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The west is failing to quarantine Russia



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One of the most frustrating aspects of America’s Ukraine debate is its degree of self-deception about global unity. The assumption is false.

Vladimir Putin is hated and feared by most of the west, just as Volodymyr Zelenskyy is lionised. But the west has not been joined by most of the rest. When Indonesia hosts the G20 summit in November, Putin will be there in spite of Washington’s demand that Russia be expelled. Only four out of 55 African leaders attended Zelenskyy’s virtual address to the African Union, which had finally agreed he could speak to them after 10 weeks of asking. Not every summit is a western movie festival, where Zelenskyy has become a staple. And not everyone shares the US foreign policy establishment’s view that Putin is waging an existential war on democracy. I do not need convincing of the dark consequences of Putin’s late imperial agenda, nor of the necessity that he fails. But I’m not an Indian diplomat, an African consumer, or a Latin American energy importer. The west is not the world, and the world is not the west. It is astonishing such a truism has to be emphasised.

Here is rule number one of my unwritten primer on global diplomacy: Avoid navel-gazing. Good diplomacy sees things from other points of view and takes them into consideration. I fear that the US and the west in general are missing a big underlying reality in the global reaction to Putin’s barbarism: the Ukraine war is boosting demand for a multipolar world, which is very different to what we have been telling ourselves.

Most of the non-west craves strategic autonomy. They may be upset by the images from Bucha and Mariupol, just as we are troubled by footage of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar or bombed out cities in Syria. That doesn’t mean they will suspend their interests to stop it from happening, any more than we do when others cry out for help. To much of the world, Ukraine is just another humanitarian tragedy. The fact that the west sees it as existential is an irritation. Africans and Arabs and Latin Americans know that when there is a clash between US ideals and interests, the latter generally win. We should be wary of judging those who make similar trade-offs.

The world feels the Ukraine war primarily in two ways — higher food and energy prices. Following a pandemic in which emerging market growth collapsed and in which their debt to GDP ratios soared, inflation in basic staples is the last thing they need. If you add in rising US interest rates, we have the makings of the next emerging market payments crisis and rising political instability. We cannot blame countries such as India and Brazil for buying discounted Russian oil. Nor should we be surprised that there are plenty of takers for Russian grain. The fact that Putin is both blocking Ukrainian grain exports, and stealing what he can get his hands on, is a brutal reflection on Moscow’s ethics. But it does not alter others’ calculation. Hard economics trumps gauzy moralism. Joe Biden, after all, is about to travel to Saudi Arabia to press it for more oil production. This rips up two supposedly core tenets of Biden administration — reducing fossil fuels and shunning pariah autocracies.

The west’s speedy decoupling from Russia is bumping up against geopolitical limits. Countries such as China and India are helping create alternative payments systems and transportation routes for Russian commodities. They are also blocking western attempts to eject Russia from the multilateral system. The west’s best response to this would be to provide the kind of largesse to emerging markets on which China has long since taken the lead. Washington ought to spearhead efforts to boost global food security, arrange emerging market debt restructurings, and license Covid vaccine production (or better still, suspend patents) around the world. If we want the rest to follow us against Russia we must pay attention to what they want. Telling ourselves repeatedly that we are in a war of light versus darkness in which there is no middle ground is not a diplomatic strategy. Rana, do you share my frustration with western navelitis? If so, what is your cure?

  • I nevertheless took an ethical stance this week on my column about whether Donald Trump will be prosecuted (which I believe he should be). The January 6 hearings may not have revolutionised US public opinion, but they have given the US attorney-general, Merrick Garland, a lot more ammunition. “It’s a small step from believing in the stolen election myth to swallowing even darker ones,” I write. “If people can deny what happened 18 months ago, how easy would it be to convince them that slavery, for example, was a lie?” Some Swampians may have missed my Lunch with the FT with Hillary Clinton, which caused a stir. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

  • Biden is still not able to catch a break — and the chatter around whether he will or can run again in 2024 is getting louder. This New York Magazine piece by Gabriel Debenedetti — “There has to be a back-up plan. There is a back-up plan, right?” — is a comprehensive look at all the fraught scenarios.

