China’s global development empire

China development AidData

China’s global development footprint, mapped according to commitment size (Source: AidData)

The College of William & Mary has put together a handy map of China’s global Marshall Plan:

This online web map by AidData, a research lab at William & Mary in the United States, pinpoints the location of thousands of Chinese-funded development projects across the globe using data from AidData’s Geocoded Global Chinese Official Finance Dataset released September 11, 2018.

With more than 3,485 Chinese Government-financed projects in 138 countries and territories, this dataset is the most comprehensive source of public information ever assembled on the locations and attributes of Chinese development projects worldwide.

Those 3,485 projects implemented between 2000-2014 are worth a total of $273.6 billion in official financing. By way of comparison, the actual Marshall Plan in Europe totaled $12 billion (or $100 billion in 2016 dollars).

On a possibly related note:

In 2011, for example, delegates to the annual session of China’s parliament debated a proposal to seek employment for as many as 100 million Chinese on the African continent. One champion of this idea, Zhao Zhihai, a delegate and researcher at Zhangjiakou Academy of Agricultural Sciences at Hebei province, said: “In the current economic climate, with so many of our people unemployed, China can benefit from finding jobs for them and Africa can benefit from our expertise in developing any type of land and crop.”

–Howard French, China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

A ceremony skipped

Marine One Davos

Marine One heading to Davos

Tyler Rogoway at The Drive provides some intriguing detail on presidential transportation that sheds light on a recent controversy:

President Trump is taking a serious shellacking in the media and on social media for the cancelation of a planned trip to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. The site is located roughly 55 miles outside of Paris. The optics of missing such an important event are undeniably bad and they play into other narratives about the President that are unflattering, but these types of decisions are not usually up to the President. The Secret Service and the White House Military Office who arrange presidential airlift with HMX-1 are the ones that decide to cancel helicopter or ground transportation for the President due to a wide variety of contingencies. […]

The massive footprint of the security and administrative apparatus that follows the American President around dwarfs anything else like it on the planet, much of which isn’t even visible to the casual onlooker. […]

Usually, a ground transportation option via the Presidential Motorcade (the anatomy of which you can read all about here) is available in the case that Marine One and its accompanying decoy helicopter and staff and press corps airlift aircraft cannot safely make it to the landing zone as planned. But a 55-mile trip is a long way for the sprawling Presidential Motorcade in a foreign country and there are a slew of issues that could slow or even stop such a motorcade from happening even if it was prepared as a contingency option.

There’s more at the link. It’s rather remarkable that any education person would think that the president skipped a high-profile, planned ceremony because “he didn’t want to get his hair wet.” How does that even make sense? The official reason cited by the White House was “scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” which could include, or cover up, a range of potential issues, including a terrorist threat. A lot of people have a tough time accepting that there are things they cannot know.

Fortune magazine sold

Chatchaval Jiaravanon

Chatchaval Jiaravanon

Fortune magazine has a new Thai owner:

Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon has acquired Fortune magazine for $150 million, in just the latest example of a U.S. business publication ending up in the hands of an East Asian buyer.

Be smart: The day might not be that far off when there are no major American-owned business publications at all. Even Business Insider is German.

Jiaravanon is a nephew of the famous billionaire and senior chairman of Thailand’s CP Group, Dhanin Chearavanont.

This continues a trend of Anglo-American media properties being sold off to Asian and European buyers. More from Axios:

The similar moves in the space:

Uzabase, a Japanese company, bought Quartz for about $100 million in July.

A mysterious Hong Kong-based group named Integrated Whale Media Investments bought control of Forbes magazine in 2014.

Lachlan Murdoch is openly wondering whether his father Rupert might sell the Wall Street Journal. Should that ever happen, don’t be surprised if that buyer, too, turns out to be East Asian.

I would add to that:

  • The Financial Times was sold to Japan’s Nikkei in 2015.
  • The Economist was sold to Italy’s Agnelli family, also in 2015.
  • Science magazines Nature and Scientific American are owned by Germany’s Holtzbrinck.
  • Book publishers Random House and Penguin – now combined as Penguin Random House – are subsidiaries of Germany’s Bertelsmann.
  • While we’re at it: the largest shareholder of the New York Times is Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

It’s not necessarily clear that all of these publishers can maintain their intellectual independence under foreign ownership, especially given the very different attitudes towards press freedom in certain Asian countries. For example, I noted last year that Forbes – having been swallowed by Hong Kong’s Integrated Whale Media – apparently told the prominent China skeptic Gordon Chang they were severing their relationship with him and wiping out his archive of articles. (However, his articles are still available on the site, so I’m not sure what the deal is there.) And Fortune will have to tread very carefully in its coverage of a certain southeast Asian monarch from now on…

Camp Fire

Some views of the horrible Camp Fire that is raging in Northern California:

Eerie video that looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie:

(Source)

(Source)

It’s growing rapidly and there are more fires devastating CA:

A wildfire destroyed most of a Northern California town of 27,000 people. A Cal Fire spokesman said “there’s nothing much left standing” in Paradise.

Late Friday morning, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said investigators found five victims’ bodies in vehicles overcome by the so-called “Camp Fire” in Paradise. The victims have not been identified.

Two more fires are burning north of Los Angeles. Fires across the state have forced 157,000 people from their homes, according to Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. […]

A California fire official said the Camp Fire nearly quadrupled in size overnight. Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire near the town of Paradise has grown to 70,000 acres, which is nearly 110 square miles.

