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Monthly Archives: February 2022

Chart: China’s Coal Miners Pile Up Record $111 billion in Profit

Coal mining companies posted 702.3 billion yuan ($111 billion) in profit for 2021, a figure that soared 213% year-on-year, figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed. The surging earnings also made it the third-most profitable sector tracked by the bureau, behind electronics and communication-equipment makers and chemical products manufacturers.

Source : Caixin

In Pictures: Food of A Casa do Porco in São Paulo, Brazil

Inventive Cuisine Celebrating Pork in Various Forms

No.17 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021

Did U.S. Provoke Putin’s War in Ukraine?

Patrick J. Buchanan wrote . . . . . . . . .

When Russia’s Vladimir Putin demanded that the U.S. rule out Ukraine as a future member of the NATO alliance, the U.S. archly replied: NATO has an open-door policy. Any nation, including Ukraine, may apply for membership and be admitted. We’re not changing that.

In the Bucharest declaration of 2008, NATO had put Ukraine and Georgia, ever farther east in the Caucasus, on a path to membership in NATO and coverage under Article 5 of the treaty, which declares that an attack on any one member is an attack on all.

Unable to get a satisfactory answer to his demand, Putin invaded and settled the issue. Neither Ukraine nor Georgia will become members of NATO. To prevent that, Russia will go to war, as Russia did last night.

Putin did exactly what he had warned us he would do.

Whatever the character of the Russian president, now being hotly debated here in the USA, he has established his credibility.

When Putin warns that he will do something, he does it.

Thirty-six hours into this Russia-Ukraine war, potentially the worst in Europe since 1945, two questions need to be answered:

How did we get here? And where do we go from here?

How did we get to where Russia — believing its back is against a wall and the United States, by moving NATO ever closer, put it there — reached a point where it chose war with Ukraine rather than accepting the fate and future it believes the West has in store for Mother Russia?

Consider. Between 1989 and 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev let the Berlin Wall be pulled down, Germany be reunited and all the “captive nations” of Eastern Europe go free.

Having collapsed the Soviet empire, Gorbachev allowed the Soviet Union to dissolve itself into 15 independent nations. Communism was allowed to expire as the ruling ideology of Russia, the land where Leninism and Bolshevism first took root in 1917.

Gorbachev called off the Cold War in Europe by removing all of the causes on Moscow’s side of the historic divide.

Putin, a former KGB colonel, came to power in 1999 after the disastrous decadelong rule of Boris Yeltsin, who ran Russia into the ground.

In that year, 1999, Putin watched as America conducted a 78-day bombing campaign on Serbia, the Balkan nation that had historically been a protectorate of Mother Russia.

That year, also, three former Warsaw Pact nations, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, were brought into NATO.

Against whom were these countries to be protected by U.S. arms and the NATO alliance, the question was fairly asked.

The question seemed to be answered fully in 2004, when Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria were admitted into NATO, a grouping that included three former republics of the USSR itself, as well as three more former Warsaw Pact nations.

Then, in 2008, came the Bucharest declaration that put Georgia and Ukraine, both bordering on Russia, on a path to NATO membership.

Georgia, the same year, attacked its seceded province of South Ossetia, where Russian troops were acting as peacekeepers, killing some.

This triggered a Putin counterattack through the Roki Tunnel in North Ossetia that liberated South Ossetia and moved into Georgia all the way to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin. George W. Bush, who had pledged “to end tyranny in our world,” did nothing. After briefly occupying part of Georgia, the Russians departed but stayed as protectors of the South Ossetians.

The U.S. establishment has declared this to have been a Russian war of aggression, but an EU investigation blamed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for starting the war.

In 2014, a democratically elected pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in Kyiv and replaced by a pro-Western regime. Rather than lose Sevastopol, Russia’s historic naval base in Crimea, Putin seized the peninsula and declared it Russian territory.

Teddy Roosevelt stole Panama with similar remorse.

Which brings us to today.

Whatever we may think of Putin, he is no Stalin. He has not murdered millions or created a gulag archipelago.

Nor is he “irrational,” as some pundits rail. He does not want a war with us, which would be worse than ruinous to us both.

