Tags: china*

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  1. Technology is making it easier for people to enjoy being alone, with shared gyms springing up in some residential communities in Beijing last year. People can run in the five square metre spaces, which are equipped with a treadmill, TV screen and an air purifier, while watching a video or listening to music, with the outside world shut out by a glass door.

    The loneliness economy in China is expected to become bigger than Japan’s, even though loneliness is the norm there as the country has been suffering from a serious ageing problem for a long time amid an alienated interpersonal relationship culture.”

    In China, hundreds of millions of migrants had moved to work in cities amid rapid urbanisation. Intense competition meant they faced severe stresses in their pursuit of success, he said, and they also struggled under a sometimes unfair distribution system that featured rampant corruption and official-businessmen collusion.

    “Japanese people have faith in their employers, who they usually serve for their whole lifetime; Western people can work closely with various communities, clubs and charity groups,” Hu said. “While China suppresses the development of non-governmental organisations, Chinese people are destined to be lonelier than people elsewhere.”
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  2. I want to spend the bulk of my remaining time on another global problem: the rise and monopolistic behavior of the giant IT platform companies. These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.

    Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment. This is particularly nefarious because social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections.

    The distinguishing feature of internet platform companies is that they are networks and they enjoy rising marginal returns; that accounts for their phenomenal growth. The network effect is truly unprecedented and transformative, but it is also unsustainable. It took Facebook eight and a half years to reach a billion users and half that time to reach the second billion. At this rate, Facebook will run out of people to convert in less than 3 years.
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  3. China built brand new $200m African union building, including high-tech computer system, for free. Turns out that the building is riddled with microphones, with the donated computers transmitting all voice data back to servers in Shanghai every night
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-30)
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  4. Ultimately, the ban could push countries to tackle wasteful, disposable lifestyles at source, by forcing plastics and other disposable goods manufacturers to take responsibility for the environmental damage caused by their products throughout their whole life cycle. For plastic bottles, for example, the life cycle from production to decomposition can be up to 450 years.

    There are fears that the ban will simply lead to these huge quantities of waste being exported to less ­developed, less well-regulated waste industries, especially in Southeast Asia. In fact, UK exports of waste to Vietnam and Malaysia doubled in 2017, compared to 2016. However, there are no new waste markets with equivalent capacity to China’s over the last three decades.

    This globally disruptive event, then, leaves governments little alternative but to face up to the reality of their waste problems.
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  5. Those rock-bottom prices are a function of rock-bottom wages and materials. In workshops scattered around Prato, Chinese employees put in 15 to 16 hours a day in conditions and for wages no Italian would contemplate.

    Yen Chow Chan, a missionary from a US-based organisation, Evangelical Mission and Seminary International, has been inside many of these workshops.

    "Most employ about 10 people who don't just work in them," he says. "They live in them – they cook, eat and sleep in them." However normal that may be in China, it is against the law in Italy.

    "What we have here is an organised illegal system", says Roberto Cenni, a local businessman and the city's first rightwing mayor since the second world war. "In the year to end-May, police carried out 152 inspections on Chinese-owned premises with the result that 152 firms were put under judicial administration." Cenni's slate, endorsed by Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom People movement and allied to the xenophobic Northern League, surged to victory last year on a tide of unease about the Chinese presence. The situation remains tense.

    Dutch-born Yun Yin Lee, visiting Prato as a tourist, says: "The police here look at me in a way I've never been looked at in Holland." Last month saw impassioned protests from immigrant representatives after the mayor refused to declare an official day of mourning for three Chinese drowned in floods.

    "We, by which I mean the Chinese, are causing a lot of problems," Chan acknowledges. But, he adds, many arise from mutual incomprehension.

    "I find Italians friendly – if you speak a bit of Italian. Most of the Chinese here are from the countryside. They have difficulty with their own language, let alone someone else's. In any case, most don't have time to study.

    "A lot say to me, 'Why should I integrate? I'm here for maybe 10 years to save up and send back my money so I can go back to China and enjoy it.''"

    That may be the dream but, as Chan notes, the reality is often different. At the main hospital in Prato, 32% of the children born have Chinese mothers.

    Whatever their legal status, those children will grow up Italians. Already, you can see around town Italianised Chinese teenagers, the girls particularly conspicuous in their chic, often provocatively cut outfits and heavy makeup.

    "The ones who are born here dress like Italians, eat like Italians and don't speak much Chinese," says Hu Qui Lin.

    Hu is famous in Prato for being the only Chinese company owner (among between 4,000 and 5,000) to have joined Confindustria, the Italian bosses' federation. His managing director, like many of his other employees, is Italian. Giancarlo Maffei is also an adviser to the centre-left provincial government.

    "The mayor has concentrated on respect for the rules. But he'd do better to open a dialogue with the Chinese and try to convince them of the need for legality," Maffei says.

    "The problem is: who do I talk to in a context of systematic illegality?" says Cenni. "There are lots of people who want to be considered representatives of the Chinese community » . But we have no guarantee these people are 'clean'."

