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Italy Joins China's New Silk Road Project (bbc.com)
132 points by pseudolus 88 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 149 comments

Apparently the two parties signed 29 agreements covering a wide variety of areas - all of which are fairly standard and cover the standard touchstones of trade, science and culture [0]. That said, there is an undeniable symbolism in the appearance of renewing, at least nominally, a trade route which has occupied peoples' imaginations for centuries. In passing, one of the interviewees in the BBC story (Peter Frankopan) wrote a fantastic book ("The Silk Roads: A New History of the World") on the history of the Silk Road that is well worth a read. [1]

[0] https://www.corriere.it/economia/lavoro/19_marzo_23/tutti-ac... (Italian)

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Silk-Roads-New-History-World/dp/11019...

Actually, Peter Frankopan has recently written an even more relevant (though confusingly named) book, The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World, which is precisely about China's Belt and Road initiative and the US (and EU's) lack of pace in keeping up with the scale of China's foreign infrastructure spend.

> "The seemingly innocuous move comes at a sensitive time for Europe and the European Union, where there is suddenly a great deal of trepidation not only about China, but about working out how Europe or the EU should adapt and react to a changing world," Prof Frankopan told the BBC.

Forgive my ignorance, but aren't many EU decisions required to be unanimous? So if China has close ties to Italy, could it use it's influence to convince Italy to "veto" hypothetical EU sanctions against Chinese human rights violations or other actions that are good for the EU but against Chinese domestic and foreign policy?

Yes. That is my major concern. In fact, it has already happened! We have already Greece (with its China owned ports) blocking an EU statement:


In fairness, from the perspective of the average Greek citizen, the EU thing hasn't worked out terribly well for their homeland.

In the West what we need is to restructure our facilities such that if you participate you will prosper. We need for everyone to prosper. Not necessarily equally, but what happened to Greece went beyond simply not prospering as much as other nations. It was legitimately negatively impacted. (A lot self inflicted, but a lot inflicted by the structure of Western trade facilities as well.)

Having mentioned all that, I grant you, having all parties prosper at EU scale is a little difficult to pull off.

Also, the whole reason Greek ports are owned by China in the first place is that Germany forced the Greek government to sell them off to the highest bidder as part of their great economic fucking-over of Greece. So it's hard to have a huge amount of sympathy if this causes headaches for the core EU states.

...or maybe the reason Greece does not have enough money is because rich Greek don't pay their taxes?


Germany only "forced" Greece in the sense that they didn't pay Greece's debts for them.

> Germany only "forced" Greece in the sense that they didn't pay Greece's debts for them.

Germany (and France) also knowingly gave Greece lots of loans, when it was obvious to everyone that Greece will never be able to pay them all back.

Germany the country, or private german banks?

German banks.

And in many other ways, starting from the ECU era, but that's too subtle for modern readers...

> In fairness, from the perspective of the average Greek citizen, the EU thing hasn't worked out terribly well for their homeland.

From the perspective of the average Greek citizen, the Greece thing hasn't worked out terribly well either.

> what we need is to restructure our facilities such that if you participate you will prosper

EU doesn't, yet at least, have enough power to take over whole countries then the country's government is shortsighted and is running their own country into a long term ruin for some short term temporary wins.

> [for Greeks] EU thing hasn't worked out

What didn't work out for Greeks was their corrupt politicians/elites and lack of sufficient oversight, including by EU institutions. All sorts of requirements that all EU members have to meet were never enforced for Greece.

From the time Greece joined the Euro (by cheating) to the start of the financial crisis, Greek GDP skyrocketed 2.3x. That's astounding, and pretty much unheard of. Of course it wasn't real, because there were no corresponding improvements in Greek economic efficiency or productivity.

I wrote about this at the time: https://blog.metaobject.com/2015/07/greek-choices-german-per...

We? Greece's prosperity is Greece's responsibility. That's where the buck stops.

Sounds fitting, since a lot of the blame here goes to germany who, despite big surpluses, did not invest in the south the way the chinese do

Yes. It occurred to me that the EU's expansion occurred during a lull in great power politics.

>Forgive my ignorance, but aren't many EU decisions required to be unanimous? So if China has close ties to Italy, could it use it's influence to convince Italy to "veto" hypothetical EU sanctions against Chinese human rights violations or other actions that are good for the EU but against Chinese domestic and foreign policy?

Yes, just like Germany does with its EU satellite states, and the US has done in Europe since WWII.

