China going wrong

Despite the opacity of Chinese politics, it is clear that things are going badly wrong there. In just the last week, we’ve seen

  • The rejection of the officially backed candidates in Hong Kong’s local election
  • Leaks exposing the massive repression of the Uighur population
  • The defection of an alleged Chinese spy, with allegations of interference in Australia’s domestic politics
  • Clear evidence that the energy transformation towards renewables has been abandoned or downplayed in favor of the revival of suspended coal projects

We can add to that longer term problems such as the failure to resolve the trade war with the US, and the slow-motion trainwreck of the Belt and Road Initiative.

At the core of much of this is the central government’s incapacity to control what goes in the provinces. I wrote about this a while ago in relation to coal, and it’s clearly evident both in the failure to control events in Hong Kong and in the resort to state terror in Xinjiang. It’s also true in relation to the Belt and Road, which has turned from a geopolitical grand strategy to a slush fund for provincial politicians and SOEs seeking easy money in corrupt overseas investment deals.

This is unlikely to work well for China, and failure in China bodes ill for the rest of us. Most obviously, if China’s coal projects follow their current trajectory, there is no chance of stabilizing the global climate.

But more generally, it seems hard to see how the current integrated global economy, with China playing a central role, can be sustained. Trump’s trade war was largely motivated by a pre-modern mercantilist analysis, but now that has started, it seems unlikely to stop, even if Trump loses in 2020.

I’ve been sceptical both of the idea that Chinese activity in the South China Sea is a major problem and of attacks on Chinese influence in Australia. While I still think these claims are overblown, it is hard to see the current Chinese state as anything other than a bad actor, one of many we have to confront today.

28 thoughts on “China going wrong

  1. Very depressing 😦

    What’s more, a reactivated China Stone Project could potentially increase the viability of other coal mining ventures in the Galilee Basin.

  2. Worth keeping in mind that Chinese coal plants have been running at lower and lower capacity factors over the last decade. At the moment this plant is operating below 50%. Because growth in electricity consumption has been rather low the last couple of years, and quite a lot of non-coal generation is being built, actual need for more thermal generation is close to zero.

    So there is a huge overcapacity in coal plant right now. Building more seems like a poor economic decision, but the reasoning is probably that the huge growth in GDP and energy consumption are sure to resume at some point. If not, there’s going to be a lot of stranded coal.

  3. JQ, I’m not sure why you would say concerns about Chinese interference in Australia are overblown.

    – Spying on Australian academics, even breaking into their rooms
    – making sure the local Chinese language press runs a pro-Beijing line
    – massive intimidation of resident Uighurs
    – strategic donations to political parties
    – an alleged attempt to get a pro-Beijing candidate into parliament who later turns up dead
    – etc etc etc etc

    What would have to occur, short of invasion, for you to be concerned?

  4. election posters in a language not understood by everyone are not a good idea.

    is it impossible to have an english translation on the same poster stating the message given?

    this refers to the last fed election when lib posters in a predominantly Chinese “enclave” (for want of a better word)were in a language not understood by non-Chinese speakers.

    i know this is small beans but small incidents can sometimes highlight a particular position.

    for what it’s worth.

  5. I see China’s energy policy less as a U-turn to coal and more as confusion and drift. Solar installations are picking up and the 2019 outturn is likely to be close to last year’s 43 GW, a drop from the 53 GW of 2017. . The key policy of grid priority for renewables stays in place, and the subsidy taper seems stable at last, after a wasted year of confusion. Chinese PV manufacturers keep expanding production capacity and the price inches steadily lower. Wind and solar will keep cutting into the profitability of coal. Market forces are, as elsewhere, taking over from policy as the driver of the revolution (see also the USA and Australia).

    Another example of drift is the slowing nuclear orogramme. The pace now condemns it to near-irrelevance in the huge Chinese energy economy. What’s the point of the large investment? A decisive government would either double down or pull the plug.

  6. With great power comes great oppression. That is always the way. Great power rivalry is the reason why no great power will slow its economy and reduce CO2 emissions to save the world. To win the great power race, the world must be destroyed. The meek shall inherit the earth again, meaning microbes and viruses.

  7. I don’t agree with the point of U turn on coal. The article from Carbon Brief suggests power sector emissions growth was close to zero as renewable sources growth much outstripped the almost immaterial growth in fossil fuels. The main growth in emissions, seems to be due to running stimulus policies counteract the effect of trade war, which ends up increasing productions of steel and cement.

    While the emissions rise is significant and is not what the world needs at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be due to a policy shift to abandon renewable in favor of coal, rather it is negative effects from running stimulus policy.

