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This “internationalness” is pivotal for Hong Kong’s successful future – and is likely to be valued as much by Mainland companies listing here or setting up international headquarters and fund-raising operations here as it is by companies from Germany, France, Singapore or the US. It should include the Hong Kong University being China’s strongest English-language university. It involves cross-cultural tolerance that has been a hallmark of Hong Kong for most of my working life here. In the nine years from the “invention” of Singles’ Day, China’s 24-hour, stuff-focused online shopping frenzy has grown 3,000-fold to amount to around US$26 billion – almost 10 times the total of the US’ equivalent over the Thanksgiving weekend. In many ways, the Trump rhetoric has made a positive result virtually unachievable. He has repeatedly and hyperbolically talked of the 1994 Nafta deal as “the worst deal ever” implying that any new deal will by definition have to be saleable as “the best deal ever” – for American workers at least.
The US and others negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership have been adamant that no regional initiative should be allowed to put the TPP in jeopardy. Beijing’s cold dry air has literally crackled with static electricity as China and the US have arm-wrestled over the FTAAP. In light of the sobering lessons of the recent months’ Occupy Central activity, our leaders’ interest in inequality and youth is telling. In nine years in office, Tung mentioned the word “inequality” just twice in his policy address. Tsang paid little more attention to the problem – except in 2011 when he used the word nine times as he wrung his hands about improving people’s well-being, reflected on the unaffordability of housing, and introduced his “My House Purchase” scheme. This is a high-price, high-cost economy which will never win a game based on low-wage competition.
But key differences remain unresolved between the US and other negotiators – in particular on the freedom of data flows and the treatment of State-owned Enterprises . Unnoticed, but equally important for Hong Kong, a further casualty may be the Trade in Services Agreement . Almost no one pays any attention to this 23-country plurilateral negotiation that has been going swimmingly for the past two years, but for services economies like Hong Kong, this is hugely significant. As APEC leaders gather in Peru in the coming week, with President Obama flying in for his “swansong” (is there such a thing as a black swansong?), the Trump victory will cast a long and ominous shadow.

So too the eccentric forces that prompted British voters to call for Brexit. So too the shock election victory of New Zealand’s Labour Party in October last year, which brought to power Jacinda Ardern, and her left-leaning cabinet, including David Parker and Fletcher Tabuteau. The movement, driven mainly in the UK, the US and some European countries, clearly has roots back in Karl Marx’s vision of the freedoms in a communist society where workers could “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner”. One also sees roots in socialist William Morris’s 1880s vision of future factories surrounded by gardens in which employees work just four hours a day, and in John Maynard Keynes’ “age of leisure and abundance” that would arise as technology advances. Uber and Airbnb may have started life as icons of the “sharing economy”, but today they are simply large and powerful international businesses fighting about regulatory hurdles to their new business model against similarly powerful local entrenched business interests. The idea is long faded of Uber enabling car-pooling or letting car-owners earn some money on the side, or of Airbnb letting families earn some pocket-money by letting out a spare bedroom – in Hong Kong at least. I don’t agree with the Hong Kong government blocking these companies’ development, but let’s not get bamboozled into thinking this is anything to do with the “sharing economy”. A fascinating piece of research by a team at Leeds University in the UK, examining the performance of around 150 countries worldwide in terms of their social progress, and the unsustainable damage they are inflicting on the environment, shows a dreadful link.

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The earth is 45m centuries old, but this century is the first in which one species – ours – can determine the biosphere’s fate. We can be technological optimists about our ability to navigate the challenges, but we need to offer politicians something more relevant and easier to appreciate than a mean global warming. Up close and personal in the US, means seeing 1.7m people evacuated in North and South Carolina as Hurricane Florence swept in, and over 500,000 people losing electricity. It means 375,000 people being evacuated in Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Michael, with pecan and cotton farmers losing their entire crops, 2m chickens killed, vegetables with US$480m lost, and 3m acres of commercial timber destroyed. Away from the Shanghai headlines and Xi Jinping’s promises of intent, the World Bank last week quietly provided endorsement of China’s claim steadily to be opening up.
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If a company depends on such low wages, it has no place in Hong Kong, and should migrate elsewhere. On the contrary, slightly more youngsters might then one day be able to afford their own home. For those who see US opposition to the AIIB as part of a strategy to keep China from the diplomatic epicentre in Asia, there is seen to be a common motive in US efforts to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership , which includes 12 Asia Pacific countries and leaves China out. But even clearer evidence has emerged in the 22-economy Trade in bitcoin revolution bonus Services Agreement negotiations in Geneva. China initially stood aloof from these services liberalising negotiations, but has in the past year formally sought to join. The US is today the only TiSA participant blocking China’s engagement, after an EU shift in March last year after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s high profile visit in Europe. US diplomacy would be better spent not boycotting such initiatives, but getting inside them and making sure they can mesh effectively with the massive global architecture already in place.
In 2007 – the year of strongest global growth ahead of the 2008 crash – the US, with an economy of UD$14.48tr, and 1.78% growth, added UD$260bn to the global GDP . Meanwhile, the EU, growing at 3.34%, on a GDP of US$17.67tr, added about UD$511bn. And China, with a smaller US$3.5tr economy but 14.2% growth added US$1.33tr to the global economy. The developing world is home to most of these cities – China alone is in the process of building more than 40 new cities of more than 1m people between now and 2030, and developing-world cities are expected to account for 93% of all future urban growth. Over the past three decades, a pragmatic and fiercely reform-minded Chinese leadership have brought this huge and complex country from ignominious poverty to a nation of respectable middle income earners. This progress seems set to continue, albeit at a less frantic pace than we have seen since 1980. A Beijing teacher who in 1978 was bicycling to work and subsisting much of the year on cabbage today drives a car, WeChats on a smartphone and takes holidays every year to Japan and Thailand.

