Italy is now a partner in China’s new Silk Road


Reuters

❝ Italy has become the first developed economy to sign up to China’s global investment programme which has raised concerns among Italy’s Western allies.

A total of 29 deals amounting to €2.5bn ($2.8bn) were signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome…

❝ The new Silk Road has another name – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – and it involves a wave of Chinese funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield. Critics see it as also representing a bold bid for geo-political and strategic influence…

❝ The levels of debt owed by African and South Asian nations to China have raised concerns in the West and among citizens – but roads and railways have been built that would not exist otherwise..

Here I sit in the richest, most powerful country in world history. Our roads suck. Bridges suck. Water systems throughout the land are polluted. And more. Our government doesn’t make infrastructure a priority. Our politicians are glad to blather about their support for rebuilding and repairing national infrastructure decades old – as long as they aren’t actually pushed into doing a damned thing.

New Silk Road, old Silk Road. If someone is putting their political and economic clout behind better, easier commerce…try to keep the whining down to a minimum, folks. You’re on the wrong side of history. I know what construction contracts look like going back to the original build-out of the US Interstate System. It was justified to keep our military happy. Which was Cold War bullshit. The victory was owned by US trucking companies.

Who’s making the biggest hole in worldwide oil? Chinese electric buses.

❝ While electric cars are displacing global oil demand at increasing rates, new research shows electric buses are making a much bigger mark overall thus far.

Electric vehicles have displaced about 3 percent of total oil consumption growth since 2011, a larger share than ever before. And so far, more than three-quarters of that oil displacement has come from electric buses, Bloomberg reports.

❝ The report estimates that “for every 1,000 electric buses on the road, 500 barrels of diesel are displaced each day.” The same number of battery-powered electric vehicles only displaces 15 barrels of oil a day, by comparison.

Most of this is occurring in China, Bloomberg notes. A report last year found that of about 385,000 electric buses in the world in 2017, about 99 percent of them were in China, with rapid growth still taking place. The city of Shenzhen alone announced in 2017 that it had completely electrified its fleet of 16,000 buses.

Not that you’re going to see much about this on Fox News. Or most mainstream media for that matter.

VW China or VW USA?

The Volkswagen Group has started construction of the first plant that will solely build cars based on the new modular EV platform known as the MEB….

Settled near Shanghai, China, where Tesla also plans a plant, the VW Group’s new EV plant will first build electric SUVs for the SAIC-Volkswagen joint venture starting in 2020.

The Shanghai plant will span nearly 151 acres and feature 1,400 “Industry 4.0” robots for increased automation. VW also said the plant will feature artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality components to digitalize the production facility.

In addition to building the MEB-based electric cars, the plant will assemble batteries. And to ensure the electric cars minimize their carbon footprint, the plant will employ 27 types of environmentally friendly technologies. Most of the technologies will focus on water preservation, energy saving, and the reduction of carbon dioxide.

There were rumors of VW making the United States the core of their global electric car production. That was before the election of our fake president. Trump opposes any significant electrification of the US consurmer fleet. He also opposes the sort of green manufacturing regime planned by VW. Folks in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have their hopes up for expansion of existing VW facilities; but – personally – I think they’ll just get enough leftovers to let Republicans brag about their voodoo economics. That’s all.

Transforming Rural China


Cellphones still the best rural access to the Web

❝ Xia Canjun was born in 1979, the youngest of seven siblings, in Cenmang, a village of a hundred or so households nestled at the foot of the Wuling Mountains, in the far west of Hunan Province. Xia’s mother was illiterate, and his father barely finished first grade…

❝ In 1990, in sixth grade, Xia saw a map of the world for the first time. Of course, Cenmang wasn’t on it. Neither was Xinhuang, the city that loomed so large in his imagination. “The world was this great beyond, and we were this dot that I couldn’t even find on a map,” he told me. The same year, the Xias bought their first TV, a black-and-white set so small that it could have fit inside the family wok. Market reforms were transforming China, but in Cenmang changes arrived slowly…

❝ Still, rather than becoming a manual laborer, like his parents and siblings, Xia was able to go to technical college, and afterward he got a job at a local company that produced powdered milk…When the powdered-milk company downsized, he decided that it was time to look farther afield. He moved to Shenzhen, a sprawling coastal city, and found a job as a courier, becoming one of China’s quarter of a billion migrant workers.

