Archive for February, 2019

The False Promise of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road Initiative

By Peter Zhang

It’s safe to assume that Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel laureate in economics, wasn’t kidding when he authored “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.” The book’s title sums up Friedman’s main point regarding a wide range of public policies, relevant still to this day.

If an offer, therefore, appears to be too good to be true, particularly when it comes from the Chinese communist regime with its abysmal track record of credibility, one should be suspicious.

Chinese Communist Party’s Motivation

In September 2013, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt strategy during a state visit to Kazakhstan. In October 2013, in a speech at the People’s Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia, Xi brought forward the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road venture.

The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), received $40 billion through the Silk Road Fund in November 2014, and an additional $14.76 billion, as announced by Xi in May 2017.

China’s banks, which have a record of funding white elephant infrastructure and ghost cities filled with empty apartment buildings, will be leveraging nearly $1 trillion toward constructing roads, rails, bridges, airports, and ports in some very poor countries. Such eye-catching funding has led to worldwide speculation about Beijing’s motives.

According to the Financial Times, the rating service “Fitch warns on expected returns from One Belt, One Road (OBOR).”

A Fitch Ratings report cast serious doubt on Beijing’s ability to conduct sound risk analysis for overseas investments, given its dismal record of identifying and managing profitable projects at home, particularly in light of mounting non-performing loans in recent years. In fact, this Fitch report suggests the BRI’s geopolitical interests outweigh any commercial benefits.

Unlike Beijing’s previous overseas investments, which focused primarily at procuring energy and natural resources, the BRI also allows Beijing to address its domestic excess capacity in virtually all industrial sectors, with some production facilities having moved to participating countries.

At the same time, the BRI, with the corridor to Central Asia and Europe, may help develop China’s Western regions.

Western policymakers also have concerns and misgivings about Beijing’s many prodigious operations around the world through its aggressive BRI. Financing infrastructure in more than 60 countries is quite an ambitious undertaking, while fraught with great financial risks.

China’s Debts Keep Growing

Those risks occur within a context of dangerous and increasing indebtedness.

Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel laureate in economics, mentioned Dornbusch’s Law when he described challenges that China’s economy faces. Krugman finds China’s excessive investment and spending, especially by state-owned enterprises, full of risks in the absence of sufficient domestic consumption.

Against the backdrop of punitive tariffs and a trade dispute with the United States, China’s market has been hit by an economic downturn these days. Over the years, China benefited tremendously from a trade surplus around the world and from piracy of Western technological know-how, but things are changing because of increasing protectionism in many countries, including the United States.

Last month, Beijing was forced to draw $116 billion from its central bank reserves in an effort to stabilize and stimulate its economy. According to a report from the Institute of International Finance, China’s total debt-to-GDP ratio has surpassed 300 percent while its corporate debt-to-GDP ratio is 160.3 percent.

The size of these debts—there is nothing comparable in the West—are alarming for a large economy where the government is both the lender and the borrower, and, oddly, the regulator as well.

With the amount of non-performing loans rising, the debts will mount to the stratosphere. China’s system of state banks as lenders and state-run enterprises as borrowers is no longer sustainable, and will end up creating more losses than what can be absorbed, leading to insolvency, possibly even another Greece-like financial crisis.

Despite its holding of $1.15 trillion in U.S. bonds, China won’t be able to reduce debt distress for very long, given inefficiencies in its centralized financial structure.

In fact, China’s foreign exchange reserves dropped to $3.073 trillion by December 2018 from $4 trillion in 2014. While $3 trillion may seem like a lot, it doesn’t leave much flexibility, given the demands of a modern-day monetary system like China’s. Their financial system has become very tight.

In the meantime, a declining birthrate and an aging population have given rise to additional concerns: a shrinking workforce and growing costs for an already strained health care system.

Beijing abolished the One Child Policy in 2016, but the measure might have come too late, as the demographics aren’t going to improve significantly for generations, resulting in a declining standard of living that will become a political liability for the CCP.