  • Finally, our colleague, Martin Wolf, made a robust defence of globalisation, and basic economic logic, in his latest column — “The big mistakes of the anti-globalisers”. My one quibble is that he did not address global warming in this grand tour d’horizon.

Rana Foroohar responds

Ed, I find myself in somewhat rare disagreement with you. I don’t think US policymakers are at all naive about the fact that we are heading towards a multipolar world. Indeed, it’s the working assumption of almost everyone I speak with. The sort of rhetoric that you are referring to, about light and dark, good and evil, is what I think of as political PR — the stuff of speeches for the masses.

Behind the scenes, the US trade representative is crafting a multipolar world trade policy (as I’ve written about here). Treasury secretary Janet Yellen is acknowledging that the Bretton Woods institutions are outdated for a multipolar world. Financial policymakers are grappling with a new multipolar world of finance. And everyone I know in Washington and the C-suite is trying to understand how a multitude of both public and private actors from various countries, cities and communities will engage, often as equals, in this new world.

How many poles there will be and who will lead them is certainly up for grabs. But I wouldn’t confuse rhetoric with policymakers’ understanding of reality.

Your feedback

And now a word from our Swampians . . .

In response to ‘Can we ever rouse people about global warming?’:
“The reality of the world is that selfish, rich, white men are still in charge. To get anything big changed requires motivating them. Decades of experience tell us that they are not motivated by tales of endangered animals or displaced poor people.

To solve this, find something that they do care about that will be affected by climate change. Perhaps its golf — the original course at St Andrews is coastal: is golf still golf if that history is eroded by rising sea levels? Perhaps it’s the major sports — are baseball and football still real if they can only be played indoors or in Alaska?” — Phil Willoughby, Seattle, Washington

“Your observation that sacrifice is not on anyone’s agenda does not only apply to the US. Beyond fringe groups it is not on anybody’s mind in the EU either. One reason is, I believe, that outside of war, managing sacrifice is not the strong suit of democracies. The challenge is to distribute pain equally throughout society so that citizens perceive their own share of pain as fair relative to the one of others. It’s somewhat akin to creating a fair tax system, only with the added difficulty of applying it to a shrinking instead of a growing cake.” — Arne Baumann, Berlin, Germany

Your feedback

We’d love to hear from you. You can email the team on, contact Ed on and Rana on, and follow them on Twitter at @RanaForoohar and @EdwardGLuce. We may feature an excerpt of your response in the next newsletter

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The First Global Credit Crisis



June 2022 marks the 250th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1772-3 credit crisis. Although not widely known today, this was arguably the first “modern” global financial crisis in terms of the role that private-sector credit and financial products played in it, in the paths of financial contagion that propagated the initial shock, and in the way authorities intervened to stabilize markets. In this post, we describe these developments and note the parallels with modern financial crises.

The Evolution of the Credit Crisis

The 1772-3 crisis was global in scope, with failures spread across Great Britain and the Netherlands, the other main European financial centers, and as far afield as St. Petersburg and the West Indian and North American colonies (as covered in a previous Liberty Street Economics post). Over the course of a year, it disrupted credit markets, adversely affecting both banks and non-bank borrowers.

There were two waves of failures. Sparked by the flight of the Scottish banker and speculator Alexander Fordyce, panic broke out on June 9, 1772, in London, with the experimental Ayr Bank in Scotland an important casualty soon after. Another round of failures hit Amsterdam over the winter of 1772-3; most notable among these was the ancient bank of Clifford, held by contemporaries to be the second most important bank in Europe.

Since the role of fast-changing private credit markets was crucial in precipitating and propagating the crisis, we start with an overview of the private credit instruments prevailing at the time.

