An election cometh!

The election’s not due for over a year yet, but it’s best to get your despair in early

It’s always been my contention that Modi became prime minister despite the BJP rather than because of it. His appeal as a singular personality lay in the combination of his auspicious achievements in Gujarat as chief minister and his position as a social and political outsider. Remember the dynamics of charisma: you win charisma by gaining successes; you don’t gain success by having charisma. Modi was elected on his record.

It helped that Modi was a great orator and had fresh ideas and was a moderniser and was the very first social media genius among politicians—Donald Trump was the second Twitter leader, Modi was the first.

The dangers for Modi (and the NDA government) once he was in office and in power came from two sources. The first was the Delhi “swamp”, which included not just the entrenched establishment interests of the Congress party and its sycophants and hangers-on, but also the same in the BJP. Advani and other senior BJP folk were just as comfortable with their lifestyles in Lutyens Delhi as their Congress peers. The political/media class as a whole was the obstruction to change and their privilege easily outweighed any partisan political identity. This is much the same as we see in Washington, DC, where Donald Trump is hated by the elite establishment among both the Democrats and the Republicans, who make common cause against him.

So there was that: would Modi be neutered and domesticated, and eventually dragged beneath the swampy surface as he struggled to re-organise and reform, hampered by establishment enemies close to him in the IAS (the Indian Administrative Service— or as the joke goes, the Indian Asphyxiation Service) and the BJP hierarchy?

But there was also danger from another source: the lack of talent and the regressive impulses within the BJP itself. I know I make a thing of mocking, or rather reviling, Arun Jaitley, for whom I have little regard (see his latest budget idiocies here). But it’s true of him as Finance Minister—I’m not being snooty; the UK also has a useless chancellor—and also as a representative of the herd of BJP cats that Modi has perpetually manage in the Lok Sabha (and Rajya Sabha).

Now, though, the BJP has lost three seats in the Vidan Sabha elections in Rajasthan a few weeks ago and looks set to suffer further losses as state elections ripple around the country. It doesn’t matter that a few weeks before that, there were celebrations for triumphing in Himachel Pradesh and Gujarat (though slenderly): the watchword now is disaster for Modi in the general election due in May, 2019.

It’s possible, of course, that the electorate is so disillusioned with the lack of progress in BJP policies that they cannot wait to kick the bums out. This is certainly the movie that the media class is watching. But there are always at least two different movies, and the typical mid-term flogging of incumbents in local elections should only be assumed with extreme wariness to be any sort of bellwether for the national election, where very different considerations will enter into where the “X” is inscribed.

The media movie, where Modi is doomed, has a plot where “demonetisation” for example was a complete disaster, and has resulted in even more black money being hoarded, to the disgust of ordinary Indians. The online bank account revolution has gone nowhere. Corruption is worse than ever. Investment is down, unemployment up. The goods and services tax has caused industry to grind to a halt. And so on. I call this living in the (Lutyens Delhi) bubble and counsel that it seems real and immediate to that class because it is all the media writes and speaks of. I see it not only in the Indian press but from Indian journalists writing for foreign newspapers, who always manage to put a subtle negative slant on anything that Modi does. I see it in the think-tanks and diplomatic opinion cooked up on the international cocktail-party circuit, and I see it in the “thought” of lauded academics who have always hated Modi and everything they think he stands for.

So let’s just say that I take it all with a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.

Here is what I think is closer to reality, or at least the other movie that ordinary Indians —the vast majority of May, 2019 voters—are watching.

Modi is doing exactly what he did in Gujarat, redesigning systems and processes for long-term benefit, and using the trust placed in him by poor Indians to supply a political “bridging loan” until the fruits of his re-engineering start to feed through in terms of prosperity and development. Meanwhile he is doing what he can to manage his parliamentary party including many ambitious and egotistical no-hopers, and weathering the aspersions of a propagandistic media machine in the pocket of Congress Party interests that also has great influence among bien pensant fake liberals in the West.

It will be interesting to see the villains, hypocrites and clowns that will stand against Modi in the 2019 election. Who will mark their “X” for Nitish Kumar or the Boy Rahul? As many voters as the media class desperately wishes? I beg to disagree because I have observed the quiet dignity of the average Indian, who understands what Modi has set out to complete and is still willing to repose trust in Modi’s patient and long-term programme despite temporary discomforts.

