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Chart: Japan Population Contracted Continuously for 13 years

Source : Nikkei

Chart: World Food Prices Crash The Most Since 2008

Source : Bloomberg

Humour: Erotica

Chart: Who Relies on Taiwanese Trade?

Source : Statista

Infographic: The Cost of Mining Bitcoin in 198 Different Countries

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

China’s Debt Bomb About to Explode: 5 Ominous Signs

Teresa Jones wrote . . . . . . . . .

Debt to GDP ratio of at least 275%, immense hidden debt by corrupted local governments, property developers default one by one… China’s debt bomb is ticking much louder. Can the communist regime postpone the day of debt reckoning?

Overview of China’s debt mountain

As reported by Bloomberg, China’s debt will probably break the record this year due to the central bank’s attempt to boost credit and struggle with the economic downturn. According to a Beijing-backed think tank, China’s total debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is projected to climb by 11.3 percentage points to about 275% this year. Although this figure is not internationally excessive compared to highly indebted countries like France or Japan, there is reason to worry because China’s huge hidden debts is unknown, as provincial and lower-tier officials have concealed obligations they have incurred; and are not included in the statistics.

China’s debt has dramatically increased in the past decade, which is, according to Reuters, mostly due to credit poured into state-owned enterprises following the global financial crisis. From a broader perspective, the debt mountain has long been piled up since the giant economy started to binge on debt to fuel its growth.

Some analysts said China’s indebtedness remains manageable as it incurred relatively little foreign debt, at $2.7 trillion last September. Yet, according to a commentary by famous columnist Gordon Chang in Newsweek, history shows the most severe and long-lasting financial crises happened to countries that owe money to themselves.

Chang explained, “In external-debt crises, foreign parties suffer when debt is compromised. The reduction of debt, of course, is politically popular in debtor countries. In China’s case, every solution involves domestic losers—the borrowers are largely domestic—so the crisis will not end until the Communist Party forces local parties to bear severe consequences.”

According to Minxin Pei, professor at Claremont McKenna College and a nonresident senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, although China’s banking system is still standing, many warning signs have appeared, foretelling an imminent debt reckoning.

Sign #1: Bank runs and domino effect

The sudden freeze of cash withdrawals by four banks in Henan on April 18 sparked the cash crisis, which has raised serious concerns over the financial health of the country’s smaller banks.

According to Professor Minxin Pei, small rural banks in Henan were driven into insolvency due to weak supervision, poor risk management, and corruption, which are systemic among nearly 4,000 small and medium-sized banks in China. And there is a high possibility that other similar banks will fail soon.

Coincidentally, when Henan authorities were suppressing the victims of bank failure with abusive tactics instead of helping them. Authorities in Shanghai had secretly put on trial a former billionaire who allegedly manipulated a medium-sized bank in Inner Mongolia to fund various illegal schemes. The 2019 bailout of the failed bank cost several billion dollars.

Financial Times reported a rise in bank runs among China’s 3,902 regional lenders over the past few years. Many experts warned of a chain reaction threatening the financial sector’s stability, wherein their counterparties and lenders, particularly larger banks, could incur huge losses.

Several days ago, Bloomberg disclosed that China’s banks might face mortgage losses of about 350 billion dollars in a worst-case scenario as confidence in the country’s real estate market plunges.

Sign #2: Debt-ridden real estate sector

China’s debt-ridden real estate sector is the most dismal alarm bell of its debt reckoning. Following the default of China Evergrande Group, the most indebted real estate developer worldwide with more than 300 billion dollars in liabilities, a record number of defaults among Chinese developers have shaken the whole economy, whose growth significantly relies on the property market.

Bloomberg cited data from Teneo, saying that some 28 of the top 100 real estate developers have either defaulted or negotiated for debt extensions with creditors over the last year. The ongoing crisis aggravated as hundreds of thousands of homebuyers began a mortgage boycott due to unfinished projects in over 90 cities across China, raising concerns over broader systemic risks.

Last week, CNBC reported that China’s real estate sales would drop 30% this year, according to credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings (S&P). This figure was even worse than the financial global market crisis in 2008, when the fall was around 20%.

