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Britain – phuski or phoenix

It has been like this in the UK for 70 years now!

It has been like this in the UK for 70 years now!

With just about two months left before the expected election date of May 6, the outcome is impossible to predict. A Tory majority, a minority Labour government, or a split Parliament with the third-party Liberal Democrats holding the swing votes are all viable scenarios. The markets have a jittery season ahead of them. (via In Britain, a Rout Turns into a Race – BusinessWeek).

At the edge of the precipice!

Last time around, in the stagflation of 1970s, as the low-exchange rates era in Europe ended, in the post oil-shock world of 1973, Britain inched to the edge of precipice of becoming a Third World economy. It was North Sea Oil that saved Britain. What will it be this time? Britain’s options are shrinking.

The Great Squeeze

Between 1930-1940, Britain was in a similar position, electorally and economically. Churchill, Montagu Norman executed the Great Squeeze on the Indian Peasant. What will it be this time around?

On October 27th, 1931, the Ramsey Macdonald led “National” Government (Conservatives and Liberals coalition, fearful of the rising Labour Party) in Britain won a huge majority of 554 MPs of 615. The economic crisis of September (misnamed as the Indian Currency Crisis), ensuing Depression era problems in the US, the Weimar Republic problems – and other issues pushed this ‘National’ government to ram through a series of measures (page 130-131) that depressed silver and gold prices and raised interest rates in India.

Which way the wind blows

Will Scotland secede? Will North Sea Oil go away with Scotland? Will Britain be able to withstand a hung Parliament and a coalition Government? Italy, after WW2 and before 1993 electoral reforms, had nearly 60 Government changes in 47 years (1946-1993). Will Britain go the Italian pre-1993 coalition-era way? Rapid descent or a slow spiral.

Or an unlikely phoenix-like rise?

PS – Phuski is colloquial Hindi for damp squib

China is now an empire in denial – Gideon Rachman /FT.com / Columnists /

August 10, 2009 11 comments

The Soviet Union ultimately fell apart because of pressure from its different nationalities. In 1991, the USSR split up into its constituent republics.

Of course, the parallels are not exact. Ethnic Russians made up just over half the population of the USSR. The Han Chinese are over 92 per cent of the population of China. Yet Tibet and Xinjiang are exceptions. Some 90 per cent of the population of Tibet are still ethnic Tibetans. The Uighurs make up just under half the population of Xinjiang. Neither area is comfortably integrated into the rest of the country – to put it mildly. Last week’s riots in Xinjiang led to the deaths of more than 180 people, the bloodiest known civil disturbance in China since Tiananmen Square in 1989. There were also serious disturbances in Tibet just before last year’s Olympics.

In a country of more than 1.3bn people, the 2.6m in Tibet and the 20m in Xinjiang sound insignificant. But together they account for about a third of China’s land mass – and for a large proportion of its inadequate reserves of oil and gas. Just as the Russians fear Chinese influence over Siberia, so the Chinese fear that Muslim Xinjiang could drift off into Central Asia. (via FT.com / Columnists / Gideon Rachman – China is now an empire in denial).

Cheap thrills

The Western media takes great and vicarious delight in predicting such break ups. It feeds their innate (though false) sense of superiority. With Scotland wanting to breakaway, Belgium on the verge of splitting into two, Czechoslovakia split into two, Europe itself on the brink of reverting to internecine squabbles.

Chopsuey

That said, a break up of China should be no surprise.

Much like USSR’s break-up, the Chinese monolith is more fragile than apparent. Apart from the usual suspects of democracy, economic disparities, social upheavals, etc, there are 3 factors, which most Chinese analysts miss.

One, the Tibetan’s are held together by force – and no one imagines that this holding them together by force, can be in perpetuity. The Muslim provinces of Xinjiang (another one-third of China) is usually ignored. These issues are usually minimized by the current strength with which China holds these provinces together.

But possibly, the biggest issue is the share of revenues of the Chinese central governments.

Secondly, the Chinese Central Government commands less than 25% of the total tax revenues – and the 75% goes to provinces. This, possibly is why the Chinese Government cannot reduce cigarette usage in China. Most expenditures on health, education, pension, unemployment, housing etc. are borne by the local government – and hence there is patchwork of systems which run across China. Most of executions and imprisonments of bureaucrats (including the Mao’s Cultural Revolution) is to demonstrate central authority. The PLA is the only factor that keeps China together. A Chinese Lech Walesa or a Nelson Mandela could unwind China very quickly.

Significantly, and thirdly, the Chinese diaspora and Western MNCs are biggest investors in China – and also the main beneficiaries. This currently keeps resentments of the local Chinese under control – as the neighbour is not getting much richer. But at one stage the domestic Chinese will want to greater say and control over the Chinese economy. He may not be happy with just a well paying job and abundant, low quality goods.

Fences and neighbours

Modern nationalism (of the political variety) is a European construct. National boundaries have historically been ephemeral. The value of national boundaries is the ability to wage war – and disturb the boundaries of other countries.

Good fences create bad neighbours!

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