Modi is a mildly left-wing, market-orientated populist technocrat. And yes, he is a nationalist: an Indian nationalist, not a Hindu nationalist. A nationalist is different to a chauvinist, a bigot or a fascist, despite what the Indian elite and media class claim. Their attitude is that India should prostrate itself and act against its own interests whenever possible. This seems entirely illogical until you realise they do very nicely out of the arrangement by being rewarded with money and positions, either by each other while they loot their own country as a privileged class, or by foreign powers, such as the USA and Pakistan.

The model for what Modi is doing remains, as I have said several times, the electrification of Gujarat he undertook in 2002, which involved considerable pain for everybody and was denounced by both Left and Right, but which he weathered and was eventually declared a hero. Gujarat never looked back, and neither, I am sure, will India after Modi’s first term. And for that he will be rewarded with a second.

Modi more popular than ever

What on earth can be going on?

Modi’s been “doing a Trump”.

After winning the state election in Gujarat a fortnight ago—and after a simultaneous victory in the formerly solid-Congress territory of Himachel Pradesh (As BJP wins Gujarat, Himachal, it is Modi vs Modi in 2019”), there can be only one interpretation: Modi and the BJP are doomed.

It is hilarious. These unceasing BJP victories mean the Indian mainstream media is forced to interpret damning defeats for the Congress Party as “a great opportunity” for the boy Rahul. And this despite the latest figures  that demonstrate Modi’s governance is heartily approved of by the Indian population—which must therefore increasingly be seen as “a bunch of deplorables” by the sophisticates in Delhi to keep their hallucination intact.

I’ve been muchly struck by the similarities in the treatment of  Modi, and now Donald Trump, in their respective countries during and after their election campaigns and victories. It’s been enlightening to observe Donald Trump being trashed by the limousine liberals (and even much of the Republican Party) in exactly the same way that previously Modi received abuse and brickbats in India from the Congress Party and its media sycophants (and a lot of the establishment BJP too) before and after he was elected PM.

Both leaders were initially condemned for being “Hitler” (who else?). Modi was to unleash a genocide against Indian Muslims the day after he became Prime Minister, before plunging the subcontinent into a fascist Hindutva dark age. Likewise Hitler Trump was going to deport eight million foreigners from the USA before shooting all the black population and installing the Ku Klux Klan in the State Department.

When these original hallucinations died they were replaced by the second hallucination (I am indebted here to Scott Adams’s insights, which I recommend to everybody either via his website or his almost-daily Periscope broadcasts). This second hallucination implicitly admitted that while neither Modi nor Trump was exactly Hitler, they were instead chaotic and hopeless, and their countries accordingly still doomed.

This story had clung to Modi for some time. He was narrated by the media as an “uneducated” son of a chai-wallah who would be lost in shepherding a nation, despite his two degrees in political science and a stellar decade-plus governing Gujarat. Likewise billionaire Trump was dismissed as a reality TV clown who had taken daddy’s money (one meellion dollars!) and once been bankrupted (administratively, like almost every other big US corporation).

Does anybody recall how the limousine liberals cried that Ronald Reagan would of course be useless because he was only an “actor” (despite already being two-terms gov of California)?

In fact, like Modi, Trump was tough and super-competent (he didn’t tolerate fools, especially ones on the public payroll), and very threatening to entrenched privilege, as has been proven in both cases. By now Modi and Trump have both got a lot done—exactly according to what they said they would do, not according to what their political enemies, still moaning, would like for them to have done.

And this has led to the third stage of the hallucination, in which reality at last begins to creep in. This third stage, in the case of both Modi and Trump, says, “Well then, he might be effective and get things done, but I don’t like it”. Which is fair enough, and tough luck, too, because lots of people do like it. In India they like it very much.

One example of what Modi has accomplished is the much (Congress)-maligned and -obstructed Goods and Services Tax (GST), a nation-wide levy imposed last July to replace and rationalise the complicated, inefficient and legendarily corrupt system of inter- and intra-state charges that kept India’s economy from growing. It was predicted, by me amongst others, that GST on its own would add at least 1% to GDP over time. Now we are starting to see some of the effects. In trucking and transport, for example, where it was expected to have a large net positive effect, GST can be somewhat quantified:

  • The average daily distance covered by a truck in India has gone up almost 25% in a matter of months since the advent of GST, from 300-350 to 400-450 kilometers per day.
  • Previous checkpoints for imposts (and bribes) entailed average five-hour waits before truck journeys could continue. All over India, trucks were parked up in an endless queue to be robbed. Now the stops have gone and the harassment from tax officials has vanished. The truck-stop hookers might moan, but then again, business might be a lot brisker, too.
  • Fewer, briefer stoppages have slashed maintenance costs for vehicles by up to 30%, claim transport firms. They also say that because the journeys are steadier and less interrupted, fuel consumption has improved by 10-15%.