Bills of Exchange Helped Transmit Contagion

The bill of exchange was the primary credit tool fueling trade in this era: a promise to pay money (usually foreign currency) in a defined place and at a certain time. It was effectively an IOU that a merchant or bank could “accept” or ask a third party with stronger credit to accept (underwrite) on its behalf. Depending on the distance that the bill or related shipments might need to travel, the bill would typically have a maturity of up to a year, though three-six months was more common.

Although originally created to support short-term trade, a bill could (and did) become endorsed to third parties as payment of debts before its maturity, in effect serving as a paper money surrogate. All parties (including endorsers) undersigning a bill were jointly and serially liable for the debt, thus diversifying credit risk in normal times. During times of distress, however, the bill’s credit liability characteristics  served as an avenue of financial contagion since all undersigned parties were at equal risk to be called upon for the full debt.

The bill of exchange was also increasingly used in long-term finance by “rolling” an expiring bill with a matching bill on the same date, in a process known as swiveling. This helped merchants to secure working capital, but also allowed speculators to finance long-dated, higher-risk asset purchases, such as commodities or equities. The “rollover” risk inherent in this process is similar to that underlying the global financial crisis of 2007-9.

Mortgage Lending

Innovations in mortgage lending in the mid-eighteenth century stand out for their contributions to financial instability in the run-up to 1772 and the failures of that year. The mortgages themselves became more speculative as they included riskier loans, such as those collaterized by West Indian plantations managed on the behalf of absentee owners. As the loans were pooled and sold as mortgage-backed securities (MBS), they distributed the underlying risks to investors broadly.

MBS (negotiaties in Dutch) were issued on a massive scale in the Netherlands in the 1760s. They were sold to well-to-do retail investors, often in increments of 1,000 guilders, a sum about six to eight times the annual income of a typical citizen. The plantation sector in the Caribbean provided the fuel for the boom, with mortgages on Dutch and Danish plantations in the West Indies used as collateral for over 40 million guilders in new loans (or about 22 percent of the GDP of Holland) in the years 1766-72 alone. By the end of the decade, the volume of new loans exceeded the productive investment opportunities.

Margin Lending

Speculation in the stock markets, then as today, relied to a significant extent on margin lending. Notaries and other intermediaries had long used the pledge of securities as the basis for short-term loans. In the Amsterdam market, these loans were typically for six months, with an option for renewal should both parties consent. A haircut on the pledged securities helped to ensure that in case of a borrower default, there would be more than enough value in the collateral to cover losses.

This investing was often conducted cross-border, with the Dutch acting as major financiers of speculation in British shares and debt securities. Increasingly, sophisticated investors lent via arrangements similar to those used today by prime brokers when they lend to hedge funds. These lenders ensured that they could re-margin their loans in response to market movements and thus were able to avoid losses, even as a credit crisis gripped the market.

Not all lenders, however, showed this level of sophistication. Some lent against illiquid securities, such as negotiaties. Others failed to secure legal control of collateral, and disputes about who was entitled to what share of recovered creditor funds continued for many years afterward.

Cleaning Up the Mess

To quell the panic and to ensure that the commercial economy did not collapse, authorities employed tools familiar to modern readers: collateralized lending facilities and lender-of-last-resort powers.

In Amsterdam, civic authorities set up a collateralized lending facility open to anyone with qualifying collateral to pledge. Loans backed by various warehoused commodities (Beleningskamer loans), and provided at standardized advance rates, replaced some of the lending capacity that had been lost. While these loans were relatively modest in size, the very existence of the facility stopped the downward spiral of forced commodity liquidations and helped bring private lenders back into the market. These loans, combined with the arrival of precious metal shipments called in from other European financial centers, ensured that markets had resumed normal functions by mid-1773, although investors absorbed large losses.

The Bank of England provided last-resort lending starting in 1772 (although the term itself was not coined until three decades after the crisis). The Bank provided liquidity by increasing the volume of its discounts. Because of usury laws, the Bank was obliged to credit ration these loans instead of raising its discount rate as Bagehot would later suggest. But the Bank did not hesitate in deploying additional containment resources, such as supporting the biggest bill acceptors in London with targeted short-term loans, through which they, in turn, could support their clients.