  8. Idly thinking China’s not super bothered by emissions right now (or at leat, prioritising emissions producing economic activity) because they’ve got a Plan B. If the “third pole” glaciers melt away, the rivers sourced from which nearly half the world’s population are fed, then Plan B is to put up an aerosol in space and dim the sun. Things might really kick off at that point, but an alliance of the old stagers India and China would be quite interesting,

  9. Plan B (aerosols to dim the sun) is very dangerous. Not saying that it should be ruled out. After all we are probably cooked anyways. We may not have anything to loose. Still it could make achieving climate sustainabilty even harder to achieve in the future. Because, if the dimming aerosols can not be maintained then the earth will heat up even faster.

  10. “… then Plan B is to put up an aerosol in space and dim the sun. ”

    That has its drawbacks too – such as offering less solar radiation for stuff like PV electricity production on the surface. Also, there might be eventual agglomeration issues with the particles and eventual space debris hazards.
    Maybe large sheets of mylar might be more beneficial (?) or better still, beamed power sats although launch costs would need to fall by orders of magnitude for those to be economically viable.
    Then there’s the ocean and ground acidification which is a product of CO2 production, not terrestrial-solar equilibrium mechanism.

  11. Of course. Aerosols are super risky. Plenty of downside. But a melting Tibetan plateau is an existential threat to China and India like no other, and I can see this Chinese government going, “stuff you, you won’t pull your fingers out, we will do this…”. Hence the comment about “kicking off”.

  12. China’s commitment under the Paris agreement is to reduce its emissions after 2030. It could increase its emissions by 1000% over the next ten years and still not be in breach.

  13. At the risk sounding like I am defending China ;- Its getting hard to even imagine our politics any other way ,but a bit less American interference and influence in our politics would be good too. The recent CPAC conference was a disgrace. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that Whitlam was removed soon after expressing a desire for true independence from the US ,or perhaps American influence played a role, one day we will know for sure. We are so un-reflectively American now ,like fish not knowing what water is. ‘Freedom’ has replaced the ‘fair go’.
    As for the future I think there is no chance that the next 60 years will be as peaceful and prosperous for us as the last 60 has been so we should be ready .We should replace our embarrassing grovelling relationship under the US with one of cautious mutual respect. That would open the space and buy us some credibility to make stronger relationships with countries in our region – including China. We should strengthen the United Nations. We should make sure Australia is independent and can be self reliant and self sustaining if need be. We dont have to be casualties in Americas war on China or risk disaster because we find ourselves without a privileged position in a Chinese empire. We have enjoyed privileged status in the Brittish and American world empires and shouldn’t take such status for granted.

  14. “The meek shall inherit the earth again, meaning microbes and viruses.”

    It’s rather on the cards in the interim though, the way things are going, that that particular “meek” may yet again refer to Diocletian!
    “Diocletian’s reign stabilized the empire and marks the end of the Crisis of the Third Century.”

    “…the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of barbarian invasions and migrations into the Roman territory, civil wars, peasant rebellions, political instability (with multiple usurpers competing for power), Roman reliance on (and growing influence of) barbarian mercenaries known as foederati and commanders nominally working for Rome (but increasingly independent), plague, debasement of currency, and economic depression.”

    A blast from the past.
    History will only repeat itself Once more…
    Stereolab – Laissez Faire. 1992!

    It will come to us as a shock
    But we’re letting it happen
    People with their carelessness
    Governments with their laissez faire

    Are going to lead us straight to it
    That’s for sure
    History will only repeat itself
    Once more

    The western world is going
    More and more right wing yearning
    For some sort of protection
    Too scared to do anything

    Not to take the path that’s
    Dragging us down, oh, no
    Remember it’s in our
    Power not to go down

    It will come to us as a shock
    But we’re letting it happen
    People with their carelessness
    Governments with their laissez faire

    I can feel it more and more
    Within ten years we’ll have a war
    I can feel it more and more
    Within ten years we’ll have a war

    It will come to us as a shock
    But we’re letting it happen
    People with their carelessness
    Governments with their laissez faire

    The western world is going
    More and more right wing yearning
    For some sort of protection
    Too scared to do anything
    “Critics have seen Marxist allusions in the band’s lyrics..”

    Running with that line:
    “..Regarding modern societies, Castoriadis notes that while religions have lost part of their normative function, their nature is still heteronomous, only that this time it has rational pretenses. Capitalism legitimizes itself through “reason,” claiming that it makes “rational sense”,[162] but Castoriadis observed that all such efforts are ultimately tautological, in that they can only legitimize a system through the rules defined by the system itself. So just like the Old Testament claimed that “There is only one God, God,” capitalism defines logic as the maximization of utility and minimization of costs, and then legitimizes itself based on its effectiveness to meet these criteria. Surprisingly, this definition of logic is also shared by Communism, which despite the fact it stands in seeming opposition, it is the product of the same imaginary, and uses the same concepts and categories to describe the world, principally in material terms and through the process of human labor.