Domestic Dissenting Voices

Resources for the needs of China’s population are scarce, yet Beijing is currently tightening its belt to free up some cash for its overseas political adventures.

With GDP per capita under $9,000, both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund listed China in 71st place for their 2017 world rankings. World Bank’s data also shows that China’s health expenditure in 2015 is only 5.32 percent of GDP, while the world average is 9.90 percent.

In terms of the budget for basic education (elementary and high school), China’s Ministry of Education spent $2,634 per student in 2017. That pales in comparison with the global average of $10,759, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2017.

Xinhua News Agency, the CCP’s official mouthpiece, reported on Feb. 1, 2018, “There were still 30.46 million rural people living below the national poverty line at the end of 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).”

Although independent China observers frequently find Beijing’s statistics too rosy and not believable, the CCP has, at least, admitted that severe poverty exists under its watch.

Not surprisingly, Chinese netizens, at some risk to themselves, express their dismay on the internet about the funneling of money abroad, as domestic needs are unmet.

One popular joke goes like this: A netizen described today’s China as the great “Song Dynasty,” a dynasty known for its traitorous acts. Since the Chinese word “giveaway” shares the same pronunciation as the word “Song,” the netizen could be understood as saying “the great giveaway dynasty.”

Then someone asked, “The Southern Song Dynasty or the Northern Song Dynasty?” The netizen replied, “Either one, as this dynasty is giving our things away to both East and West.”

Another netizen posted this sarcastic comment on Weibo, “Many people criticize our government for spending $650 billion in foreign aid each year instead of appropriating funding for the masses. That is actually not true, for the government invests $830 billion annually for policing social order—money used to keep an eye on us.”

Recently, Beijing canceled a portion ($78.4 million) of Cameroon’s debt of $5.5 billion in secrecy, fearing a backlash from the masses at home. Many Chinese equate these sorts of foreign aid to the idiom, “throwing a meat dumpling to a dog—with no returns.”

These days, despite the CCP’s draconian censorship, the internet has become perhaps the sole channel for Chinese citizens to voice their frustrations, particularly since corrupt officials and the privileged elite are taking advantage of the BRI for capital flight overseas in the name of overseas investment.

Debt Trap Diplomacy and Neo-Colonialism

Despite the frustrations of the masses at home and potential financial losses, Beijing’s BRI is all about political calculations.

The debt-trap diplomacy, with billions of dollars in infrastructure investments in participating countries in Central Asia, Europe, South Asia, and Africa, has purchased some friendship around the world. That has allowed the CCP, at least temporarily, to gain some relevance and to exert geopolitical influence.

But the recipients aren’t necessarily happy about the debts they can’t afford, and they feel trapped.

Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port development project might be a crippling debt-trap example. Sri Lanka had to hand over the port to China, through a 99-year lease in exchange for clearing a $1.4 billion debt to China.

In Africa, similar situations face Kenya, where talks are underway to surrender its strategic assets to China as a result of debts owed to Beijing. These assets may include the lucrative port in Mombasa, and the Standard Gauge Railway, to name but a few.

Some African countries have privately complained that the BRI often assigns its overseas infrastructure construction projects to Chinese companies. So, the borrowed money goes back to Chinese pockets in the end.

With Chinese goods flooding into African markets, more than half of Beijing’s foreign aid goes to the African continent. But that comes as part of a well-designed foreign-policy package to voting member states of the United Nations, in order to acquire their support in global affairs.

In 2016, China began building its first overseas naval base in the Republic of Djibouti, which gives the Chinese military strategic access to the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Unfortunately for the United States, the Chinese base is less than 10 miles from the U.S. Naval Expeditionary Base at Camp Lemonnier.