Final Words

Intense as the twin panics of 1772-73 were, authorities were able to stabilize markets and restore confidence in the economy. These events resulted in a larger role for the institutional infrastructure of finance, focused around central banks and other state institutions, and created a set of financial stabilization techniques that are still in use today. The availability of these new tools was fortuitous, since Europe was entering the period of the most profound changes in economic growth and capital investment in human history. 

Stein Berre is a director in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Supervision Group.

Paul Kosmetatos is a lecturer in International Economic History at the University of Edinburgh.

Asani Sarkar is a financial research advisor in Non-Bank Financial Institution Studies in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author(s).

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Covid in China: Xi’s fraying relationship with the middle class



For decades, China’s expanding middle class had but one option to get ahead: neijuan, or joining the rat race of relentless competition.

Then, a surprising strain of resistance sprouted among the young last year: tangping, lying flat and doing only the minimum to make ends meet.

Now, after a return to gruelling lockdowns under President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy, a third trend has emerged: runxue, the study of how to get out of China for good.

People wearing face masks stand in line at a coronavirus testing site in the Chaoyang district of Beijing
Chinese residents are deeply frustrated as their day-to-day freedoms hinge on the results of mandatory Covid-19 tests, often taken every 48 or 72 hours © Mark Schiefelbein/AP

In late March, as more than 300mn people found themselves under fresh restrictions, searches on Tencent’s WeChat platform for “how to move to Canada” surged almost 3,000 per cent, a study by US think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) found. In early April, WeChat searches for immigration jumped more than 440 per cent. Relocation consultants in China and abroad say they were also hit by a torrent of phone calls and emails.

The runxue phenomenon highlights that ordinary Chinese are deeply frustrated. Their day-to-day freedoms hinge on the results of mandatory Covid-19 tests, often taken every 48 or 72 hours. Their minds are occupied by the immediate risks of strict quarantine in state-run facilities, separated from their families, as well as deeper anxieties over job security and falling household incomes as the economy teeters on the edge of recession.

Earlier hopes that the severe lockdown imposed on Shanghai in March would be a one-off are fast fading, despite the glaring economic and social costs. Instead, Xi and his leadership have explicitly reaffirmed their commitment to the controversial zero-Covid playbook of relentless snap lockdowns, fastidious mass testing and closed borders.

Yet the longer zero-Covid persists, experts say, the more the leadership risks a longer-term fraying of the Chinese Communist party’s “social contract” with Chinese society, especially the fast-growing urban middle class which the party has so far managed to keep onside.

The legitimacy of the CCP and its leadership has long been underpinned by the extraordinary rise of China’s economy since the 1980s, which pulled the country out of poverty and propelled hundreds of millions of Chinese people into the relative prosperity of the middle-class.

But the return to sweeping lockdowns this year has demonstrated to many people that no amount of prosperity trumps political power in China, says Kathy Huang, a researcher with the CFR who has been tracking the spread of runxue.

Shanghai is gradually reopening but the shock of the returns to lockdowns has sparked a “shift” in the attitudes of Chinese people, Huang says.

Previously, many blamed the local officials for the haphazard implementation of the zero-Covid strictures. Now most are sympathetic toward those caught up enforcing the bureaucracy, “a recognition of how powerless everyone is under central policies,” she says.

Not since the one-child policy has a national strategy touched nearly every individual in China. Trapped in a web of unpredictable and chaotic lockdown rules, many Chinese are now dreaming of a permanent escape.

“For many elites, emigration had been a viable and popular option long before the lockdowns,” Huang says. “But the sudden spike in interest indicated by the search engines and the immigration consultancies tells us that a much bigger population, most likely those in the middle class, is starting to consider it after the lockdown.

They are looking for a long-term, not temporary solution to their unsatisfactory life in China.”

The squeezed middle-class

The economic reality and strict border controls means that the vast majority of the Chinese middle class have little hope of turning runxue from a study into practice.

