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The current financial regulation in China

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The power of a newly established Chinese public organization, namely the Financial Stability and Development Committee, is growing. Said organization was created precisely on November 8, 2017.

It is an important organization under the State Council’s direct control. Indeed, it is an office of the Council itself which will deal mainly with China’s financial stability and with all matters concerning economic development and monetary and capital stability.

More specifically, the Committee will be tasked with deliberating major national programs for regulating the financial system, for organizing monetary policy with the Central Bank and for defining tax policies and the related fiscal and industrial actions.

This Committee will also be responsible for analysing  international and domestic financial situations, identifying the greatest global financial systemic risks, as well as studying the related conditions and finally defining the ways for reaching  financial stability.

The important choice made in relation to this Committee is that it will be chaired by the Chinese Vice Premier, Ma Kai.

The idea of ​​creating this organization had been suggested directly by President Xi Jinping during the National Financial Work Conference held on July 14-15, 2017.

The Committee will also strengthen the macro-systemic policies of China’s Central Bank. In fact, it is a matter of regulating and stabilizing the Chinese financial market, which is worth 40trillion US dollars and is one of the largest in the world.

The Chairman of the Committee and Vice Premier, Ma Kai,was born in Jinshan, a district of Shanghai, in 1946.

In the mid-1990s he was elected Vice-President of the National Planning Commission.

He was Deputy-Head of the State Council from 1998 to 2003 and also Minister for National Development from 2003 to 2008. He was appointed President of the National School of Administration and later Head of the Office for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises.

In fact, the Committee will also be tasked with coordinating tax and financial policies and tuning them with the long time schedules of the industrial system, while the collaboration between the Committee and the People’s Bank of China will allow the regulation of the 15 trillions currently invested in financial products throughout China.

With the creation of this Committee, high-risk investment or massive bank loans to buy securities will no longer be allowed, while it will be mandatory to set 10% of managers’ profits aside.

China is currently turning its old role as “world factory” into that of a modern consumer-driven economy.

Hence the need to regulate corporate and retail finance.

There are three issues underlying the new Chinese financial regulation: a) booming loans, the majority of which are requested by businesses and local governments; b) complexity, considering that risky creditors have moved away from banks, due to the complexity of rules, towards less structured products, while Chinese banks currently offer mainly financial products for the long-term management of household and business savings.

The third issue is c) guarantees. With a view to preserving their reputation, Chinese banks often offer even compensation to their clients who have lost money as a result of certain investment,  which leads them to miscalculate their risk share.

Hence an extremely fragmented banking system which is hard to control.

The Chinese systemic risk must be kept well under control:  financial assets have grown four foldover the last decade, from 310% up to 510% of the GDP, which, however, has grown by 2.5 times over the same period.

The expansion of credit has been led by the public sector and by its very poor regulation, with the expansion of shadow banks, non-orthodox credit and particularly risky – but attractive – financial products for private investors.

Credit growth has already declined, while corporate access to capital has also decreased considerably.

For the Party, however, the fragility of the financial system arises from the excess of leverage and debt investment and from the excessive debt in many sectors of the real economy, while credit has expanded too rapidly in the financial sector.

In late 2016 the average national leverage amounted to 247%,   while companies’ leverage was 165% in the same period.

Definitely too much debt for companies and individuals, far beyond the international standard.

As President Xi Jinping has pointed out, the control of aggregate money supply has been severely lacking.

President Xi Jinping has also noted that the financial institutions’ general control has been missing and the State has focused only on the individual links of the chain of financial audits.

President Xi Jinping has also maintained that the State has been unable to control major financial companies.

Moreover, the Chinese government’s interest in financial matters has never been negligible.

The National Financial Work Conference had been created as early as 1997.

Later, based on the analysis of that select group, the first Chinese sovereign fund, namely China Investment Corporation, was created in 2007.

A structure that can currently boast to have capital to the tune of 813.5 billion US dollars.

The fifth National Financial Work Conference was held in July 2017, simultaneously with the creation of the Committee.

As the CPC noted, all this was designed to reach “national financial security”, mainly with a view to backing the aims of the  13th Five-Year Plan.

President Xi Jinping also thinks that the new Committee shall a) deal with the real economy and b) combine and harmonize social development with economic development.

According to President Xi Jinping, finance is never disconnected from the social context in which it operates; c) financial regulation is always aimed at eliminating the systemic risk and d) reaching national financial stability.

