertainty regarding the trade war’s impact on Chinese industry, the automobile sector in China will remain profitable

Bhavana Giri, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

Photo: Visual China

Automobile sector in China is the largest in the world when measured by the number of units produced. Apart from domestic production, people’s demands for all kinds of vehicles in China are met by Joint Ventures (JV). For a foreign company to establish a JV, it is required to enter into a 50-50 partnership with a Chinese company in order to start production in China; a similar arrangement is required for foreign companies to export automobiles to China.

Automobiles from the US are one of the most significant exports to China, ranking just behind aircraft and agricultural output. With a trade value of more than $10 billion, this sector is of great significance to the ongoing trade war. Currently, the automobile sector in China is witnessing a downfall in output growth when taken as whole which is driven by a drop in the production of gasoline based automobiles. However, in the long run, China’s drive to lead in global production of new energy vehicles (NEVs) is slated to offset this downturn, even if the trade war continues. Additionally, the upper hand China has in the automobile joint ventures will also help to recover from the downfall. In contrast, the resilience of China’s NEV sector will adversely impact the competitiveness of its American counterpart.

Demand side conditions are highly favourable and will continue to be so. Three decades ago bicycles were the most popular mode of transport in China and most cars needed to be imported. Today, however, Chinese car makers are producing more cars than any other country in absolute terms. As can be seen from the data, the production of automobile in China increased from 9 million units in 2007 to 23 million in 2018. To be sure, economic conditions are currently turbulent in China.

Observers predict that China’s GDP will decelerate in the near future and its leaders have urged precaution in this regard. The automobile sector, however is poised to remain buoyant, despite macroeconomic woes. The Chinese government intends to prioritise the preservation of automobile demand and supply by providing subsidies and exempting consumers from purchase tax on electric vehicles. These subsidies will ensure that there will be no significant shock to the automobile sector.

China has become the biggest giant in the production of electric cars and bikes. With Domestic Value Addition (DVA) of more than 80 per cent, and a strong grip over the production of essential inputs such as batteries, the sector enjoys a substantially strong footing. Recent falls in automobile stock prices should not obscure this fact.

To the rest of the world, it may appear that China has struggled to make progress in automobile manufacturing. However, the situation has changed drastically with recent developments. China now possesses massive potential for substituting imported automobiles with electric vehicles. With trade talks in a state of disarray and the heightened possibility that China will reapply auto tariffs, it is also likely that automakers will be incentivised further to produce in China. With the exception of the luxury segment, which is less easily substituted, China’s automobile sector is likely to withstand the headwinds it currently faces. Moreover, with the Chinese government establishing stricter norms for controlling carbon emissions and attempting to reduce pollution in cities, the scope for domestic companies to defeat automobile giants such as Toyota, BMW, etc has escalated. The Chinese government is also granting special manufacturing permits to companies which are working to develop NEVs.

The electric vehicle world sales database shows that in 2018, 2.1 million units of electric vehicles were sold which is almost 64 per cent higher than that of 2017. China has advanced its position in this particular segment and has a share of almost 56 per cent of the total sales. Although companies like Tesla, Toyota, etc. are also developing electric vehicles they lack the cost advantage China has, and are, thus unable to capture the market. Several subsidies and tax cuts provided on purchases of electric vehicles further boost demand in the highly populated cities of China. This is illustrated by the fact that profits for BYD jumped 632 per cent jump in 2019. On the other hand Tesla, which is exporting to China in an increasingly hostile trade environment, lost nearly $700 million in the first quarter in 2019, despite robust demand.

Another factor that will support China’s automobile sector is technology transfer. Most automobile production in China happens by way of Joint Ventures (JV) between Chinese and foreign companies, which allows local companies to acquire know-how. The Chinese have also acquired automobile technology by heavily investing in foreign-based automobile companies. Therefore, China’s automobile sector is unlikely to reel in the long-run. Moreover, China is less dependent on foreign value addition than it used to be – its contribution to processing and non-processing value addition process in the production of automobiles is uninterruptedly increasing.

