Wednesday, 19 February 2020


Taking hostages is routine in Xi Jinping’s China 
The Communist party risks creating an iron curtain of ignorance between the country and the west 

  On this day last year, my friend Michael Kovrig, a diplomat and analyst, and Michael Spavor, an organiser of cultural exchanges, were detained on unspecified charges by the Chinese authorities. Their crime? Being Canadian. The arrests, on “suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China’s state security”, happened nine days after Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei and daughter of its founder, was detained by the Canadian authorities in response to an extradition request from the US. No one was fooled into thinking the events were unconnected. Nor were they intended to be seen as such. In March this year, two days after Canada’s justice department confirmed that an extradition hearing would take place before a judge, China upped the stakes. Xinhua, the state news agency, dropped the notion of suspicion and reported that Mr Kovrig had “severely violated” Chinese law by stealing Chinese state secrets. In May, the two Michaels were formally arrested — a day after President Donald Trump imposed further restrictions on Huawei in the US. Ambiguity and juxtaposition are favoured tools of the Chinese Communist party, allowing it to apply pressure but dodge accusations.

Even so, the Chinese ambassador to Canada came close to an open admission when, in a January op-ed, talking of Ms Meng and the two Michaels, he mentioned “self-defence” in the same sentence. Later, a Chinese spokesman discussing why Chinese-Canadian relations were “at a freezing point” commented: “We hope that Canada will take seriously our severe concerns and immediately release Ms Meng Wanzhou, and actively take substantial measures to push China-Canada relations back on track as soon as possible.” You cannot say unfairer than that. And, of course, the Communist party has form. Back in 2014, when the US asked Canada to extradite Su Bin, a Chinese businessman based in Vancouver, the CCP imprisoned a Canadian couple living in China, Kevin and Julia Garratt, him for two years, her for six months. Su later pleaded guilty to the charge of stealing military aviation designs. What the two Michaels are suffering in prison, we do not know for sure. But it is likely to mirror the torture of another foreigner, Peter Humphrey, incarcerated in 2013-15, or what Simon Cheng, an employee of the UK’s consulate in Hong Kong, suffered in August. As Mr Humphrey has testified, the norm is no heating, inadequate washing facilities, poor nutrition, medical treatment withheld, no contact with family, no phone calls, no correspondence, forced to squat for hours on end, rough treatment from guards, lights never off, daily interrogations, no reading matter. At the end, a forced confession.

 Mr Kovrig has never seen his infant daughter, born after his arrest. How much more of her growing up must he miss? Taking hostages is just one of the distasteful elements of the CCP’s diplomacy. Targeting high-profile trade is another. Canada’s canola, pork and beef exports have run into trouble (disruptive for a time, the undeclared bans cannot last, because China has a food security problem — indeed pork exports resumed in November). This tactic has been used against the UK, Norway, South Korea and Australia, among others who have offended politically, although it is worth noting that in all cases their exports to China rose in all those years of being in the diplomatic doghouse. A variant is the threat that countries will not enjoy Chinese investment, something that unnecessarily worries our politicians. A recent academic paper explained why the UK, for example, does not benefit from Chinese investment. Money is cheap if we need to borrow; Chinese companies do not bring in new technology and management techniques, and they have created few jobs. The flow of knowledge is in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, the invective from Chinese ambassadors around the globe against their host countries is hardly endearing. In Canada, the erstwhile ambassador talked of “white supremacists”, while in Sweden a minor incident in which some Chinese tourists were made to leave a hotel where they did not have a booking was escalated into an attack on Sweden’s record on human rights and justice. While such “strong country” behaviour may find favour at home (it is a favourite theme of CCP general secretary Xi Jinping), it is counterproductive abroad. Only 29 per cent of Canadians have a favourable view of China, for example.

A Pew poll this month records falling and unfavourable views of China among its neighbours, and in Europe and North America. Leaving aside the US, the EU has now labelled China a “systemic rival”, in the UK the “Golden Era” is coming to look like a Golden Error, and Australia and New Zealand are wondering whether the CCP’s “win-win” is not wearing a little thin-thin. Does it matter? Perhaps when it comes to foreign countries, beneath the rhetoric of “a community of shared future for mankind”, Mr Xi is of the Caligula persuasion: “Let them hate me as long as they fear me” — or as long as they take my money.