    Maffei says the provincial government has formed a joint working party "and is trying to advance a dialogue, albeit with problems". Pieraccini says those problems have included the arrest of some of the Chinese representatives.

    Ironically, what the two communities do is richly compatible. Prato's traditional industries, which are in sharp decline, are the manufacture of yarn and fabric. Pronto moda does not compete with either but could use the output of both.

    It may not help community relations that the Italian factories are closing down largely because of competition from China, but even Cenni says: "If we could put together the garment manufacturing abilities of the Chinese with the textile production abilities of the Italians, we could create a fashion centre here."
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  6. Brzezinski protégés remain influential in the US State Department, American think tanks and among European Atlanticists. Implicit in the Brzezinski doctrine: Russia is too important to leave to the Russians. With an economy smaller than California, Russia may not have the wherewithal to become “a powerful imperial state spanning Europe and Asia,” it does have a crucial asset. The country is the Land Bridge between industrial giant China and the EU. Linking these two enormous economies would create a Eurasian economic area and would make China and the EU less dependent on the United States, and thereby less dependent on the US dollar.

    Used by permission from Merics (Mercator Institute for China Studies)

    History has a way of defying the grandest of grand strategies. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), so-called free-trade agreements but conveniently designed to economically isolate Russia and China, are virtually dead. Their demise illustrates the stunning role-reversal of the American left and right. President Barrack Obama actively promoted the free-trade deals, while Trump and many of his voters are against. Not surprisingly, Obama has since been exposed as a closet hawk in liberal clothes.

    The mantra that Russia stole the US election will probably continue until the next election (or until evidence is found that it was the US government under Obama that interfered with the US election to help Hillary Clinton – see here and here). For now, the political establishment and its compliant media have succeeded in tainting Putin enough to forestall any plans President Donald Trump may have had for rapprochement with Russia.

    But is it a Pyrrhic victory? A recent article by Michael Hudson, Trump is Obama’s Legacy, explains how the political left, the former champions of the poor and the working class, sold its soul to the billionaire class while perfecting the art of political expediency. Not without irony, Hudson quotes Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotski to sound a warning: “Fascism is the result of the failure of the left to provide an alternative.”

    China, unperturbed by it all, is playing the long game. It is implementing the 13th iteration of its five-year plan and rapidly expanding the One Belt One Road. The giant network, probably the largest infrastructure project in the world today, will ultimately connect more than 60 countries with four and a half billion people. Nothing focuses the mind like a five-year plan, and thinking 10 or 20 years ahead to set priorities for the common good. Once the Russia bashers get over their tantrums, they should try to formulate a few five-year plans themselves. China could send some of its best and brightest economists to help them get started.
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  7. US-Saudi relationship has shown strains in recent years. Saudi anger over Obama-era rapprochement with Iran and unwillingness to go full-Gaddafi on Assad has been met with US threats about exposing "Saudi" terror, including the 9/11 lawsuits and the 28 pages. The recent American shale oil boom has meant that Saudi has seen selling less oil to the US, and China is only too happy to step in and take America's place as Saudi Arabia's most-favored trading nation. And now China is setting up a yuan-denominated oil exchange that could potentially mean that the Saudis and others may be trading oil for yuan in the future.

    This is why the CIA and other outside forces are extremely interested in what is happening in Saudi Arabia right now, and why, by extension, the rest of the world should be as well. After all, by now we know all too well what happens to countries that try to back away from the petrodollar, don't we? Only this time, it's not some "minor" players on the grand chessboard who can be taken out of the game with a simple NATO lovebomb campaign. This time we're looking at the potential of Russia and China backing this shift away from the petrodollar en masse. And we all know what that spells.
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  8. let’s talk about the most seminal moment in recent Saudi history: the key oil-for-money-and-protection deal struck between the Nixon administration and King Faisal back in the early 1970’s.

    This pivotal agreement allowed KSA to secretly recycle its surplus petrodollars back into US Treasuries while receiving US military protection in exchange. The secret was kept for 41 years, only recently revealed in 2016 due to a Bloomberg FOIA request:

    The basic framework was strikingly simple. The U.S. would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.

    It took several discreet follow-up meetings to iron out all the details, Parsky said. But at the end of months of negotiations, there remained one small, yet crucial, catch: King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud demanded the country’s Treasury purchases stay “strictly secret,” according to a diplomatic cable obtained by Bloomberg from the National Archives database.

    “Buying bonds and all that was a strategy to recycle petrodollars back into the U.S.,” said David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. But politically, “it’s always been an ambiguous, constrained relationship.”


    The essence of this deal is pretty simple. KSA wanted to be able to sell its oil to its then largest buyer, the USA, while also having a safe place to park the funds, plus receive military protection to boot. But it didn’t want anybody else, especially its Arab neighbors, to know that it was partnering so intimately with the US who, in turn, would be supporting Israel. That would have been politically incendiary in the Middle East region, coming as it did right on the heels of the Yom Kipper War (1973).