Many economists expect China’s gross domestic product to contract this quarter — the second time it has entered recessionary territory in 30 years. Full-year growth forecasts have so far been revised down to about 4 per cent, half the 8.1 per cent growth recorded last year, and below Beijing’s aim for 5.5 per cent, which was already a three-decade low.

A resulting squeeze in living standards is rippling from low-paid labourers through to the professional classes and into boardrooms.

Eko, an export industry professional with a multinational company in Changsha, central China, says “most of my friends are experiencing some decline in their incomes and increased financial pressures, including government employees”. He wants Beijing to pivot to a “full opening” to rekindle the economy.

Andy Zhu, a 30-year-old computer programmer based in Shenzhen, China’s southern tech hub that was briefly locked down in March, says while there has been “a massive impact for all industries” he has been personally forced to rethink how he manages his own finances. “The pandemic has raised my awareness of recessions . . . we need to save more,” he says.

One 24-year-old accountant in the eastern city of Nanjing, who asked not to be named, expects her income to be halved this year as the downturn bites. Her parent’s plan to buy a new car was recently put on ice.

Quarantine workers in personal protective equipment carry out Covid tests at a residential building during a lockdown in Shanghai
The return to sweeping lockdowns this year has demonstrated to many people that no amount of prosperity trumps political power in China © Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Nomura analysts have cautioned that “some fundamentals” might be worse than China’s official data suggested. The Japanese bank’s analysts point to China’s road freight index, a closely watched gauge of economic activity, down almost 20 per cent year on year, and sales volume of new homes slumping nearly a third.

They also note contractions in output across key commodities and products including power, cement, crude steel, cars and smartphones, adding that “although the worst appears to be behind us for this Omicron wave, there is no guarantee that a new wave will not hit in coming months”.

As the lockdowns drag on economic growth, Beijing is pledging economic support including a reversion to large-scale infrastructure projects and tax breaks. But economists, also worried about rising inflation, are not optimistic that the scale and delivery of the planned stimulus will be enough to prime a “V-shape” recovery from the world’s biggest consumer market and factory floor.

Job statistics will also be worrying Xi and his economic planners in Beijing. Unemployment among workers aged between 18 and 24 has hit a record high of 18.4 per cent. The rise in youth joblessness already has put China on par with Slovakia and Estonia. The problem will soon worsen with more than 10mn university students graduating in the coming weeks.

The zero-Covid policy is also taking a toll on people’s mental health. Although official data are in short supply, academic research into earlier stages of the pandemic are troubling. A survey of almost 40,000 students in 2020 showed the prevalence of depression, anxiety symptoms and suicide risk at double digit rates, a group of Chinese researchers wrote in a paper published by academic journal Current Psychology.

Logan Wright, who leads China markets research at Rhodium, the think-tank, notes that many people are now comparing this crisis to some of the darkest days under Communist party rule.

“China’s own citizens . . . are discussing the current crisis by likening it not to Sars or another epidemic, but to the Communist party’s political campaigns from China’s history — particularly the history of the 1960s,” Wright wrote in a recent policy analysis.

“There are frequent discussions of the overreactions of local officials to a few cases and the overreporting of economic data during the current slowdown using the context of the Great Leap Forward, and others comparing the ‘Big Whites’ (newly recruited medical volunteers assisting with the lockdowns) to the Red Guards of the cultural revolution,” he added.

The poor getting poorer

For Chinese at the lower end of the economic ladder, the leader’s refusal to budge from the policy of completely eliminating coronavirus is starting to erode years of progress.

One year ago, Xi claimed personal responsibility for eradicating poverty in China, a proud yet unprovable boast at a time of global economic pain with much of the world in the throes of the pandemic.

The issue is highly politically sensitive. Xi has personalised the state’s long-running anti-poverty campaign. Last year he also made equality a hallmark domestic policy under the “common prosperity” banner, which has included cracking down on the power of big business, cultural vice and excess among China’s ultrawealthy.