 But perceptions do matter, especially at a time when values are returning to foreign policy, not least as a result of events in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Interference by the CCP in other countries, bullying, cyber and more traditional espionage, to say nothing of hostage-taking, are leading to attitudes such as that expressed by David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China. Referring to the two Michaels, he said: “We need to start thinking about what we’ve learned from this terrible episode, and how it should shape our future relationship with China.” Western leaders will increasingly have to take account of their people’s views on China. According to a recent poll, more than 50 per cent of Canadians now oppose having Huawei involved in their 5G networks. Whatever Huawei’s ownership, it is clear from the hostage-taking that the CCP’s relationship with the company is “as close as lips and teeth”. If the Communist party is prepared to act like this over Ms Meng, can it and Huawei be trusted when, in future, a country crosses the CCP’s interests?

 The arrests of the two Michaels chip away at mutual understanding and trust. So does that of Mr Cheng, or that of the Japanese professor invited to China by the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and detained for buying “sensitive” books at an open bookshop. As the open letter to the Chinese government in support of Mr Kovrig said, signatories would “be more cautious about travelling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts”. I know a number of China experts no longer going to China just to be on the safe side. Mr Kovrig was not spying; he was helping to promote a better understanding of China. The CCP risks creating an iron curtain of ignorance between China and the west. This Christmas, Ms Meng will be free to wander around Vancouver and enjoy the warmth of her $15m house. Mr Kovrig will be alone or with someone tasked to report on him, cold, hungry and sleepless. Totalitarianism with technology has brought economic development but not decency. This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Anthony Grey, a British journalist taken hostage for two years during the Cultural Revolution. Barbarity is back, if it ever left. “Community of shared future for mankind”? If the Michaels’ fate is what that means, I would rather not share it, if you don’t mind, Mr Xi.

 Charles Parton is a senior associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank. He spent four years in the 1990s as a British diplomat in the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group, involved in negotiations for the handover of Hong Kong.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020



 In June 2016, Ruzunsa Memettohti, a Uighur Muslim who has lived in Turkey for two decades, called her younger sister Patem in Karakax, a county in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, to chat about a parcel of clothes she had sent her. After their conversation Patem vanished, as did Ms Memettohti’s other relatives living in Xinjiang. “I kept calling but nobody picked up,” said Ms Memettohti, speaking at her home in Istanbul. Clues have finally emerged about what had happened: 33-year-old Patem had been interned in a “re-education” camp, according to leaked Communist party records. Patem is listed as entry 358, according to records dated March 7 2018. Next to her name features the reason for her internment: “Having one more child than allowed by family planning policies.” One of Ms Memettohti’s older sisters, a teacher, is also among the detainees. Her faults were “having a passport” and “too many children”, the file reads. The Karakax list appears to document the surveillance and imprisonment of hundreds of individuals from the Karakax region, where Turkic Uighur Muslims make up more than 90 per cent of the population. Methodology: how the FT authenticated the Karakax list The records were leaked to the Financial Times by Abudewli Ayup, a Uighur activist who lives in exile in Norway. He obtained the records from contacts in Xinjiang. The Financial Times tracked down some of the relatives of detainees who live abroad and the details provided about their extended families match the records on the list.
China experts believe the records are authentic. Procurement documents, satellite imagery, interviews with former Karakax residents and on-the-ground reporting confirm that there are four “re-education” camps in the locations mentioned in the leaked files — and that they were expanded around early 2017. Identification numbers in the leaked document match online databases of detainees. The leaked files were also analysed and vetted by Adrian Zenz, a German researcher whose analysis of Chinese government procurement records was instrumental in bringing to light China’s system of internment in Xinjiang. Mr Zenz is a fellow at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation: it states that its mission is to educate the public about the ideology, history and legacy of communism.