To worsen the confidence in the property market, recently, Evergrande has been back on the front pages after three of its top executives were asked by the director board to resign on corruption charges. An internal investigation confirmed that Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Xia Haijun, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Pan Darong, and executive Ke Peng embezzled approximately 2 billion dollars from third-party loans.

Sign #3: Debt-laden local governments

As land sales accounted for a significant part of local authorities’ revenue, the real estate crisis immediately drove local governments into grim prospects. According to Nikkei Asia, property market deadlock and falling tax receipts are estimated to cause a 900 billion dollar shortfall (equivalent to 6 trillion yuan) in local government revenues this year. It would be difficult for local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) that have significantly borrowed from banks or issued bonds to service their debt.

SCMP reported a rapid rise in the number of LGFVs since 2008, with Guangfa Securities estimating that up to 3,060 LGFVs sold debt in the public bond market. “These platforms, opaque in nature, are often used to raise funds for infrastructure spending that does not immediately generate returns, leading to the accumulation of hidden debt in the regional economy,” stated the news outlet.

China’s National Audit Office 2017 noted that some local government officials had “incorrect views” about their political accomplishments and abused excessive borrowing to boost their performance. According to the audit report, some cadres neglected financing guidelines, ignoring whether they had the means to repay the debt before launching a project.

SCMP highlighted that the central and local governments have never published the scale of off-balance sheet borrowing or which lenders are exposed. According to Lu Ting, chief China economist at Nomura, local government hidden debt, including loans and bonds, might reach 7 trillion dollars or 44% of China’s GDP by the end of 2020.

For example, Guizhou, a populous southwestern province famous for making liquor Mao-tai, had its LGFVs defaulted on at least 68 debt products since 2018. In 2020, the province’s debt to revenue ratio was estimated at 706.56 percent. “The province’s Dushan county admitted “reckless borrowing” after it embarked on a construction spree between 2016-20, which included a number of white elephant projects,” said SCMP.

Acknowledging the situation, in recent years Chinese central authority has accelerated supervision of LGFVs, and has been promoting the market-oriented transformation of LGFVs since 2015. However, according to Guangfa Securities, such a transformation of LGFVs into commercially viable operations necessitates a favorable regional environment. Not all local governments possess profitable businesses suited for developing the platforms.

Sign #4: Large banks and non-performing loans

Large banks in China are also confronting a debt puzzle. They are trapped in the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with tens of billions of U.S. dollars in loans to developing countries, with a large fraction likely to become non-performing as the debtors fail to service the debt due to economic recession.

Nikkei Asia noted that the recent economic breakdown and the collapse of the Sri Lankan government will likely force Beijing to write off a large share of the loans. The troublesome situation abroad will hinder Chinese banks from helping bail out insolvent small or medium-sized domestic banks.

According to the Financial Times, besides the pandemic, the sharp deterioration of the BRI’s loan portfolio in the last two years was also attributed to the flaws in the program’s design, including an overall lack of transparency, poor risk management on projects, and the participation of many of the world’s riskiest debtor nations.

Why was the Chinese Communist Party ready to lend money to these impoverished countries governed by corrupt authorities? Why are environmental and social impact studies almost always absent from BRI infrastructure projects? According to various international analyses, the real incentives for the Chinese regime behind BRI investments are gaining military advantage, grabbing host countries’ natural resources, and expanding geopolitical influence.

Sign #5: Economic slowdown

Given the four above-mentioned warning lights, a systemic collapse is more likely to happen today than before as China can no longer maintain a high growth rate.

Debt and economic slowdown create a vicious circle: Severe economic downturn, partly due to Beijing’s zero-tolerance Covid policy, has made the debt burden difficult to be managed or even concealed. Vice versa, rising debt and falling income induce households to cut spending, likely worsening the economic downturn.

In late July, SCMP cited the IMF’s “World Economic Outlook,” saying that China’s economy will grow by merely 3.3%, down from the 4.4% forecast in April.

