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    Book Review: China’s Superbank: Debt, Oil and Influence – How CDB is Rewriting the Rules of Finance

    China's Superbank: Debt, Oil and Influence - How China Development Bank is Rewriting the Rules of Finance (Bloomberg)

    Most of the prevailing wisdom about China declares that its economic success is due to a combination of government policy and foreign direct investment. This book, China’s Superbank:Debt Oil and Influence – How China Development Bank is Rewriting the Rules of Finance, goes quite a bit further in lifting the fog behind China’s success first domestically, and now, internationally.

    The authors, who are journalists working with Bloomberg, make it very clear from the beginning that there is no bank in the world which is quite like CDB (China Development Bank). It is a policy bank wholly-owned by the Finance Ministry of the People’s Republic, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, China’s sole ruling political party. It stands where policy, finance and commercial lending. It does not have a public relations department, and it doesn’t hire non-Chinese. New hires must not be only well-educated and smart, but they also need political criteria set by the Chinese Communist Party.

    China Development Bank has an impeccable pedigree. Its founding chairman, Chen Yuan, is the son of China’s economic policy head under Mao Zedong, Chen Yun. Chen Yuan has set China’s expansionist policy overseas by:

    • Setting up the China-Africa Development Fund under CDB to direct Chinese investments into developing African economies, and to insure that Chinese companies get ground-floor opportunities in Africa;
    • In South America, it has set up “loans for oil” deals with the governments of Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador;
    • Directed loans to new industries such as photovoltaic cell manufacturing by offering favorable loan terms;
    • Offered loans on favorable terms to favored companies such as Huawei and Chery;

    These are just a few examples mentioned in the book.

    Because of its largely secretive nature, it is seldom mentioned outside of the financial community; there is no desire on CDB’s part to make itself known outside Chinese government and the financial community. In Africa and South America, the authors had to get much of their information from interviewing local government officials and business partners.

    While many western analysts like to divide Chinese companies into public (Chinese state-owned) and private companies, in practice, CDB does not make this kind of differentiation. But the financing funds it provides are very much from the state. As a policy bank, it looks very much not only at the company’s commercial ties and health, but also how support will help to further China’s strategic interests.

    In this key respect, CDB is very different from western investment and commercial lenders. The US, with its huge financial industry, does not have a single policy or investment bank which is so tightly aligned with government policy the way CDB is. It also makes it clear why opposition to having a US industrial policy would make it impossible for the US to have such a bank.

    After reading this book, the reader will have a good idea of why western competition against the expansion of Chinese commercial interests are so futile.

    China has an extra tool in its toolbox which the west simply doesn’t have: China Development Bank.

    You can order the book by clicking the image above; it is available in Kindle and print editions. Ordering and shipping are handled by Amazon US.

    Book Review: China Fast Forward

    China Fast Forward: The Technologies, Green Industries and Innovations Driving the Mainland's Future

    When Tom Friedman is urging the Americans to follow China’s economic example, and the US mainstream media is all about how powerful China’s economy is, you know that it’s a good idea to take a closer look. Bill Dodson does just that with his latest book China Fast Forward.

    China’s current model of economic development is largely based on transplanting the industries which made the US great in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and then adding a very generous splash of top-down central government planning, all managed under the hawklike gaze of the Chinese Communist Party, which controls finance, land, key resources and personnel. The result: a huge and so far, flourishing, 20th century economy in the 21st century.

    Since the author is a consultant, he has had the opportunity to look at several industries up close, including auto manufacturing, mining, solar energy manufacturing, wind energy, and railways, just to name a few. This exposure to a wide variety of industries gives him the opportunity to identify industry quirks, and then extrapolate social commonalities.

    The problem of course, is that while this economy can deliver very impressive early results (as it is doing now), it is not equipped to deliver sustained growth over time. Here are just some of the problems pointed out in the book:

    1. Huge waste of resources, especially water (the author argues that water will eventually need to be rationed);
    2. Environmental damage on an epic scale, with very high cleanup costs
    3. Short-term thinking, which encourages corrupt officials to make as much as possible as soon as possible, and then leave China with their families;
    4. The complete domination of society by the party, with little tolerance shown for civic institutions;
    5. The widespread belief among many Chinese that they still are not masters of their own destiny;
    6. A society and education system which continues to value rote learning over creativity;
    7. A society and culture which while old, has not yet developed civic values.
    8. These are views which only someone who has spent considerable time in China could make, not someone who makes a few passing visits to China, gazing in awe at the Shanghai skyline, or the immensity of Tiananmen. After all, those are exactly the reactions a Chinese official would want a visitor to have.

      This book makes it very clear that the easy stage of China’s growth has come and gone, and the next stage requires some thoughtful and balanced thinking. With the new Chinese leadership coming into power in March 2013, it gives a good idea of the challenges they will face as they deal with a China which, while continuing to grow faster than the other major economies, will grow at a slower rate than the official 8% of the past decade. Moreover, China no longer has a cost advantage compared to many other developing economies. At the same time, the party has to deal with a growing rich/poor gap, and the growing aspirations of many Chinese. Not an easy challenge, any way you look at it.

      Most importantly, China Fast Forward makes it clear that all these issues cannot only be dismissed as China’s problems. Since China has one-fifth of the world’s population, and since we are interconnected in a globalized world, China’s problems are the world’s problems.

      One way or another, we will have to deal with these challenges together.

      The book is available from Amazon in Kindle and print formats; you can order it by clicking on the image above.