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Mummified remains sporting tattoos have been discovered from as far afield as Alaska, Siberia, Egypt, the Philippines and the Andes. And the earliest residents of the UK were called “painted people”, or Pritoni – from which the word Britain comes. Through time immemorial, Maoris from New Zealand have carried their “moko”, or unique facial tattoo as a sign of their unique identity and bravery. No wonder the New Zealand All Blacks sport so many acres of finely-honed body art. Top negotiators are in Geneva as you read this, with the aim of dotting “i”s and crossing “t”s on a deal that is slated to be ratified by Ministers on December 5-6.
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In the wake of the “9-11” terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre, the problem perhaps inevitably became even more fraught. These immigration officials had no interest in talking about the increasingly severe problems businesses are facing with labour shortages. First, and most important, China’s economic planners recognized that the era of cheap contract labour for export manufacturing operations must inevitably come to an end. As company value chains were broken down – as with Apple, which manufactures all of its iPhones in the Mainland – economic planners realized that China was earning just US$7 per iPhone for its humble, labour intensive assembly role, out of a total sales value of US$ .
The fact that APEC officials are dedicating serious attention to food security is commendable. But the fact that they have after two years still refused to define what they mean by “food security” is a source of concern. We are hoping there will not be another Mt Tambora, nor three volcanic winters, any time soon. But even without such a catastrophe, the challenges we face in providing the world’s 7 billion people with food security are more acute than many presume. While food production is looking steady, and food consumption in the rich western economies is stable, China’s fast-rising appetite for more meat protein and processed foods is pushing global demand inexorably upwards. China’s wheat imports have jumped 50-fold since 1980, while pork consumption has jumped five-fold to 50m tonnes a year – half of world consumption, and six times more per capita than Americans consume. So we should be pleased that China recently hosted a major APEC Public Private Dialogue on promoting infrastructure investment through public-private partnerships . After all, China is going to account for an awful lot of infrastructure investment. From the outset, the centerpiece of the first prong – regional economic integration – was in jeopardy. China decided it wanted its main deliverable to be an APEC commitment to a Free Trade Area for the Asia Pacific – FTAAP – that would by 2025 embody the iconic “Bogor Goals” of free and open trade and investment in the region.
I am sure that Lee Kuan Yew would say that someone in Washington is losing the plot. I had a surreal feeling absorbing all this data, because India’s economy seems as quagmired as ever, and because we are still obsessively anxious about faltering growth in the Chinese economy, and the dramatic impact of the anti-corruption campaign on luxury spending on the Mainland. Hence the priorities of the China manufacture 2025 Plan, and the recognition that development of their services economy has to play an essential part in building a competitive future manufacturing economy. We saw this very clearly in APEC last year in China’s fierce advocacy of services development. Since this discovery, China’s leaders have steadily raised minimum wages in the coastal export zones to where they are more than double today what they were in 2000.
In its annual Ease of Doing Business study – perhaps the world’s most comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the barriers that block access to the world’s markets – it reported that China now ranks 46th out of 190 economies worldwide. I noted back in the immediate wake of the Referendum that “British people voted as children, with a terrible temper tantrum, for which the price to be paid will be incalculable”. Sadly, two years on, it is Britain’s politicians who are voting as children, and the incalculable price continues to rise. Trump’s trade team claim China’s distinct model constitutes an existential challenge to the liberal market economy painstakingly built over the past century. What I see from here in Hong Kong is much more tooth-and-claw competition than bitcoin revolution bonus Trump’s men admit, and an industrial policy that is different only because it is being effectively implemented. For anyone travelling regularly on business, the time saved in not having to apply for visas ahead of every journey is huge. As someone who travels perhaps 15 to 20 times a year across the APEC region, I have tried to calculate the savings, and arrive at a number close to US$1,000 a year. But the arcane complexity of visa rules and fees make accurate calculation challenging. The US has 19 different types of visa depending on your status (a student?) or purpose of visit. Climate activists have put increasing pressure on banks and insurers that have traditionally funded coal-fired power, with some success – except with China’s financial institutions.

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While China’s banks account for only 12 per cent of direct lending to coal plants, they dominate as underwriters of bonds and share issues. The IEEFA study tracks that 238 international banks have channelled over US$377bn to coal plants as underwriters, with ICBC, CITIC and the Bank of China in the lead. The IEEFA researchers say that Chinese banks account for around 73 per cent of such bond and share issues. I was always amazed first that they were there, and second that they spoke such impeccable Mandarin.
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We simply don’t seem to be able to improve people’s livelihoods without at the same time using more resources than the planet can afford. Hopefully by now it is beginning to dawn on Trump’s trade team how naïve it was to think that trade wars might be good and easy to win. What they have yet to realise as they ratchet up their tariff “punishments” is that the main victims of these actions are their own global multinationals, and of course the US’s own consumers. Harvard economist bitcoin revolution bonus Dani Rodrik, writing here in the SCMP on Thursday, was right to counsel both China and the European Union to be restrained, and resist the temptation to retaliate. If there is going to be a global row over trade, then both the EU and China would do well to resist the Pied Piper call to define the problems in profoundly flawed Trumpian terms. They should take the time to redefine the problem, and seek solutions that better suit the majority of the world’s economies.


This has forced manufacturers out of this immiserating part of the value chain. They have had to boost productivity, raise value added, and move into higher technology areas, or they have withered. I know I should not jest over something as awful as a global pandemic – especially since I only recently stumbled upon, and disposed of, the large stock of Tamiflu pills that I panic bought in 2003. But it really does take a good pandemic panic to remind us of how badly we judge the life-threatening risks around us.