    ..Traditional societies had elaborate imaginaries … Capitalism did away with this mythic imaginary by replacing it with what it claims to be pure reason … That same imaginary is the foundation of its opposing ideology, Communism. By that measure he observes … that these two systems are more closely related than was previously thought, since they share the same industrial revolution type imaginary: that of a rational society where man’s welfare is materially measurable and infinitely improvable through the expansion of industries and advancements in science. In this respect Marx failed to understand that technology is not, as he claimed, the main drive of social change, since we have historical examples where societies possessing near identical technologies formed very different relations to them. An example given in the book is France and England during the industrial revolution with the second being much more liberal than the first … Similarly, in the issue of ecology he observes that the problems facing our environment are only present within the capitalist imaginary that values the continuous expansion of industries. Trying to solve it by changing or managing these industries better might fail, since it essentially acknowledges this imaginary as real, thus perpetuating the problem.

    Castoriadis also believed that the complex historical processes through which new imaginaries are born are not directly quantifiable by science. This is because it is through the imaginaries themselves that the categories upon which science is applied are created. In the second part of his Imaginary Institution of Society (titled “The Social Imaginary and the Institution”), he gives the example of set theory, which is at the basis of formal logic, which cannot function without having first defined the “elements” which are to be assigned to sets.[169] This initial schema of separation[40] (schéma de séparation, σχήμα του χωρισμού) of the world into distinct elements and categories therefore, precedes the application of (formal) logic and, consequently, science.”

  15. I was quite a fan of China, until recent times, especially because of their efforts on renewable energy., It was when Xi declared himself President For Life, that alarm bells went off.

  16. I do not follow Chinese developments. Has President Xi really declared himself President for life?
    It is such a no brainer to me that any revolutionary movement should have learned not only by now but should have known by 1940 that term limits for the leader(ship) of a country is crucial in preventing the drawbacks of absolutism. Because this is such an obvious thing to understand I have to wonder if something else is really going on in countries like China and Russia where Putin seems to be the leader for life. What I ask myself is are these public figures (Xi, Putin, Khameni, Kim, Ect.) just as much mere figureheads of an invisable deepstate as the President of the USA is. In western countries it is important to make it appear that there are changes in leadership to hid the fact that there are no changes in real leadership. Ok there may be over time different people with their hands on the controls but people who have been vetted to insure that they will continue working towards the goals of the parasitic organization.
    But could it be that because the populations of other countries have different expectations of what consitutes a legitimate relationship between the state and the people it behooves the deepstate leadership of the east, to hid how decisions are made, or who the real leaders are. Or could it be that the deep states of the east are just trying to hid who the real leaders are from the deepstate of the west?
    I agree that such speculation sounds bizzarre. But the alternative is to accept that well educated intellegent upper echolon people in many Asian countries are in a very obviouos way warped. I find speculation that the upper echolons of China for example are warped also to be something hard to accept. Perhaps considering human history that should not at all be hard to accept.
    But I do find it plausible that the hostility of western militarists and colonialists to governments that might try to inhibit their exploitation of other countries has led the leadership of other countries to hid who the real leaders are to make it harder for westerners to understand what is going on to make it harder for westerners to plot against their potential victims.
    In any case it is not my duty to decide what is going on in the bowels of the Chinese or Russian or Iranian governments. That is the duty of the people who live there. A deepstate is not neccissarily a parasite upon the society. But if a deep state is a parasite upon society it is the duty of the people who live there to deep six it. Is it allowed to help them? Common make my day. Is it allowed to help them?

  17. Xi declared himself President For Life

    Xi didn’t declare himself President for Life. That’s a thing that did not happen.

    Yes, I am aware that journalists reported that Xi is now President for Life.

    I’ll repeat that.

    JOURNALISTS REPORTED that Xi is now President for Life.

  18. There is a very nasty campaign against the Chinese; due to framing nearly every Asian is in the pockets of the Communists, or a spy, or a cheat, or a high rolling gambler, or whatever.

    Asians are easy to spot, they look different, but other ethnicities seem to escape similar scrutiny – how do you identify an agent from MI6, CIA or wherever?

  19. That is funny. Why did I write hide with out the e 3 times. Was I trying to hid(e) something?
    I would put a ilttle smiley face after that but I do not know where they hide.