    Hong Kong’s Startup Scene: Interview with Casey Lau

    Casey Lau, involved with StartupsHK.com

    In May 2010, following Google’s dramatic decision to move its China search engine to Hong Kong, I wrote an article for Forbes titled “Why Hong Kong is China’s New Tech Hub”.

    In this interview, Casey Lau, who is heavily involved with the Hong Kong startup community, updates us on developments in the Hong Kong startup scene in 2012.

    What startups have you been involved with in Hong Kong? At what times, and how did you exit?

    I started off with ActionAce.com back in the dotcom era and sold to one of our investors. I also started a multimedia company called Velocity9 that was acquired by a VC firm.

    Your most recent venture has involved publishing comics to the iOS platform; what have you learned from that experience?

    That was mainly an experiment in comic publishing. Super Kaiju Hero Force was one of the first comics purely created for the iPhone and was sized accordingly. With over 100K downloads of the 5 part series, I can say it was amazingly successful compared to my print comics that I published in the late 90’s that sold a maximum of 10,000 copies sold with much bigger advertising and marketing costs.

    How have you become involved in the funding and support side for startups?

    A group of startups formed an association called StartupsHK that began to build the startup community in HK by holding events and conferences. It grew from 6 to 2000 members today and is growing every day through our social media channels.

    How has the startup scene in Hong Kong changed over the past three years?

    Definitely a bigger interest level not only by entrepreneurs but by the media and investors. We like to think that having a place for people to meet and create the ecosystem for it to exist and thrive has helped define it over the past 3 years.

    The Hong Kong government has tried very hard to support startups in Hong Kong, especially since both China and Singapore have vibrant startup environments. What has the HK government done?

    They help in the ways they know how – by giving their co-op bodies funds to spread out to the local startup community – this includes the Creative MicroFund at Cyberport and one at PolyU. It will take the private sector to mentor and train new startups to go big.

    What does HK offer to differentiate itself from its neighbors?

    A better ecosystem and a better reach to China and the US while staying in one of the most transparent and easy to set up a company cities in the world.

    Are most startups targeted at China, the west, or the domestic HK market?

    Its a mix of the three but definitely I see more targeted at HK and the West. Targeting China from HK is like targeting Japan – you have to be there to do it, but going wide to North America seems slightly easier from HK.

    What makes HK unique in your opinion compared to other markets?

    HK is a very entrepreneurial city and that is something that people understand. It has a strong financial community as well and many students studying abroad and coming back with new ideas.

    What does HK really need to become more competitive?

    More support from the government and corporations. More insight from Silicon Valley and more co-operation with other countries, especially in Asia.

    Do you have any specific goals in the coming year?

    More events and conferences with founders from overseas. These will center around entrepreneurship, UX, mobile, hackathons – you name it, this is on our schedule for 2013.

    You are well-known as an Apple fan; why is the Apple brand so popular in HK?

    I think its the way they promote and market themselves as a premium brand. Anyone can buy a computer or mobile phone but to get an Apple device is on bar with something like Louis Vuitton or Mercedes Benz.

    Sina Weibo Makes Basketball Grannie Famous

    Sina Weibo Logo

    Sina Weibo Logo

    One of the big differences between Sina Weibo and Twitter in the west is that in China, many people who have nothing to do with the internet have become well-known because of Sina Weibo. Even if that person has absolutely no desire to become famous or well-known, or pursue fame.

    This would be almost inconceivable in the west.

    In many developing markets, this is how social media is really used. This was how the Arab Spring movement spread in 2011.

    You can read about her story here on Huffington Post or listen to another version of the story on BBC’s Outlook.

    Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

    Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962

    The book Tombstone, about the famine of 1958-1962 which occurred under the rule of Mao Zedong, has recently garnished considerable media attention. Here are some resources:

    • BBC Radio Four has selected Tombstone as Book of the Week, and you can listen to 15-minute audio excerpts from the book online beginning here.
    • The Wall Street Journal has written a review, A Most Secret Tragedy.
    • The Economist has written a review, Millenial Madness.

    While the death through starvation of 36-45 million Chinese is indeed a terrible tragedy, it might make sense to ask “Why should someone living in 2012 care?”

    There are several reasons:

    • The current rulers of China were children when this tragedy happened, and even though it was not widely discussed, it was part of their formative experience.
    • While the political and tragic economic policies under Mao are a thing of the past and belong to history, the party has adapted many of its policies to create a new reality.
    • While today’s China is vastly different and richer than the China of fifty years ago, it continues to be ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, the same party which presided over the famine. This party operates to serve the interests of its leaders first, its members second, and the Chinese people third.

    China’s opening up was the result of the party’s desperation in 1979; it was basically bankrupt after Mao’s endless political movements. This is very different from the party’s current narrative, that it had worked hard to make China a wealthy and strong nation, and all of the Chinese people should be grateful for their wise policies. Basically the first 30 years of the People’s Republic, from 1949 to 1979, was about endless political movements and tragic economic policies.

    With continuing heavy-handed policies and its incessant paranoia about social stability, especially in the run-up to the new Chinese leadership succession, the party reminds the Chinese people that although its political and economic policies have changed, at its core, it is the same party which presided over the famine and its coverup.

    The author, Yang Jisheng, was a journalist for Xinhua New Agency (the party’s official news agency), which made it possible for him to gain access to secret party archives and records. While his book was banned, he continues to be a party member, and serves as an editor for a pro-reform party magazine based in Beijing Yanhuang Chunqiu.

    You can order the book by clicking the image above. Delivery by Amazon.