Putin is a Russian nationalist, patriot, traditionalist and a cold and ruthless realist looking out to preserve Russia as the great and respected power it once was and he believes it can be again.

But it cannot be that if NATO expansion does not stop or if its sister state of Ukraine becomes part of a military alliance whose proudest boast is that it won the Cold War against the nation Putin has served all his life.

President Joe Biden almost hourly promises, “We are not going to war in Ukraine.” Why would he then not readily rule out NATO membership for Ukraine, which would require us to do something Biden himself says we Americans, for our own survival, should never do: go to war with Russia?

Source : Patrick J. Buchanan

Russia and China Aren’t the Natural Allies Many Assume Them to Be

Ryan McMaken wrote . . . . . . . . .

In the wake of mounting tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine, one now finds countless media stories on the “China-Russia axis” and the “bond between Russia and China.” The ideological benefit of connecting Russia to China is undoubtedly clear to anti-Russia hawks. Russia is a relatively weak state with a small economy. China, on the other hand, tends to look more formidable. By connecting Russia to China in a new version of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” it becomes easier to downplay calmer voices noting the many limitations Russia faces in terms of its geopolitical ambitions.

But just how secure is this supposed Sino-Russian friendship? While the two states may broadly agree on the need to limit US hegemonic power, the two are likely to also find many reasons to view each other as more immediate sources of conflict.

In his book Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower, China scholar Michael Beckley notes there are many issues mitigating China-Russia “unity”:

Russia and China currently maintain a strategic partnership, but this relationship is unlikely to become a genuine alliance…. In parts of the world that matter most to them, Russia and China are more rivals than allies…. For every example of Sino-Russian cooperation, there is a counterexample of competition. For instance, Russia sells weapons to China, but it recently reduced sales to China while increasing sales to China’s rivals, most notably India and Vietnam. Russia and China conduct joint military exercises, but they also train with each other’s enemies and conduct unilateral exercises simulating a Sino-Russian war. The two countries share an interest in developing Central Asia, but Russia wants to tether the region to Moscow via the Eurasian Economic Union whereas China wants to reconstitute the Silk Road and link China to the Middle East and Europe while bypassing Russia.

The potential for an ongoing border dispute between Russia and China remains as well. For its part, China has as many as eighteen border disputes going on right now, and Russia continues to deal with several border issues with both Ukraine and Georgia. In Siberia, however, Russia and China face a low-intensity conflict over their border that is an ongoing source of division between the two states. While unlikely to lead to violent conflict in the near future, this border situation does provide an informative example of one of many ways that the Russia-China “partnership” faces many pitfalls.

What Is Russia’s Far East Problem?

As Russia’s population has declined, the Chinese side of the border looks increasingly like a source of political instability and ethnic incursion into Russian territory. Beyond the near term, this is likely to lead to more conflict over the exact location of the border and who dominates the region.

Many have noted this. In 2008, for example, the Hudson Institute’s Laurent Murawiec published “The Great Siberian War of 2030,” which explored the possibility for rising tensions along the Russia-China border. Murawiec notes that as Russia’s population continues to decline and withdraw from Siberia—a term in this context meaning everything east of the Ural Mountains—relative Chinese geopolitical strength in the region will continue to decline:

A hollowed out Siberia will be similar to a vacuum hole sucking in outside forces to make up for the vanishing Russian presence. Conflict is neither inexorable nor prescribed by some mechanical inevitability, but the likelihood that disequilibrium may lead to turmoil must be taken into account as a realistic possibility.

A similar thesis appeared in the New York Times in 2015 in an article titled “Why China Will Reclaim Siberia.” The author, Frank Jacobs, lays out the basic dynamics:

The border, all 2,738 miles of it, is the legacy of the Convention of Peking of 1860 and other unequal pacts between a strong, expanding Russia and a weakened China after the Second Opium War. (Other European powers similarly encroached upon China, but from the south. Hence the former British foothold in Hong Kong, for example.)

The 1.35 billion Chinese people south of the border outnumber Russia’s 144 million almost 10 to 1. The discrepancy is even starker for Siberia on its own, home to barely 38 million people, and especially the border area, where only 6 million Russians face over 90 million Chinese. With intermarriage, trade and investment across that border, Siberians have realized that, for better or for worse, Beijing is a lot closer than Moscow.