  20. Yes, it was the Party that lifted existing time restraints on the office of President.

    Yes, which did not make Xi President for Life.

    Countries which are led by Presidents sometimes have term limits for the Presidency and sometimes don’t (although term limits have become more common). Countries which are led by Prime Ministers don’t have term limits (at least, I have never encountered any examples of that, although theoretically it’s possible). The absence of a specific term limit doesn’t mean that a Prime Minister is Prime Minister for Life or that a President is President for Life.

    For example, there were originally no term limits for the President of the United States or for the President of France, but even before there were term limits for those positions, the holders were not Presidents for Life. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, after first becoming President remained in that position until his death, but he was never elected, appointed, inaugurated as, designated, or styled as President for Life: he held office for successive terms until his death, but only because he was repeatedly confirmed for new terms in office before his tenure of the office expired. There was no legal or constitutional barrier to his being replaced in the Presidency, the politics just didn’t work out that way.

    I don’t know whether Xi Jinping will remain President for the rest of his life; it’s possible; but as things stand it will only happen if he is repeatedly confirmed as President for consecutive terms, not by virtue of a never-happened designation of him as President for Life.

    Even under authoritarian governments which suppress political opposition, it’s common for the President to be formally designated at intervals for successive terms in the office, so the formal concept of a term of office which last for a fixed number of years and not for life remains.

    By contract, Josip Broz Tito was explicitly designated as President for Life and remained in the position of President for the rest of his life by virtue of that one-time designation. Likewise, Saparmurat Niyazov was explicitly designated as President for Life and remained in the position of President for the rest of his life by virtue of that one-time designation.

    Actually, many of the people who have been designated President for Life did not in fact remain in the position of President for the rest of their lives because they were overthrown by force; but until they were overthrown they remained in office without being elected, appointed, nominated, confirmed, or declared for successive terms, because the term of office was already stipulated to be ‘for life’. That’s what ‘President for Life’ means, and that’s how Xi Jinping is not President for Life.

  21. “It was when Xi declared himself President For Life”

    Not so, but until he retires or is retired his position has been engineered to be as secure as possible ongoing.

    “that alarm bells went off.”

    Any alarm bells were sounding for Xi himself and the CCP elites long before his elevation… long before crossing that particular Rubicon.

    Recall some 10-plus years ago that the CCP was in a bind deciding on who would be promoted and from which groups/factions. Xi was a contender. He stated clearly where he wanted to take the country, particularly concerning the crippling levels of corruption, and stated what he’d need to do the job, and even gave an ultimatum that they could take it or leave it – that he would walk away before crossing that bridge without guarantees of support.. They knew Xi’s plans would create many powerful mortal enemies for him and all in his administration amongst numerous vested interests and their extended groupings and families. The upshot is that Xi can only step down and have those who have thrown their lot in with him live, and their families also live, when his project has reached a point that it would be survivable – a point where the project itself would be well established and survive. Toward that goal there can be no doubt that Xi is grooming many potential successors.

  22. Seems to mirror events elsewhere.
    The last decade has seen a retreat into denialism, isolationism and irrationality; jingoism…reactionary modernism.
    You note the same brownshirt bull headed obsession with control and aggressiveness with Xi as synchronous with Dutton and Porter and Morrison here, the current US administration and the Madhatter’s Tea Party that is current Britain.

  23. in regard to the comment at 5:05.

    the reasons for the collapse of the Roman system left out the refusal of the very well off to actually pay tax.

  24. may, also perhaps not too clear is the initial connections between certain old memes about Matthew 5:5 as prophecy fulfilled in Diocletian – rags to riches, son of slaves to emperor, powerless to living god.

  25. Australia is very fortunate to have a whole continent to itself, surrounded entirely by waters. But how would Australians feel if it shared a border with Muslim countries, and part of Australia is populated by a minority with ethnic ties to those Muslim countries? We know that the US and Australia have a long history of marginalising, even killing indigenous peoples on grounds that they threatened white European settlers. We know that even today, the US and Australia turns back migrants refugees from entering, even if they are asylum seekers. We know Australia readily revokes citizenship of people it regards as terrorists, expelling them from Australia.

    China undoubtedly has problems and concerns that need to be addressed. But the problem with calling China a “bad actor” is that it legitimises Australia’s own shortcomings. I have heard too many times Australian journalists asking why Australia should do anything about climate change given China’s growing carbon emissions, overlooking the fact that Australia’s per capita emissions are much much higher. The shame is that Australia is a wealthy country, and blessed with many opportunities to be a renewable energy power house. Yet it does nothing to help address climate change. Why? Because Australians too readily find fault in other countries, and so does nothing to address its own shortcomings.

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