Conclusion and Prospect

To conclude, China’s debt bomb is ticking much louder, and the communist regime will probably face a debt reckoning soon. Bank runs, real estate defaults, debt-ridden local governments, non-performing loans overseas, and economic recession are ominous hints of a real crisis, which might be just the tip of the iceberg.

According to Chinese traditional culture, “debt” could be considered a kind of “karma.” Debt must be repaid one day, just as the law of karma retribution. Ancient sages believed that for karma to be alleviated faster, the debtor should cultivate their virtue and do good deeds. In other words, they should sincerely acknowledge their past misdeeds, be truthful and gracious to their creditor, and sustain a patient attitude while paying back debts. However, the communist regime in China appears to lack these things.

The Chinese communist authority has answered back with abusive tactics to conceal its wrongdoings. They include violent attacks and harassment to silence protesting depositors in Henan recently, how they brutally suppressed students calling for democracy in Tiananmen Square or persecuted Falun Gong practitioners petitioning for their freedom of belief. The CCP has accumulated not only huge monetary debt but also non-refundable moral debt.

Although it is hardly possible for a particular individual to change the whole system, each person must choose a righteous attitude while facing hardship. When the day of debt reckoning comes, the good people could still be saved.

Source : The BL

Who Won the Taiwan War Games?

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

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defied White House signals that she not stop in Taiwan on her valedictory tour of Asian capitals, she ignited the worst diplomatic U.S.-China row in decades.

And how did last week’s collision turn out for the United States?

Writes The New York Times:

Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan began with her “plane departing from Kuala Lumpur and heading southeast toward the Indonesian part of Borneo, then turning north to fly along the eastern part of the Philippines. A more direct — and shorter — route would have been to fly northeast in a direct route over the South China Sea to Taiwan.”

Pelosi’s avoidance of the South China Sea might have something to do with China’s claim to 90% of it and China’s control of islets in that sea that Beijing has converted into air, missile and naval bases.

After 19 hours in Taiwan, the speaker flew to South Korea, where her reception was described as “cool.” President Yoon Suk Yeol, though at home in Seoul when Pelosi arrived, did not meet with her, but instead held a 40-minute phone conversation.

South Korea, like its neighbors, is anxious not to offend China.

Consider this anomaly here:

South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand all rely on the United States as their No. 1 ally in defending them against China, but all boast of China as their No. 1 trading partner.

How did Beijing react to Pelosi’s 19 hours in Taiwan?

With warplanes, warships and ballistic missiles, China conducted live-fire exercises from Thursday noon to Sunday noon, at six sites surrounding Taiwan. One Chinese missile flew over Taiwan. Five landed in the exclusive economic zone of Japan.

The effect of these live firings at and around Taiwan was that of a naval quarantine or blockade. Ships and planes of other nations avoided air corridors and waters being targeted by Chinese forces.

China also announced diplomatic and economic sanctions against the U.S. and Taiwan, canceling talks with Washington on climate change and military relations.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was the triggering event that ignited the Chinese war games against Taiwan. But these air, naval and missile exercises were not planned in a day. They appear to have been prepared as a dress rehearsal for how China intends to go about bringing Taiwan home to the motherland, when President Xi Jinping decides the time is right.

Pelosi spent the rest of her trip insisting that her visit represented no change in U.S. policy on Taiwan.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Pelosi reiterated, “Our representation here is not about changing the status quo,” adding that Beijing is “probably using our visit as an excuse.”

As the live firing went on for 72 hours, the White House echoed Pelosi that the U.S. recognizes Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is a “part of China” and does not contest that claim. Nor have we any intention of shifting U.S. policy on Taiwan as it has been pursued since Jimmy Carter broke U.S. diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979.

Where was the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, then on Asian assignment during all this? Cruising in the Philippine Sea, not the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait or East China Sea, all claimed by Beijing.

What was the message sent and the message received from the war games with which China responded to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan?

From Beijing, the message sent to the U.S. was clear.

China regards Taiwan as its detached province. It will confront any power, including the United States, that is perceived to be challenging that political reality. It will respond to any Taiwanese move to establish its independence of Beijing as a casus belli, a justification for war.