Stability first and then development – this is President Xi Jinping’s belief.

Furthermore, local governments shall follow the central government’s rules. Any failure to report the financial risk will be regarded as an administrative irregularity.

This will be very useful, considering the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

In fact, China has resorted to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism against the duties levied by President Trump.

It is worth recalling that the United States has levied duties equal to 25% on imported Chinese goods, for a total value of 50 billion US dollars.

So far these duties have been levied only in the aluminium and steel sectors.

China has responded immediately by levying equal duties on US products such as soy, pork and vegetables.

The immediate US countermove has been the doubling of duties on aluminium and steel up to 100 billion dollars.

One of the reasons for the current clash is certainly the forthcoming mid-term elections for which President Trump wants to keep on winning the support of the Rust Belt protectionist voters who enabled him to rise to the White House.

Moreover, according to the universal supply chain system, many of the Chinese products taxed by the United States come from South Korea, Taiwan and even from the European Union.

Hence the Chinese pressure could harm US farmers and the whole US middle class, as well as some of US best allies.

Therefore, while China’s recourse to the WTO has not slowed  down the aggressive posture of the Chinese economy towards the United States and the European Union, the aim of the current duties is to force China to revalue its currency, so as to rebalance the deficit between China and the United States, with the latter already recording a trade deficit with China to the tune of over 375 billion dollars.

Reading between the lines, President Trump wants a decrease of Chinese duties on US cars, so that there is an increase in China’s purchase of US semiconductors and, in any case, a greater share of the huge Chinese market for US companies.

Furthermore, China undermines intellectual property in the advanced sectors of computer science and Artificial Intelligence.

Finally, for the United States, the issue lies in hitting Chinese innovation and the “Made in China 2025” project, which is supposed to ensure China’s global strategic superiority in cutting-edge products, robotics and advanced infrastructure.

If everything goes well, at the end of this trade war, China will impose on the United States a network of joint ventures and selective openings for US products on the Chinese market.

That is what the new Chinese financial authority is for: to raise capital for the State’s primary projects and to protect China’s finance from the turmoil that could be caused by the monetary and economic imbalances resulting from the entry of foreign liquidity into the Chinese market.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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East Asia

Freedom, Sovereign Debt, Generational Accounting and other Myths

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“How to draw the line between the recent and still unsettled EU/EURO crisis and Asia’s success story? Well, it might be easier than it seems: Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe well knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes. Asia clearly does not accept any more the lead of the post-industrial and post-Christian Europe, but is not ready for the post-West world.” – professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic diagnosed in his well-read ‘No Asian century’ policy paper. Sino-Indian rift is not new. It only takes new forms in Asia, which – in absence of a true multilateralism – is entrenched in confrontational competition and amplifying antagonisms.  The following lines are referencing one such a rift.

At the end of 2017, Brahma Chellaney, a professor with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, wrote an article titled “China’s Creditor Imperialism” in which he accused China of creating a “debt trap” from Argentina, to Namibia and Laos, mentioning its acquisition of, or investment in the construction of several port hubs, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Piraeus in Greece, Djibouti, and Mombasa in Kenya in recent years.

These countries are forced to avoid default by painfully choosing to let China control their resources and thus have forfeited their sovereignty, he wrote. The article described China as a “new imperial giant” with a velvet glove hiding iron fists with which it was pressing small countries. The Belt and Road Initiative, he concluded, is essentially an ambitious plan to realize “Chinese imperialism”. The article was later widely quoted by newspapers, websites and think tanks around the world.

When then United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Africa in March, he also said that although Chinese investment may help improve Africa’s infrastructure, it would lead to increased debt on the continent, without creating many jobs.

It is no accident that this idea of China’s creditor imperialism theory originates from India. New Delhi has openly opposed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it runs through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which India regards as an integral part of its territory. India is also worried that the construction of China’s Maritime Silk Road will challenge its dominance in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Based on such a judgment, the Indian government has worked out its own regional cooperation initiatives, and taken moves, such as the declaration of cooperation with Vietnam in oil exploration in the South China Sea and its investment in the renovation of Chabahar port in Iran, as countermeasures against the Chinese initiative.

Since January, India, the United States, Japan and Australia have actively built a “quasi-alliance system” for a “free and open Indo-Pacific order” as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative. In April, a senior Indian official attending the fifth China-India Strategic Economic Dialogue reiterated the Indian government’s refusal to participate in the initiative.