 The leaked records add to mounting evidence of the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, with more than a million people having been detained over the past three years.  The documents have come to light as the Chinese government is grappling to contain the coronavirus outbreak, with public anger at the bungled early response posing the greatest challenge yet to President Xi Jinping’s authority. Uighur exiles worry that the disease could spread quickly among people detained because of the dire living conditions and a lack of medical care in the camps in a region that has reported 75 cases of infection and one death so far. Ruzunsa Memettohti, right, with her husband Abdulkadir The Memettohti family. The woman with the white headscarf is Patem, who has been missing since 2016

The leaked list also contradicts Beijing’s claims that its “re-education” programmes in Xinjiang are voluntary and target violent extremists. Justifications for imprisonment include praying at home, keeping in touch with relatives overseas and having more children than allotted by the state. The Xinjiang system was “charging people on the basis of arbitrary definitions that turn religious piety into violations”, said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado. The files detail how individuals move through the mass detention system, from initial evaluation and surveillance, to internment and “graduation” — the term used for their release into “monitoring and control” at home or involuntary labour in industrial parks. “I still cannot believe it,” Ms Memettohti told the Financial Times when she found out about Patem’s fate. “She is a really sharp woman who was always good at protecting herself. She was always keeping herself away from problems.” She does not know what has happened to her sisters’ children, and fears they may be in government-run de facto orphanages. A view of the system The 137-page file contains personal data on more than 300 individuals in Karakax with relatives abroad.

The Chinese government has flagged “people who leave the country and do not return” as a security risk in Xinjiang because of their possible ties to exile groups deemed “separatists” by Beijing. Details about family members, social circles and religious beliefs, as well as perceived misdemeanours, are also in the file.  In Patem’s case, the list records she has a married older sister living in Turkey — Ms Memettohti. “[Patem] has not contacted her . . . The individual does not pose an actual threat to society. Recommend graduation. Manage and control in the community,” it states. The purpose of the file appears to be to record judgments on whether an individual should remain in one of four camps in the county or be moved to another part of the system. In some entries, the word “agree” was written beside a judgment, suggesting the files were used by government officials to communicate and approve decisions. The records appear to have been updated multiple times from early 2017 to early 2019. In some cases, the same people are listed repeatedly, showing a series of judgments, with the final verdict often being “graduation”. 

From the list ENTRY 184 This man was flagged for detention by a mass surveillance platform used by the Xinjiang police because he and his wife had travelled to Dubai. When they returned they were judged not to be a threat to society. But someone he lived with was considered dangerous and the couple had more than the two children allotted by the state. For this, officials decided he should remain in the camps to complete at least a year of “training”. ENTRY 125 This man was imprisoned in a camp because he had previously committed a crime for which he had already served his sentence and been released. Following a police investigation, it was discovered that his brother was in jail in Thailand for illegally entering the country — a fact that was held in judgment against relatives in Xinjiang. A number of other relatives have also been sent to the camps. According to records dated April 9 2017, the man’s “thought transformation is just so-so. He could still do better at accepting his mistakes. Agree for him to continue training.” Police outside the No. 2 re-education centre in Karakax county, Xinjiang © Christian Shepherd/FT

By early 2019, most of the individuals on the list had been allowed to leave the camps, the records show. However, Uighur activists outside China say they are still unable to contact relatives in the country. Former detainees “have no choice about where to work and know they are always watched very closely. [They] are understood to be on probation, where they could be sent back to a camp,” Mr Byler said. The county’s two largest facilities were in industrial parks on the outskirts of Kalakashizen, a town in Karakax. In Karakax last month, one camp location appeared to be empty. Another had been used by the government for propaganda tours. In one location, the FT observed four public buses that appeared to come from a camp as they dropped off a group of working-age Uighurs at a textiles factory. Police barred the FT from approaching both facilities. Satellite imagery analysed by the FT suggests that the industrial parks have expanded rapidly in recent years. The system in Xinjiang is fuelled by “endless cycles of suspicion by association”, said Adrian Zenz, a China expert at non-profit Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, who received the documents and vetted their authenticity. The goal, he said, was “to eliminate risk by achieving complete state control over individuals, families, communities and regions”.  China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not respond to requests for comment.