So, conservatively, we could say that trucking has benefited by 15% overall in the last six months, and that’s taking into account the inevitable administrative difficulties of imposing a new system. What’s that going to look like going forward, and across all the businesses of India that will benefit in their own different ways?

Now Modi’s approval ratings start to make real sense, despite the way the Indian media desperately spins it. In fact, Indians are still hopelessly in love with Narendra Modi . Indeed, a new Pew Report out of Washington, DC, is astonished that Modi’s approval rating is stuck at a miserable 90%. Apparently even the Indian media is being forced to admit the economy is “returning to normal” (Is Indian economy on the mend after demonetization shock?  after the “disaster” of demonetization—and you can see here and elsewhere what I think about that particular limousine-liberal hallucination.

Happy New Year!

The news is in: Pakistan has just been taken over

China’s strategy of economic colonisation of its regional neighbours has just been laid bare

Gwadar Port in Balochistan … in southern Pakistan, rather

… A restaurant owner is visited by representatives of a certain organisation that wishes to invest in his business. This is an offer he cannot refuse. Soon the “investors” are there every day, walking out sides of meat and crates of wine and liquor through the back door while the owner frets and worries about his vanishing profits. Eventually, when there is nothing left to take, the investors burn down the premises for the insurance money. Hence the old joke: “Sorry to hear about the fire, Lenny.” “Shh! Tomorrow.”

Well, it appears a “restaurant” that we might call “The Taste of Lahore”, or something similar, perhaps “The Karachi Grill” or “Memories of Rawalpindi”, has just been invested in by a certain powerful organisation. Let’s see whether anything is being walked out the back door, and whether there are any suspicious jerry cans of gasoline stacked in the alley out back.

We all know by now about China’s charitable and selfless “Belt and Road Intitiative” (BRI), the Silk Road du jour that is to unite the eastern side of the globe in prosperity and economic brotherhood. Apparently it’s a $10 trillion too-hot-to-miss opportunity (“The $10 Trillion Investment Plan to Integrate the Eurasian Supercontinent”).

Who could afford to turn it down?

Certainly not the Pakistanis, or should I say certain Pakistanis. I’ve written before about the generous Chi-Coms (I use this term purposely to exclude ordinary Chinese citizens suffering at the hands of their one-party State). The Chi-Coms are apparently interested only in amity, and are happy to advance huge sums of money to their regional neighbours, enabling them to complete major infrastructure projects that will allow these countries to share in the forthcoming bonanza of wealth the BRI promises. But it seems (gasp!) that the Chi-Coms are also happy (beaming, nodding) to place their neighbours deep in debt at ruinous rates of interest and scandalously unequal terms of trade.

But that’s just me being negative, I’m sure. Or at least I thought it was until last week, when the actual terms of China’s development investment in the massive Gwadar port were published. Or perhaps one should rather say that the details were at last wrenched from the reluctant grasp of the politicians and bureaucrats of “The Taste of Lahore” who had secretly agreed them with the Chi-Coms.

It apparently led to uproar in the toothless Pakistani parliament.

The “China Overseas Port Holding Company” (COPHC—but the good old Communist Party of China, or CPC, to you and me) will take a massive 91% share in gross revenues from Gwadar port, in southern Pakistan (soon to be in independent Balochistan, but let’s not go there just now …). It will also take 85% from the surrounding “free zone,” under a 40-year deal finalized by Pakistani authorities (those certain Pakistanis), reveals F M Shakil writing in the Asia Times. And why not, since if the port wasn’t there, neither would  the economic development in the surrounding area, correcto?

Of course it would be indelicate to ask the related question: that if Pakistan had not allowed in the Chinese, there would be no Gwadar port and a much skinnier BRI, so why not a fairer split more nearly approaching 50/50? Ah—not with this kind of organisation, remember?

The problem for Pakistan was that it grabbed—sorry, accepted—$16 bilion in loans from the Chi-Coms to develop the port, as part of the (total $56 billion Chi-Com-funded) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the northern section of which runs illegally through Indian territory and is pretty much doomed long-term—but let’s not go there just now …

Being suddenly so fabulously deep in debt to the Chinese, and with a shrinking, terrorist-led “economy”, Pakistan was in a pretty weak bargaining position, which is maybe why in addition to giving up 90% of the profits from Gwadar, Pakistan is also paying a 16% coupon on those $16 billions. That’s some mighty expensive credit card, right there.