A photo from “China-Africa Friendship 2019,” an event held Jan. 9 at a Beijing hotel to celebrate BRI projects in Africa, went viral on the internet, as it seemed to blow the whistle on Beijing’s BRI. The event was hosted by Chinese officials and attended by envoys from some 60 countries.

The large video screen behind the stage displayed four English words: Innovation, Efficiency, Transcendence, and Exploitation. The Chinese word “Kaituo” should have been translated as Exploration instead of Exploitation—a parapraxis error, as netizens call it, otherwise known as a Freudian slip.

Critics accuse Beijing of engaging in neo-colonialism through the BRI projects in Africa. Beijing’s effort to build the “unbreakable China-Africa friendship” appears now to be shaky, as debts pile up rapidly, one country after another.

Astute Sinologists understand that every CCP policy or initiative comes with the sole purpose of maintaining its power, irrespective of economic and political costs.

The BRI is a classic example. The totalitarian Party doesn’t need to seek approval from its citizens for scattering money around the world, nor have the Chinese people benefited from these overseas adventures. Yet, the BRI has effectively disrupted the international order at the expense of U.S. influence and interests around the world.

Worse still, the BRI will end up harming the participating countries as well.

In dealing with the party state, one shouldn’t overlook these blunt words uttered by Mao Zedong, the founder of the CCP: “Political work is the life-blood of all economic work” and, “Communism is not love.”

Countries that are enticed by Beijing’s offer of cheap loans ought to think twice about the consequences of teaming up with this red dragon. History won’t look kindly at those who have partnered with a repressive regime, let alone those who feed an iniquitous beast such as the CCP.

As Confucius wisely advised many centuries ago, “The cautious seldom err.”  [End of Article]

 

Add comment February 26th, 2019

俩人相恋三年了,今天约好山上练骑马。 男的想浪漫一下,就骑着马来到了悬崖边, 回头对着心爱的女人说:“明天就情人节了,我最后问你一句:你到底嫁不嫁给我?如果你不嫁,我就从这个山崖跳下去!” ……女人被感动了,对着男人大喊一声 “嫁” ! 马嗷的一声从山崖冲了下去……享年30岁。情人节快到了:浪漫有风险,说话需谨慎 !  #情人节

(First posted on Feb 13, 2018)

Add comment February 13th, 2019

刚才网上看到一句话:
“小时候我总想着拯救世界,
现在只希望生活能放过我 ​​​。”

(First posted Feb 13, 2018)

Add comment February 13th, 2019

Has China Lost Her Soul?

Reviving China’s rich spiritual heritage can bring fundamental social change, hope to the Middle Kingdom
Peter Zhang

Just days after New Year’s celebrations wound down around the world, China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) achieved a historic lunar milestone on Jan. 3, by soft-landing a probe on the dark side of the moon, that is, the side of the moon that we denizens of the earth can’t see.

Few Westerners, nonetheless, might have paid much attention to the name of this mission’s spacecraft, Chang’e-4 and that of the landed rover, Yutu-2. Both, however, are legendary and household names in China.

While Western companies seem to enjoy drawing some ethereal inspiration from ancient Greek mythology by choosing names such as Nike, Oracle, Amazon, Pandora, and Alphabet, the Chinese communist regime, despite its atheist underpinnings, turns to China’s spiritual roots and mythology to name its space probes.

The names from China’s glorious past aren’t some fad or nostalgia; the Party uses the ancient names because they subtly suggest that China started its space exploration much earlier than its Western competitors.

In Chinese mythology, Chang’e, the goddess of the Moon, is married to Houyi, a fabled archer who shot down nine of the 10 flaming suns in the sky to spare humans on earth from death due to the heat. Yutu (the Jade Rabbit) is an immortal pet that keeps company with the beautiful Chang’e.

In addition, CNSA’s other space-exploration projects and probes have all, thus far, been given otherworldly names, such as Tianzhou (Heavenly Ship 1-11), Shenzhou (Divine Ship), and Tiangong 1 & 2 (Heavenly Palace Skylab 1 & 2), to name but a few.