 Late last year, two caches of Communist party documents, published by the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, revealed that top Xinjiang officials ordered the camps to be run like prisons.

 From the list ENTRY 148 A man was interned for having a “fake” marriage licence. He had officially divorced his wife in 2009 in order to remarry her in a religious marriage ceremony in their home.  The couple did not register the marriage until May 2017. “This person is one for strict monitoring. The community recommends he continues training,” officials concluded.  ENTRY 324 This entry notes the dates a man visited a mosque in another village: twice in August 2016, then again in October 2017. He is evaluated as only being “moderately” religious.  However, the records note one of his brothers had travelled to Turkey in 2016, had not returned and was considered a wanted person.  “The community’s overall verdict is that there is a deep religious atmosphere in the family . . .[He] poses a degree of threat to society. Recommend the industrial park,” the judgment read. 

 Population control and piety The Karakax list’s most commonly cited reason for interning members of minority communities is violation of family planning policies — China’s strict rules governing the number of children each family can have. Being a practising Muslim is the second most common reason. Possession of “illegal” religious videos or books can result in imprisonment, as well as going on hajj — the pilgrimage to Mecca — wearing a veil or closing a restaurant during Ramadan. Workers outside the perimeter fence of a re-education centre in Xinjiang © Thomas Peter/Reuters China’s leading demographers have characterised birth rates among Uighurs as too high. In 2017, Li Xiaoxia, an academic at state think-tank Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, wrote that Uighurs “had been influenced by religious extremism or parochial nationalism to violate policy and have more children”. “Alongside trying to rewire those who have already been born, you try and prevent more births overall,” said James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Birth rates in Hotan, the region of southern Xinjiang that includes Karakax, have dropped steeply from more than 20 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2016 to under 9 per 1,000 in 2018, according to official data. A 2018 Karakax government report stressed its “maximally strict family planning policies”. 

 From the list ENTRIES 70 & 410 A Uighur man was sent to a camp in May 2018 because he was found to have taken part in an illegal religious gathering before the start of the “strike hard” campaign, the official name for the crackdown. In a judgment written just one month later, it was recommended that he be allowed to graduate because he had “provided intelligence” to community officials. An undated entry further down the document acknowledged the man’s contribution, noting his “awareness and thinking has clearly transformed”, but ordered that he remain in the camp for at least a year. ENTRY 10 This man did not appear to have done anything but was detained because of his family background. He was imprisoned in the camps because he prayed regularly and had a father who had been jailed for organising an unsanctioned religious event.  “This person has quite a lot of family who have been detained or sent to training. The family is deeply religious. They are young and have not gone through compulsory education. It will be hard to avoid family influence in the short term,” the files read. 

 Community surveillance Since taking office in 2016, Xinjiang’s Communist party boss Chen Quanguo, the main architect of the region’s internment system, has beefed up methods of surveillance and social control in Xinjiang by dividing each residential area into communities of a few thousand people with dedicated police and officials in charge of “social stability”. Much of the decision-making over internment is left to these junior party officials, the Karakax documents show. Mr Chen first developed these methods during a five-year stint in Tibet, where he oversaw a rollout of strict new security measures to curb religious freedoms. He expanded the use of village “work units”, or small groups of officials tasked with keeping tabs on residents in their area.  “It’s much more human labour-intensive than often thought. Even though it relies to a degree on technology, there is also this laborious process of digging up little crimes,” said Mr Zenz. More than 4,000km away in Istanbul, Ms Memettohti says she thinks of her sisters and their family “every single day”. “I pray to God to keep them safe and maintain their faith.” Reasons for internment in the Karakax list Breaking family planning laws Travelling to one of 26 ‘sensitive’ countries Being involved in the 2009 protests in the city of Urumqi Going on a hajj pilgrimage Being related to someone who is detained Being an ‘untrustworthy’ individual Providing a place for ‘illegal’ worship Secretly taking religious texts from the mosque to pray at home Owning a passport Growing a beard Being a ‘wild’ (unofficial) Imam Using a virtual private network — software that allows access to websites banned by China Owning ‘illegal’ books Getting married using a fake marriage certificate Reading scripture to a child aged under 16 Visiting a banned website Donating money to a mosque Disobeying local officials Praying in a public place Calling someone overseas Having previously served time in prison Downloading violent videos Produced by Adrienne Klasa