Minister for Maritime Affairs Mir Hasil Bizenjo, speaking in the Pakistan Senate, described, or finally came clean about, how the Chi-Coms will operate the port for the next forty years. It’s called a build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement. Basically it makes Gwador and its environs a patch of Chinese sovereign territory in south Pakistan. Then, when all the plant is worked out and in need of overhaul and renewal four decades down the road, at last authority and financial responsibility will revert to Pakistan. If Pakistan can afford it … and if not, I daresay some typically generous terms will be on offer from the Chi-Coms once again.

It’s just beautiful—if you are Chinese; if you’re Pakistani, not so much.

Senate chairman Raza Rabbani finally “bowed to pressure from lawmakers and directed the Senate Standing Committee on CEPC to look into whether Pakistan’s national interests are undermined by financial obligations entered into via the agreement with China,” says Shakil. I wonder if they’ll find anything. Presumably the signatories to the Chi-Com deal are all, already, perfectly well rewarded and protected.

One also wonders whether under-the-table deals such as this one are being replicated in other needy neighbour territories where the Chi-Coms can walk in shaking wads of “free” (i.e. ruinously expensive) cash around. Think of all those ports, airports and railroads that countries of Asia will be on the hook for in this enormous move of industral/political colonisation and invasion.

Incidentally, Vladimir Putin is looking kindly on an offer by the Chi-Coms to “invest” in Russian roads. In this case I wouldn’t be worried that the Chinese are going to come out on top. Putin must surely be wondering what they could do if Russia sooner or later reneges on the terms of the deal. Will the Chi-Coms come and take their roads back? They would no doubt be welcome to try, heh heh.

Meanwhile in benighted Pakistan, whose future (what with Trump in the Whitehouse) looks daily more cadaverous, it also turns out that the COPHC has been granted immunity from income and sales taxes relating to Gwador for 20 years, and double that time period for “imports of equipment, material, plant, appliances and accessories for port and special economic zone.”

It really is nothing less than a licence for the Chinese to print money at Pakistan’s expense. Poor Pakistan. Actually, no: it’s hard to have any sympathy, to be honest.

Western “liberals” still not getting Modi’s demonetization move.

If you didn’t laugh at their cognitive dissonance … you’d laugh anyway

Cognitive dissonance is the gap between reality and what you would prefer reality to be. That gap gets filled with error and blindness when you can’t face up to what’s actually happening in the world. It’s thinking wishfully, with an edge of psychotic unreason. The Trump hysteria among Clinton Democrats and others in the USA (what Scott Adams calls “Trump Derangement Syndrome”) derives from an unwillingness to accept that their candidate was poisonously unpopular, lost the election, and that this is really for real.

The Leftish Naked Capitalism website, usually excellent on many matters, has been simply appalling in its coverage of India under Modi, and this I also put down to cognitive dissonance. It uncritically prints articles by notorious Congress Party frontmen inaccurate in details and wholly ideological in content.

Western stooges of Indian fake-liberal media and politico types have aligned their Gandhi-Clinton attitudes and agreed to mutually support each other for many years. Now they are both in agony and for its part Naked Capitalism is acting out its part in the nihilistic, post-modern identity politics activism that condemned Modi sight unseen as Adolf Hitler (it’s always Hitler with these dreary people). I wrote a book showing how stupidly wrong that assumption was and I’ve already spent enough time on it.

But this latest idiocy—endorsed by a writer who is normally very good—deserves some scorn (coming right up). I guess this is what happens when you have a fixed point of view, and then you simply apply it to an area you know only scantily, so that you’re ignorant of even very basic facts and end up looking like a fool.

I regard myself as a Liberal in the classic tradition, in favour of individual rights, liberty and free trade; or as Matt Ridley excellently reformulated it in a recent essay, a free-market anti-capitalist. But it’s revealing to find I have nothing in common with these Modi-hating liars who see themselves somehow as liberals, too.

It’s difficult to know where to start with how the Western media has traduced the so-called demonetization in India. I guess facts are the best way to go, unfashionable though that seems to be with the know-alls who hate Modi’s government.

A factual recap, for God’s sake

In November 2016 the 500- and 1000-rupee banknotes were abruptly withdrawn from circulation in India. This created queues at banks, and other inconveniences, but no major economic troubles ensued. I’ve written before about how the prices of groceries in the chowks didn’t go up at all, so supply chains were clearly not disrupted—India’s poor know how to cope, and they were behind Modi all the way. His popularity actually increased during the period.

The ordinary people supported Modi because he had prepared the ground by ensuring that 300 million (and counting) poor Indians had been given online bank accounts so they wouldn’t have to depend on cash—nor any longer on the vulture-like chit-wallahs who would “look after” their banknotes for extortionate fees.

