Data, Info and News of Life and Economy

Monthly Archives: November 2020

In Pictures: Food of Lei Garden (利苑酒家) in Kwun Tong, Hong Kong

Chinese Cantonese Cuisine

The 2020 Michelin 1-star Restaurant

Infographic: How Much Space US$300,000 Buys in 50 Major Cities Around the World

Source : Infogram

Sweden’s GDP Grew by 4.9 percent in Q3

Source : Trading Economics and Bloomberg

Flying Dragon, Crashing Eagle

Pepe Escobar wrote . . . . . . . . .

Four geoeconomic summits compressed in one week tell the story of where we stand in these supremely dystopian times…

The (virtual) signing of RCEP in Vietnam was followed by the equally virtual BRICS meeting hosted by Moscow, the APEC meeting hosted by Malaysia, and the G20 this past weekend hosted by Saudi Arabia.

Cynics have not failed to note the spectacular theater of the absurd of having the Top 20 – at least in theory – economies discussing what is arguably the turning point in the world-system linked to a beheading-friendly desert oil hacienda with a 7th century mentality.

The Riyadh declaration did its best to lift the somber planetary mood, vowing to deploy “all available policy tools” (no precise details) to contain Covid-19 and heroically “save” the global economy by “advancing” global pandemic preparedness, vaccine development and distribution – in tandem with debt relief – for the Global South.

Not a peep about The Great Reset – the Brave New World scheme concocted by Herr Schwab of Davos and fully supported by the IMF, Big Tech, transnational Big Capital interests and the oh so benign Prince Charles. Meanwhile, off the record, G20 sherpas moaned about the lack of real global governance and multiple attacks on multilateralism.

And not a peep as well about the real life vaccine war between the expensive Western candidates – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca – and the much cheaper Russia-China versions – Sputnik V and Sinovac.

What seems to be the case is that any agenda – sinister or otherwise – fits the one-size-fits-all vow by the G20 to provide “opportunities of the 21st century for all by empowering people, safeguarding the planet, and shaping new frontiers.”

The House of Xi

At the G20, President Xi Jinping did not waste the chance – after RCEP, BRICS and APEC – to once again emphasize China’s priorities: multilateralism, support for WTO reform, ample international cooperation on vaccine research and production.

But then, in tandem with reducing tariffs and facilitating the trade of crucial medical supplies, Xi proposed a global health QR code – a sound way to restore global travel and trade: “While containing the virus, we need to restore the secure and smooth operation of global industrial and supply chains.”

Predictably, there were howls about neo-Orwellian intrusion, comparing the QR code with the exceptionally misunderstood Chinese credit system. Herr Schwab’s Great Reset in fact proposes something similar, with even more neo-Orwellian overtones, disguised under an innocent “Covid Pass” app, or highly secure “health passport”.

What Xi has proposed amounts to just a mutual recognition of health certificates, issued by different nations, based on nucleic acid tests. No gene altering vaccines coupled with nanochips. These QR codes, incorporated to health apps, are already used for domestic travel in China.

Chinese officials have made it very clear that Beijing has been working as the representative of the Global South inside the G20. That’s multilateralism in action. And the multilateralist drive extends from RCEP – signed between 15 nations – to the brilliant Sun Tzu maneuver of China now accepting even the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the successor of the Obama-promoted and Trump-detonated TPP.

This revival – a case of Make TPP Chinese Again – can be envisaged because Beijing not only has mastered how to contain Covid-19 but is also recovering in lightning speed. China will be the only major economy growing in 2020 – de facto leading the world to a tentative post-Covid paradigm.

What the APEC meeting made crystal clear is that with East Asia graphically hitting the economic limelight, as seen with RCEP, much vaunted US “leadership” inevitably diminishes.

APEC promoted a so-called Putrajaya Vision 2040, condensing an “open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful” Asia-Pacific all the way to 2040. That neatly ties in with the three accumulated five-year Chinese plans all the way to 2035, approved last month at the CCP plenum in Beijing.

The emphasis, once again, is on multilateralism and an open global economy.