The optimism expressed above does not apply to the American automobile industry, however. To a large extent, US-based automobile companies are dependent on revenues from the Chinese market that their JVs enjoy and are, thus, highly vulnerable to disruptions in bilateral relationship between two nations. For example, automobile giant BMW, is not introducing a new model because of the environment of uncertainty created by the trade war. US automobile companies are experiencing sluggish production while on the other hand Chinese NEV start-ups and companies are scaling up their production.

Unlike others, the automobile sector in China will likely remain profitable irrespective of ongoing trade contestations and tensions, due to the Chinese government’s encouragement to develop NEVs. China’s NEV companies are poised to emerge as leaders in markets all around the world, as they race ahead their counterparts from the US, Japan, and Germany.

China, Global Capitalism and the Future World Order

How reflections on Marxism, history and contemporary politics envision the future of the capitalist world order.

Vidushi R Singh, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

The reform and opening up of China in 1978 paved the way for the transformation of China from a planned to a socialist market economy. The decision to open up the economy was criticized by many leftist academics and economists. The reforms led to major disagreements between the government and the bourgeois elites.

Today, under Xi Jinping’s rule, the CPC is debating the direction of growth which China should continue pursuing. In light of the US-China trade war, the calls for China to become a true market economy have reached a crescendo. Despite that, the rest of the world is shifting away from free market operations towards protectionism, with the Nordic model[1] of state-market balancing gaining immense appreciation. At a time like this, Lin Chun’s book, China and Global Capitalism: Reflections on Marxism, History and Contemporary Politics,[2] provides a critical perspective on how one can interpret the changing global scenario while considering the domestic realities of China.

The main thesis of the book questions the sustainability and moral desirability of capitalism in China and the world with regard to the evolving world order. Lin Chun attempts to decipher the past and present of the global capitalist order and its interactions with China, with a continuous call for China to revert to the pre-reform era. She ends the book by predicting the eventual and inevitable transformation of the global order into a ‘moral socialist economy’ (p. 152) with China as the leader.

Chun divides the book into three sections – a history of China and the global capitalist ideology, the present interplay between the two, and her predictions regarding the future of the world socioeconomic order.

In the first section, she emphasizes the dynamic nature of China, claiming that this has resulted in a secular, independent and socialist state with a commitment to the centrality of the people (p. 8). Chun also goes on to vehemently refute the Marxist claim of Asian societies being passive and as awaiting capitalist integration, claiming that this idea creates a tendency to ignore all possibilities of progress via other non-capitalist socio-economic models.

In the next section, Lin Chun discusses China’s shift from being a socialist bastion to a capitalist economy, and how it has impacted the nation and its people. She claims that the changing face of Chinese socialism has undermined the improvements that the socialist revolution had brought about, with the new reforms being the key drivers of this ‘peaceful evolution’ towards capitalist integration (p. 56). The fading boons of socialism, in her perspective, have created financial and structural deficiencies in the Chinese state, and have led to China becoming a vital part of the global ‘race to the bottom’[3] (p. 61). Her commentaries on the revolution carry a strong rosy note that seems to ignore the bleaker sides of the revolution and only focus on the positives. She attributes the current welfare and labour issues in China to the monopolization of decision making power in the country. This ‘proletarianization’[4] of the population, she declares, is against the Chinese vision and creates a need for ‘regime legitimization’ by the government by returning to its social commitments as stated in the Chinese constitution (p. 66-69). Throughout her narrative, there is a call for China to return to the pre-reform era. However, the author’s call to undo reforms in China trivializes several important arguments she makes against capitalism by taking away focus from them and pinning it to an impossible aspiration. It is not only impractical for China to undo years’ worth of reforms but also undesirable – it is because of the reforms that China has been able to capture the global power it enjoys today, and for a country that is highly dependent on trade, closing borders would be unreasonable.