My partner works on EU matters for the German government. The idea that the other EU countries are "satellites" of Germany is ludicrous to anyone with any knowledge of the actual processes.

I feel it's impossible to participate in a balanced discussion with the C word comes up on hacker news and elsewhere online (China). I was going to reply to a couple comments but retrained myself because I feel like there's no point arguing with a shill or what feels like organized, state funded astro turfing.

I do NOT advocate the US getting into this game tit/tat through manipulating/commenting on US based media but I wonder what other technical solutions there are to counter what feels like a massive communications operation to shift all digital discussions concerning China; without throwing the baby out with the bathwater

This thread - like every other which involves China - is rife with straw man arguments and a lot of 'so what' false equivalencies.

I agree with your first sentence, but that's about it. What I see on HN and Reddit when "C word" comes up is endless bashing (some of which are perfectly legitimate criticism btw) and ignorance. Anyone who dares ask for evidence, proof, or even just basic objecticity commonly observed in discussions of other topics, are met with personal attacks and shill accusations. Attempts at pointing out the hypocrisy and double standards are almost always silenced by yelling "this is whataboutism" ad nauseam.

I agree that there's no point in arguing with low-quality comments, but for different reasons.

The other kind of comment that predictably appears in threads about China are suspicions that astroturfing is going on. When dang bothers to respond asking for proof, it usually later turns out that the comments in question were made by completely ordinary members of the community who happened to voice a dissenting opinion. (Those kinds of accusations are against the guidelines, by the way.)

There is also not just one group making such comments, but at least two different ones:

The first are all about whataboutism. Whenever the topic is the Chinese government doing evil thing X, they start talking about the US government doing something similar to X. Those people are highly likely to be US citizens (their obsession with US politics is a strong hint) and they only use China to segue into the topic they're actually interested in discussing.

The second are Chinese cheerleaders. They think that China is overall on the right track and point to rapid economic growth as proof. You don't usually see them in threads about Chinese human rights abuses (because even they agree that those are evil), but in other cases, like here at the bottom, they make an appearance. There's no need for the government to pay those supporters, because the natural supply of nationalist types is large enough.

There is a third kind that's easily confused with the second. Some people will agree with specific developments because they feel that the previous situation was even worse. For most people, Google censoring search results would be a bad thing, because for them the change is (uncensored Google -> censored Google). But for Chinese people who see the change in terms of (censored Baidu/Bing -> censored Google) it's still an improvement.

Then there's a fourth kind on the opposite side, for whom everything about China is connected to everything else. They're somewhat of a mirror image of the first group; instead of using China doing X as a prompt to talk about the US doing X, they'll talk about China also doing Y and Z instead.

I think none of those trends are much to worry about, though. Although HN voting on political topics tends to be quite a bit noisier, well thought-out responses are still more likely to end up closer to the top than to the bottom.

Fair enough, but I like to stay abreast of the latest propaganda narratives.

The belt is an excuse they use for modern colonization by debts.

Also, this deal is an entry in the EU which I really dislike. I hope the EU will step up it's game against china, too bad that our normal partner currently has an unstable leader. While XI is without a doubt a hard-working leader. Unfortunate, I do not approve their world vision, at all.

There should be a collective effort to put pressure on China to politically reform.

Isn't that up to its citizens? Was there a collective effort to get YOUR country to "politically reform"? Would you appreciate one?

Indeed. Requesting political reform is not very smart... Political wise

If my country was engaged in sending Muslims to concentration camps, medical genocide (organ harvesting), and all sorts of human rights abuses, then I would very much appreciate if there was a collective effort to get my country to politically reform. Why wouldn't you appreciate that?

If it was engaged in slavery, and then segregation (up to the 60s), had the biggest incarceration rates in the world (of hugely disproportionally black population), had torture sites off limits to the law, send drones to kill people without trial and without official act of war to the other country, was the only western country to still have the death penalty, and at great rates, and even for 15 year olds, plus routine police shootings on innocent people, SWATing invasions with victims for insignificant offenses, and so on, plus was established on the deterritorialization, interment, and genocide of a whole race of millions of natives, ad even did lethal medical experiments on unsuspecting foreign populations, if it was the only country that dropped atomic bombs to another (and to civilians at that)?

Would you be OK with a collective foreign effort to politically reform? Perhaps change the constitution or something based on what some foreigners insist to be there?

Especially if all cases of such "valiant" efforts on your end in the last 20 years have made things worse, turning stable regimes (Iraq, Libya, Syria) to hell-holes of loss, civil war, fanatical muslim rule, and turf wars?