Few are more capable to capture the moment than Professor Wang Yiwei at the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University, who wrote the best Chinese book on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Wang stresses how China is in a period of “strategic opportunity” and is now “the most powerful leader of globalization”. China’s emphasis on multilateralism will “activate the connectivity and vitality of a trade platform like RCEP”.

Stranger than fiction

Now compare all of the above with Trump at the G20 tweeting about the election dystopia and privileging golfing instead of discussing Covid-19 containment.

And then there’s The Elements of the China Challenge, the new 74-page delusional epic concocted by the office of secretary Mike “We Lie, We Cheat, We Steal” Pompeo.

Diplomatic howls comparing it with the notorious George Kennan “long telegram” that codified the containment of the USSR in the Cold War are nonsense. Chinese Foreign Ministry reaction was more to the point: this was concocted by some “living fossils of the Cold War” and is doomed to end up “being consigned to the dustbin of history”.

President Xi Jinping, at RCEP, BRICS, APEC and the G20, concisely laid out the Chinese case: multilateralism, international cooperation on multiple fields, an open global economy, due representation of Global South’s interests.

As we wait for a set of imponderables all the way to January 20, 2021, perhaps an angular approach to what may lie ahead for the world economy is best offered by fiction.

Enter Billions, season 5, episode 2, dialogue written by Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Axe: “You know they call us traders ‘gamblers’. The world’s economy is one big casino, fueled by a giant debt bubble and computer driven derivatives. And there’s only one thing better than being a gambler at a casino.”

Wags: “That’s being the house.”

Axe: “That’s right. There’s a systemized machine out there, sucking capital from localities and injecting it into the global markets, where it can be used to speculate and manipulate. And if something goes wrong there are bailouts and bail-ins, federal aid and easing. Where the government doesn’t hunt you down, but instead gives you a nice soft net to land in.”

Wags: “That’s your answer to the fireside chat: You want to become a bank.”

Axe: “I want to become a bank.”

Wags: “In order to rob it?”

Axe: “In order that I don’t have to.”

Source : Asia Times

Timeline of PBOC Digital Currency Development

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Goldman Sachs

Number of New Homes Sold in U.S. Dropped Slightly in October

Source : Bloomberg

Why Commercial Ties between Taiwan and China are Beginning to Fray

Hundreds of jobseekers lined up outside a factory gate on a recent autumn morning. Uni-Royal, a Taiwanese maker of electronic components for such brands as Samsung and Toshiba, was looking for extra help at its plant in Kunshan, an hour’s drive west of Shanghai. New factory hands could earn 4,000 yuan ($610) a month, double the local minimum wage. Kunshan is dotted with hundreds of Taiwanese manufacturers like Uni-Royal. More than 100,000 Taiwanese call Kunshan home.

“Little Taipei”, as Kunshan is known, illustrates a broader phenomenon. Exact estimates vary, but as many as 1.2m Taiwanese, or 5% of Taiwan’s population, are reckoned to live in China—many of them business folk. Taiwan Inc has not let fraught political relations with China, which views the island as part of its territory, get in the way of business. Taiwanese companies have invested $190bn in Chinese operations over the past three decades. Foxconn, a giant Taiwanese contract manufacturer of electronics for Apple and other gadget-makers, employs 1m workers in China, more than any other private enterprise in the country.

As the West grows increasingly suspicious of communist China’s rise—a trend that America’s next president, Joe Biden, may slow but not reverse—Beijing seems keener than ever to bolster cross-strait commercial bonds. It sees Taiwanese firms as a source of investment and critical technologies such as computer chips, the export of which to China Washington has tried to curtail. At the same time, corporate Taiwan is cooling on its giant neighbour. Geopolitics is not the only reason.

When China opened up to foreign investment in the 1980s, entrepreneurs from Taiwan were the first foreigners to open their wallets. Enticed by cheap labour and land across the strait, they quickly set up shop in the coastal provinces closest to Taiwan. To this day Jiangsu (which includes Kunshan), Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong attract most Taiwanese money (see map). A common language and shared culture helped reduce transaction costs. Foxconn built its first Chinese factory in Shenzhen in 1988. By 2008 around a sixth of China’s stock of inward investment came from Taiwan, making it the biggest foreign investor in China.