On the topic of the existence and the need for a ‘Chinese model’ (p. 81), Lin Chun claims that any model that the government chooses to adopt will serve Chinese interests if it fulfills four prerequisites: a robust socialist state, a resourceful public sector, a focus on collective growth and development, and voluntary social organization, participation and power. She advocates the adoption of a sustainable approach to progress where urbanization, modernization and privatization are not standardized measures of development and instead there is a focus on achieving Minsheng.[5] She ends this section by asserting that the Chinese goal is ‘capitalization without proletarianization’ (p. 156) and the only way to achieve that is by creating a balance between the industrial and agricultural resources in the country, and by focusing on the ‘local’ needs of the people.

The last section of the book delves into the future she envisions for China and the world order. She declares that growing global sensitivity to human rights and ecological sustainability will inevitably result in an anti-capitalist world order. She highlights the insufficiency of the current Eurocentric worldview as a measure of development and holds the ‘moral socialist economy’ as a likely end to the global fight over socioeconomic models of growth. She ends with a call for China to reclaim its place as the leader of the global economic order.

Overall, the book comes across as intensely deterministic and ignores several shortfalls of socialism and the Chinese state. It also overemphasizes the perceived negatives of capitalism. Lin Chun has written a book with a coloured understanding of the socioeconomic models it talks about, and there is a unique sense of Chinese exceptionalism throughout the book. The flow of the arguments highlight Chun’s own New Left ideology[6] and robs the readers of a chance to formulate their own opinions. The chapters appear to be individual essays, with little logical linkages.

However, one attractive characteristic of the book is its use of Marxism and the dependency theory to formulate arguments for socialism. The book follows a clear theme about the origin, cost and durability of the Chinese model of development. The author attempts to relate China’s growth with the long term global trends and pushes for the adoption of a perspective of social justice and political righteousness instead of generic economic indicators as measures of progress. So, while the book has a biased narrative, it does develop a new understanding about measuring progress and creating new modes of development by focusing on value creation over accumulation.

However, being written in 2013, Lin Chun’s predictions of an anti-capitalist world order appear to be far from realization today. While the world does seem to be shying away from the snowballing externalities of capitalism, it is no closer to demanding a socialist revolution than it was when the book first came out. In this respect, the author seems to have missed the mark, being overly embroiled in her ideological aspirations, to objectively analyze the possibility of a change in the world order. Despite its shortcomings, the book comes out as a commendable assessment of the logic and crises of capitalist integration and raises crucial questions about how the global economy will address them in the coming years.

End notes:

[1] ‘The Nordic model encompasses a mutually supportive interaction of risk sharing and globalization. It is marked by a large welfare state, a particular set of labour market institutions and a high rate of investment in human capital’ in Andersen, T., Vartiainen, J., Tson Söderström, H., Holmström, B., Honkapohja, S., & Korkman, S. (2007). The Nordic Model: Embracing Globalisation and Sharing Risks. Yliopistopaino, Helsinki: Taloustieto Oy.

[2] The book was published on December 2013 by Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 978-1-137-30125-3

[3] For the author, ‘race to the bottom’ signifies the socio-economic phenomenon of countries exploiting labour and capital to reduce costs as much as possible, in an attempt to retain competitiveness in an increasingly unified global market.

[4] A Dictionary of Sociology, 1998. “In Marxism, proletarianization is the social process through which individuals from the middle class become absorbed into the working class as wage labourers, and producers are separated from the means of production through coercive and persuasive means”.

[5] Ancient Chinese principle of popular wellbeing, and development as freedom (p. 99-104).

[6] This claim is based on Chun’s participation as a writer for New Left Review, and her book ‘The British New Left’.

SME Financing: The need for Concrete Reforms in China’s Financial Sector

“As China plans loan boost for small companies, technology firms could be the answer”

The annual meeting of China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC) came to an end on 15 March 2019 with Premier Li Keqiang expressing commitment towards several reforms in China’s banking and financial sector. Apropos the reforms, the large state-owned commercial banks have been instructed to increase their lending by 30 per cent to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Economists, analysts and bankers remain sceptical however, owing to the vague character of the declarations. Detailed and clarified reforms are required in order to encourage truly productive lending.