Unfortunately, that is just about as far as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will go these days, in terms of referencing China’s deistic past.

The Divinely Inspired ‘Middle Kingdom’

China’s 5,000-year civilization shares much in common with Greek civilization. Both Chinese and Greek mythologies assert that the universe was created out of the great chaos, each civilization beginning with timeless myths of immortals, demigods, and humans with supernatural powers, who later evolve into the mortal beings that we have become today.

The Yellow Emperor (2698-2598 BCE), widely regarded as the first Chinese ruler, was able to use supernatural powers to fight off enemies. Inspired by the heavens, the Yellow Emperor created the first calendar and the book, “The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon,” which revealed the theoretical basis of Chinese medicine.

The Yellow Emperor’s reign was known for “rule by virtue.” According to the text of The Zhuangzi (ancient Chinese text dating from the late Warring States period (446–221 BC)), the Yellow Emperor became a Taoist deity later in life.

As a native Chinese spiritual denomination, Taoism is virtually as ancient as Chinese civilization. It wasn’t until Lao Tzu (601 BC–?), who wrote the text of “Tao Te Ching,” that Taoism became an established mind-body belief system.

Lao Tzu (“Old Master” in Chinese) is widely regarded as the founder of Taoism and one of the “Three Pure Deities” of the Taoist School. Lao Tzu’s teachings include the ideas of Yin and Yang, living in harmony with the Way (nature), nothingness, cultivation of mind and body for the truth, and ultimately returning to one’s original “true soul.”

Such timeless Chinese cosmogony, over the centuries, has helped shape and influence Chinese culture and way of life. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Taoism became officially the imperial orthodoxy for the state.

Despite its enormous influence, Buddhism came to China in the East Han Dynasty as an imported foreign religion. Legend has it that one day in 67 A.D., Emperor Ming dreamed of a golden person flying into his palace, and so, he asked his ministers for an explanation.

A minister named Fu Yi responded, “Your Majesty, you might have dreamed of the great Western sage called Buddha.” Accordingly, Ming sent Cai Yin, a military official, as his envoy to the West in search of Buddhism.

Cai Yin and his entourage met two Buddhists, Dharmaratna and Kāśyapa Mātaṇga, on the way and brought them back, along with Buddhist scriptures on the back of a white horse, to Luo Yang, capital of the East Han Dynasty.

Ming was delighted and built the well-known White Horse Temple for the two visitors, where they translated “42 Scriptures” into the Chinese language, the first Buddhist scriptures in Chinese.

Over the centuries, Buddhism has been held in high esteem in China and revered as the official imperial religion by emperors of many dynasties.

Its ideas of karmic retribution, reincarnation, compassion, and salvation for all predestined sentient beings have not only been applied to many aspects of society, but have also been profoundly reflected in fine art, music, and literature.

The famous Chinese novel, “Journey to the West” (1592), is based on a legendary pilgrimage by the monk Xuanzang to Central Asia, with the assistance of the Monkey King, in a quest for Buddhist sutras.

“A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms” alone has collected nearly 30,000 Buddhist vocabulary entries that were created by Buddhist monks within some 800 years between the Han and the Tang dynasties—these terms include words commonly used to this day, such as “now,” “past,” “world,” “future,” and others.

Confucius as a Spiritual Teacher

Confucius (551–479 BC) is perhaps among the most misunderstood sages in today’s China and abroad. Widely considered one of the greatest Chinese philosophers, Confucius was largely ignored for his role in teaching his followers to obey the will or mandate of Heaven.

After the CCP came to power in 1949, Confucius was denounced, particularly during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Despite Confucianism making a comeback in society today, Confucius is largely seen as a humanist and philosopher, and not the spiritual teacher that he actually was.

Fasheng Zhao, a researcher at the China Academy of Social Sciences, took note of this obvious omission in his article, “On Confucius’ Belief.” Zhao pointed out that for most of the 20th century, religious beliefs were seen as being “backward” and “ignorant” in atheist China.