There are two main points here: the first, outlined also by Murawiec, is that the population imbalance between the two sides of the border is very destabilizing. Eventually, this could even lead to China using a strategy similar to that now employed by Russia in eastern Ukraine: if the Russian borderlands end up with a sizable number of ethnic Chinese with ties to China, the Chinese regime could hand out Chinese passports on the Russian side of the border and then pursue de facto annexation in the name of protecting the ethnic minority from “encroachments” by Moscow.

Secondly, it’s significant that the actual location of the border was not established in the mists of ancient history but is rather a result of nineteenth-century politics. The fact the border was set by the “unequal treaties” of 1858 and 1860 ties the current Russia-China border to China’s “Century of Humiliation.” During this period (approximately 1840–1950), China was on the losing side of numerous wars and treaties inflicted on it by the world’s great powers.

This continues to be highly relevant in the minds of some Chinese nationalists, who base assessment of current policies in Beijing on the grounds of ensuring that another Century of Humiliation never occurs again.

Indeed, as recently as 1969, Russian and Chinese troops harassed each other across the border in northeast China. This eventually “escalated into a shooting match on March 2 and 15, resulting in heavy casualties.” Although a shooting war over such matters presently appears remote, complaints over Chinese immigration in Siberia continue today. Those who are interested can even view on Amazon a 2018 documentary titled “When Siberia Will Be Chinese.”

In 2020, the Chinese state media was sure to remind the Russian regime that Vladivostok was Chinese “before Russia annexed it via unequal Treaty of Beijing.”

None of this means that China and Russia are necessarily going to come to blows in the near term. But it serves as an example of one way the two states face real potential conflict in the future. It is also reason to doubt that Russia and China are solid allies united in opposition to the West.

Two Populations in Decline

Perhaps Russia’s best hope for retaining a solid hold over Siberia is the fact China’s demographic bomb is even more extreme than Russia’s.

In the thirty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s population has never returned to its Soviet-era peak. Moreover, Russia’s population is expected to decline even further, perhaps even dropping from 146 million today to under a hundred million by 2100.

That by itself would almost assure a Chinese takeover of Siberia were it not for the fact that China may be facing an even more dramatic drop in population. As the Asia Times noted last year,

The Chinese Academy of Science predicts that if fertility continues to drop from its current rate of 1.6 children per woman to a projected 1.3, China’s population would be reduced by about 50% by the end of this century.

But a fertility rate of 1.3 is likely a high estimate. China’s official records tend to stretch the truth, and the real fertility rate may be closer to 1.1. If this is true, the population decline could be dramatic indeed. Or, as the South China Morning Post put it,

If China can stabilise its total fertility rate at 1.2, the total population will fall to around 1.07 billion by 2050 and 480 million by 2100. This decline will be accompanied by an ageing population structure. The proportion of the population aged 65 and over will rise from 10 per cent in 2015 to 32.6 per cent by 2050.

A population that is elderly and shrinking fast is less likely to have the resources necessary to apply serious pressure to Siberia.

So, ultimately, at least on that front, demographic decline may pacify both parties. The Siberia situation is an important reminder, however, that Russian and Chinese interests do not necessarily coincide, and that Russia is not the geopolitically secure juggernaut many Russophobes apparently believe it to be.

Source : Mises Institute

Chart: Printing Money – How Celebrity Book Deals Measure Up

Source : Statista

Why Freedom of Numbers Matters

What do you do if you’re in charge of a country and things are not going your way?

Last week, President Erdogan of Turkey was presented with the unwelcome news that the inflation rate in his country was close to 50%, with the Turkish lira in free fall. Rather than questioning his own policy, or blaming the pandemic/opposition/weather (as so many other politicians have done before), he opted to fire the chief statistician.

He’s not the first. The Government of Greece prosecuted its chief statistician in 2013 over a dispute about economic statistics. The chief statistician of Fiji was marched out of his office by security guards a few months ago in a row over poverty data.