The withdrawal of the notes was prepared in secrecy. Why? Because Modi wanted to help the ordinary Indians and India’s economy, and penalise the two parties guilty of abuse and corruption: rich Indians who profited from bribery and mostly kept their “black money” in cash (typically piles and stacks of 1000-rupee notes), and the Islamic forgers in Pakistan who were trying to undermine the Indian economy by flooding it with fake 500- and 1000-rupee notes. Surprise was vital.

The false way all this was reported was that Modi was doing away with the notes and trying to take India to a cashless, therefore authoritarian system. (In the West that’s apparently a brilliant move for democracy,  the same journalists say, but never mind …)

In fact, from the his very first announcement on the subject, Modi had explained carefully and slowly, for the hard to understand (journalists), that the old 500-rupee note and the old-1000 rupee note would very quickly be replaced by new ones, and in addition an entirely new 2000-rupee note would be minted to take account of the larger values of cash Indians were enjoying carrying around these days. I’ve put a photo of the new note at the head of this piece so you can see I am not making all this up. In simple terms: Modi was not demonetizing anything.

Did everybody get that? Not journalists, apparently. Endless articles appeared decrying the “chaos” and the failed experiment in a cashless economy. The Indian government had pledged (yes they had) to have cash levels back to normal quite soon and aimed at a January-February dateline for it. I think they got about 90% of the way there by the end of January. Now in India everything is back to normal, with two important exceptions: the beneficiaries of years of bribery winked at by Congress governments are  a lot poorer because their cash became worthless overnight, and the Indian poor are a lot happier with their lot and with Modi. Oh, and a happy by-product is that the Pakistanis have been badly hurt by it too because they cannot forge the new notes.

I know I’m banging my head against a brick wall with all this. To return to the piss-poor article at Naked Capitalism, the idiotic headline was “India’s Demonetization Experiment Fails to Demonetize: Cash Comes Full Circle”. Well, that’s what was supposed to happen all along. I don’t think that anything will ever get through the thick skulls of such fools, so why bother? And yet somehow one must point out lies, I suppose. It goes on:

Demonetization in India has been a debacle, and there is no end to the problems that it has created currently in sight. The best that can be said about it is that it might deter political leaders in other countries think long and hard before initiating similarly ill-conceived, premature efforts to try and nudge transactions away from cash and toward cashless payment systems.

All I can do is refer you back to the colourful photo of that brand-new 2000-rupee note.

“Reform, Perform, Transform”

Meanwhile, in defiance of the fake-liberal gloomsters, India’s economy marches ever upwards and its business-friendly environment continues to improve. A happier headline a few weeks ago related to how India has moved up in the ease-of-doing-business rankings since Modi was elected prime minister.

India’s old ranking, one week after Modi took office in 2014, was a pathetic 142nd, almost like some corrupt third-world state … Since then, it’s just been announced, India has rocketed 42 places to sit at 100, and that it is one of the ten most improved economies, especially in the areas of Resolving Insolvency (136 to 103), Paying Taxes (172 to 119 ), Getting Credit (44 to 29), Enforcing Contracts (172 to 164), Protecting Minority Investors (13 to 4) and Construction Permits (185 to 181).

It ranked higher than China in three of those categories.

Suck it up, Naked Capitalism.

 

China’s new $100 billion metropolis: Is Forest City a Field of Dreams?

In Johor Bahru did Kublai Khan/A stately pleasure dome decree …

China’s getting good at building islands. So far their method of dredging up sand for gun-platform berms in the South China Sea has been for strategic and military purposes, in other words to claim more territory. Recently, though, a massive real estate project has dwarfed all previous efforts by the Middle Kingdom to impose its presence on Nature.

Before I begin to describe what’s going on just off the south coast of Malaysia, let me say why I am interested in the subject.

I’ve written a few times before, here, here  and here, about how and why India should transform its neglected territories, the Andaman Islands, into a new ecological Hong Kong/Dubai with tri-services military presence and a deepwater shipping port for freight and luxury liners.

The geographical position of Port Blair, on South Andaman Island, is almost unrivalled in strategic terms—holding the fort, so to speak, at the north end of the Malacca Straits, and having also a commanding position over the other, more southerly sea-route route from Australia around the west of Java and Sumatra. Perfect for trade, tourism and above all, security. I suggested a fabulous, futuristic—which is to say sensitive and ecological—enhancement/terraforming of Port Blair and its environs, and imagined it would be a very big project, probably at least $20 billion for the first stage and $100 billion plus overall. Above everything, I said that it could transform India’s regional heft as a trading and defensive security power, and add at least a percent or two to India’s GDP performance as it directly rivals China for South Asian-Western trade.