Today three of China’s 12 most popular consumer-goods brands by revenue are Taiwanese. Chinese gobble up Master Kong instant noodles, Want Want rice crackers and Uni-President juices. Apple’s three biggest China-based suppliers—Foxconn, Pegatron and Wistron—are all Taiwanese.

Now China is going out of its way to recruit more businesses from Taiwan. Between 2018 and 2019 the government unveiled no fewer than 25 policies aimed at luring them. Measures include tax credits and, more striking, a special right to bid on lucrative government contracts, from railway construction to “Made in China 2025”, an innovation scheme centred on advanced manufacturing. In May the Chinese authorities released an official directive, signed by five ministries, permitting Taiwanese-owned firms in China to “receive the same treatment as mainland enterprises”. It applies even to sensitive areas like 5g mobile networks, artificial intelligence and the hyperconnected “Internet of Things”. No other foreign firms enjoy similar treatment.

These efforts by Beijing have so far had limited success. Annual investment flows from Taiwan have fallen by more than half since 2015 (see chart). This growing reticence on the part of corporate Taiwan can be explained by three considerations. The first is geopolitical.

China’s goal of discouraging formal independence by strengthening business ties is increasingly transparent to many Taiwanese. Beijing’s special treatment of Taiwanese firms, which are designated as domestic ones in its drive for “indigenous innovation”, only stokes more suspicions. It may have helped Taiwan’s independence-leaning president win re-election in January. Chinese firms, which have been able to invest in Taiwan since 2009, are coming under fire from the island’s regulators, which suspect them of being a fifth column for the Chinese Communist Party. Last month Taobao Taiwan, the local version of Alibaba’s Chinese e-commerce platform, said that it would cease operations.

Trading partners

Geopolitical tussles beyond the Taiwan strait also play a role. Tariffs imposed by America on a long list of Chinese exports have prompted many Taiwanese producers to shift operations out of China. A recent survey by the National Federation of Industries, a trade body in Taiwan, found that four in ten Taiwanese bosses with factories in China said they already have or will “transfer capacity” elsewhere, mainly to South-East Asia. Taiwan’s Giant, the world’s biggest producer of bicycles, has identified Hungary as an alternative production base.

Making life even more difficult for some Taiwanese firms is America’s blacklisting of certain Chinese tech titans. Huawei, a Chinese telecoms champion that is a particular target of American ire, last year accounted for 15% of the revenues of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (tsmc), a huge chipmaker. This month tsmc confirmed it has set aside $3.5bn for a new plant in Arizona.

A second challenge for Taiwanese firms concerns competition. Zhang Yingde, a Taiwanese small-business owner in Shanghai, talks of a “red supply chain” which, Beijing’s directives notwithstanding, continues to favour Chinese bidders. Mr Zhang says he can only hope to get in on the action as a subcontractor. Jerry Huang, the head of Ningbo’s Taiwan Business Association, which represents some 300 Taiwanese manufacturers in the eastern Chinese city, says that none has won a big government contract to date.

Mr Huang does not blame discrimination against Taiwanese firms. He points instead to the capabilities of homegrown Chinese rivals, which are becoming more competitive and innovative. This month Wistron, a Taiwanese assembler for Apple, agreed to sell its factory in Kunshan to Luxshare, a low-cost Chinese competitor. The fact that Wistron was prepared to cede operations to a Chinese rival suggests that technical know-how in electronics assembly is no longer a barrier to entry that Taiwanese outfits feel compelled to guard.

Now that their dominance in manufacturing is fading, Taiwanese firms which want to succeed in China may need to ride on “Taiwan’s soft power”, says Keng Shu of Zhejiang University. This will be easier in services, he reckons, given Taiwan’s global reputation for warm customer service. But unlike manufacturing, where Taiwan enjoyed a first-mover advantage, China’s services industry has no shortage of established players, foreign and domestic.

The third reason for Taiwan Inc’s diminished zeal for China has to do with generational change. Uni-Royal in Kunshan is a case in point. Taiwanese expatriates who dominate its management are nearing retirement. Young Taiwanese are reluctant to take on the often thankless task of running Chinese factories. A common refrain heard from Taiwanese owners across China is that the impending “leadership vacuum” has made them cautious about big outlays.

