Tag Archives china

Covid-19 | Strengthening alliances in a post-Covid world: green recovery as a new opportunity for EU-China climate cooperation?

Covid-19 | Strengthening alliances in a post-Covid world: green recovery as a new opportunity for EU-China climate cooperation?

As nations turn their attention to fighting the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, green recovery seems to be a good—and perhaps for the first time, possible—option. As climate ...

Europe in Times of Deglobalization by Peter A.G. van Bergeijk

Europe in Times of Deglobalization by Peter A.G. van Bergeijk

The current phase of deglobalization is a challenge for social sciences. Peter van Bergeijk discusses what we can learn from previous deglobalizations. What do the periods of the Great Depression ...

To fight or to embrace? Divergent responses to the expansion of Southern China’s industrial tree plantation sector by Yunan Xu

The industrial tree plantation sector has been expanding rapidly and massively in Southern China, affecting the livelihoods of the local population residing in the region. But is change resisted or embraced? A recent study on the political economy of Southern China’s industrial tree plantation sector shows that differentiated positions of villagers in their communities lead to distinct political responses to the expansion of the sector.


In the past two decades, the industrial tree plantation (ITP) sector has been expanding rapidly and massively in Southern China, and especially in Guangxi Province. ITPs refer to monocultures of fast-growing tree crops (such as eucalyptus, pine and acacia) mainly used for inedible industrial raw materials. The rise of the ITP sector, involving both foreign and domestic actors, has led to extensive changes in land use and land control, as well as in labour conditions and livelihoods of the villagers in this region. These changes and the resulting encroachment by the ITP sector have led to diverse political reactions by affected villagers residing in this region.

A recent study analysed the dynamics of the ITP boom in Southern China. The main finding of the study is that, contrary to what has been observed in many other places around the world where a crop boom has taken place, the local population in Guangxi Province did not necessarily lose and thus did not always resist the expansion. It shows a more complicated trajectory of the livelihood change and political reaction from below in the course of the crop boom, which is beyond “resistance against expulsion”.

Beyond expulsion

In this case of Guangxi Province, interviewed villagers’ livelihoods were not fully threatened even when some of their collectively owned forest land was appropriated due to their diverse livelihood sources and their ability to retain of their farmland owing to certain institutional settings in China (e.g. the household responsibility system). As a result, when part of their land was leased out, they remained capable of maintaining their subsistence. Hence, when studying the local population’s livelihood change during the massive changes of land use and land control, examining what and how much is left to the villagers is just as important as analysing what and how much has been taken from them.

Moreover, affected villagers are not a homogeneous group, but have varying interests and resource endowments, including land control, labour conditions, financial resources and social relations, and were thus affected differentially during the crop boom. Those villagers who controlled little (or even no) means of production and had little (or even no) access to alternative livelihoods became more vulnerable, whereas those with privileged access to livelihood resources were able to benefit from the sector.

In a few cases, some villagers gained control over the land from local or nearby village collectives and became owners of ITPs. Over the course of these practices, grabbers were not outsiders, but local villagers themselves. They were then able to accumulate land and the associated benefits at the expense of their fellow villagers, rather than simply being victims or resisters in a land deal. Such relatively small-scale land grabbing dominated by local villagers is called intimate land grabbing.

These are critical reminders to go beyond the dichotomies of “small vs. large”, “outsider vs. local actors” and “victims vs. grabbers”, and to focus, instead, on the dynamics of social relationships around land and production processes. 

Beyond resistance

Because of their distinct positions and diverse degrees of dispossession (or no dispossession), villagers had varying perspectives and diverse political responses towards the expansion of the sector. When villagers were able to get actively incorporated into the crop boom, benefiting from the crop boom, they tended to embrace these changes. When the villagers were passively excluded and had lost out, they were more likely to resist. Thus, the villagers’ concerns were mainly centred on their subsistence and economic gains/losses, which are closely associated with the terms of the villagers’ inclusion/exclusion and their access to the alternative livelihood opportunities. Hence, to understand the trajectory of political reactions, the villagers’ differentiated interests and wins and losses should be the key focus of future analyses.


About the author:

Yunan XuYunan Xu is a recent PhD graduate of Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague. She has published several  journal articles, reports and conference papers. Her research interests include: land politics and policies, rural livelihood, rural politics, agrarian transformation, crop booms, flex crops and food politics, with the geographic areas both in China and beyond (Southeast Asia and Latin America).