    As for the US, it got the oil it wanted and – double bonus time here – got KSA to recycle the very same dollars used to buy that oil back into Treasuries and contracts for US military equipment and training.

    Sweet deal.

    Note that this is yet another secret world-shaping deal successfully kept out of the media for over four decades. Yes Virginia, conspiracies do happen. Secrets can be (and are routinely) kept by hundreds, even thousands, of people over long stretches of time.

    Since that key deal was struck back in the early 1970s, the KSA has remained a steadfast supporter of the US and vice versa. In return, the US has never said anything substantive about KSA’s alleged involvement in 9/11 or its grotesque human and women’s rights violations. Not a peep.

    Until recently.
    Then Things Started To Break Down

    In 2015, King Salman came to power. Things began to change pretty quickly, especially once he elevated his son Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to a position of greater power.

    Among MBS's first acts was to directly involve KSA into the Yemen civil war, with both troops on the ground and aerial bombings. That war has killed thousands of civilians while creating a humanitarian crisis that includes the largest modern-day outbreak of cholera, which is decimating highly populated areas. The conflct, which is considered a 'proxy war' because Iran is backing the Houthi rebels while KSA is backing the Yemeni government, continues to this day.

    Then in 2016, KSA threatened to dump its $750 billion in (stated) US assets in response to a bill in Congress that would have released sensitive information implicating Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11. Then-president Obama had to fly over there to smooth things out. It seems the job he did was insufficient; because KSA-US relations unraveled at an accelerating pace afterwards. Mission NOT accomplished, it would seem.

    In 2017, KSA accused Qatar of nefarious acts and made such extraordinary demands that an outbreak of war nearly broke out over the dispute. The Qatari leadership later accused KSA of fomenting ‘regime change’, souring the situation further. Again, Iran backed the Qatar government, which turned this conflict into another proxy battle between the two main regional Arab superpowers.

    In parallel with all this, KSA was also supporting the mercenaries (aka "rebels" in western press) who were seeking to overthrow Assad in Syria -- yet another proxy war between KSA and Iran. It's been an open secret that, during this conflict, KSA has been providing support to some seriously bad terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other supposed enemies of the US/NATO. (Again, the US has never said 'boo' about that, proving that US rhetoric against "terrorists" is a fickle construct of political convenience, not a moral matter.)

    Once Russia entered the war on the side of Syria's legitimate government, the US and KSA (and Israel) lost their momentum. Their dreams of toppling Assad and turning Syria into another failed petro-state like they did with Iraq and Libya are not likely to pan out as hoped.

    But rather than retreat to lick their wounds, KSA's King Salman and his son are proving to be a lot nimbler than their predecessors.

    Rather than continue a losing battle in Syria, they've instead turned their energies and attention to dramatically reshaping KSA's internal power structures:

    Saudi Arabia’s Saturday Night Massacre

    For nearly a century, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by the elders of a royal family that now finds itself effectively controlled by a 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. He helms the Defense Ministry, he has extravagant plans for economic development, and last week arranged for the arrest of some of the most powerful ministers and princes in the country.

    A day before the arrests were announced, Houthi tribesmen in Yemen but allied with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh.

    The Saudis claim the missile came from Iran and that its firing might be considered “an act of war.”

    Saudi Arabia was created between the two world wars under British guidance. In the 1920s, a tribe known as the Sauds defeated the Hashemites, effectively annexing the exterior parts of Saudi Arabia they did not yet control. The United Kingdom recognized the Sauds’ claim shortly thereafter. But since then, the Saudi tribe has been torn by ambition, resentment and intrigue. The Saudi royal family has more in common with the Corleones than with a Norman Rockwell painting.

    The direct attack was undoubtedly met with threats of a coup. Whether one was actually planned didn’t matter. Mohammed Bin Salman had to assume these threats were credible since so many interests were under attack. So he struck first, arresting princes and ex-minsters who constituted the Saudi elite. It was a dangerous gamble. A powerful opposition still exists, but he had no choice but to act. He could either strike as he did last Saturday night, or allow his enemies to choose the time and place of that attack. Nothing is secure yet, but with this strike, there is a chance he might have bought time. Any Saudi who would take on princes and clerics is obviously desperate, but he may well break the hold of the financial and religious elite.
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  9. China is getting old before it is getting rich enough to pay for the care of its elderly, according to a recent report from Deloitte.

    “Despite moves to unwind the one-child policy, younger people do not need to be prevented from having more than one child; they may require significant encouragement to have any children at all,” the report said.

    “If so, the global implications would be massive, given that China’s population is 10 times that of Japan, and given that China doesn’t yet have a sound social security system.

    “There’s a chance that ageing, particularly in China, could lead to higher inflation rates and higher interest rates around the world,” the report said.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-27)
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  10. Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It's not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school - or even just your chances of getting a date.

    A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it's already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance "trust" nationwide and to build a culture of "sincerity". As the policy states, "It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility."
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-26)
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