The White House did not move any planes, ships or missiles to counter the Chinese live-fire exercises and, indeed, reassured Beijing repeatedly that Pelosi’s visit did not represent any change in U.S. policy.

It is hard to see how Asia’s free and democratic nations and U.S. allies Japan, South Korea and Australia could not have taken away the conclusion that bristling Chinese aggressiveness had just been met by American passivity. Hawkish members of the Senate like Lindsey Graham appear to believe that.

Consider the path Beijing has lately pursued:

It has attacked and captured border lands in the Himalayas from India, claimed virtually the entire South China Sea, fortified half a dozen isles in that sea, claimed the Taiwan Strait as territorial waters, the transit of which by U.S. and allied warships requires China’s permission, claimed Taiwan as part of China, as well as the nearby Senkaku Islands held by Japan.

Now it has sent military aircraft and warships across the Taiwan Strait into and over the waters surrounding Taiwan and test-fired missiles and rockets to reenforce its claim to the island.

When 21st-century China stakes a claim to something in Asia, it backs up its claim with action. The trend is unmistakable and points to a future confrontation over Taiwan.

Source : Patrick J. Buchanan

Chart: U.S. Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims Rose Last Week

Source : Bloomberg

In Pictures: Food of The Jane in Antwerp, Belgium

Bold Belgian Flavours Cuisine with Heavy International Allure

No.23 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022

‘Debt Bomb’ Risks: More than 40 Nations Are at Risk of Default

Nikhil Kumar and Lili Pike, wrote . . . . . . . . .

The world faces the possibility of a series of economic collapses that could destabilize the lives of millions of people.

Sri Lanka might be only the beginning. The South Asian country, once an economic darling hailed as a “hidden jewel,” has been sucked into a financial black hole this year as an unsustainable pile of debt crushed sector after sector. The debt crisis has triggered widespread unrest and political upheaval.

But the small island nation isn’t alone, experts warn, as a range of countries worldwide — from Tunisia to Egypt, Kenya to Argentina, and beyond — groan under their own giant piles of debt.

Put aside the economic jargon, and the story is a straightforward one. As global prices and interest rates rise, putting pressure on the finances of these countries, they are struggling to pay the interest they owe on all the loans that they have taken out in recent years. That in turn is affecting their ability to keep their economies running — to feed their people, to provide fuel — even as they try to get things back on an even keel after the blows of the covid-19 pandemic.

The consequences now, as the debt crises gather pace and an already fragile global economy struggles with the fallout from the war in Ukraine, could extend far beyond these individual nations’ borders. The world faces the possibility of a series of collapses that could destabilize the lives of millions of people.

In the worst-case scenario, “we could head into a complete dystopia,” an “apocalypse” for some of the world’s poorest countries, Jayati Ghosh, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Grid.

Ghosh said she fears a tide of “terrible economic devastation in many countries … a kind of descent into a combination of warlordism, extreme inequality, extreme material suffering. Just bad stuff. And lots of instability.”

The debt bombs — waiting to explode

A recent Bloomberg Economics analysis identified 19 countries that are at the extreme end of this struggle; traders in financial markets see a distinct possibility that these countries might be unable to make interest payments on their debts. That in turn could force them to go to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Depending on the country, the debt ranges — in U.S. dollars — from tens of millions to billions; some countries may get a bailout — others probably won’t. The IMF’s financial lifelines, for example, come with strict — and often painful — conditions, necessitating what are often politically unpopular choices to cut public spending. No bailout, and a country’s economy may collapse; getting a bailout, meanwhile, could mean widespread economic pain for the more than 900 million people who live in these nations as governments are forced to cut back public spending to bring their finances under control.

For economists, this means that the scenes we saw recently in Sri Lanka — where angry citizens, robbed of their livelihoods and even their ability to access basics such as fuel and food, stormed the presidential palace — could prove to be Act 1 in a whole new post-pandemic global nightmare.