The “creditor imperialism” fallacy is in essence a deliberate attempt by India and Western countries to denigrate the Belt and Road Initiative, which exhibits their envy of the initial fruits the initiative has produced. Such an argument stems from their own experiences of colonialism and imperialism. It is exactly the US-led Western countries that attached their political and strategic interests to the debt relationship with debtor countries and forced them to sign unequal treaties. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is proposed and implemented in the context of national equality, globalization and deepening international interdependence, and based on voluntary participation from relevant countries, which is totally different from the mandatory debt relationship of the West’s colonialism.

It is an important “Chinese experience” to use foreign debts to solve its transportation and energy bottlenecks that restrict its economic and social development at the time of its accelerated industrialization and urbanization. By making use of borrowed foreign debts, China once built thousands of large and medium-sized projects, greatly easing the transportation and energy “bottlenecks” that long restrained its social and economic development. Such an experience is of reference significance for other developing countries in their initial stage of industrialization and urbanization along the Belt and Road routes.

In the early stage of China’s reform and opening-up, US dollar-denominated foreign debt accounted for nearly 50 percent of China’s total foreign debts, and Japanese yen close to 30 percent. Why didn’t Western countries think the US and Japan were pushing their “creditor imperialism” on China?

Some foreign media have repeatedly mentioned that Sri Lanka is trapped in a “debt trap” due to its excessive money borrowing from China. But the fact is that there are multiple reasons for Sri Lanka’s heavy foreign debt and its debt predicament should not be attributed to China. For most of the years since 1985, foreign debt has remained above 70 percent of its GDP due to its continuous fiscal deficits caused by low tax revenues and massive welfare spending. As of 2017, Sri Lanka owed China $2.87 billion, accounting for only 10 percent of its total foreign debt, compared with $3.44 billion it owed to Japan, 12 percent of its total foreign debt. Japan has been Sri Lanka’s largest creditor since 2006, but why does no foreign media disseminate the idea of “Japan’s creditor imperialism”?

In response to the accusation that China is pursuing creditor imperialism made by India and some Western countries, even former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote an article in July using data to refute it.

Most of the time, the overseas large-scale infrastructure construction projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative are the ones operated by the Chinese government and Chinese enterprises under the request of the governments of involved countries along the Belt and Road routes or the ones undertaken by Chinese enterprises through bidding.

It is expected that with the construction of large-scale infrastructure projects and industrial parks under the Chinese initiative, which will cause the host country’s self-development and debt repayment ability to constantly increase, the China’s creditor imperialism nonsense will collapse.

An early version of this text appeared in China Daily

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Arrogance of force and hostages in US-China trade war

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Even before the ink on the comments made by those who (just like the author of these lines) saw the recent meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires as a sign of a temporary truce in the trade war between the two countries had time to dry, something like a hostage-taking and the opening of a second front happened. The recent arrest in Canada under US pressure of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s telecommunications giant Huawei, is unfolding into a full-blown international scandal with far-reaching consequences.

Meng Wanzhou faces extradition to the United States where she is suspected of violating US sanctions against Iran, namely by making payments to Tehran via the UK branch of the US bank HSBC. The question is, however, how come someone is trying to indict a Chinese citizen according to the norms of American law, and not even on US territory to boot?

China’s reaction was extremely tough with Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoning the Canadian and US ambassadors in Beijing and demanding the immediate release of the detainee, calling her detention “an extremely bad act.” First of all, because this is yet another arrogant attempt at extraterritorial use of American laws.

Other countries, above all Russia, have already experienced this arrogance more than once; suffice it to mention the cases of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, or of the alleged “Russian hackers,” who, by hook or crook, were taken out to the United States to face US “justice”.

Enough is enough, as they say. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is usually careful in his choice of words, said that while Russia is not involved in the US-China trade war, it still regards Meng’s arrest as “another manifestation of the line that inspires a rejection among the overwhelming majority of normal countries, normal people, the line of extraterritorial application of their [US] national laws.”

“This is a very arrogant great-power policy that no one accepts, it already causes rejection even among the closest allies of the US,” Lavrov said. “It is necessary to put an end to it,” he added.

One couldn’t agree with this more. But first, I would like to know who really is behind this provocation, even though China’s reaction would have been much anticipated. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou sent US markets into a tailspin and scared investors, who now expect an escalation of the trade war between the United States and China.

The point here, of course, is Washington’s displeasure about Huawei’s activities, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that the US Justice Department has long been conducting a probe into the Chinese company’s alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran.

