The New China Syndrome

Do any of you remember the 1979 film ‘The China Syndrome’? In it, a news reporter (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) are unintentional witnesses to a SCRAM incident, an emergency core shutdown procedure at a nuclear power plant in California. The crew prevents a catastrophe, but the plant supervisor (Jack Lemmon) begins to suspect the plant is in violation of safety standards, and tries desperately to bring it to the attention of the public, fearing that another SCRAM incident will produce an atomic disaster.

You may ask why was it called ‘China Syndrome’ when the action took place in California. The answer is that the nuclear meltdown scenario in the film is based the fanciful idea that there would be nothing to stop the meltdown tunnelling its way to the other side of the world, i.e. China.

This week we have seen another form of ‘China Syndrome’ in the cryptocurrency markets. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano and others have plummeted in value after Beijing renewed efforts to rein in the sector by cutting power to bitcoin miners in Sichuan province over the weekend, one of the country’s largest producers of the digital currency, writes Robert Hart at Forbes.

China accounts for 80% of global bitcoin operations and the crackdown in Sichuan has cut the country’s bitcoin production by more than 90%, according to China’s Global Times. This state media source also says, “regulators in other key mining hubs in China’s north and southwest regions have taken similar harsh steps.”

The move has cut bitcoin’s hashrate and caused bitcoin to drop to its lowest value in nearly two weeks. As you’ve probably noticed, the altcoins suffered as well.

China has an abundance of cheap electricity, making it an ideal location for energy intensive bitcoin mining, and Sichuan has an abundance of hydropower, hence its regional domination of the sector. However, a great deal of the energy used for mining coming from coal power stations, which means the industry is at odds with China’s new climate goals…and Elon Musk’s thinking.

This sounds commendable for a cleaner energy future, but that is not the only reason China has clamped down on mining. According to Hart, “China is also keen to prevent cryptocurrencies from “infringing” upon financial order, prompting a ban on financial services facilitating crypto trade.”

China has been causing problems in the cryptocurrency market since May when it announced its intention to intensify its regulatory crackdown on cryptocurrencies, something it does periodically.

Shentu Qingchun, CEO of Shenzhen-based blockchain company BankLedger, told the Global Times on Sunday: “We had hoped that Sichuan would be an exception during the clampdown as there is an electricity glut there in the rainy season. But Chinese regulators are now taking a uniform approach, which would overhaul and rein in the booming Bitcoin mining industry in China.”

And then he added, “As a result, Chinese miners must form alliances to migrate overseas, to places such as North America and Russia.”  It sounds like a move that might stop the meltdown that is currently tunnelling from China to the rest of the world.

China’s bid for world domination

The rumour that China plans to dominate the world has been circulating for decades. Its isolation from the West for a significant period of time made it even easier to turn the country into a Bogey Man. Some argued that it was a misunderstood country, whilst others held firmly to the view that China could never be trusted. These days, with greater media coverage of the world’s most populous country, we perhaps have a clearer view of its ambitions, and it seems some of the old rumours contain more than a grain of the truth.

Global expansionism is one of China’s tools. John Glynn writes that Beijing’s ‘Going Global’ strategy emerged in 1999, and it signalled the end of the “Mao-era mindset of self-reliance.” China suddenly started taking advantage of a boom in world trade and global market investments. Glyn says, “The idea that one government could commandeer sub regions in Asia, Europe and Africa, which account for 64 percent of world population and 30 percent of world GDP, might sound ludicrous. But try telling this to the Chinese government.”

Glyn also warns in his article that President Xi is engaged in an ideological and economic venture, and that it is clear the country has massive global ambitions, if its investments are anything to go by: “Between 2005 and 2017, the combined value of China’s global investment in construction was $1.8Trillion.”

What does it construct? The Chinese Government is making a concerted effort to increase infrastructural, economic, and political connectivity between China and the other countries of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Glyn calls it a “Belt and Road” initiative. But as he also says, it is essentially a new Silk Road connecting China to the rest of the world.

