Colonial Beijing & Civil Unrest in Hong Kong

Asia Business Council Executive Director Mark Clifford spoke on the John Batchelor Show regarding the recent civil unrest in Hong Kong. Questions raised include: Who’s running Hong Kong? Does it have the high degree of autonomy it was promised in post-1997 arrangements or is Beijing calling the shots? What is the relationship with China?

The full interview can be accessed here.

Donald Trump’s Joseph McCarthy Moment: ‘Have You No Sense Of Decency, Sir?’

When Senator Joseph McCarthy implied on nationwide television that a young Boston lawyer was a communist, Army Counsel Joseph Welch stood up for his colleague and famously rebuked the Wisconsin senator:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness….Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Welch’s famous interchange with McCarthy, when an honorable man stood up to a bully, is seen as a moment when the country started to turn against McCarthy’s witch hunt.

Perhaps a later generation will look back at Khizr Khan and see a similar turning point.

For it is Khan, the humble soft-spoken Muslim immigrant father whose son was killed in Iraq heroically running toward a suicide car bomber and thus saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, who has landed some of the most telling blows against Trump.

“Have you even read the United States Constitution?” Khan challenged Trump from the stage at the Democratic National Convention. “Look for the words liberty and equal protection under the law.”

It is the calm and reasonable Khan, the grieving father, who speaks of the need for candidates to have a “moral compass” and “empathy,” and challenged Republican party leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to disavow Trump.

The New York tycoon is “incapable of empathy,” Khan said sorrowfully, asking that Trump’s family counsel him: “he will be a better person,” if he gets help.

Trump is a “black soul” who is “totally unfit for the leadership of this beautiful country.”

Donald Trump’s furious and unremitting attacks on the Khan family in response to the DNC speech may display a callousness too far.

Trump challenged Humayun Khan’s mother Ghazala to talk, which she did, tearfully, on television shows, telling of her son’s last phone call to her, on Mother’s Day 2004.

Ghazala Khan wrote in the Washington Post:  “Donald Trump said I had nothing to say. I do. My son Humayun Khan, an Army captain, died 12 years ago in Iraq. He loved America, where we moved when he was 2 years old….Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?”

Trump, whose series of draft deferments ensured that he did not see service in Vietnam, has a different idea of service and of sacrifice. “I think I have made a lot of sacrifices,” Trump told talk show host George Stephanopoulos.

“I’ve worked very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures … I’ve had tremendous success.” When Stephanopoulos asked whether Trump really meant that these were sacrifices, Trump replied: “Oh, sure. I think they’re sacrifices.”

When Trump was asked what he would say to Khizr Khan, Trump responded, “I’d say ‘We’ve had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism.’”

To which Joseph Welch might have responded: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Perhaps not. Trump counted Roy Cohn, who was Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel and Welch’s sparring partner in the hearings, as a close friend. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme sometimes.

It has taken a Muslim immigrant couple, soft-spoken Gold Star parents, to ensure that Americans we hear a gentler counterpoint to Trump’s angry rhythms.

Four Things You Need to Know About China’s Record Solar Installations (They Aren’t All Pretty)

We’re used to big numbers from China, but the reported 20 gigawatts or so of solar power that was installed in the first half of 2016 are worth a close look.

The figures are preliminary, but the story that they tell is clear: In the first half of the year alone China installed more solar power than any other country has ever done in total, since the dawn of solar power, except for Germany, Japan, and the U.S.

China’s first-half solar installations were larger than the cumulative total of everyone outside of the big three listed above – larger than Italy, Britain, France, and Spain, all of which for years had aggressive subsidy programs to encourage solar power.

For China, the 20 gigawatts of new solar power installed in the first half of 2016 is as much new solar capacity alone as Switzerland’s total electricity generating capacity.

Is China’s solar power infatuation a bubble that inevitably will burst? Or is something more fundamental happening in China’s electricity market, where more than 60 percent of electricity is still produced by coal?

Originally published in Forbes. Can be accessed here.

Chinese Government Subsidies Play Major Part In Electric Car Maker BYD’s Rise

South Korea’s Samsung group apparently bought into China auto maker BYD as a way of improving its prospects in China, where it has struggled against government protection of the local industry. If that’s the case, it could hardly have picked a better partner, for BYD has been one of the principal beneficiaries of government largesse, emerging as a state champion in electric vehicles and hybrids on its way to becoming the world’s largest electric car manufacturer.

BYD sold 58,000 electric and plug-in hybrids last year. New energy vehicle sales were up more than two-and-a-half times from 2014 , and BYD’s popular Qin and Tang models give it an 80% share of China’s plug-in hybrid market.

The Shenzhen-based auto maker announced July 21 that Samsung, South Korea’s largest chaebol, bought a 2% stake in BYD for $450 million as part of a share placement that saw the car- and battery-manufacturer raise almost $2.2 billion, funds that will be used to expand its electric vehicle production.

Electric and plug-in hybrid car sales in China quadrupled to 351,000 last year. Government subsidies have played a big part in that surge. Consumers receive a range of subsidies and other perks when they buy electric and hybrid vehicles. But BYD, too, benefits from lavish government support, support that has played a key role as it has established its global lead in electric vehicles.

Originally published in Forbes. Can be accessed here.

China’s BYD and Korea’s Samsung: Can Two Battery Kings Forge a Profitable Partnership?

News that South Korea’s Samsung Electronics plans to invest in China’s leading electric vehicle maker, BYD , raises the prospect of a powerful alliance that could grab pole position in the world’s fastest-growing e-vehicle market.