There is more to this whole story than just sanctions though. The US accuses Huawei (as it earlier did the Chinese ZTE) of the potential threats the company’s attempts to use tracking devices could pose to the security of America’s telecommunications networks. The United States has demanded that its closest allies (primarily Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with whom it has set up a system for jointly collecting and using Five Eyes intelligence) exclude 5G Huawei products from their state procurement tenders.

I still believe, however, that the true reason for this is not so much security concerns as it is a desire to beat a competitor. Huawei has become a world-renowned leader in the development and application of 5G communications technology, which looks to the future (“Internet of Things”, “Smart Cities”, unmanned vehicles and much more.)

Since technology and equipment are supplied along with standards for their use, there is a behind-the-scenes struggle going on to phase out the 5G standard developed by Huawei from global markets.

As for the need “to put an end to this,” the big question is how. Formally, detainees are extradited to the United States in line with national legislation, but at Washington’s request (which often comes with boorish and humiliating pressure from the US authorities and is usually never mentioned in public).

Add to this the US Congress’ longstanding practice of changing, unilaterally and at its own discretion, already signed international treaties and agreements as they are being ratified – another example of “arrogance of power” as mentioned before.

The question could well be raised at the UN Security Council, but its discussion is most likely to be blocked by the US representative. However, there is also a moral side to the assessment of any political practice the work on international legal norms usually starts with.

If China and Russia, as well as other countries equally fed up with the “arrogance of power” submit a draft resolution “On the inadmissibility of attempts at extraterritorial use of national legislation by UN member states” to the UN General Assembly, it would most likely enjoy the overwhelming support by most of the countries of the UNGA, maybe save for just a dozen or so of the most diehard advocates of Washington’s policy…

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Will China Save the Planet? Book Review

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Barbara Finamore has been involved in environmental policy in China for decades.  Her new book, Will China Save the Planet?,is a succinct report (120 pg.) on the short, yet promising history of China’s actions to address climate change and pollution.

Chapter 1 is about the recent global leadership role that China has taken in the fight against climate change.  At first, the PRC was hesitant to commit to specific pollution-reduction benchmarks.  After experiencing increasingly devastating bouts of industrial smog in the 1990s however, China began to take its environmental commitments more seriously.  It has set out to become the de facto leader in combatting climate change through ambitious domestic action and sponsoring international conferences.  The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has only furthered China’s dominance.

Chapters 2-4 give in-depth analysis on China’s efforts to wean itself off of coal, develop its renewable energy capacity and become a global leader in electric vehicle production.  China has long used coal to fuel its unprecedented rate of industrialization.  In recent years, it has pledged to wean itself off of coal dependency by enforcing coal plant efficiency standards, enacting a cap-and-trade program, managing grid output, promoting local politicians based on their success in implementing green policies and supporting green energy developments.  China is now home to many of the world’s top manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and commercial & private electric vehicles.

There is much to applaud China for in its efforts.  Finamore writes that, “After growing by an average of 10% annually from 2002-2012, China’s coal consumption leveled off in 2013 & decreased in each of the following three years… Largely because of the dip in China’s coal consumption, global CO2 emissions growth was basically flat between 2014-2016.”  By moving away from coal, China has been able to, “Every hour… erects a new wind turbine & installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.” As of last year, “Chinese solar manufacturers accounted for about 68% of global solar cell production & more than 70% of the world’s production of solar panels.”

Chapter 5 focuses on China’s mission to export its green initiatives around the world, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  The BRI is shaping up to be the largest international infrastructure plan in history, investing trillions of dollars in 65 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  China thus has a golden chance to help much of the developing world to adopt clean energy goals and foster economic growth.  The Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to invest in renewable energy initiatives in the BRI countries by implementing a “green finance” system.  Through its pivotal role in the G20, China can also help to lead the developed world by spearheading reports and policies among the 20 member nations.

Barbara Finamore has written a highly readable and informative overview of China’s role in the global climate change battle.  She lists the Chinese government policies that have led the world’s largest nation to meet and exceed many of the green benchmarks that it set for itself.  It would have been helpful if Finamore had written more about China’s water instability and how that ties to the Tibetan occupation, as access to drinking water is one of the top environmental issues in the world today.  As a whole, Will China Save the Planet?is a good primer for environmental policy analysts and anyone else interested in studying feasible solutions to climate change, humanity’s greatest threat.

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