To attract stripling Taiwanese entrepreneurs, China’s central government has in the past year opened dozens of “cross-strait entrepreneurship incubators” in big cities. These offer perks like free office space, introductions to potential Chinese clients, posh flats at discount rents and a chance to apply for up to 500,000 yuan in seed capital from the government. Weak pitches such as insufficiently differentiated mobile apps need not apply, says Zhu Yan, who operates an incubator in Jiaxing, in Zhejiang province. Still, the bar is lower than Chinese venture-capital firms typically set.

Mr Zhu’s incubator has lured ten Taiwanese startups. But schemes like it will not be enough to allay Taiwanese bosses’ concerns about pricier labour and stiffer competition—let alone about the new great-power rivalry. More likely than not, the golden era of Taiwanese business in China is over.

Source : The Economist

Survey: Hong Kong Second-worst City in Asia for Expats

Zoe Low wrote . . . . . . . . .

Hong Kong has once again slid down a ranking of the world’s best places for expats to live, falling into the bottom 10 overall and coming second to last among the Asian cities included after being rated worst in the world for both political stability and cost of living.

The annual report by the networking site InterNations ranked Hong Kong 57th out of 66 cities around the world, with the findings based on a survey of 15,000 expats.

The city was trounced by regional rival Singapore, which placed fifth, also coming behind Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh, Shanghai, Bangkok, Beijing and Tokyo. Seoul was the only Asian city on the list to score lower.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

Globally, Valencia in Spain was ranked the top destination for expats.

Last year, Hong Kong was ranked 52nd, behind Singapore, Shanghai and Taipei, but that report had included 82 cities in total. Six years ago, Hong Kong was ranked 10th.

“While Hong Kong has an average performance in the Quality of Urban Living Index (45th) in general, safety and security seem to be a real concern: The city is rated worst in the world for political stability, with 69 per cent of expats being worried about this factor compared to 17 per cent globally,” the report said.

In contrast, 90 per cent of expats living in Singapore rated the political stability of the city state positively.

InterNations had already noted last year that views on safety and security were to change among expats living in Hong Kong following the anti-government protests in 2019.

Since then, a controversial national security law imposed by Beijing in June has prompted further questions among foreign residents as to the future of the city.

John Hu, the founder and principal consultant of John Hu Migration Consulting, said he had already received inquiries from British, Indian and Irish citizens living in Hong Kong about leaving the city for English-speaking countries such as Canada and Australia.

He added that some expats from places other than mainland China had also been forced to leave due to cost-cutting measures by their companies brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Hong Kong has lost its competitiveness in the region as compared with its neighbouring cities which [have] higher GDP growth and innovative high technology industry which attract more talents and foreign direct investments,” Wu said in an email.

He said Hong Kong’s “brain drain’’ of foreign talent would continue unless the government undertook proactive and focused initiatives to retain it.

Meanwhile, other complaints about Hong Kong remained much the same as in past years, with the astronomical costs of living and housing being the main sore point among foreigners living in the city, according to the report.

InterNations bases its report on five factors – quality of urban living, getting settled, urban work life, finance and housing, and local cost of living. It conducted the surveys for this year’s report in March, it noted, so it remained to be seen how the coronavirus pandemic might change expats’ preferences.

In addition to perennial high achiever Singapore, other up-and-coming Southeast Asian cities also performed well, with Kuala Lumpur coming in eighth and Ho Chi Minh ranking 19th.

Kuala Lumpur was ranked among the easiest places to settle into, with seven in 10 people who moved there saying housing was affordable, according to the report. More than 70 per cent said the general cost of living was affordable, compared to a global average of 46 per cent.

While respondents said Bangkok, ranked 30th overall, had the worst urban environment of all the cities ranked, its expats were still among the happiest with the cost of living there.

People living in Shanghai and Beijing were generally the happiest with their finances, while Tokyo was considered the safest city for expats.

Seoul, however, fared even worse than Hong Kong, with expats finding it hard to make friends and fit in with the local culture, although it performed well on the urban living index with its public transport and health care systems.

