Some possibly interesting Friday reading… A dummy’s guide on how you should finance infrastructure in developing countries versus how ‘Belt and Road’ does it. (Basic money stuff – eg, low returns call for long-term debt. Bottom line: if a high-speed rail in Laos made sense, where were the non-Chinese institutions interested in funding it?) And the retreat of Confucius Institutes from American campuses. They seemed like a good idea at the time, and in theory they could have been a PR boost for Beijing.
As with all sorts of problems China is getting into – from Huawei’s sanction-breaking, to United Front infiltration in the West, to alienating Taiwan and Hong Kong, to genocide-lite in Xinjiang – there’s a common thread in these two cases: over-reach, over-aggressiveness and over-hastiness.
There are several reasons why Xi Jinping might be in such a hurry to restore China’s rightful position as the world’s supreme civilization. The economy is running on empty, relying mainly on additional inputs to generate growth. The country faces potential environmental horrors, notably with water and soil. And its demographics point to an aging and shrinking population, so time is tight for a big vision like displacing the US and establishing a Eurasian/Indo-Pacific ‘Belt and Road’ Co-Prosperity Tian Xia.
But another possible reason for Xi’s apparent impatience is simply hubris: he has no idea how all this looks to the rest of the world, his advisors don’t dare give him any bad news, and he believes his own propaganda.
In fairness to him, even overseas audiences have been taken by surprise by the rapid deterioration of the country’s image. Just a year ago, poor old Jeffrey Sachs was the soft-rock star of developmental economics with an unremarkable, mildly sympathetic position on China. Today, he finds himself vilified as an extreme Panda-hugger, hounded from Twitter after taking an up-until-recently predictable and trendy Beijing-leaning position on Huawei.
Not all the oldies are struggling to keep up. I declare the weekend open with Hong Kong’s last Governor Chris Patten on how Xi Jinping is damaging Hong Kong.