The entire city of Malibu was ordered to evacuate Friday morning as the Woolsey Fire roared toward the beachside community that is home for many Hollywood celebrities. A city-wide evacuation was ordered early Friday and then was scaled back, only to be reinstated.

The 100 million

Holodomor Ukrainians

Ukrainians fleeing starvation

For the second year running, the US remembers the victims of the most lethal ideology that has ever blighted the human race:

On the National Day for the Victims of Communism, we honor the memory of the more than 100 million people who have been killed and persecuted by communist totalitarian regimes. We also reaffirm our steadfast support for those who strive for peace, prosperity, and freedom around the world.

Since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, we have witnessed the effects of the tyrannical communist ideology—anguish, repression, and death. Communism subordinates inherent human rights to the purported well-being of all, resulting in the extermination of religious freedom, private property, free speech, and, far too often, life. These horrors have included Ukrainians deliberately starved in the Holodomor, Russians purged in the Great Terror, Cambodians murdered in the killing fields, and Berliners shot as they tried to escape to freedom. The victims of these and many other atrocities bear silent testimony to the undeniable fact that communism, and the pursuit of it, will forever be destructive to the human spirit and to the prosperity of mankind.

Today, we remember all who have been denied the great blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under oppressive communist regimes. Together, we mourn the unbearable losses so many have endured under communism, and we renew our pledge to continue advancing the cause of freedom and opportunity for all.

Virginia also becomes the first US state to join in commemorating the National Day for the Victims of Communism, and the 18th state to recognize the Holodomor, in which an estimated 4 million Ukrainians were deliberately starved to death by Stalin, as a genocide.

The Berlin Wall came down 29 years ago, on November 9, 1989.

A defense of economic nationalism

Darren Beattie provided (in 2017) a much-needed defense of the ideological foundations of economic nationalism:

It is entirely possible therefore to support tariffs, immigration restrictions, and various other restrictions on the free market in a manner that benefits the American worker and that is also consistent with the highest respect for individual freedom, enterprise, self-reliance, and other virtues of capitalism.

He makes a great point about the Cold War context which spawned free-trade ideology:

The Soviets who posed an existential geopolitical threat to the United States embraced a generally classical Marxist philosophy that was both an economic and a moral doctrine.

Free-trade doctrine provided an ideological foil to an expansionist Marxist regime. From that standpoint, it has served its purpose.

But today’s threats of concentrated power do not seem to conform to the “government dangerous, private sector benign” picture as easily as they may have during the Cold War. This is because 1) the distinction between public and private seems to no longer apply to many of the most powerful sectors of the economy, and 2) new forms of technology have enabled equally dangerous concentrations of power to accrue in the private sector (think of Silicon Valley). So, with the end of the Cold War, we must reevaluate the relationship between economics and liberty.

Furthermore, several structural features in the economy have accelerated since the end of the Cold War that severely threaten the middle class, whose robust health is often considered indispensable to a culture of individual freedom.

It is also indispensable to political stability.

Beattie is right that the public discourse is very superficial on this issue, as I pointed out with reference to trade policy in my post on Ian Fletcher’s book Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why. In fairness, trade policy is boring and makes for poor clickbait. Also, most pundits and politicians have absolutely no clue about economics. Fortunately, this article is free of economic jargon and just addresses the ideological assumptions underpinning most people’s thinking on the trade topic.

Time to go home

Mohammed bin Salman

Mohammed bin Salman

The US is taken to task for shrugging while a new pack of authoritarian leaders in the Middle East consolidates power:

What’s happening in the Middle East today can be traced back to the 2011 Arab Spring, which sparked a desire for democratic change among ordinary people and, among governments, a countervailing desire for stability based on the status quo ante.

To go back in time, as it were, the counterrevolutionary bloc—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and their allies in Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere—believes the future must be more authoritarian than ever. Based on extensive conversations with senior Arab officials, I’ve found that the dominant outlook could be summed up as follows: A heavy-handed domestic and regional approach may well carry risks, but the alternative is worse. […]

No space for reconciliation or compromise exists between authoritarian governments and their democratic or Islamist opponents. If the strongmen win—and they have a real chance—then the West will have to abandon its dream of a more politically open Middle East (the vision sparked by the Arab Spring). If they fail—and there is a compelling argument that they could—their countries could experience a period of turmoil on the scale of the Syrian civil war. In this volatile environment, the United States is ominously absent.

I remember when the US was condemned for its foreign interventions. Now it is criticized for its dangerous aloofness. The reality is that the US is terrible at managing an empire and has no ability to impose its own political norms on the Middle East. Any interest that Americans once had in such a grandiose project evaporated a long time ago. The US is completely unable to effect the outcomes that it wants, and can’t even distinguish the “good” guys from the “bad” guys in most of these conflicts. When is a democratic/Islamist revolution preferable to a stable, authoritarian regime? I don’t know, and chances are neither do you. It’s ridiculous for any Americans to think they can, or should, decide the political future of a radically different country 6,000 miles away.

On a related note, the US is still chasing the Taliban around Afghanistan after 17 years:

When Gen. Scott Miller took over the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 2, Afghan soldiers were being killed and wounded at near record numbers.

He instituted a more aggressive policy of helping the Afghan military track and defeat the Taliban — what he calls “regaining the tactical initiative” — but in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Tuesday, his first since taking command of U.S. and coalition forces here, he also says he recognizes that the solution in Afghanistan will be political, not military.

“This is not going to be won militarily,” Miller said. “This is going to a political solution.”

In other words, the war is unwinnable. Afghanistan cannot be pacified, as the British and the Russians and many others throughout history have learned to their chagrin. So go home.