Source : Yahoo

With Toyota’s Help, This Secretive Entrepreneur May Finally Give Us Flying Cars

Jeremy Bogaisky wrote . . . . . . . . .

JoeBen Bevirt first thought about building an airplane that could take off and land like a helicopter in second grade while trudging up the 4.5-mile road to his family’s home in an off-grid hippie settlement among the redwoods in Northern California. “It was a lonnnnng hill,” Bevirt says, laughing. “It made me dream about a better way.”

Four decades later, Bevirt is closing in on that goal. On a ranch outside Santa Cruz, the surfing mecca near where he grew up, Bevirt has secretively developed an electric airplane with six tilting propellers that he says can carry a pilot and four passengers 150 miles at up to 200 miles per hour, while being quiet enough to disappear among the hum of city life. He envisions the as-yet-unnamed aircraft, which experts speculate could cost $400,000 to $1.5 million to manufacture, as the foundation for a massive rooftop-to-rooftop air-taxi network—one he plans to build and run himself. His aspiration is to free urbanites from snarled roads and save a billion people an hour a day at the same price (he hopes) as an UberX ride, or roughly $2.50 a mile.

It sounds crazy, but Bevirt, 47, has some powerful believers. Toyota pumped roughly $400 million into his Joby Aviation in January, joining investors including Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective and Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group, the latter of which was also an early Tesla backer. In all, Joby has raised $745 million, most recently at a valuation of $2.6 billion. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda told Bevirt he hopes, through Joby, to realize the flying-car dreams of his grandfather Kiichiro, Toyota Motors’ founder, who developed aircraft before World War II. Toyota engineers are refining components of Joby’s aircraft to make it easier to build on a mass scale more akin to the auto industry than aviation, and helping Bevirt set up a factory in Monterey County where he plans to produce thousands of aircraft a year.

Joby is the best-funded and most valuable of an explosion of startups leveraging advances in batteries and electric motors to try to wean aviation off fossil fuels and create new types of aircraft, including autonomous ones, to serve as air taxis. No one knows how big the industry could get—or if it will get off the ground at all—but Wall Street is spitballing some big numbers. One report from Morgan Stanley estimates the category could generate $674 billion a year in fares worldwide by 2040.

“If we can fly, we can turn our streets into parks and fundamentally make our cities much nicer places to live in,” Bevirt says.

Dreamers have been trying (and failing) to build flying cars for 100 years. Skeptics think Joby and its competitors are still at least a decade too early: Today’s best batteries pack 14 times less usable energy by weight than jet fuel. Given how much brute power is needed to propel an aircraft straight up, they say, until batteries improve, electric air taxis will have too little range and carrying capacity to make business sense. Then there’s the tough task of convincing regulators they’ll be safe to fly.

Bevirt says he can produce a viable, safe aircraft now with top-of-the-line lithium-ion battery cells that currently power electric cars. And Joby is the only startup to commit to Uber’s ambitious timeline of launching an urban air-taxi service in 2023. Bevirt says he’s on track to win safety certification from the Federal Aviation Administration that year, which would likely make Joby the first electric air-taxi maker to clear that daunting hurdle.

Bevirt was raised in a back-to-the-land community in which he got an early education in engineering, helping fix farm equipment and building homes alongside his father, Ron Bevirt, who was one of the LSD-tripping Merry Pranksters back in the 1960s. (JoeBen is named after a character in Sometimes a Great Notion, written by Pranksters ringleader Ken Kesey, famous for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

As an adult, Bevirt re-created that community with a decidedly capitalistic twist on his secluded 440 acres of woodlands and meadows overlooking the Pacific. The sprawling property, which he purchased with the proceeds from selling earlier businesses—Velocity11, which built liquid-handling robots used for testing potential drugs, and the company behind GorillaPod, a flexible camera tripod—includes a former quarry where Bevirt conducted early test flights. Employees have lived in small cottages on the property and built houses nearby. Before locking in on developing an aircraft, he incubated other startups there, with everyone working together in a cavernous barn. Bevirt started an organic farm to feed them, with chickens and bees yielding eggs and honey.

Source : Forbes

In Pictures: 1957 BMW 507 Series II with Hardtop

Source : Bring A Trailer