Monday, 17 February 2020


‘Now We Are Refugees’: A Family in Limbo Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

The family of Chloe Chang, a Taiwanese woman, is effectively trapped in Hubei Province, and in the middle of a spat between China and Taiwan.
These days, Chloe Chang, a Taiwanese woman stranded at the center of China’s coronavirus outbreak, says she wakes up every half-hour during the night. Sometimes she breaks down in tears.
She and her family are effectively trapped in her grandmother’s apartment building, where a man recently died from the virus. Workers in hazmat suits haunt the surrounding streets, and the neighborhood has a strong police presence. There are shortages of food and other essentials throughout Yichang, the Hubei Province city of more than four million where they have been in limbo for weeks.
“No household can go out at this time,” said Ms. Chang, a 26-year-old industrial artist. She said she feared that even a trip for groceries would increase her chances of contracting the virus.
“My child has eaten nine meals of plain noodles in the past three days,” she said of her 2-year-old son.
Ms. Chang and her family thought they were on the verge of escaping Yichang earlier this month, but the bus taking them to the airport was abruptly turned around.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • What do you need to know? Start here.

    Updated Feb. 10, 2020
    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

All she can do now is wait — and hope.
“The government of Taiwan surely will come to our rescue,” her husband, Calvin Fan, who is from Beijing, has reassured her. But the chartered flight they have eagerly awaited to evacuate them has yet to materialize.
“Neither side wants us,” Ms. Chang said. “We’ve given up. Now we are refugees.”
Taiwan and China each say the other is the reason that she and other Taiwan citizens are unable to leave Hubei, a province under lockdown, where hundreds have died from the coronavirus and tens of thousands have been infected.
Ms. Chang and hundreds of other Taiwanese people in Hubei had hoped to go home via chartered jet. But last month, after the first plane carrying evacuees landed in Taiwan with an infected passenger onboard, a backlash ensued on the self-governing island, which China claims as part of its territory.
Some said Taiwan would not be able to handle an outbreak if more infected people arrived. Others said Taiwan should not help to evacuate mainland Chinese spouses of Taiwan residents.
Decades of tensions between the two governments have come to a head over the outbreak, and people like Ms. Chang and her husband — both of who arrived in China last month to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with family — have become pawns in a complicated and dangerous game of political chess.
Ms. Chang said she was told by Chinese officials that she could return to Taiwan on a second chartered flight, scheduled for Feb. 5. That day, her family boarded a bus bound for the airport in Wuhan, the provincial capital, where the coronavirus first emerged.
But just as the bus was about to leave, she said, a Chinese official hopped on and announced that the flight would not take off, saying: “Taiwan won’t let you go back.”
“I was really devastated, ” Ms. Chang said.
Taiwan had a different explanation. According to officials there, reports in Chinese state media that said a flight was scheduled to leave were untrue — the two sides had never discussed it.
Both governments, and their proxies, have continued to point fingers while Ms. Chang and her compatriots languish in Hubei.
“Taiwan authorities have repeatedly delayed the schedule,” Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, said last week. “Let the Taiwan compatriots return home as soon as possible, and stop making up all manner of excuses and rationale to block them from returning.”
Chen Shih-Chung, Taiwan’s minister of health and welfare, said on Friday that “China still uses all excuses to delay the evacuation, and refuses our plans and suggestions.”
Fears of the virus — and, perhaps, anti-China sentiment — have led Taiwan to escalate preventive measures in recent days.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center announced that children who have mainland citizenship but a Taiwanese parent would not be allowed to enter Taiwan for the time being if they were arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau.
Confined to her grandmother’s home for so long, Ms. Chang has turned to her art as an outlet for the helplessness and resentment she feels.
In a satirical cartoon she recently sketched, she portrayed the administration of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, as deliberately delaying the evacuation.
She depicted the Taiwanese in Hubei as pawns.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Pandemic, political risks mean companies should disengage with China