 

 

The New World “Order”: Brexit, Trump and the Developing Countries by Peter A.G. van Bergeijk

The New World “Order”: Brexit, Trump and the Developing Countries by Peter A.G. van Bergeijk

Deglobalisation is not the mirror image of globalisation. The losers of globalisation will thus not be the winners of deglobalisation. Indeed, the vulnerable and poor will be the big losers ...

Deglobalisation Series | China: ‘restarting’ globalisation? by Chenmei Li

Deglobalisation Series | China: ‘restarting’ globalisation? by Chenmei Li

After benefiting from international trade and investment for the past 30 years, China’s global position is starting to change. This is perhaps most evident when regarding its position at the ...

The imperial intentions of Trump’s trade war babble by Andrew M. Fischer

In defence of his trade war with China, Trump claims that ‘when you’re $500bn down you can’t lose.’ The problem with this stance is that persistent US trade deficits with China are arguably a sign of US strength or even imperial privilege, not weakness. However, on this issue, he has much of conventional economics wisdom supporting him in his delusions that the US is being treated unfairly or is ‘behind’ based on these deficits.


Trump’s trade tirades are being vigorously disputed by liberal economists the world over, although the riposte is usually in defence of free trade and existing trade deals. However, many of these same economists have promulgated the underlying idea that US trade deficits are the result of some sort of disadvantage or decline.

For instance, as I discussed in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, many prominent economists such as Paul Krugman argued then (and many still do now) that China’s undervalued currency gave it an unfair advantage, causing deficits and even financial bubbles in the US. Many economists on the left have taken a similar line of argument. For instance, Yanis Varoufakis argues that US trade deficits have planted the seeds for the downfall of the US ‘Minotaur’ because it has made the country increasingly dependent on the willingness of other countries to finance these deficits.

Beyond methodological nationalism

The problem with this reasoning is that international trade, income and financial data mostly represent the trade, income and asset movements made by corporations. Conversely, our system of international accounts is severely out of date given that these data are still reported on the basis of country residence rather than ownership. It also treats these flows as if they were arm’s length trades in final goods, or so-called ‘autonomous’ flows of income or finance, rather than the internalised operations of lead firms and their networks of subsidiaries, affiliates, or subcontractors.

The country-based framing of the international accounts serves to obscure the very resilient and virulent foundations of US power, based in the private corporate sector. Corporate ownership and/or control of trade, income and financial flows have become increasingly internationalised, even while remaining predominantly centred in the North and with a strong allegiance to maintaining US dominance. International efforts to track and govern these aspects of ownership or control from the 1970s onwards have also been systematically undermined, especially by the US. As a result, the antiquated international accounting system is very unfit for the task of tracking these corporate activities. Most of the discussion on global imbalances avoids this reality.

In this sense, as argued by Jan Kregel already a decade ago, the US shift to systemic trade deficits from the late 1970s onwards is best understood as a reflection of this internationalisation of US-centred corporations as well as the increased profitability of these US corporations operating in the international economy.

A simple stylised example is the iPhone. When Apple sends a production order to a subcontractor, this is not recorded as a service export from the US. However, the return export of the iPhone is reported as a goods export from China, even though the export is contracted by Apple, a US company. The iPhone is then sold in the US at many times its exported value, and the vast majority of the value of the final sale is accrued in the US. The US has a merchandise trade deficit in this production and distribution network, even though this deficit is associated with the immense value-added accrued in the US and the profitability of Apple. The same applies when Walmart exports from itself in China to itself in the US.

The idea that China’s surpluses and foreign exchange reserves constitute increasing power is similarly based on this flawed understanding of international accounts. As I have argued in 2010 and 2015, a rarely acknowledged attribute of the explosion of China’s surpluses in the 2000s was their rapid denationalisation. Foreign funded enterprises (FFEs)—most fully foreign funded—quickly came to dominate the exports of China, and then the trade surpluses themselves, to the extent that by 2011, FFEs accounted for over 84% of the merchandise trade surplus.

This share subsequently fell sharply due to a surge in exports from non-FFEs, although this was also in a context of falling current account surpluses as a proportion of GDP. As shown in the figure below, this was due to increasing deficits on China’s services account, which reached 2% of China’s GDP in 2014-16, knocking out about half of its goods surplus in 2014 and 2016.