So now it appears that China has had a similar idea and is spending—wait for it—$100 billion on creating an island city of its own.

Forest City

On the southern tip of Malaysia is Johor Bahru, a city (incorporated in 1994 with a population of half a million) and an economic development zone, presided over by the all-powerful Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, the local Kublai Khan. The east-west Johor Straits, at the southern end of the roughly north-south Malacca Straits, narrows into a channel that follows all the way around the north and north-east shoreline of Singapore. At the Westerly mouth of the channel, where the E3 freeway bridge connects Singapore with mainland Malaysia, an enormous new development is being built.

It is constructed on four massive artificial islands that will contain 500,000 apartments, together with offices, hotels and so on, and be home to around 700,000 people. All this from scratch, where before there was simply a wide expanse of water: seagrass meadows waving gently under a clear tide and reclining on the littorals, picturesque fishermen’s villages. The peaceful currents flowed back and forth between the two neighbours, Malaysia and Singapore, in and out of the mouth of the waterway, as they had done since time immemorial.

But Forest City, as the new settlement will be known, is like a giant cork in the mouth of the straits, a dam, effectively, that will raise the water-level, narrow the flow and therefore increase the velocity and power of the water. But we’ll come to the ecological aspects later.

Forest City is not a Chinese government project—or at least, it is as private as private enterprise can get in China. The idea is to make a killing by selling apartments to prosperous Chinese. In fact if you buy an expensive apartment in Shanghai, you will be given another one in Forest City for free. Nonetheless, it is again a projection of Chinese presence and power. This is the creation of a Chinese city, provocatively, smack in the middle of the territory of two other sovereign states. Malaysia agreed to it but Singapore, which the project directly abuts, is not very happy.

Half a million new apartments, at an average price of less than $300k, means that the much pricier property in Singapore will likely crash. (And it’s more houses than have ever been built in the city-state.) And while $300k is cheap for Singapore, it is astronomical for most Malaysians across the straits to the north, with the result that most of the new population in Forest City will be foreign (that is, Chinese), despite it being in Malaysian territory.

Still, money’s what counts, ain’t it?

A new five-star hotel is already up and running to accommodate prospective buyers. The artificial causeway in the straits that’s used to haul the millions of tons of sand needed onto the new islands has already impacted the daily harvests of seafood the locals depend on. (For a brilliant assessment of the local impact of the building see this article in The Diplomat. The authors have used pseudonyms in an attempt to avoid prison or nine grams of lead.)

It’s not altogether clear, from what I’ve been able to find out, whether there will be hospitals, schools and other necessary facilities included on the islands, which seem overwhelmingly residential. Will the new inhabitants use the mainland and Singapore for their essential and emergency needs? It will be interesting to see whether an entirely artificial city—in contrast to the expansion of a well-established one such as Port Blair—can become socially successful.

What looks like large-scale ecological destruction on the ground is being relentlessly spun by the constructors (and their influential investors) as some sort of innovative clean-air project, due to the fact that there will be small trees on the balconies of the hundreds of condo towers. The Western mainstream media, no surprise, is lapping up the good news.

Forbes: China’s New Forest City Will Make You Rethink Urban Cities

BBC: China’s forest city

CNN: China unveils plans for pollution-eating “Forest City”

The Guardian: Forest cities: the radical plan to save China from air pollution

But as one anonymous local put it, “Trees on balconies won’t help with shoreline erosion.”

In truth, Forest City is the opposite of what Port Blair could become. It’s in shallow water, so no paramax port is possible; there’s no security angle either, except to insert a piece of China as a foreign body into the arteries connecting two other countries—the world can make of that tactic what it will, but if it’s OK with the Sultan …

I cite Forest City to show the scale of what is now possible, not just in terms of physical infrastructure (and the sheer speed of its deployment), but financial infrastructure as well. Forest City is a $100 billion real-estate punt. Port Blair, for similar money, would be simply epoch-making.

China: and another thing …

Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative is anything but innocent, and China tried it already – 2000 years ago.

Apologies for my absence: vacations and other writing assignments are to blame; but the lousy weather has returned and it’s back to the routine as autumn approaches. I meant to write something about the Modi cabinet reshuffle that took place last week, but I found I was thinking about China and feeling a bit browned off about it. Don’t misunderstand me: I love the Chinese people and Chinese culture and all that, but I think I hate crony communism even more than I hate crony capitalism. And dopey authoritarians, too. Hate them here, hate them there.