Statisticians may make unlikely heroes, but these are the people who stand up for the truth against governments who are prepared to go to extreme lengths to say it isn’t so. They, and their allies in the global movement for open data, are just as critical to democracy as the journalists standing up against limits to free speech. Freedom of expression applies to numbers as well as words.

Politicians must govern the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. As the Vice President of Ghana, and champion of good data, Mahamudu Bawumia put it, ‘Statistics deliver both good and bad news, but effective governments need to hear both.’ Good data, in other words, leads to good policy — and bad data puts governments at the mercy of unseen and unknown events.

Suppressing or fixing the data to make the economy look better can make it perform worse. A World Bank paper found that producing and releasing regular, credible, statistics, can have a bigger positive impact on economic growth than opening trade or investing in education. The authors compared countries with stronger and weaker data systems, and found that those with stronger systems tended to grow faster, even after controlling for other variables.

Their advice to autocrats considering concealing the truth from citizens? ‘Data opacity can be used as a tool to keep citizens in the dark, but it might come at the cost of foregoing opportunities to increase the economic pie’.

COVID-19 has raised the political temperature around data even further. In the USA, the Republican Governor of Florida has been accused of falsifying data to undercount the number of cases and deaths. Not all state officials have been prepared to go along with the deception: whistleblowers have spoken out after being asked to report fake numbers, and a data analyst in Florida found armed police at her door in the middle of the night in December 2020 after setting up her own COVID-19 dashboard to report the truth. At over 26,000 cases per 100,000 people, Florida has experienced more COVID cases than the US average of 22,773 per 100,000.

Others have gone even further. In May 2020, then-President Magufuli ordered the authorities in Tanzania to stop reporting on COVID-19 cases altogether. With no data to prove otherwise, he declared the pandemic over in June of that year. He died of what opposition politicians claimed was COVID-19 in March 2021.

Where does it end? Independent statistics are a tool for accountability, but those that are doctored become an instrument of propaganda. In George Orwell’s 1984, the hero Winston Smith is employed at the Ministry of Truth to retrofit statistics to suit whatever Big Brother defines as reality on any given day. Although, “statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head.”

As Orwell put it: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” If we care about democracy we need to take attempts to muzzle statistics just as seriously as attempts to suppress the media or impose any other limits on freedom of speech. Set the statistics free!

Source : Data4SDGs

The Russian Ruble Tanked, Hitting a New Record Low

Down as much as 40% to 118.6 per dollar today

Source : Trading Economics

Charts: China’s Annual Crude Oil Imports Drop for First Time in 20 Years

Source : Reuters

Sunday Humour: News in Cartoons

Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Regime Sparks Rush for Exit by Spooked Residents

Frances Yoon and Dan Strumpf wrote . . . . . . . . .

For Charles Murton, one of Hong Kong’s tens of thousands of expatriate residents, the city’s surprise decision to shut schools next month to test its 7.4 million people for Covid-19 was the last straw.

He has been drawing up plans to leave the city he immigrated to as a teenager, eyeing a move with his wife and two young children to Singapore, a perennial Hong Kong rival that continues to open its borders even as Covid-19 numbers there surge to record highs.

“The virus is something that you’ve got to live with, but that doesn’t seem to be the thought process here,” said Mr. Murton, a 41-year-old logistics executive.

For two years, Hong Kong largely shut out Covid-19 by at times banning travelers from certain high-risk countries, using lengthy quarantines for arrivals and social distancing, and isolating infected people and their close contacts—at the cost of effectively cutting off the global financial hub’s residents from the outside world. Now, after the Omicron variant punctured the city’s defenses, overwhelming hospitals and testing facilities, the city is tightening the screws in new and unpredictable ways to adhere to Beijing’s zero-Covid policy of stamping out the virus whenever it appears.

For residents frustrated by the lack of a clear pathway out of Hong Kong’s restrictions, the latest clampdown clashes with the picture in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world, where governments are dismantling the most intrusive pandemic-control measures and seeking a return to a more normal life, aided by high vaccination rates.

Hong Kong’s heavy-handed response risks turning what has been a stream of residents leaving the city into a flood. Immigration data shows nearly 69,000 more Hong Kong residents have left the city than arrived this year, with almost 80% of those leaving in February, marking the biggest monthly drain since January 2020, when the data began. It isn’t clear how many have gone for good. The latest government figures available show the city’s population shrank by more than 75,000 in mid-2021 from a year earlier.