At present, there are 38.82 million MSMEs in China. MSMEs in China are defined as firms with less than 300 employees, an average revenue of RMB 30 million and RMB 40 million in assets. Market liberalisation and reform policies in various sectors and industries have been beneficial for MSMEs. MSMEs have emerged as a crucial component of China’s economy as they account for 75 per cent of total jobs, alleviate poverty and facilitate rural development. However, vulnerabilities remain due to poor execution of reforms.

For example, reforms have been inadequate with respect to the property rights of the SMEs, leading to the discouragement of private investors. Investors face problems in administrative procedures like taxation due to vague definitions. In particular, firms find it difficult to predict the level of tax they will face owing to the ambiguity regarding whether they qualify as a state-owned or collective owned enterprise. Raising lending targets of banks without addressing this ambiguity, therefore, is not adequate to empower MSMEs.

While the Chinese government expects total loans made to MSMEs to increase by RMB 300 billion on account of the raised lending requirements, this may not materialise due to lack of clarity in the NPC report. Although it instructs banks to lend to “small companies,” it is uncertain whether this term is defined the same as MSMEs or whether it refers to a subset of these. These will exacerbate existing confusions – only 63.1 per cent of the total SMEs in China applied for loans from the institutions as of 2018. Moreover, the creation of too many administrative stages in lending procedures for Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs) has made the entire affair more time-consuming.

Nor has the recently expressed reform commitment adequately addressed shortcomings in the Credit Guarantee System (CGS) – an institutionalised service offered by specialised agencies that help SMEs obtain loans from non-banking financial institutions. The CGS is intended to solve the problem of high financing cost for SMEs, reducing the bank’s management and operational risks, while developing the credit rating agency market in the country. It suffers from notable shortfalls that are in need of resolution. Firstly, the seven thousand credit guarantee subsidiaries that currently exist are still not catering to the problem of asymmetric information between the banks and enterprises. Enterprises are not adequately aware of collateral management, ways of repaying previous loans and other finance related technical details (like credit score) that the banks can mentor to the SMEs.

Secondly, there are no specific changes in the collateral requirements by the government, which is of significant concern for the banks. Even though the CGS Policy is well defined in official papers, it is not very efficient at the grass root level as the bank managers are still reluctant to invest in SMEs. This is also owing to the rising non-performing loan ratio – banks are, thus, resorting to fulfilling their annual loan targets by lending largely to small State-owned enterprises (SOEs) on the grounds that the state guarantees repayment. For example, the famous InnoFund government program that supports R&D activities does not fund the MSMEs at opening stages as the preference is for state-backed companies.

Chinese Steel Industry: How Did the World’s Largest Steel Producer Protect Itself from Global Slowdown and a Trade War?

The US-China trade war and rising environmental concerns have led to a slowdown in global infrastructural projects in 2018. The objective of this short piece is to understand the impact of these global phenomena on the Chinese steel industry.

Vidushi R Singh, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

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How Did the World’s Largest Steel Producer Protect Itself from Global Slowdown and a Trade War?

China has been the world leader in steel production since 2008, with about half of the total world steel exports originating in China. The US-China trade war and rising environmental concerns have led to a slowdown in global infrastructural projects in 2018. The objective of this short piece is to understand the impact of these global phenomena on the Chinese steel industry.

Economic logic follows that excess supply and reduced demand, as have been observed in recent times, would lead to falling prices. The inelasticity of supply should have meant low prices for the Chinese steel market. As can be observed in the following graph, prices dipped following the first steel tariff announcement from the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) office on 1 March 2018. However, while prices did fall, they also rebounded much sooner than initially predicted. This trend can also be observed in the graph, with prices rising back up April 2018 onwards. However, the prices crashed again in November 2018, due to falling demand in downstream sectors, such as infrastructure and manufacturing industries, as a speculative response to rising tariffs between the US and China. Chinese steel manufacturers also registered losses for the first time in the last three years, in November 2018. Despite this, the Chinese steel economy remained largely immune to economic shocks.