The two companies announced that they were exploring a tie-up that would see Samsung take a big stake of a planned secondary stock offering by BYD. BYD would not confirm a South Korean press report saying that Samsung would spend about 3 billion yuan (just shy of $450 million) for a 4% interest in BYD as part of the deal.

The planned investment would bring together two northeast Asian manufacturing powerhouses, each with a strong, even cultish,  corporate culture.

Samsung is by far the bigger company – it is the flagship company of South Korea’s most powerful business group – but it doesn’t have much of a track record in taking a small minority stake in a sizeable Chinese company. Samsung is also a substantial battery maker in its own right, with one of its group companies (Samsung SDI ) the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries. Samsung, led by second-generation owner Lee Kun-Hee (see photo gallery below), is having difficulty cracking the Chinese electric auto market. Although Samsung built a battery plant in China it has not had success in getting on a government-approved procurement list for electric-vehicle batteries in China.

Originally published in Forbes. Can be accessed here.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon To Beijing: Environmentalists Need Protection, Too

Kudos to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for singling out the positive role that environmentalists play in promoting economic growth on his early-July trip to Beijing.

At a news conference with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on July 7, Ban underscored the need to protect environmentalists and other NGO activists. The Secretary-General “emphasized that environmental activists, human rights lawyers and defenders, government watchdogs and other civil society groups can act as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth.”

“They can represent the diverse interests of the population and bring the voices of the vulnerable in from the margins. Along with a free and independent media they can help ensure accountability and thereby helping the state to be more effective and strengthening the standing in the eyes of the people,” Mr. Ban said, adding that the world will look to China to complement its “remarkable economic advances by giving citizens a full say and role in the political life of their country.” The Associated Press noted that Foreign Minster Wang Yi, who last month made news on a trip to Canada when he berated a Canadian journalist for asking about freedom in China, stared down at his lectern during Ban’s statement. Domestic Chinese media did not refer to Ban’s remarks.

Originally published in Forbes. Can be accessed here.

Hong Kong’s E-Waste Nightmare: Where Old Phones Go To Die

Where do old phones and computers go to die? More and more, aging motherboards and hard disk drives and touch-screens are broken up in illegal waste dumps in Hong Kong, according to a blistering report from the Basel Action Network.

China’s crackdown on corruption has slowed the illegal export of e-waste, much of it from the United States, to southern China, the traditional home of highly polluting electronics recycling sites. That has left more of the toxic material marooned in Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post’s Sarah Karacs did an impressive trio of follow-on stories to the Basel Action Network’s far-reaching report, which was released in May, by poking around Hong Kong’s New Territories.

The Basel Action Network put GPS tracking devices on dozens of used electronic devices, which were given to designated recycling centers, from Dell to Goodwill. The SCMP then visited the sites where the GPS trackers indicated the goods had ended up and found that seven of the 10 sites were storing electronic waste. “There were hives of stripping-down activity by workers, few if any of whom were wearing protective clothing,” Karacs wrote. The SCMP used a drone camera to catch glimpses of the illegal waste dumping grounds.

Originally published in Forbes. Can be accessed here.

Watch Out, Coal! Dubai Announces Plans for World’s Lowest Cost Solar Plant

King Coal is taking a lot of blows recently. But at least it could usually count on being the cheapest alternative. Now even that’s called into question.

The latest battering to coal’s standing came when Dubai announced June 27 that it would build a massive 800-megawatt solar plant that will produce electricity at an average cost of 2.99 cents a kilowatt hour, substantially below what even coal-fired power plants charge.

This rock-bottom price offered by the developers doesn’t benefit from any obvious subsidies and is the lowest price offered by any solar plant in the world.Bloomberg reports that the price is a full 50% below the price a Saudi firm bid just 18 months ago in the same solar park in Dubai – a price that at the time was a record low, but has since been eclipsed by ever-lower prices.

That price of less than 3 cents a kilowatt hour is one-third cheaper than a coal plant also being built in Dubai, one that, like the just-announced solar facility, is also expected to start operations in 2020.

Originally published in Forbes. Can be accessed here.

Japan at Nature’s Edge

If Nature were human, we would wonder at the cruel irony of its setting the Fort McMurray fires that in May 2016 struck at the heart of Canada’s oil production, shutting down petroleum extraction in the country’s tar sands heartland, a place that even by the standards of a messy industry is at the far, very bad end of the environmental spectrum.

If we wanted to continue thinking of Nature as anthropomorphic, perhaps even thinking of her as Mother Nature, we would also wonder at the even crueller irony of anearthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011 that led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at Fukushima. The incident was, excepting the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl, the most serious civilian nuclear accident ever. These triple meltdowns, whose toll of death and suffering remains unclear, occurred in a country that was the subject of the only two atomic bomb attacks in history, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945.

Nature is not a person, of course, and our attempts to anthropomorphize environmental forces is dangerous.

This review was originally published in the Asian Review of Books. Can be accessed here

Can Cooperation on Climate Change Transcend the Challenges of U.S.-China Relations?

Environmental issues – especially climate change – is about the only area of cooperation in the often fraught Sino-U.S. relationship. I recently moderated a discussion featuring leading thinkers on the issue: Barbara Finamore (Natural Resources Defense Council), Isabel Hilton (China Dialogue), Orville Schell (Asia Society), Deborah Seligsohn (University of California San Diego), and Clay Stranger (Rocky Mountain Institute).

Highlights of the video can be accessed here.

The full round table can be found here

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