A woman passes an anti-epidemic station, inviting people to scan a QR code for the LeaveHomeSafe app, take their temperature and disinfect their hands
A woman passes an anti-epidemic station, inviting people to scan a QR code for the LeaveHomeSafe app, take their temperature and disinfect their hands © Marc Fernandes/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Research shows that Chinese living in, or on the edge of, abject poverty were among those hardest hit when the initial coronavirus outbreak emerged from Wuhan in early 2020. Academics from Chongqing University and Sun Yat-sen University said in a report analysing the initial nationwide lockdown in early 2020 that homeless people were hit by a “substantial decline in incomes” and “humanitarian aid from local governments of China decreased, whereas inhumane efforts to drive the homeless away intensified”.

Samantha Vortherms, a China expert at the University of California, Irvine, notes that in factories across the world’s second-biggest economy local staff are considered the “core employee base”. China’s 380mn itinerant migrant workers are “periphery”, she says, which means they are the first to be laid off when companies are hit by downturns, a problem exacerbated by unequal access to social security provisions.

“Migrant workers are much less likely to have formal labour contracts that allow them to pay into social insurance schemes that protect them if unemployed,” she says.

Gao Qin, an expert on China’s social welfare at Columbia University, says that the fallout from the latest lockdowns in densely populated urban areas will also hit rural households as more and more migrant workers are unable to keep up regular remittances.

Migrant worker livelihoods depend on mobility — moving between factories and towns looking for work — meaning that during the pandemic they risk not only losing work, but also being targeted by officials for spreading coronavirus, Gao says. “The pandemic has changed almost everything,” she says. “I think we all understand poverty [in China] . . . is an issue.”

The state’s promises of support have provided little solace nor cause for celebration among the workers themselves. “I sometimes listen to the news on the radio. It is all bullshit,” said a labourer surnamed Du who spoke to the Financial Times at a market in Guanzhuang, in Beijing’s eastern outskirts. Out of work and unable to send money to his children, Du planned to return to his farming plot in the country.

The rich look for an exit

Those who can afford to leave the country completely are finding it more difficult to do so. One Chinese entrepreneur now in Washington DC, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, considers himself among those “lucky” to escape before Beijing cracked down on people fleeing the country.

“I flew from Guangzhou to JFK in February . . . Even then it took me four hours to get through all the checks. At the first checkpoint I was interviewed by public security bureau policemen asking me ‘reason for travel’ and how much I was carrying. They were checking people’s baggage.”

A person sleeping at a boarding gate at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport
In May, the National Immigration Administration announced it would ‘strictly limit’ unnecessary travel amid fears of infections caused by international travellers. It denied it was completely suspending issuing passports © Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images

Others weren’t so lucky, he adds. “A friend of mine wanted to go to New York to drop her child off at college, but the passport office refused to issue her a passport. They said dropping off her child at college wasn’t a valid reason to leave China.”

The issuance of Chinese passports — both new and renewals — was already down 95 per cent in the first quarter compared to before the pandemic, according to official data.

Then in May, the National Immigration Administration doubled down, announcing it would “strictly limit” unnecessary travel amid fears of infections caused by international travellers. But it denied it was completely suspending passport issuance.

A Singapore-based wealth management consultant in the city-state says in recent months she has effectively been moonlighting as a travel agent as her wealthy Chinese clients try to skirt the official edicts against all “unnecessary travel”.

“Even if people can’t leave, they are drawing up plans to do so. They want to feel like they have that choice,” says the consultant, also asking not to be identified.

She adds that, even for wealthy clients, finding lawyers in China who will notarise or translate documents required for overseas travel was also becoming more difficult. “A lot of lawyers won’t take these cases . . . If your passport has expired, then it’s a disaster,” she says.

Beijing’s rules might well have stifled a larger exodus. However, CFR’s Yanzhong Huang says people’s attempts to leave illustrates they are “losing patience and confidence”.

“They don’t feel like there is a future with the repressive political atmosphere and weak economy. They’re voting with their feet.” 