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Source: Trading Economics

The Chinese conduit to coming out unscathed lies in the supply side reforms, initiated by the government in 2015. The end of the Chinese construction boom in 2014 had instigated the government to carry out reforms to cut down on steel production. As the growth rate of the construction industry fell from 10% in 2014 to just 2% in 2015, steel production was reigned in, with the growth rate actually falling to a negative value in 2015 (National Bureau of Statistics of China). The government decided to intervene at this point so as to ensure the survival of the steel industry and avoid mass layoffs that would have resulted from a slowdown in the industry. The goal decided in 2015 was to reduce capacity by 45 million tonnes, a target that was attained by the latter half of 2017, much before the set deadline of 2020.

Thus, when the demand growth rate fell, the Chinese steel industry had already moved on to capacity optimization and did not face grave overutilization. This allowed for the industry to shift supply rapidly, and safeguard itself from future tariffs as well. This success of the Chinese steel industry is evident in the fact that since 1 January 2019, Chinese steel prices have increased consistently. The shift from high-grade iron ore to lower grades has also allowed manufacturers to increase margins by cutting costs.

One interesting factor in this situation is the ability of the Chinese steel manufacturers to divert inventory to Chinese infrastructural projects under the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative and the Belt and Road initiative. While it is hard to ascertain the exact amount of steel inventory being fed into these initiatives, they do provide the steel industry with a reliable sink to use up inventory, while cutting down on any overutilization, thus stabilizing prices in the short run. The government’s plans to expand on infrastructure development in the coming years also provides support to investor speculations and have played a role in stabilizing the Chinese steel economy.

The 25 per cent tariffs imposed on steel imports by President Trump, thus, fall short of having a real impact on the Chinese steel industry, in part due to China’s relatively unimportant position in US steel imports (China is the 25th largest exporter of steel to the USA), and in part because of the foresight of the Chinese government.

So while the Chinese steel industry did face multiple shocks over the course of the 2018 trade war and global infrastructural slowdown, the government’s preemptive measures of securing a strategic sector allowed it to come out of the tussle relatively unharmed. While the opacity of government and industrial operations make it tough to analyze the situation in greater depth, one can say that the Chinese steel industry has been able to cope with the changing world geopolitical scenario with ease.

Hanoi Summit: Limitation of ‘All for None’ Approach

The Hanoi Summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea on 27 and 28
February 2019 ended without any deal or joint declaration.

Sandip Kumar Mishra, Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

hanoi

The Hanoi Summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea on 27 and 28 February 2019 ended without any deal or joint declaration. This is unfortunate given that the US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had managed to at least bring out a joint declaration during their Singapore summit in June 2018. Although Trump left Hanoi after making many positive statements about Kim Jong-un and North Korea, North Korean official statement, which was released on late night of 28 February was sharper.

While Donald Trump’s press conference that was held in the immediate aftermath of the summit, attempted to convey that everything is not lost and there is still hope, North Korean statement was more accusatory and uncompromising. According to Trump, the US wanted North Korea ‘to do more’ but North Korea ‘was unprepared to do that’. In his interpretation of the North Korean position, Trump shared that North Korea wanted full reversal of the sanctions, which the US considered premature. However, he was still ‘optimistic’ and added that the US and North Korean visions were ‘a lot closer than it was a year back’. He announced the two countries would keep their relationship and especially since Kim Jong-un had assured him that regardless of anything, North Korea would not have rocket and nuclear tests. For Trump, the time was not appropriate for signing a deal currently, though he expressed that signing of a ‘deal is a process and it’s moving along’.

North Korea’s initial statement said that it had asked for only partial lifting of sanctions (only five which were brought in 2016 and 2017 out of overall 11 sanctions), which contradicted with the US claim that North Korea asked for the removal of all sanctions. Actually, North Korea had demanded for a step-by-step approach given the limited trust between the two countries and for the same reason had not put out its full list of demands at the Hanoi summit. North Korea considers removal of all sanctions and non-aggression guarantee as encompassing its full set of demands to the US. Hence, it stated that that even if only partial concession would have been agreed by the US, it was ready to ‘permanently and completely dismantle all of the nuclear production facilities in the Yongbyon area… in the presence of US experts’. It further agreed to commit to ‘permanent halt of nuclear testing and long-range rocket launch testing’ in return for the partial lifting of sanctions.