Already, debt-related pressures have pushed Pakistan to secure an IMF loan as stretched finances sparked widespread unrest, threatening the stability of a nuclear-armed nation that sits in one of the most strategically important corners of the planet. The IMF has agreed to help in principle — but the money has yet to arrive, held up because of worries at the IMF about Pakistan’s compliance with a prior bailout under former prime minister Imran Khan. A clue as to how important the deal is for Pakistan’s stability came last month, when the country’s army chief was reported to be seeking U.S. help in trying to get the funds released.

In Africa, Kenya’s economy has grown to become the continent’s sixth biggest — but at the same time, the country has amassed giant debts; interest payments on the debt have soared to roughly 30 percent of the government’s GDP. All this as the country faces higher food and fuel prices as a result of the war in Ukraine. Analysts warn that debt has driven Kenya perilously close to the brink.

The story is being repeated across the globe. In many cases, the pressures have been worsened by bad decision-making at the highest levels. In Sri Lanka, a decision last year to ban chemical fertilizer imports depressed the country’s all-important farm sector. On the other side of the world, El Salvador embraced Bitcoin last year, accepting it as legal tender as a hedge against rampant inflation. But as Grid has reported, the move has backfired as the cryptocurrency tumbled in value. That has added to pressure on what is already a debt-laden economy — and another nation that could end up defaulting on its interest payments.

“There are many more Sri Lankas on the way,” the World Bank’s Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart warned recently in an interview with Reuters. “There are lots of countries in precarious situations.”

Such is the worry in the corridors of global finance that, back in April, not long before Sri Lanka was swallowed up by its debt-fueled inferno, the heads of the World Bank and IMF came together to issue a joint warning about what they called the “huge buildup of debt, especially in the poorest countries” of the world.

The makings of a crisis

To understand how the world ended up at this potentially catastrophic juncture, experts say it’s worth looking back to the 2007-2008 global economic crisis, which led to a slashing of interest rates in major economies, including the U.S. That made borrowing money cheap both for ordinary customers and governments around the world.

There was a lot of easy money “sloshing around,” Ghosh, from the University of Massachusetts, told Grid. For commercial investors, low interest rates in the U.S. and Europe meant it didn’t make much sense to park their capital in the West; instead, they sought investments in low- and middle-income countries.

“So lots of countries took out loans,” Ghosh explained. “And what’s different from the past is that they took out these loans not from bilateral or multilateral creditors [richer countries or big international institutions], it was from private creditors.” These creditors borrowed from banks, she said, and issued high-interest bonds that were then snapped up by financial firms.

Now, as the world sees record levels of inflation and central banks raise interest rates, poorer countries are facing higher bills to service the debt they’ve amassed. This is at a time when they are also facing higher prices for food and fuel and — as Ghosh reminded — “their economies have also not recovered from the pandemic.”

The IMF has been tracking some 73 highly indebted nations and estimates that roughly 40 of these are at high risk of what it calls debt distress: In other words, they are either actively trying to restructure their debts, preparing to do so or already falling behind on their interest payments.

China’s role

The debt that has piled up on the balance sheets of poor nations was borrowed from a range of sources; lenders have included private banks and hedge funds that invest in government bonds, as well as multilateral institutions like the World Bank. When it comes to nations lending to other nations, China tops the charts.

China has been lending to poor nations for decades — to the tune of $843 billion in international development finance from 2000 to 2017. It’s one reason why Western officials including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and USAID head Samantha Power have recently pointed fingers at Beijing for fueling the debt crisis.

During a speech in New Delhi last month, Power cited China’s involvement in Sri Lanka; as Grid has reported, Chinese loans helped drive the country’s boom over the past two decades.

China, Power said, had been “an increasingly eager creditor of Sri Lankan governments since the mid-2000s.” She added: “Now that economic conditions have soured, Beijing has promised lines of credit and emergency loans … but calls to provide more significant relief have gone unanswered, and the biggest question of all is whether Beijing will restructure debt to the same extent as other bilateral creditors.”