Radical revolutionaries regard Confucius as one who wished to turn the wheel of history back to the slavery system, while conservative scholars, out of the desire to protect Confucianism, have eagerly tried to highlight Confucius’ humanist side, so as to prove that Confucianism is progressive and relevant in today’s China.

Zhao argues, “The religious aspect has an important role in Confucianism, short of which we won’t be able to comprehend the true spirit of Confucianism, nor would we be able to sort out the sources and characteristics of Confucius’ humanism. We would then have a flawed and incomplete picture of Confucius.”

Zhao further points out, “Confucianism is known as the scholarship of Heavenly beings.” In “Analects” alone, Zhao observes that Confucius mentions Heaven or Will of Heaven 19 times. Zhao holds that the Heaven that Confucius spoke of refers to a supernatural divine ruler, not an abstract concept.

Confucius is also known for advocating the Golden Mean in life, as he equates excess to deficiency, an idea that echoes those held by ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in particular.

China’s Culture is Divinely Inspired

Confucius once said, “Study the past, if you would divine the future.” Today’s Chinese culture under communist rule, however, is missing the divine soul and spiritual traditions.

Government officials and employees, members of the armed forces, including the state-sanctioned Taoist and Buddhist associations, must pledge allegiance to the atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

As widely reported by international media and human-rights groups, underground Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners experience many forms of ill-treatment, with some of them even becoming victims of state-sponsored organ harvesting.

Given that communist ideology is a Western import, the CCP sees the revival of traditional religious practices, as well as China’s true cultural heritage, as a threat to its ideological foundation and its legitimacy.

Today, not only are religious practices tightly regulated by the CCP, even traditional art forms and stage productions involving Chinese history are heavily censored.

On Jan. 25, the Beijing Daily reversed its previous praise for five popular TV drama series: Empresses in the Palace, The Legend of MiYue, Scarlet Heart, Story of Yanxi Palace, and Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, by condemning them for focusing on internal power struggles in the imperial palace, thereby, implying that similar situations are going on inside the CCP’s top bureaucracy today.

All five TV dramas are now off the air, even though four of them were based on Qing Dynasty story settings of more than 100 years ago, and one from the Warring States period (475–221 BC).

When the acclaimed New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts company produces a dance program that features traditional Chinese dance, music, and costume, Beijing, again, feels threatened.

The CCP’s diplomats abroad are now charged with an unusual diplomatic mission: coercing hosting theaters to reject or cancel Shen Yun performances. While most theaters embrace Shen Yun performances, a few have surrendered to Beijing’s roguish demands. Teatro Real de Madrid, for example, caved in and canceled shows scheduled between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, even as hundreds of tickets had been sold in advance.

As Socrates observed, “All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.” In this digital age, people around the world are still able to find inspiration through some form of spirituality or from their divine cultural heritage.

In an increasingly more materialistic China, the spiritual void is quickly eroding the foundations of Chinese society and her timeless, divinely inspired culture. It is, however, encouraging to note that there are still tens of millions of Chinese people seeking China’s spiritual traditions or joining underground religions and practices.

The most harmful sin the CCP has committed is, arguably, decades of its relentless effort to disconnect 1.3 billion people from their spiritual traditions and cultural heritage. The breakdown of trust between people and between the people and the state that is often mentioned by outside observers is a direct consequence of the Party’s atheist, anti-tradition policies.

A 2-year-old girl, Wang Yue (known as “Yue Yue”), in Foshan, Guangdong, was run over by two vehicles on Oct. 13, 2011, and for seven minutes, passersby made no effort to help the bleeding victim, who died. Good Samaritans don’t appear often in China out of apathy, or fear of being sued. This case, unfortunately, isn’t rare in today’s communist China. In a normal society, such callous indifference could hardly occur.