The US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun had stated in a conference on 11 March 2019 that the US was ‘not going to do (North Korea’s) denuclearization incrementally’. According to him, North Korea offered to eliminate part of its nuclear programme and in exchange asked for the lifting of ‘basically all’ of the international sanctions and it was not possible for the US to accept such a deal. North Korean version says that when the US demanded to ‘take one more step beside(s) the dismantlement of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, it realized that the ‘US was not ready to accept our (its) proposal’.

A careful reading of various statements of the US and North Korea suggests that both the parties were asking for more and ready to give less to each other. Moreover, the US considered that even partial lifting of the sanctions might dilute the pressure from North Korea and thus, until full denuclearization of North Korea is not on the table, the easing of sanctions could be a bad strategy. Thus, the US was ready to compensate North Korea’s Yongbyon plus alpha offer by establishing liaison offices in each other’s capitals and having a peace declaration but not to ease sanctions.

For North Korea, without lifting some sanctions, all other American officers are insignificant and useless at this point. North Korea felt that at ‘the existing level of trust between the US and North Korea, there could not be a better agreement proposal’ which is incremental in nature.

Overall, it seems that there is some serious gap between the US and North Korea’s approach towards the denuclearization issue and in the last two weeks, loose statements from both the sides may have widened the gap further. Both the countries need to review their approaches and modify them to accommodate each other’s concerns, otherwise, the prophecy of North Korea might become true in which it said that ‘opportunity like Hanoi Summit might be difficult to come again in future’.

 

What will China do if there is an India-Pakistan War?

In a hypothetical scenario of a new India-Pakistan war, what would China, the ‘deeper than deepest sea and sweeter than honey’ friend of Pakistan, do?

Muhammed Kunhi, Research Associate, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

As a total shift from its conventional approach towards Pakistan sponsored terrorist attacks, days after Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) attack on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama which killed over 40 paramilitary personnel, India responded with airstrikes on biggest terrorist camp in Balakot in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

Indian media reports stated that the retaliatory action for Pulwama, carefully planned with credible intelligence, occurred in the early hours of 26 February and killed more than 350 terrorists by dropping 1000 kg Israeli Precision Guided Munitions (PGM). Some of them claimed that India destroyed at least six terrorist camps inside Pakistani territory and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) by employing 12 Mirage 2000 jets, made by Dassault Aviation of France.

In an official statement, government of India declared that Pakistan’s persistent denial of existence of terrorist training camps inside its territory had forced India to take a “non-military preemptive action” against JeM camps in the light of a credible intelligence on JeM’s plan for conducting “another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country”.

Though Pakistan rejected India’s claim of heavy casualties as its “self-serving, reckless and fictitious claim” in the context of its upcoming general election, Pakistan accepted that the Indian military aircrafts violated the Line of Control (LoC) and dropped some amount of payload inside its territory. The director general of Pakistani Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Asif Ghafoor, tweeted that the “Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LoC in Muzafarabad Sector was 3-4 miles. Under forced hasty withdrawal aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties.

India’s use of air power – unconventional

Whatever was the casualty and damage to Pakistani military, Indian Air Force’s breaching of LoC to attack a terrorist camp inside Pakistan is a total diversion from India’s conventional approach towards employing air power against terrorist threats from Pakistani territory. It is for the first time since 1971 war that the Indian Air Force has crossed the LoC to attack a target inside Pakistan. In the past, even during the Kargil War in 1999 and when Pakistan sponsored terrorists attacked Indian parliament in 2001, India exercised restraint in employing air power against Pakistan.

Many observers are arguing that India’s airstrike in Balakot will send a clear message to Pakistan that the continuation of proxy war against India would come at a price. Whether Pakistan is willing to learn that lesson is a major question. Definitely, Indian Air Force’s crossing of LoC is a declaration that there will be serious repercussions if Pakistan is planning to continue its proxy war against India.