And it’s not just Sri Lanka. According to a 2021 report from the College of William and Mary, 44 countries owed debt to China equivalent to 10 percent or more of GDP, with some owing more than a quarter of GDP. China is the largest lender to Zambia, which defaulted on its sovereign debt in 2020 and is currently undergoing debt relief negotiations.

Some have questioned China’s motivations, labeling its lending “debt trap diplomacy.” The idea is that China has extended loans to countries knowing those countries wouldn’t be able to pay off the debt — at which point China is able to extract strategic concessions in exchange. The most commonly cited case is the Hambantota Port project in Sri Lanka, where a Chinese state-owned company secured a 99-year lease of the port once Sri Lanka started hitting financial trouble.

Many China scholars have pushed back against the “debt trap” charge — in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Deborah Bräutigam, a political economist at Johns Hopkins University, said the arguments are driven largely by a negative bias toward China and its role in global development. “So far, in Africa, we have not seen any examples where we would say the Chinese deliberately entangled another country in debt, and then used that debt to extract unfair or strategic advantages of some kind in Africa, including ‘asset seizures,’” she wrote in a 2019 study.

Matthew Mingey, a senior analyst of Chinese overseas finance at Rhodium Group, said that responsibility for the debt issues in these cases lies with both sides. Some nations lack the necessary capacity to monitor their debt; at the same time, China was less experienced in emerging markets when its banks started making these big loans. “Certainly, China’s banks were probably optimistic,” he said, “especially in the early going and made loans that they probably should not have.”

How to dig out

With the debt mountain looming over so many nations and the lives of millions of people, the urgent question is a simple one: What to do about it?

Perhaps the quickest way of ensuring that the world doesn’t witness a series of Sri Lanka-style collapses would be to turn the dial back on a major source of pressure on all these low-income economies: sky-high prices for food and fuel. Food consumption alone accounts for up to 60 percent of household consumption in poorer countries.

Of course, no policymakers or global financial institutions can snap their fingers and send prices falling. A current hope is that this week’s first shipments of Ukrainian grain may begin to ease what the U.N. has called a war-driven “perfect storm” for poorer nations.

Meanwhile, economists are calling for concerted global action by the world’s richest countries to help poorer nations manage or restructure their debt burdens. Put simply: to work out ways for them to cut down their monthly credit card bills.

In a report under the heading “The world isn’t ready for the looming emerging-market debt crisis,” the Atlantic Council called on the world’s richest nations to at least temporarily suspend interest payments, to “give countries breathing room.” It also recommended the introduction of “bridge financing” — essentially, temporary, short-term infusions of funds to help cover interest payments — to aid countries that cannot secure the IMF’s help in a timely manner.

There is precedent here: The arrival of the pandemic spurred the creation of an international initiative that saw bilateral lenders — that is, richer governments — temporarily suspend billions of dollars in interest payments from poorer nations as everyone dealt with the challenges posed by covid-19. Known as the debt service suspension initiative, it saw the suspension of almost $13 billion in interest payments between May 2020 and December 2021.

That said, the Atlantic Council also noted an absence of will, among nations of the G-20 in particular: “The international community doesn’t seem prepared to do much about it.”

The IMF and the Paris Club of 22 wealthier nations typically take the lead in such negotiations, but China’s increasingly large lending role has complicated that dynamic. Although China has stepped in to help — by suspending interest payments and restructuring loans for some of its debtors — Beijing has been reluctant to join other nations in collaborative efforts toward debt relief. Such collaborations are essential in complex debt negotiations, in which delays on the part of one creditor can drive indebted countries to default.

Case in point: Zambia, which defaulted on its debt two years ago. China agreed to join multilateral talks about Zambia’s debt crisis only last month.

What is clear — to analysts and policymakers alike — is that something needs to be done about the debt crises across the low-income world. Inaction, as Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the IMF, warned recently, could trigger an array of international disasters. Richer countries must help poorer counterparts, she said — in particular, by supporting initiatives to help restructure unsustainable debt piles before they spark defaults.

Failure to move ahead with such initiatives, Georgieva said, would create problems for the entire world. “This is a topic we cannot have complacency on,” she told Reuters. “You don’t know where it would end.”

Source : GRID