Henry Olsen
Global companies have flocked to invest in China for decades, lured by the promise of cheap, skilled labour and a stable, if tyrannical, government. Recent economic shocks show it's time for them to rethink that cosy arrangement.
The coronavirus outbreak is the first shock to the Chinese industrial complex. The disease is spreading so fast that China has been forced to quarantine tens of millions of people in their homes and restrict travel between its provinces.
This is an economic as well as a humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of factories lie idle and won't reopen for months. Others operate at reduced capacity as workers don't show up out of fear they will contract the virus, while goods from the plants that are open are stalled at border checks to ensure the virus doesn't spread.
The virus risks is an economic as well as a humanitarian crisis: tens of thousands of factories won't reopen for months. Getty
This is dramatically slowing global growth. Many Western companies depend on Chinese-made parts for the goods they assemble elsewhere. Stop the flow of parts from China, and you stop the flow of goods from the rest of the world. Experts are already projecting the global economy will not grow at all in the first quarter of this year as a result, the first downturn since the global financial crisis.
Companies have to wonder whether China is peculiarly at risk for these mysterious epidemics. The SARS virus exploded out of China in 2003, causing thousands of infections with a 10 per cent mortality rate, according to the US National Institutes of Health. This was another version of a coronavirus, according to lab tests. China was not the centre of global manufacturing then, so its outbreak caused less disruption than is now the case. But no other global power has had two mysterious, rapidly spreading viruses arise in this time period. Is it worth the risk that it could happen again?
Political pressure from the United States is another risk factor that companies now must weigh. Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment last Thursday against the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, alleging the firm engages in racketeering and conspiracy to steal industrial secrets. The US and other countries have long charged that Chinese firms, under the benign gaze of the Communist government, steal their technology.
If the Huawei complaint is just the tip of the iceberg, it means the US will have to start turning to its own court system to punish alleged miscreants. That in turn will cause any Western business that contracts with Chinese firms under indictment or suspicion to have second thoughts about their relationship. Safer, perhaps, to find company in a country that has less of a risk falling into US government's crosshairs.
The US and Canada don't run the risk of plants shutting down because of pandemics and increasingly rely on clean fuels for their energy.
Finally, climate change pressure will soon have to hit business dealings with China. China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and its emissions are increasing faster than the US and Europe can decrease theirs. But Western developed nations are to blame for much of this increase, as they are the driving forces behind investment in Chinese factories that then export goods back to the West. That gives climate change activists a powerful lever to use if they decide to get serious about reducing emissions: tariffs.
Most serious climate change plans already recognise this. They aren't called tariffs per se; advocates label them as "border tax adjustments". But they are tariffs, and they would increase the price of goods imported from countries with heavy greenhouse gas emissions.
That will devastate a country such as China, whose industrial rise is fuelled by coal-powered electricity. Indeed, China still is building hundreds of coal-fuelled plants despite global pressure to reduce emissions. That will have to stop if we have any chance of beating climate change, but that means plants in China will see their energy costs rise dramatically.
Combined, these factors will increasingly make it cost-effective to bring manufacturing back to the developed world or countries in those nations' sphere of influence. The US and Canada, for example, don't run the risk of plants shutting down because of pandemics and increasingly rely on clean fuels for their energy.
Nearby Mexico can offer cheaper labour, and Mexico's economic dependence on those two giants means it is more amenable to climate-change-induced pressure. European firms have the same incentives and have the low-cost countries of eastern Europe to invest in, too.
None of this will happen overnight, but any rational company has to see the writing on the wall. Slow but steady disengagement with China will cost money in the short term but will likely pay off big in the long term.