As usual, Minhaz Merchant says the important stuff about the Modi reshuffle best, so if you want to know, go here.

Anyway, China:

  1. Kim Jong Who?

I’m heartily sick of reading acres of useless journalism about North Korea and what the USA might or might not do about the nuclear threat. It’s very simple, as Steve Bannon told David P Goldman a few weeks ago: the USA cannot realistically do anything about North Korea. Were they to try, half of South Korea would be vapourised and clouds of fallout would be floating everywhere to nobody’s benefit. China could deal with North Korea any time it likes, but it is just tapping the USA along because North Korea is its creature and everything North Korea does suits China very well, strategically speaking. Were this not so it would not happen. North Korea keeps the USA occupied, for example, while China gets on with all the things it wants to do relatively unobserved – at least in the media.

I’m sick of journalists writing that, ooh, 90% of North Korea’s trade is with China: if only Beijing would impose sanctions, Kim would cave in, and so forth. What nonsense. Why would China do that and hurt its own economy when North Korea is already doing everything commanded or condoned by China? Look: that pudgy little demon Kim Jong Un is the only one in the room who thinks he is in charge. As for those generals always standing around him with the shit-eating grins and stupid hats? That’s Beijing. If the Chinese had had enough of Kim then five minutes later his bullet-riddled corpse would be lying on the floor. The shit-eating grins would still be standing there, but holding smoking Makarovs (that’s not a cigarette, by the way). While we are on the subject, read Peter Zeihan’s funny and cruel take down of North Korea here.

  1. About that Silk Road plan …

I love this. It turns out that the whole bait-and-switch One Belt One Road scheme –or the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) as we are now supposed to call it – has been …. tried by China before! 2000 years ago! In fact it might not be going too far to say that certain Chinese high-ups came across the original scheme, dusted it off and decided to duplicate it.

I learned about this via Raoul McLaughlin, who is a fabulously good scholar, digging away at uncovering all the history of ancient trade and commerce – a much-underdeveloped area of research that I predict will soon be very visible and popular because of all the useful things it can tell us regarding our situation today. Anyway, I came across this in his book, Rome And The Distant East: Trade Routes To The Ancient Lands Of Arabia, India And China, and it explains how and why China’s OBOR scheme has been put in place, and what Beijing secretly aims to achieve by it (my italics):

In the ancient world, the struggle for supremacy was not always decided by invasion and war. In lands remote from Rome, imperial agents were using economic strategies to bring foreign peoples into positions of subservience. In the Far East, the Han set in motion subtle long-term schemes to undermine their foreign enemies and damage any ability to resist, or make war, on China. The Han encouraged a market for Chinese foodstuffs and fashions amongst foreign peoples including the Xiongnu hordes of the Mongolian Steppe. The eventual aim was to make these populations dependent on Chinese foods and manufactured goods so that these items could be withheld, or offered in diminished amounts, to inflict economic damage on these foreign communities. A Han official outlined how this strategy should be implemented, advising, ‘Every large border market we establish must be fitted with shops … and all shops must be large enough to serve between one to two hundred people … The Xiongnu will then develop a craving for our products and this will be their fatal weakness’. The Xiongnu were beguiled through thousands of trade exchanges that collectively reduced their resources and weakened their economic independence. As another Han official reported, ‘A piece of plain Chinese silk can be exchanged with the Xiongnu nomads for articles worth several pieces of gold. By these means we can reduce the resources of our enemy’. With calculated foresight the Han slowly, but surely, gained an economic stranglehold over their most dangerous opponents.

As I wrote in my earlier piece, OBOR: China’s bait-and-switch debt trap strategy, what China is doing is lending its neighbours the development funds to build infrastructre that China will end up owning and using to push Chinese products and interests into other countries, rendering them vassals in the process. In a generalised way China has been doing this across the world, and America’s uneasiness about how many dollars have been ending up in China due to the importation of its cheap goods, indebting the economy and destroying American jobs, surely contributed to the election victory of Donald Trump.

Today it’s cheap rebar and flat-screen TVs; in ancient times the Romans agonised over the high levels of luxury imports from China in the form of expensive silks that Roman women especially doted on (‘Our wealth is transported to alien and hostile countries because of the promiscuous dress worn by men and women – especially women,’ opined Emperor Tiberius.)