❝ Then, eighteen months in, an unexpected opportunity arose. Xia had been making deliveries for JD.com, the second-biggest e-commerce company in China, and he heard that the business was expanding into rural Hunan. A regional station manager would be needed in Xinhuang…

❝ Today, Xia oversees deliveries to more than two hundred villages around the Wuling Mountains, including his birthplace. But, in line with JD’s growth strategy, an equally important aspect of Xia’s job is to be a promoter for the company, getting the word out about its services. His income depends in part on the number of orders that come from his region. Across China, JD has made a policy of recruiting local representatives who can exploit the thick social ties of traditional communities to drum up business. Xia himself is not unaware of the irony: after venturing out to the great beyond, he discovered that the world was coming to Cenmang.

The tale proceeds. It is about economics. It is about human interests and access to education, knowledge. It is about building a new life in a new way. The sort of life-changing experience that becomes opportunity in a society experiencing qualitative growth and change.

Politics Trumps Economics

❝ With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics.

❝ Trade policy is an obvious and essential case in point. Showing no appreciation of the time-honored linkage between trade deficits and macroeconomic saving-investment imbalances, the president continues to fixate on bilateral solutions to a multilateral problem – in effect, blaming China for America’s merchandise trade deficits with 102 countries. Similarly, his refusal to sign the recent G7 communiqué was couched in the claim that the US is like a “piggy bank that everybody is robbing” through unfair trading practices. But piggy banks are for saving, and in the first quarter of this year, America’s net domestic saving rate was just 1.5% of national income. Not much to rob there!

❝…What Trump is doing is not about economics – or at least not about economics as most academics, political leaders, and citizens know it…But why single out economics? The same complaint could be made about Trump’s views on climate change, immigration, foreign policy, or even gun control. It’s power politics over fact-based policymaking.

RTFA. Please. You don’t have to agree with Stephen Roach 100% of the time. His experience and knowledge-based analysis is a helluva place to start, though!

Nine of the world’s largest tech firms ain’t anywhere near Silicon Valley


FoxConn data centers

China is now home to nine of the world’s largest public tech companies in terms of market value. They include Alibaba, Tencent, Ant Financial, Baidu, Xiaomi, Didi Chuxing, JD.com, Meituan-Dianping, and Toutiao.

With well over a billion citizens and an ever-growing market, China’s rise in the tech market is understandable. Compared to the United States, the Asian country is outpacing, in leaps and bounds, the number of degrees awarded in science and engineering. This highly skilled labor force is paying off in China’s tech world and its expansion.

Just five years ago the Asian giant had only two of the world’s biggest public tech companies in market value. The United States boasted nine of the largest.

I know all of the rationales Americans – more than any Westerners outside of the UK – roll out to disparage faster and more dynamic growth in Asian countries. I worked for American and British firms sourced significantly from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China over a few decades. Some of the crap excuses worked for a few years; but, in every case, the reason those producers ran right past their Anglo-American counterparts was higher standards, a willingness to invest time and money in education, trained staff to accomplish product development and production more efficiently.

The single best example, nowadays, would be FoxConn – a Taiwan company mostly manufacturing in Mainland China. Ask anyone with knowledge of American manufacturing and assembly experience how long it takes to completely switchover a plant from one product line to another? You’ll get an answer measured in weeks. FoxConn takes hours, perhaps a couple of days. Because they will pay 1500 process engineers to takeover that plant floor and rollout a changeover in that time frame. I don’t know any American firms that can scrape together that many spare engineering staff – or would.

And I don’t know of any state in the GOUSA that’s capable of or concerned about educating engineers or researchers ready to develop similar systems here in the US – or in the UK. Yes, cultures are different in many ways. But, I’m just offering real reasons why we don’t compete.

Paper cutting tradition and spring blossoms


Click to go to article and more examplesPhoto/China News Service

A Chinese mom and her daughter drew several girls with graceful postures on paper and then cut out the dresses from their depictions. They held the papers in front of blossoms in a park in Beijing on April 3, turning the spring blossoms into pretty dresses.

Dinosaur with iridescent feathers


Click to enlargeVelizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum

❝ The discovery that dinosaurs were feathery, not leathery, means we’ve had to rethink how they might have looked – and now there’s evidence that at least one dinosaur could have been as brilliantly coloured as some of the most jewel-hued modern birds.

Caihong juji, a name that means “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin, was a tiny, duck-sized dinosaur from China. The fossil it left behind indicates a bony crest on its beak, and a brilliant, iridescent ruff of feathers around its neck – the earliest evidence of a colour-based display…

❝ It’s difficult to tell for certain what colour the feathers were, but the fossil was so detailed that it preserved the shape of the melanosomes, the organelles inside cells responsible for pigmentation.

And when the team compared these melanosomes to those of living birds, they most closely resembled melanosomes found in the iridescent, rainbow-hued feathers of hummingbirds.

RTFA for more on the find – and analysis. And special thanks to UrsaRodinia.