Saturday, 15 February 2020


The Bloomberg Temptation

Will the Democrats try to replace Donald Trump with a power-hungry plutocrat?
Opinion Columnist

Credit...Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

For a long time the notion of a Michael Bloomberg presidential candidacy seemed like a Manhattan fancy, a conceit with elite appeal but no mass constituency, a fantasy for Acela riders who imagine that the American people are clamoring for a rich person’s idea of centrism.
This was especially true in the days when Bloomberg would advertise his interest in a third-party candidacy. Third parties are generally founded on ideas that elites are neglecting, like the combination of economic populism, social conservatism and America-first foreign policy that propelled Donald Trump to power. Whereas Bloombergism is elite thinking perfectly distilled: Social liberalism and technocracy, hawkish internationalism and business-friendly environmentalism, plus a dose of authoritarianism to make the streets safe for gentrification.
But with a populist in the White House, a socialist winning primaries, a Democratic electorate desperate for a winning candidate and an establishment desperate for a champion, Bloomberg has become a somewhat more plausible presidential candidate than I imagined even six months back. So it’s worth pondering exactly what his still-highly-unlikely, but not-entirely-unimaginable nomination might mean, and what he offers as an alternative to both his Democratic rivals and to Donald Trump.

Inside the Democratic Party, Bloomberg’s ascent would put a sharp brake on the two major post-Obama trends in liberalism: The Great Awokening on race and sex and culture, and the turn against technocracy in economic policymaking.
Yes, Bloomberg has adapted his policy views to better fit the current liberal consensus, and his views on social issues were liberal to begin with. But he has the record of a deficit and foreign policy hawk, the soul of a Wall Street centrist, and a history of racial and religious profiling and sexist misbehavior. More than any other contender, his nomination would pull the party back toward where it stood before the rise of Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, and root liberalism once more in professional-class interests and a Washington-Wall Street mindmeld.
These are good reasons to assume that he cannot be the nominee, and excellent reasons for social progressives and socialists alike to want to beat him. The only way they will fail is if Bloomberg succeeds in casting himself as the unusual answer to an unusual incumbent — combining the Democratic fear of a Trump second term, his own reputation for effective management and the promise of spending his fortune to crush Trump into a more compelling electability pitch than the race’s other moderates.
But Democrats considering this sales pitch should be very clear on what a Bloomberg presidency would mean. Bloomberg does not have Trump’s flagrant vices (though some of his alleged behavior with women is pretty bad) or his bald disdain for norms and rules and legal niceties, and so a Bloomberg presidency will feel less institutionally threatening, less constitutionally perilous, than the ongoing wildness of the Trump era — in addition to delivering at least some of the policy changes that liberals and Democrats desire.
However, feelings can be deceiving. Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are naked on his Twitter feed, but Bloomberg’s imperial instincts, his indifference to limits on his power, are a conspicuous feature of his career. Trump jokes about running for a third term; Bloomberg actually managed it, bulldozing through the necessary legal changes. Trump tries to bully the F.B.I. and undermine civil liberties; Bloomberg ran New York as a miniature surveillance state. Trump has cowed the Republican Party with celebrity and bombast; Bloomberg has spent his political career buying organizations and politicians that might otherwise impede him. Trump blusters and bullies the press; Bloomberg literally owns a major media organization. Trump has Putin envy; Bloomberg hearts Xi Jinping.

In our era of congressional abdication, all presidents are prodded or tempted toward power grabs and caesarism. But Bloomberg’s career, no less than Trump’s, suggest that as president this would be less a temptation than a default approach. And the former mayor, unlike the former “Apprentice” star, is ferociously competent, with a worldview very much aligned with the great and good, from D.C. to Silicon Valley — which means that he would have much more room to behave abnormally without facing a Resistance movement of activists and journalists and judges.
To choose Bloomberg as the alternative to Trump, then, is to bet that a chaotic, corrupt populist is a graver danger to what remains of the Republic than a grimly-competent plutocrat with a history of executive overreach and strong natural support in all our major power centers.
That seems like a very unwise bet. Democrats who want to leverage Trump’s unpopularity to move the country leftward should support Bernie Sanders. Democrats who prefer a return-to-normalcy campaign should unite behind a normal politician like Amy Klobuchar. Those who choose Bloomberg should know what they’re inviting: An exchange of Trumpian black comedy for oligarchy’s velvet fist.