China also returned to running deficits on its income account from 2009 onwards (with the slight exception of 2014), despite being a major international creditor. As explained by Yu Yongding, this is because China’s foreign assets mostly earn very low returns, such as in US treasury bills, whereas foreign investment in China is very profitable, possibly in excess of 20-30% per year, thereby cancelling out any of the balance of payments benefits that would normally accrue to being a major international creditor.

Graph Andrew Fischer article
Source: Author’s calculations from IMF balance of payments and international finance statistics (last accessed 21 March 2018).

Notably, the US is the mirror image of China: it is a major international debtor and yet it earns a surplus on its income account. Both situations were due to profit remittances, e.g. profits leaving China and entering the US. Indeed, Yilmaz Akyüz estimates that the net current account position of FFEs in China has been in deficit in recent years, meaning that their profit remittances were cancelling out their merchandise trade surpluses.

In other words, after the exceptional but historically brief period of running very large ‘twin surpluses’ (on both the current and financial accounts), the current account structure of China has reverted to a pattern that, as I explain in a recent article, is common among peripheral developing countries. The pattern is characterised by goods trade surpluses that counterbalance service account deficits (dominated by payments to foreign corporations) as well as the profit remittances of foreign corporations (and of other foreign investments, whether licit or illicit).

These rapid transformations have been reflective of the increasingly deep integration of China’s foreign trade into international networks dominated by Northern-based transnational corporations. The model has resulted in exceptional export performance, although this has occurred through the injection of considerable but underappreciated sources of vulnerability.

Indeed, as noted by Yu Yongding, from 2015 to 2017 the People’s Bank of China undertook the largest intervention in foreign exchange markets that any central bank has ever taken in order to prevent a run on the renminbi. This depleted its foreign exchange reserves by over 1 trillion US dollars. In another recent article, Yu adds that from 2011 to 2017, around 1.3 trillion US dollars of China’s foreign assets had effectively disappeared, probably reflecting capital flight. Together with the run on the renminbi, these were the principal reasons that the Bank of China put a hold on capital account liberalisation and tightened capital controls to an extent not seen since the East Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.

Considering that much of such capital flight is destined for the US, either directly or indirectly via multiple offshore financial centres, in addition to the profitability that US corporations derive from China’s trade with the US, it is clear that the US is in the more powerful position in this bilateral relationship.

The imperial utility of trade decline discourses

From this perspective, the deep US trade deficits that have persisted since the early 1980s arguably represent a new form of advanced capitalist imperialism, the emergence of a system of tributes whereby states around the world effectively subsidise the expansion of US-centred capitalism. At the very least, the deficits are signs of a structural shift underlying global power relations, based on an increasingly predatory form of financialised capitalism, with the US still at its helm.

Much like with discourses of Soviet rivalry in the 1960s and 1970s, the current babble of US decline and lagging serve an ideological purpose within these continuing transmutations of US-centered power. It is effectively aimed at subordinating other countries and shifting the burden of adjustment onto them, while distracting attention away from the US-centered, corporate-led restructurings of global production systems that underlie US deficits in the first place.

 


Main photo: https://pixabay.com/en/donald-trump-politician-america-1547274/

About the author:

Andrew mug shot.JPGAndrew M. Fischer is Associate Professor of Social Policy and Development Studies at the ISS, and laureate of the European Research Council Starting Grant, which he won in the 2014 round. He is also the founding editor of the book series of the UK and Ireland Development Studies Association, published by Oxford University Press, titled Critical Frontiers of International Development Studies. He is also editor of the journal Development and Change. His forthcoming book, Poverty as Ideology, won the 2015 International Studies in Poverty Prize, awarded by the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP).

 

Deglobalisation Series | Challenges to the liberal peace by Syed Mansoob Murshed

Deglobalisation Series | Challenges to the liberal peace by Syed Mansoob Murshed

We may have reached a stage where economic interactions have become so internationalised that further increases in globalisation cannot deliver greater prospects of peace. But the logic of the capitalist ...

Deglobalisation Series | Backtracking from globalisation by Evan Hillebrand

Deglobalisation Series | Backtracking from globalisation by Evan Hillebrand

While globalisation still enjoys strong support in the Global South, major economies in the Global North now seem less enthusiastic about its purported benefits. This article explores how the United ...