Imperial edicts

The collective angst — from migrant workers up to the elites — adds pressure on the party leadership just months out from the 20th CCP congress expected in November, when Xi is set to break from term limits to cement unrivalled future rule.

A screen shows a CCTV state media news broadcast of Chinese President Xi Jinping addressing the BRICS Business Forum via video link at a shopping center in Beijing
The state remains on high alert to guard against dissent © Thomas Peter/Reuters

Experts warn that if economic conditions worsen and social controls are ratcheted up again, faith in the Chinese leadership will be further undermined.

Yet Beijing shows no sign of changing course. A new layer of zero-Covid infrastructure is even now descending on cities across China. Officials are racing to erect testing sites no more than a 15-minute walk apart while a construction drive ramps up for new hospitals and centralised quarantine facilities, signs of Beijing’s commitment to using mass testing, contact tracing and quarantines to suppress further large-scale Covid-19 outbreaks through 2023.

Dissent, vanishingly rare in China, may yet bubble up. The staging of nightly protests in Shanghai, during which residents banged pots and sung from their balconies, as well as occasional clashes between Beijing students and other groups with police is evidence that, even in China, frustration can quickly erupt.

The state remains on high alert to guard against it. Most reports critical of the zero-Covid policy are swiftly stamped out by Beijing’s censors and tech platforms such as Tencent and Weibo, so too are episodic waves of memes and other social media commentary reflecting the dissatisfaction.

But China-watchers are looking to the autumn party summit as a potential crunch point. “In the best of times, such political meetings of party elites are seen for what they are: political pageantry,” says Diana Fu, an expert on China’s domestic politics with the Brookings Institution think-tank. “During times of crisis, they may serve as a focal point for social unrest.”

Beijing’s unwavering dedication to suppressing the virus in spite of the signs of frustration and alienation can be seen as a sign of things to come, says Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Studies at King’s College, London and author of Xi: A Study in Power, as Xi embraces an “imperial” style of governing.

“The Covid lockdowns are a clue as to where you get to when that sort of power is invested in one person,” he says.

Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding in Beijing. Data and visual journalism by Andy Lin in Hong Kong

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FirstFT: Nato to bolster Baltics



Good morning. This article is an on-site version of our FirstFT newsletter. Sign up to our Asia, Europe/Africa or Americas edition to get it sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning

Nato is to agree an overhaul of its plans to offer better protection to the alliance’s eastern flank, tearing up a model that could have meant relinquishing Baltic states and then attempting to recapture them in the event of a Russian invasion.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, told the Financial Times that the military blueprint, to be agreed at an annual leaders’ summit that begins in Madrid tomorrow, would drastically upgrade the alliance’s eastern defences, shifting focus from deterrence to a full defence of allied territory.

Estonia’s prime minister has claimed that under the current doctrine, Baltic states would be “wiped off the map” by a Russian assault before Nato attempted a counter-attack to liberate them after 180 days.

The alliance will “significantly reinforce” its defences in eastern Europe, Stoltenberg said, pledging that Russia would not be able to capture the Estonian capital Tallinn “just as they have not been able to seize the city of Kirkenes in northern Norway or West Berlin during the cold war”.

More on Russia’s war in Ukraine

  • Military developments: Russian missiles struck residential buildings in central Kyiv yesterday. Ukraine’s retreat from the eastern city of Severodonetsk was a “tactical” move to avoid a repeat of the siege in Mariupol, the country’s military intelligence chief said.

  • Energy politics: G7 leaders meeting in the Bavarian Alps are seeking a deal to impose a “price cap” on Russian oil to curb Moscow’s ability to finance its war.

Thanks for reading FirstFT Europe/Africa. To start your week, here’s the rest of the day’s news. — Jennifer

1. EY valued NSO Group at $2.3bn The Big Four accounting firm valued the secretive Israeli spyware company at $2.3bn, months before the maker of the Pegasus cyberweapon needed emergency bailout funding. By contrast, Berkeley Research Group, which represents NSO’s private equity owners, said this year that the company’s equity was “valueless”.