The writer Seneca worried about the political intent of these distant foreign merchants he suspected were looting the Roman empire and weakening it. Pliny the Elder wrote in his Natural History of how the ‘Silk People’ (the Chinese) were effectively pillaging Roman bullion on purpose for nefarious strategic ends. He wrote that they ‘take 100 million sesterces from our empire every year – so much do our luxuries and our women cost us.’ That was probably an eighth of Roman annual expenditure.

Note well the two primary reasons cited by the ancient Chinese planners for their OBOR scheme back then:

  1. Foreign nations ‘will then develop a craving for our products and this will be their fatal weakness.’
  2. ‘By these means we can reduce the resources of our enemy.’

With this track record in mind, I submit that it is far-sighted by Modi to have India resist the commercial blandishments emanating from Beijing towards the countries of the region (and to those even as far away as Europe).

China has just backed down from the confrontation over Doklam and the Siliguri Corridor – and they did back down because the road-building equipment has been withdrawn. Standing up to China over their ultimately damaging and aggressive ‘trade’ plans may likewise produce positive results.

 

Indian futures part 2: the luxury strategy

How can India counter the industrial giant on its doorstep?

In the previous post I briefly looked ahead to the relationship between India and the UK over the next few decades: it is only going to become deeper and more intertwined to the mutual benefit of both countries.

But India is also in the position now of crafting its own future as a “new” country, as Modi leads it out of the retardation after the Congress corruption of the last seven decades. What sort of culture and economy will India follow as part of its growing identity and prosperity? I suggest it will be determined partly by the political realities surrounding India and partly by the artisanal DNA that India possesses and must now cultivate anew and capitalise on.

Continue reading “Indian futures part 2: the luxury strategy”

Indian futures part 1: Britain and India

It could be the start of a beautiful friendship …

A few days ago, despite the best efforts of the London Underground system, I had a very interesting meeting with one of the most successful British-Indian businessmen of our time, whose identity I shall withhold. He arrived in the UK several decades ago without any capital, and indeed without even much of the English language. He has succeeded in becoming one of the country’s foremost entrepreneurs, with a personal worth in the hundreds of millions of pounds – although he wears it lightly and is open and friendly in person, without any airs or grandiosity. It’s a fact that he is legendary in his sector for being a considerate and kindly employer, and his staff turnover rate is legendarily low. He told me he loves the UK because it’s a place where anybody can come and have a go at making themselves a success, knowing the odds are not stacked against them if they work hard enough.

Continue reading “Indian futures part 1: Britain and India”

Pakistan and China: India’s strategic challenge in 2017

Examining the tactics India can use to turn the tables on its less-than-all-powerful tormentors

Look at a map of South Asia. I’ve said before that China’s unappealing wingmen are Pakistan and North Korea but luckily North Korea has shown no interest in India, lying as it does to the far east of the Middle Kingdom. China, though, right on top of India, is a threatening presence, while also shaking a fist at all the other countries in its neighbourhood, such as Vietnam and the Phillipines, as the People’s Republic throws its weight around the region. Pakistan is its enthusiastic henchman where India is concerned.

China’s strategy for regional – hemispheric? – domination consists of several elements. Forget for now its economy: nearly all growth in China today and tomorrow is debt-fuelled and will deplete wealth in the long run (Michael Pettis has done the calculations here). In fact it’s exactly because China’s real economic growth is grinding to a halt and its debt load reaching nose-bleed levels that expansion and power must now be projected by additional, alternative means.

Continue reading “Pakistan and China: India’s strategic challenge in 2017”

April update – and the contortions of the Left

Modi gets his man, triumphs in Delhi local polls; how the Left now backs the bankers; a great new magazine

A little bit of a round-up and some thoughts on the plight of the Left around the globe: I have been busy on something else this month (see below), so I am running around catching up on what I want to discuss on here. Back to normal service soon! OK …

At last Vijay Mallya, rural Hertfordshire’s most notorious alleged loan defaulter (but ask the banks and his wretched employees, who should know, or the Central Bureau of Investigation in Delhi, which recently charged the business genius with fraud) was arrested in London on 18 April on an extradition warrant. This doesn’t mean he’ll be dragged, handcuffed and squealing, onto an India-bound jet next week, desirable as that might be. It’s the start of a long, lawyer-enriching process that should nonetheless eventually see the ‘businessman’ back in the country he loves – and I do mean India not the Bahamas. PM Modi tweeted, ‘There is no place for corruption in India. Those who looted the poor & middle classes will have to return what they have looted.’ Not much fun to be in Modi’s crosshairs, I should think. Mallya’s besotted cheerleader at the FT must be sobbing.

Continue reading “April update – and the contortions of the Left”