Tag Archives: Globalization

Made in China, Always? COVID-19, the Survival of Resilience

As they walk through the valley of the shadow of death brought by COVID-19 chief executives and corporate strategists are beginning to look to the post-covid world to come. What they think they see, for good or ill, is an acceleration. Three existing trends—the deglobalisation unpicking the business world that grew up in the 2000s; the infusion of data-enabled services into ever more aspects of life; a consolidation of economic power into the hands of giant corporations—look likely to proceed at a faster rate than before, and perhaps to go further, too…

China’s government may encourage its state-owned firms to go global by buying distressed car companies in Europe. The share price of Daimler is less than half what it was when Geely, a Chinese carmaker, bought a 10% stake in 2018. Car companies may also see offers from technology giants keen to improve co-operation between metal bashers and the engineers of autonomy—currently wary at best. The healthier airlines, such as Qantas and IAG, owner of British Airways, will snap up airport slots from their bankrupt rivals and may try to acquire others only just staying aloft. Private-equity firms, which have mountains of committed investor cash, may start buying up fundamentally sound but impecunious suppliers in various industries, aware that when demand returns such companies will see its first fruits…

In 2019 many global firms sought to reduce their dependency on China. One of their favoured strategies was to put more business into factories elsewhere in Asia.  But the acute stage of China’s covid-19 crisis made it clear how essential China remains as a provider of inputs to such factories elsewhere in Asia and around the world. “What people thought was a global supply chain was a Chinese supply chain,”…

Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, says that if there is one lesson people are drawing from the pandemic in this regard it is that “single source is out and diversification is in.” In other words, companies do not just need suppliers outside China. They need to build out their choice of suppliers, even if doing so raises costs and reduces efficiency

Excerpts from Sinking, Swimming and Surfing, Economist,  Apr. 11, 2020, at 13

Who is Afraid of China? the Silk Road

Xi Jinping, China’s president, is leading the new charge. In September 2013 he outlined plans to reinvigorate the ancient Silk Road with a modern network of high-speed rail, motorways, pipelines, ports and fibre-optic cables stretching across the region. The economic highway he envisages follows three routes: one running from central China through Central Asia and the Middle East; a maritime route extending from the southern coast; and a third branching out from Yunna…

Countries bordering on China are wary of its ambitions. They are concerned partly about China’s economic clout, fretting that it will derive disproportionate benefits from the links. (Many of the goods, such as drugs and guns, which Laos and Myanmar have to trade are illegal.) Chinese goods, they worry, may flood their markets and drown their own nascent industries. China enjoys the electricity generated by dams that raise the risk of flash floods downstream. Neighbours grumble that China’s emphasis is on laying tarmac and iron rather than sharing technical know-how, and that it often uses Chinese workers rather than their own citizens.

Stretching the Threads: The New Silk Road, Economist,  Nov. 29, 2014, at 41

Private Military Firms: business in Africa

But Blackwater’s demise created space for two rivals: DynCorp International, a 60-year-old firm that diversified into military security, and Triple Canopy, founded in 2003 with a similar business model to Blackwater’s.  Groups such as Human Rights First campaign against governments’ use of private military contractors…Post-Blackwater, two trends have dominated the new industry...globalisation and indigenisation. On the supply side, there are a growing number of private military firms, and not all of the new ones were formed by former special forces from Western powers, such as Aegis and Blue Mountain, two British firms. Warlords in places such as Afghanistan and Somalia ainre creating contracting firms that they staff with local talent. Their embattled national governments are seeing the merits in contracting out security. So America is no longer the only big buyer of private force…

One thing that would greatly improve the industry’s prospects is if the United Nations began using private contractors for peacekeeping missions, as it is said to be considering. Today, such missions are staffed by soldiers from poorer countries, who are often badly trained. Mr Prince thinks that private contracting would make the UN more effective, but he has no intention of going after that business. For him, the new promised land is Africa, where he is investing in firms providing services to the oil and gas industry, in places where he thinks his expertise in providing logistics and security can give him a competitive edge.