When its moral compass is missing, a nation without a spiritual soul and divine past is doomed to oppose humanity. Even the cartoon character Bart Simpson, in one episode, appears to be perplexed, “What happened to you, China? You used to be cool.”

Feb 8, 2019

Add comment February 12th, 2019

The Growth of Tea

The growth of tea

Genetic studies of today’s tea plants are providing clues to how the plant was first domesticated.

 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-0…

3 comments February 9th, 2019

梨山高冷茶 Mt. Li Tea

Add comment February 9th, 2019

(转自推特)从秦始皇之后,几千年来他们只做了两件事,第一件事是争着做皇帝,第二件事是研究如何保住这个皇位。整个国家就是为皇帝存在的。整个国家就是皇帝家族的一道宴席,各级官员是负责上菜的服务员,老百姓就是端上去的一道道菜。

Add comment February 8th, 2019

亚当•斯密在《国富论》(The Wealth of Nations)中写到:“一幢住宅本身不会为其住户带来任何收入。”“如果出租给房客,由于房屋本身不会创造什么,房客始终必须用一些其它的收入来支付租金。”因此斯密得出结论,尽管出租一幢房屋,可以为其所有者带来收入,“但人群的总体收入永远不会藉此获得一丁点儿的增加”。斯密对疯狂的投机非常熟悉,他客气地称之为“过度交易”。斯密表示:“当交易获利高于平常时,过度交易就成为一个普遍的错误。”斯密称,盈利率“最高的国家,始终是崩溃得最迅速的”。斯密向爱丁堡的一个学会表示(用了我们能够想象到的挖苦语气):“只要有了和平、低税收和宽容的司法当局,一个国家要达到最高富裕水平不需要其它东西。”–(转自FT)

Add comment February 8th, 2019

别了! 别了! 你怨诉的歌声
流过草坪, 越过幽静的溪水
溜上山坡, 而此时它正深深
埋在附近的溪谷中
这是个幻觉, 还是梦寐
那歌声去了–我是睡? 是醒?
—-摘自[夜莺颂] 济慈(查良铮 译)

Add comment February 7th, 2019

和許多本科修過英國文學的人一樣,我早年認識倫敦是透過飽讀狄更斯的小說開始,但其實每次去倫敦幾乎都找不到狄更斯筆下的維多利亞風土人情,乃至他書中的地點。然而,人是不死心的,每次下了飛機,我總懷著期待和幻想:在昔日的街頭小巷和他涉足的Garrick以及其它私人俱樂部裡體驗一次他描繪出來的倫敦時代和文化。這是一個幾乎不可能的任務,畢竟時代變了。結果昨天在回紐約的飛機上,恰好看了一部關於狄更斯如何創作「聖誕頌歌」的電影 (The Man who Invented Christmas) ,讓人倍感唏噓,對狄更斯的人格和作品更加敬佩。今天的倫敦街頭上充滿了各種族裔的人群,和巴黎以及紐約一樣,依然是一個國際化的都市。如果要是尋找早期英倫文化,開車到鄉下倒是一個不錯的選擇。在英國脫歐公投結果上,不難看到倫敦和大英帝國其它地區的巨大反差。儘管如此,不同時期的英倫文化還是折射在倫敦的建築物,街道,和Jermyn Street的傳統绅士服裝店里。現在還是有很多人穿戴過去的衣帽,在Pall Mall, 我竟然看到一位弱小的身著花格呢子大衣,高筒帽子,嘴裡叼著煙斗,手裡拿著文明棍的人,鼻子高蹺地闊步前行。我好奇地快步趕超過他,發現其實是一張尖瘦的東方臉。他白了一眼我,徑直揚長而去。我木然地看著他遠去的背影,感嘆道:狄更斯一定很欣慰,他筆下的人又復活了,而且還是一位東方人呢⋯⋯

(Posted on FB–Feb 6, 2018)

Add comment February 6th, 2019

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