Challenges dominant discourse

Interestingly, India’s new airstrike on Pakistan, which is theoretically a ‘military action’, though India claims it is a ‘non-military action’ as it is not carried out against any military. The latest developments directly challenge the dominant discourse that India and Pakistan must refrain from challenging each other militarily given the imminent threat of escalation and nuclear war.

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s recent statement that “if we would attack India with one atomic bomb, then the neighboring country could finish us by attacking with 20 bombs” clearly shows that the nuclear-war against India is not a popular option within Pakistani strategic thinking as many in India assume. They (Pakistanis) are well aware of India’s military capability and, now, also its willingness to take any risky military action.

Setting aside the nuclear conundrum, the important question is what would a humiliated Pakistan respond? Assessing the current mood of the nation and approach of the present government, it can be said that if Pakistan chooses any retaliatory military action for Indian airstrike on Balakot it would escalate the situation in the subcontinent. At the same time, India will not consider nuclear war as an option until there is a survival threat to it. Hence, we need not expect more than a conventional war, or perhaps a limited border war.

What would China do?

In a hypothetical scenario of a new India-Pakistan war, what would China, the ‘deeper than deepest sea and sweeter than honey’ friend of Pakistan, do? Expressing concern over growing tension in the subcontinent, various countries, including China and the United States, urged both India and Pakistan to “exercise restraint”. In his regular press conference, responding to a question of Chinese response to Indian airstrike on Pakistan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said “we hope the two sides will exercise restraint and take actions that will help stabilize situation in the region and improve bilateral relations instead of doing the opposite”. He added that “terrorism is a global challenge that calls for cooperation between countries so as to create enabling conditions and a favorable atmosphere for necessary international cooperation”.

Past experiences tell us that unless there is a credible challenge to its core interests, China will not militarily intervene in another country’s war. In the past, even in 1965, when the tension between India and China was at its maximum, China’s military involvement in India-Pakistan war was limited to creating some disturbances in India’s Himalayan frontier. This time, China has enormous economic and strategic interest in Pakistan, which includes multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Gwadar Port. Additionally, in terms of numbers, China’s trade with India is many times larger than its trade with Pakistan. Since India is not a grave threat to China, it would not consider harming a well-developed trade relationship with India by getting embroiled in the Indian subcontinent’s conflicts.

Considering the depth of Sino-Pakistan friendship and its strategic value for China, it may be assumed that China will not totally abandon Pakistan if the new tension in the subcontinent leads to a war, especially when a growing proximity between the United States and India is quite evident. It will not be a direct military involvement either. The Chinese help to Pakistan will be in the form of weapon-supply and in various other forms of non-military assistance. China will use the opportunity to increase its arms exports to Pakistan without risking its trade relationship with India.

Unlimited Xi Presidency in China: Implications for India

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

What does the removal of term limits for the Xi Jinping presidency in China mean for the developing world and, in particular, for South Asia?

One possibility is there could be a demonstration effect. China’s decades-long rapid economic growth has been a source of envy and inspiration for many countries in the developing world. Some like Vietnam, for instance, have used China as a model in launching its own opening up and reforms process. Other countries, including many in South Asia, have seen Beijing as an alternative to the West for financial resources and capital.

With Xi’s latest move, an ambitious autocrat could try to sell the idea to his people or elites that matter that he – and he alone – holds the solutions to a country’s problems.

And often, as in the case of President Abdulla Yameen in the Maldives, who has imposed a state of emergency in the island nation, they will do so with considerably less finesse than Xi. Continue reading “Unlimited Xi Presidency in China: Implications for India”

Term Limits Off for Xi: Some Reflections for India

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

When China’s National People’s Congress – the rough equivalent of India’s Lok Sabha, but toothless – meets in the coming week it has to deal with a proposal by the ruling Communist Party of China to amend the state constitution to remove term limits for the President of the state. Coming from where it does, this is pretty much a direct order to the NPC to remove the term limits.

Removing term limits for the President, imposed in 1982, is a roundabout way of saying that the norm of two terms for the CPC General Secretary – Xi’s more powerful avatar – too, is not set in stone. Continue reading “Term Limits Off for Xi: Some Reflections for India”