Private military contractors: Beyond Blackwater, Economist, Nov. 23, 2013, at  65

An Independent Kurdistan? Ask the Oil Companies

Iraq is blessed with abundant oil that is cheap to extract and close to newly built export terminals. Production has hit a three-decade high and continues to rise steadily. By 2035, predicts the International Energy Agency (IEA) Iraqi output could more than double, to 8.3m barrels per day (b/d).  But Western oil firms are increasingly reluctant to play a part in this boom. ExxonMobil appears keen to sell its stake in West Qurna, one of the giant fields in southern Iraq that will provide much of the production growth. Royal Dutch Shell and BP are both still working in the south, but unhappily so. Suffocating bureaucracy and onerous contract terms make life difficult. Heavier-than-expected costs and delays to infrastructure undercut profits.

Three years ago when they signed contracts with the Iraqi government, the oil majors were prepared to accept hiccups. But their patience has thinned with the arrival of an alternative source of Iraqi oil. Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous province in the country’s north, has been offering competing and much more lucrative deals. ExxonMobil’s decision last year to acquire six blocks in the region angered the central government, which considers the deal illegal and lays claim to Kurdish oil. But the world’s largest oil company started a trend. In July Total, Chevron and Gazprom all signed contracts with the Kurdistan regional government, potentially dooming their chances of winning future business in the south. BG, a British firm, was in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, on a scouting mission in late October.

“Kurdistan is 11 years ahead of the rest of Iraq in terms of political and commercial development,” says Luay al-Khatteeb, head of the Iraq Energy Institute, a London-based think-tank. Kurdistan’s potential oil reserves of around 45 billion barrels are less than a third of those in southern Iraq. Still, the Kurdish oil minister, Ashti Hawrami, believes output of 1m b/d is possible within three years.

The tricky part is getting the oil to market. The Kurds today export around 200,000 b/d through pipelines controlled by the central government. Mr Hawrami wants to build a new Kurdish-owned pipe to Turkey, feeding long-held dreams of Kurdish independence. That unnerves Turkey which is fighting Kurdish separatists in its south-east. Some Turkish officials seem to acknowledge the possibility of an eventual Kurdish state in northern Iraq and seek to make it commercially dependent on Turkey. Co-operating with the Iraqi Kurds would also generate lucrative transit fees and offer Turkey an alternative to oil from Russia and Iran.

The Iraqi government is pondering how to respond. It could sweeten the terms of its contracts with the oil firms in the south. That might staunch the flow of Western capital to Kurdistan. In the meantime, the main beneficiaries of the majors’ receding interest in southern Iraq are Asian oil firms. Chinese will account for about 2m b/d of Iraq’s production by 2020. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, talks of a “Baghdad-to-Beijing” axis.

Iraq’s oil: The Kurdish opening, Economist,Nov. 3, at 49

The Essence of Imperialism: Australia in the Pacific

Nor is it the first time Vanuatu has clashed with the Australian Federal Police (AFP). In 2004 its government closed down the AFP offices in the capital, Port Vila, and expelled officers, after allegations that they were spying and interfering with domestic politics. The AFP’s main concerns in Vanuatu have been over the country marketing itself vigorously as an international tax haven, and over the risk posed by the volatile Vanuatu Mobile Force, the paramilitary wing of the local police force. Protecting Australia’s national interests under the guise of so-called capacity-building can quickly lead to tensions.

The AFP’s activities in Vanuatu have been part of a broader expansion over the past decade of Australian policing across the Pacific. Peacekeeping missions to Timor-Leste since 1999 and to the Solomon Islands, beginning in 2003, boosted police numbers. In the past decade, the AFP has trebled in size and increased its budget fivefold. The AFP commissioner now has an influential role on the Australian cabinet’s national-security committee. In Australia most domestic policing is carried out by state police forces, leaving the federal force largely free, outside aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, to focus on international deployments.

Their efforts have often led to accusations of heavy-handedness. In 2005 a mission to Papua New Guinea was abandoned after that country’s Supreme Court ruled that legal immunities granted to AFP officers were unconstitutional. In 2006 the Solomon Islands’ police chief, Shane Castles, an Australian, was sacked and declared an “undesirable immigrant” after a raid by his police officers on the office of the prime minister. That raid was connected with the AFP’s long-standing pursuit of the Solomon Islands’ then attorney-general, Julian Moti, on charges of sex with an underage girl. Mr Moti was deported to Australia in 2007, arrested and brought before the courts. In December 2011 the High Court threw the case out, finding that Australian officials had colluded in Mr Moti’s illegal deportation.

The Australian Federal Police in the Pacific: Booting out big brother, Economist, May 19, 2012, at 49