2. BIS: leading economies at risk of high-inflation trap The Bank for International Settlements warned yesterday that major economies were close to “tipping” into a high-inflation world in which rapid price rises dominate daily life and are difficult to quell, and urged central banks not to be shy about inflicting short-term pain and even recessions to prevent it.

Line chart of proportion of countries with inflation over 5 per cent  showing The proportion of countries with high inflation has exploded

3. RWE: UK windfall tax could risk £15bn in renewables The head of one of the country’s largest power producers has warned that Germany’s biggest utility will reconsider £15bn of investment in the UK’s renewable energy sector if the country imposes a windfall tax on electricity generators.

4. UBS courts US investment heavyweights The Swiss lender, the world’s biggest wealth manager, has begun courting investment houses to become top shareholders as it tries to improve its market value to be closer aligned with Wall Street peers and project an image as a global bank.

5. UK Treasury takes stake in sex party planner The British taxpayer has become a shareholder in Killing Kittens, known for its exclusive and hedonistic events, under the Future Fund, a scheme set up by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support innovative firms during the pandemic under which loans are converted into equity.

The day ahead

UK lawyers on strike Members of the Criminal Bar Association begin a walkout in an escalating dispute with the government over funding, which is expected to cause widespread disruption to hearings across England and Wales.

UK changes N Ireland trading regime MPs will have their first vote on Boris Johnson’s legislation to unilaterally rip up parts of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements, despite fierce criticism from Brussels.

Economic indicators The annual European Central Bank Forum on Central Banking begins in Sintra, Portugal. In the US, durable goods orders may show whether inflation, rising interest rates and economic uncertainty weighed on demand in May. (FT, WSJ)

UN Ocean Conference The week-long conference on ocean conservation and sustainability starts and is co-hosted by Kenya and Portugal.

Companies developments Nike posts fourth-quarter results. Disney’s board meets for two days less than a week after giving under-fire chief executive Bob Chapek a vote of confidence.

Wimbledon begins The tennis tournament starts at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in south-west London without the men’s top player or women’s reigning champion. Daniil Medvedev is ineligible after a ban on Russian players, while Ash Barty has retired. “Retiring aged 25 seems like filing for divorce while on honeymoon. But Barty’s decision reveals various truths,” writes Henry Mance.

What else we’re reading

Grim times lie ahead for UK The country is in the throes of the kind of labour unrest not seen for decades. The explanation for it is clear. Unanticipated inflation delivers losses everybody wants to recoup. This triggers social conflict, writes Martin Wolf. Yet if inflation is bad, so is the cure.

The road to rolling back Roe vs Wade As the Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 ruling enshrining the constitutional right to abortion, Lyz Lenz documents the rise of the Christian right and how it reached this historic moment. In response to the ruling, Democratic lawmakers are stepping up efforts to establish “sanctuary states” for reproductive rights.

Crypto and meme corporate bonds follow their own path The crash of some of the flagbearers of the equity bubble has been painful for investors. Less noticed are the losses of their bonds. Such gaps illuminate differences in the ownership and returns for stocks versus bonds, writes Ellen Carr at Barksdale Investment Management.

How the beauty industry left tortoise-like Revlon trailing Once a behemoth of the beauty industry, Revlon has been sidelined by modern influencer- and social media-driven make-up brands. The 90-year-old group’s bankruptcy filing reveals how competitive and fast-paced the sector has become.

There’s no such thing as an accidental plagiarist The acclaimed Australian novelist John Hughes claims that many of the 58 instances of plagiarism in his new book were by accident. Everyone steals when they write, but where does “good” theft end and clumsy rip-off start?


Whether you are looking for a book on urbanism, a literary thriller, a tome on the royal family or something else unexpected, you will want to take a look at these must-read titles recommended by FT writers and editors.

An abstract illustration of a man and children looking at boxes of books that form the body of a kite
© Cat O’Neil

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