Correction: Britain’s gas crisis means Europe’s gas crisis

Remember the 1970s?  We were going to run out of oil and everything revolved around energy prices.

America got into wars because of it and built an enormous strategic stockpile; NZ had carless days and the hydrocarbon developments of Think Big, the last of the great state-directed development projects (well … until the renewables project, national fibre broadband and the distortions of the Resource Management Act that is).

Europe’s natural gas crisis has the potential to head in a similarly dominating direction.

Continue reading “Correction: Britain’s gas crisis means Europe’s gas crisis”

China’s problems in property are a difficulty for everyone

As China’s most indebted property developer Evergrande hovers on the brink, the question is where the government will draw the line on support for the firm – and for the financial system.

Markets are nervous but the consensus seems to be that while an example may be made of Evergrande, the damage should be contained there.

But the Financial Times’s Gillian Tett (an insightful chronicler of the 2008 global financial crisis) sees the issue as more fundamental:

“… what is the pillar of faith on which asset values rest? Is it government support? Or is it the independent scrutiny of accounts by investors? Does either pillar work?”

Continue reading “China’s problems in property are a difficulty for everyone”

New Zealand’s absence from AUKUS is very much part of the debate

The immediate reaction in the UK to the AUKUS announcement was focused less on the UK’s new commitment and more on the lamentations of French politicians at the loss of a $90 billion Australian submarine deal.  It was left to former PM Theresa May to probe unsuccessfully the extent of Britain’s obligation to defend Taiwan.

Chuckles aside, you might think that anything which outrages France and China has something going for it.  

Continue reading “New Zealand’s absence from AUKUS is very much part of the debate”

Will China’s communist party complete a second century?

The Economist has marked the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with one of its context-rich historical essays.  It puts its money on the side of the party’s continuing adaptability and resilience.  This is probably the orthodox position.  But, as the Economist’s editorial staff themselves say when hedging their bets, only time will tell.

The more optimistic among us might look beyond the party’s seemingly-monolithic strength and see it – in pleasingly Marxist terms – as a prisoner of its own fundamental contradictions.

Continue reading “Will China’s communist party complete a second century?”

G7 – the view from the top is fine, if a bit fuzzy

The omens were good for the G7 summit at Carbis Bay in Cornwall.  Untypical blazing sunshine and a victory for England’s footballers in the Euro Championships put the hosts in fine fettle (qualified only slightly by the NZ cricketers’ series win).  

The first and most important objective was achieved: the world leaders managed to agree not to disagree. Even better, no one called the host, Britain’s PM Boris Johnson, “weak and dishonest”, no matter how much they might have been tempted.

But despite the 25 page summit communique, direction and leadership was a little harder to find.

Continue reading “G7 – the view from the top is fine, if a bit fuzzy”

Europe’s false step on tech

You’ve got to hand it to the EU’s leadership.  They are planning to welcome a Joe Biden victory with a proposal for renewed and refreshed co-operation – preferably on Europe’s terms.  

It is billed as a “once-in-a-generation” offer for the US to join the EU’s many committees and after the usual excruciating discussion, agree to adopt its approach in areas like digital regulation, competition policy, security and post-Covid action. 

No doubt a Biden administration will find something to like in the European menu.  But not as much as the Europeans might hope.

Continue reading “Europe’s false step on tech”

How a crash (of sorts) might come

History looks for a trigger for the economy crashing:  the 1929 stock market panic, the 1970s oil shock or the 2008 subprime meltdown.  But while the headline events can be a catalyst, sober analysis usually gives a more complex backstory of growing economic imbalances and disastrous-with-hindsight policy settings.

So casting the Covid shock as the proximate cause, what might be underlying drivers of a sustained deterioration in the economic climate? Continue reading “How a crash (of sorts) might come”

The Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong are not an event – they are a process

How long does it take to acknowledge that you have a problem? The steps being taken by the Chinese government to subvert Hong Kong’s institutions will be the moment of truth for a few more people.

It’s almost astonishing to recall the fullness of the pledges made by the Chinese government in the 1984 Sino-British treaty to respect Hong Kong’s autonomous institutions and the rule of law.

So perhaps a couple of belated cheers are due for the British politicians and diplomats who negotiated those dishonoured commitments, and some more for their current replacements who are talking about giving UK residency to those born in Hong Kong before the 1997 handover – no small commitment given pressures to reduce immigration numbers.

But if the first step is accepting you have problem, the second is understanding what kind it is. Continue reading “The Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong are not an event – they are a process”

Bill Gates stumbles on China and Covid

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has done a fine job reinventing himself as a philanthropist.  The foundation he and his wife established has done admirable work for global public health, giving him credibility in his commentary on the Covid crisis.

But he struck a jarring note, when asked whether the Chinese government could be held accountable for deception in the early stages of the Covid pandemic. Continue reading “Bill Gates stumbles on China and Covid”

Coronavirus could bring political change to China – but authoritarianism won’t be weakened in the short term

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the quarantined city of Wuhan on Tuesday for the first time since the coronavirus was identified there, sending a message that Beijing has the situation under control.

His visit comes as China recorded its lowest number of infections, just 19 on Tuesday, all in Wuhan apart from two who had arrived from overseas.

China has seen 80,754 confirmed cases, 3,136 of whom have died.

The visit was  Xi’s first trip to the city since the outbreak began.

According to state media,  Xi arrived in Wuhan on Tuesday to inspect epidemic prevention and control work in the province.

Wuhan and its province, Hubei, have been locked down in order to prevent the spread of the disease. The president visited a community in the city currently in self-quarantine. Continue reading “Coronavirus could bring political change to China – but authoritarianism won’t be weakened in the short term”