The scurry for the exit is visible in hastily canceled doctors’ appointments, children taking online classes while on the airport shuttle and a rush to find tenants to take over apartment leases. Ticket prices have soared for the few flights out of the city, with some travel agents saying that clients are more willing to consider any plane that gets them out of Hong Kong before the new measures are implemented.

The city’s residents contend with a pandemic-control arsenal with few parallels in the West. Most nonresidents are barred from entering, and returning travelers must pay for weekslong hotel quarantines no matter their test results or vaccination status. While other economies are ditching restrictions, Hong Kong has banned gatherings of more than two people and indoor dining after 6 p.m., and shut gyms, bars, hair salons and even campsites. Starting last Thursday, the unvaccinated can no longer shop in supermarkets and malls.

Despite these measures, the city has recorded more than 126,000 cases since Dec. 31 through Saturday, about 10 times the number of infections seen in 2020 and 2021 combined.

Under pressure from Beijing to end the outbreak, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced plans to test all the city’s residents three times in March, adopting a tactic that has proved effective on the mainland in identifying every carrier of the virus in a given area and putting them in isolation or hospitals.

The government said it needs the school campuses to process the one million tests a day required to achieve that goal. Still, the unexpected decision brings forward the summer holiday, wrecking the travel plans of families and creating uncertainty over university-entrance exams for final-year students.

City authorities will also commandeer hotels and empty apartment blocks and build isolation centers to house the tens of thousands of people who are expected to test positive in the mass screening campaign.

In a stark warning of what that might mean for families, an 11-month-old baby who tested positive was separated from her parents at one of the city’s public hospitals. The Health Authority said it wasn’t possible for the parents to remain with their daughter because both of them had tested negative. While the infant is now reunited with her parents, the incident rattled many parents who fear a similar outcome from the mass screening.

Doris Chiu, who runs a travel agency, said the risks of being forced into isolation pushed her to accelerate plans to move with her 4-year-old daughter to Washington, D.C.

“I want to avoid the citywide compulsory testing,” she said.

The Hong Kong native said she had lost faith in the government’s ability to manage the pandemic. “It’s going to be a mess,” she said. “It’s going to kill the economy further because they’ve pretty much [brought] everything to a standstill.”

Businesses have long complained about the government’s handling of the pandemic, saying travel and other restrictions had made it hard to recruit and retain employees. Industry experts say the latest shift in pandemic policy will likely make matters worse, accelerating a trend that has seen the number of regional headquarters of multinationals in Hong Kong drop by 5% since 2018—a figure reduced by the arrival of more mainland Chinese companies.

Yossi Shabat, 62 years old, plans to relocate to Manila after more than three decades in Hong Kong, motivated by the Philippines’ dropping its quarantine requirement earlier this year. “I cannot manage my company business here in Southeast Asia from home using MS Teams or Zoom. The relationship with the customer is impacted,” said Mr. Shabat, who works for an Israeli-American IT company.

“Hong Kong was known to be an excellent hub,” he said. “You could fly from here to everywhere freely. The last two years, it doesn’t happen anymore. It’s easier to take off to different places of the world, from either Singapore or Manila or Bangkok.”

To be sure, the end of Hong Kong as a global financial and commercial hub has been predicted many times before.

Joe Chu, Hong Kong manager of movers Vanpac GroupAsia, said that while inquiries about relocations from expats in Hong Kong are running at about double the usual level, he has seen big outflows of both Hong Kongers and foreign residents several times, notably during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and before the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China. He has also seen people return.

Like many of those The Wall Street Journal spoke to, including Mr. Shabat and Mr. Murton, Kevin Shee said his decision to leave Hong Kong could change if the government relaxes its policies.

Mr. Shee, who runs a storage business, said he is taking his family to Singapore and Bali in March and will make a final decision on whether to abandon Hong Kong further down the line.

“If the situation doesn’t improve by next year, and the quarantine rules are still rigid, I won’t return to Hong Kong anymore and live in Singapore,” he said.

Source : Wall Street Journal