Glyn also remarks, “While other countries find themselves consumed by petty squabbles, Beijing officials discuss square footage, potential monetary gain, and militaristic strategies.”

It has invested widely in Energy, Transport, Real Estate and Metals — the key ingredients for developing infrastructure, and this has worried the Western governments, particularly the Trump presidency. That’s why he’s so keen to buy Greenland, an island mass that is rich in rare earth metals.

It is also the case that China has been involved in lending large amounts to other countries, and some fear that part of its strategy is to saddle these countries with “unimaginable levels of debt.” Furthermore a lot of this debt is “hidden” and that is especially worrying. Hidden debt means that the borrowing isn’t reported to or recorded by official institutions. A Kiel Institute study found that other countries’ debt owed to China has soared ten-fold since 2000, and it stated, “This has transformed China into the largest official creditor, easily surpassing the IMF or the World Bank.”

Much of this money is going to emerging markets. This is not because China wants to help grow these economies, but because it allows China to put those countries in a position of “indentured servitude.”

It is also looking to expand its military bases internationally. The US defence department expects China to add military bases around the world to protect its investments in its One Belt One Road initiative. Currently Beijing currently has just one overseas military base, in Djibouti. However, officials are planning others, including one in Pakistan.

This repressive regime has global ambitions and they are closer to being a reality than ever. Can China be stopped? The answer would appear to be — NO!

Does China Have A New Relationship With Crypto?

China moves into blockchain mode

For the last year or so, China has had a reputation for being anti-cryptocurrency and blockchain. However, this appears to be changing. Muyao Shen, writing at Forbes, reports that May 2019 may be the month that becomes known as the time when China did a U-turn and started to embrace blockchain technology.

According to her report, more blockchain projects in China are getting government support, including even working with government bodies to develop know-how for future blockchain platforms. This is distinctly different to the environment back in September 2017, when the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) together with several other central government agencies and financial regulators announced that it would ban initial coin offerings (ICOs).

The knock-on effect of this was that other East Asian countries closed their doors to anything related to cryptocurrency, especially the exchanges. The reasoning behind this attack on crypto was to protect people from crypto scams, but it had a dramatic effect on China’s crypto industry, with Binance, now one of the biggest exchanges globally, moving from Beijing to Tokyo.

Now, after a period during which any talk of blockchain or crypto in China was distinctly muted, things are moving forward. For example, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) recently released the first list of registered blockchain service providers. The list includes well-known names, such as Alibaba and Baidu. As they are now registered , “these blockchain-based information service providers are granted registration numbers under the Regulations on the Management of Blockchain Information Services,” Shen reports.

This ne set of regulations was reviewed and approved by the State Council Information Office earlier this year and was then implemented on 15th February, 2019. Regulators in the provinces have been working on the regulations that will hopefully grow China’s blockchain industry.

The ‘cyber police’ appear to be the officials hosting many of these meetings with tech companies, according to information from Xuemai Yu, chief executive officer of Hangzhou-based blockchain company DataQin. Yu also remarked that officials were keen to explain the nuances of the regulation: “The most important part was that they’ve divided all the blockchain projects into two categories, one is blockchain service providers, the other is blockchain technology providers.”

And the officials what they don’t like: 1. The public blockchain, where anyone can access and write and read anything they’d like to; 2. ICO-related scams.

“From the central government’s perspective, they want to make sure any information that could potentially harm the national security and stabilization wouldn’t spread on the Internet through blockchain,” Yu said.

The upshot appears to be that Chinese companies are already feeling confident about the development of blockchain in the country: Zhihao Zhang, assistant general manager of IT department at Soochow Securities Co,

said: “With the improvement of people’s acceptance and the maturity of the technology, the decentralized consensus will inevitably bring revolution in all areas of people’s lives, where things can be handled more openly and conveniently.”

Will this reversal of fortune for blockchain in China ripple out to have an effect on global attitutudes to the technology? That is an interesting question, to which I have no answer right now.