China Currents is a journal published by the
China Research Center. Read articles, advice,
commentary and reviews about greater China.
Current Volume | 2014: Volume 13, Number 1
China’s political leaders are grasping for ways to clean up a notoriously polluted environment without sidetracking economic growth plans. For longtime observers of the East Asia scene, this evokes a sense of déjà vu replete with flashbacks to South Korea in the 1990s and Japan two decades earlier. Despite geographic proximity and many cultural commonalities, China, South Korea, and Japan are distinctly dissimilar countries. China’s large, diverse citizenry inhabits a vast, resource-abundant subcontinent ruled by a “communist state” in a semi-marketized economy. Located on a peninsula still divided by Cold War machinations, South Korea is a small, homogenous, and resource-poor country with an advanced economy and a presidential-style democracy. Also homogenous and resource-poor, Japan boasts a mature market economy and a stable parliamentary democracy. South Korea and China were numbered among the second and third waves of developers, while Japan was the first Asian country to cross the industrial divide. Nevertheless, at comparable stages of advancement, these dissimilar states responded in broadly similar ways to common challenges. Why is this so?
The South China Morning Post headline jumped out at me: Steel Princess’strading company in liquidation. I leaned a little closer to my neighbor on Hong Kong’s Star Ferry to read over his shoulder. The article claimed that liquidators were looking for about US$500 million that the company should have had in the bank. “Yes!”I mentally fist-pumped. Some people might view a missing half-a-billion as a failure, for me the headline meant success. I had investigated the CEO of Pioneer Iron and Steel, dubbed the “Steel Princess”by the press, on behalf of a client.
Fortunately, occasions when front-page headlines support the analysis in a due diligence report remain rare. On this occasion, the bankruptcy of Pioneer Iron and Steel leading to transfers of company assets from the trading company to other entities owned by the Pioneer Metals Group fulfilled the worst-case risk scenario in a due diligence report I’d given to a client a few years before. The largest risk, depending on what business the client planned to do with Pioneer, was that the corporate structure allowed for undocumented asset transfers. I never expected to see the exact risk we’d documented on the front page of a newspaper. » Read more
China’s Currency Reforms from a Banker’s Perspective: A Conversation with Henry Yu, Managing Director of Fifth Third Bank, Atlanta, Georgia.
As China’s economy moves ever closer to surpassing the U.S. in terms of purchasing power GDP, China’s currency system seems incompatible with its global economic status. China’s new leadership led by President Xi Jinping is pushing to modernize and marketize the currency system along with necessary concurrent reforms. The 2008 financial crisis was a wake-up call for many countries, demonstrating the heavy dependence of the global economy on the U.S. dollar. The vulnerability of the U.S. economy became everyone’s challenge. Reform of the Renminbi (RMB) became a priority in order to establish the Chinese currency as a global player and lessen China’s reliance on the U.S. dollar. Aside from the fallout from the financial crisis, the sheer size of China’s cross-border trade is creating demand for far more depth and flexibility in the currency markets. » Read more
China’s handling of the Putin-engineered annexation of Crimea from Ukraine into the Russian Federation reflects deeply competing Chinese interests. On the one hand, Beijing values its strategic partnership with Russia — a partnership tracing back to 1996 — especially now, when Sino-U.S. relations are tense over the intertwined issues of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and Chinese cyber-espionage against U.S. advanced weapons research and development. In Washington there is a growing sense that the military gap between China and the U.S. is narrowing rapidly because of Chinese cyber-penetration of U.S. military-industrial firms and approaching a transition point between rising and incumbent paramount powers, which may be especially dangerous. Japan under Shinzo Abe’s second government (in office since December 2012) also has begun courting India with unprecedented vigor. Even more startling, New Delhi is responding with an unembarrassed embrace of Tokyo. Beijing’s trump card of “the history issue” does not play very well in New Delhi. Given these elemental shifts in the balance of power that are in play, Beijing has no interest in loosening its strategic partnership with Russia. In terms of energy supply, a falloff in European purchases of Soviet natural gas also would not be bad for China, perhaps prompting Moscow to offer China lower prices, easing one of the hurdles to expanded Russo-Chinese energy cooperation over the past decade or so. » Read more