Stephen Roach takes the ‘baseball bat’ to Paul Krugman

(This article was published in DNA edition dated December 10, 2010.)

Venky Vembu

The intellectual war of words between economists Stephen Roach and Paul Krugman is the stuff of legends. They disagree – vehemently – on the fundamentals underlying the reasons for the US economic affliction: the Nobel Prize winning Krugman argues that China is ‘stealing jobs with an undervalued currency, and uses his platform as a columnist in the New York Times to campaign for tariffs on Chinese imports. Roach, on the other hand, points out that the US has a trade deficit not just with China but with 89 other countries, and traces US’ economic ailments to a poor record of saving.

Earlier this year, when the argument got a little too heated, Roach said, “we need to take the baseball bat” to Krugman’s argument. Continue reading

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Think Asia is out of the woods? Think again

(This article was published in DNA edition dated December 10, 2010.)

Venky Vembu

Ever since Stephen Roach, arguably one of the world’s most influential economists, moved back to the US in July after “three fantastic years” in Hong Kong as Morgan Stanley Asia chairman, he’s been travelling back to Asia practically every month. But today, in Hong Kong, he senses an indescribable lightness of being after the region bounced back from the bruising trauma of the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

“It feels like we’re right back at the peak,” says Roach, who has now taken up a full-time teaching position at Yale, where he is sensitising the next generation of thought leaders to the dramatic changes under way in Asia. “Stock markets are up, property markets are strong, and there’s a deeply held conviction that we’re in the early stages of the Asia century, the China century.”

At the swank Four Seasons hotel where Roach is lodged, the manager told him that occupancy rates were above the peak levels of 2007 and 2008 – and that it felt as if “nothing had ever happened here.” Continue reading

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China’s might versus the power of an empty chair

(This column was published in DNA edition dated December 8, 2010.)

Venky Vembu

At the ceremony in Oslo last year to award the Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama, China was given a platform to showcase an element of its soft power: the gifted classical pianist Lang Lang was invited to perform at the ceremony to symbolise China’s rise on the world stage.

 

At this year’s ceremony, days from now, the most powerful symbol of China’s further ascendance, and of the long shadow it casts around this world, will be an empty chair. That’s because this year’s winner, Chinese scholar and campaigner for democracy and human rights, Liu Xiaobo, is serving time in a Chinese jail after being pronounced guilty of “inciting subversion of state power”.  A prickly, petulant China has placed even Liu’s wife under house arrest and has disallowed others close to him from travelling abroad to receive the award on his behalf. Continue reading

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Flash News: ‘No-panty’ Yana shows India is booming

Venky Vembu

In the Vanities
No one wears panities
—- Ogden Nash, Theatrical Reflection

 

In the early 1990s, when the Indian economy was opening up to the world, foreign consumer brands, in the first flush of excitement, came tripping over themselves to sell to “one billion” Indian customers. But after all the low hanging fruit had been plucked, they had to work hard to ferret out ‘niche’ markets that they could sell to: and one of those hitherto-unexplored markets in India, which had remained outside their reach, was the market for intimate women’s apparel.

At that time, a market research agency came out with a well-padded (and, perhaps, underwired) report that claimed – presumably after surveying women in the most remote tribal belts – that nearly 98 per cent of women in India did not wear any kind of undergarments. It then claimed, on the basis of this titillating bit of statistic, that there was clearly a vast and unfulfilled demand for women’s innerwear. Predictably, it had well-established international lingerie brands all out of breast breath and pant(y)ing with excitement at the big market that lay tucked away – out of sight of prurient eyes – beneath the demure vestments that Indian women wore.  Continue reading

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Rahul Mao and Modi Zedong

(This column was published in DNA edition dated December 4, 2010.)

Venky Vembu

It is hard for anyone but the most fawning supporters of Congress dynastic politics to fathom precisely what distinctive skills Rahul Gandhi has that qualifies him for anointment as the Prime Minister-in-waiting. But after last week, when the Yuvaraj likened Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to China’s revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, that comprehension gap may have been bridged somewhat.

It is manifestly clear that Rahul has a highly refined sense of humour, which is markedly deficient among Indian politicians. Combine that unique gift with an inadequate understanding of history that borders on wholesale ignorance, and an infinite capacity to periodically plant his princely foot in his extraordinarily commodious mouth, and you have all the elements that could make for one of the laughable prime ministerial tenures ever. Continue reading

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WikiLeaks proves the world isn’t run by robots

(This column was published in DNA edition dated December 3, 2010.)

Venky Vembu

A couple of months ago, Sha Zukang, one of China’s top UN diplomats, made sensational news when, in a fit of alcohol-induced garrulousness, he told his boss and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to his face exactly what he thought of him. “I know you never liked me,” Sha told Ban at a public reception during a retreat at an Austrian ski resort. “Well, I never liked you, either.”

Sha’s 15-minute hyperventilation, during the course of which he also made clear that he intensely disliked Americans, was of course seen as an undiplomatic outburst that was unworthy of a member of that exalted club of diplomats; and, when the effect of the alcohol had worn off, Sha felt compelled to offer an apology. Yet, for all its indecorousness, it showed up an all-too-rare moment of brutal honesty in the anodyne – even mind-numbingly boring – world of international diplomacy. Continue reading

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WikiLeaks, China – and a $10,000 ‘payment’

As a journalist who writes on China (among other countries), I often find myself curiously conflicted. For anything that one can state with compelling persuasiveness about China, exactly the opposite statement might also hold true. Finding the right nuance about reportage on China is often the most difficult challenge for me – and although on occasion I have erred on either side of the line, the endeavour is almost always to be fair-minded. Of course, where the requirement is for me to offer an editorial commentary, not just report (a distinction that’s lost on many), I allow myself a bit more swing room. But that’s par for the course, and anyone who knows the distinction between a news report and an editorial page column will understand that.

Reportage on China that is factually wrong – or commentary on China that is lacking in nuance or that has over time been proven to be erroneous – routinely get ‘out-ed’ and ridiculed by informed Sinophiles. In 2008, foreign media organisations that, from all accounts, got some facts wrong while reporting on the unrest in Tibet, faced an enormous pushback from within China – as witnessed by the campaign by the Anti-CNN website to expose “the lies and distortions in the Western media”. Likewise, Sinophiles have no patience – and even dollops of disdain – today for author Gordon Chang’s theory about The Coming Collapse of China – or economist Andy Xie’s extremely bearish prognostications on the China property market. Continue reading

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