Yes, I would welcome a collective foreign effort with open arms. I also think there are other and better ways to save the Chinese people (and the rest of the world from their government) besides invading the country.

yup. putting pressure on the us to reform these practices would be a positive.

Not possible in the current position, how can the US ( no offence) work together globally with the current leader.

He has some points ( eg. Military spending fot countries of the EU), but he's clearly unstable as a leader. I even think that the wall would just mean, a lot of money coming his way, as a real estate developer.

If the US wants to counter China's Belt and Road Project, it should offer a suitable alternative instead of merely talking about how it's debt trap diplomacy.

Countering OBOR is only on the agenda of DoD and some policy wonks. What happened here ? Almost nothing.

An ailing economy that has high youth unemployment rate and anemic growth and cannot control its monetary policy is willing to take money from who ever is willing to give. Big Deal! When Italian Navy is doing war games with China.. call me.

This is a whole lot of symbolism and a costly one for those putting money. Its not Americans who do not want this dog and pony show, its the Germans.

Russians and Chinese are playing the same game, with different tactics and some elements of western media are eating it. They are weak internally and use these external symbolism as a "proof of strength" back home.

Like what? The current US position basically amounts to telling the international audience to be wary of China's payday loan scheme. Are you suggesting the US should get in the payday loan business too, as an incrementally (?) better alternative to China? Or are you suggesting there's a bipartisan majority in US Congress to hand out charity or low interest loans by increasing foreign aid?

The US has an overwhelmingly domestic economy and export driven global infrastructure development isn't exactly an American strength. In so far as the US influences European or Asian countries it appears to be mostly by military, cultural or political means.

Up until now the US, economically, has mostly functioned as a consumer of European and Asian goods, so it is hard to imagine how they could offer an alternative to OBOR. For China it's a way to offload their export driven surplus and creating new markets, which is something that the US isn't really positioned to do.

> The US has an overwhelmingly domestic economy

Of the 10 of the World's most valuable companies, 8 are American. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook didn't get there by concentrating only to American markets.

Actually they sort of do. Domestic / foreign revenue is about split for Facebook and Microsoft, and Amazon makes twice as much in NA than outside of it, tendency increasing.

And most importantly, even those global companies constitute only a fraction of the entire US economy. Most of the US economy is not organised in publicly traded, globalized, businesses.

The bottom line is, as can be seen in the American export and import balance, a strong tendency to consume global goods rather than sell them. The reverse is true for China. That's why China pursues an expansionist economic foreign policy, whereas American economic policy is largely divorced from its foreign politics.

It’s more like your friend pointing out your bad spending habits and telling you not to get a payday loan.

That's a nice thought but doesn't balance well with the $1 trillion debt to China that US themselves have. Almost as if the US doesn't want other countries to prosper using Chinese money. Goes well with the America First slogan.

To be clear, I'm not saying that the Chinese money doesn't come with baggage. However I think it's ridiculous to believe that the US is on some altruistic lookout for others here, as opposed to just being interested in maximising US benefits.

It is worth pointing out that there have been several responses. China dominates the US' defence strategy.

One of the centrepieces of Obama's foreign policy was a comprehensive 'pivot to Asia', and the trans-pacific partnership free trade agreement. In fact, many argue that the Belt and Road Initiative is a response to the efforts of the US to contain China.

More recently, the Trump administration has assigned $60bn to the 'Overseas Private Investment Corporation', a US government agency that will use to the funds to underwrite far larger sums of private capital, and invest it around the world.

It is a long-standing part of US grand strategy to use India to balance against China, which lines up with the fact that the biggest investments of the new Silk Road have been to Pakistan.

India, Japan and various African countries set up the 'Asia-Africa Growth Corridor' a couple of years ago, a direct rival to the Belt and Road Initiative.

Why not join rather than counter? Surely a deal could be wored out that would fit the theme, e.g., US could let China companies build and manage HSR, China could let US cloud vendors operate freely.

Ahem, Marshall's plan? It also left the affected countries better off, not indebted (although I doubt that China will have many attached strings in Italy's case)

Point taken.

Because now I think about it, the world bank and other western trade facilities are also, at heart, simply "debt trap diplomacy" as well.

We need to come up with something new.

Right, Italy should leverage an Orwellian authoritarian regime to start a bidding war to build its infrastructure in exchange for implied future foreign relations favors and it's clearly the US's fault here for not playing its role as bidder.

Is there any knowledge on why East Asian Tiger economies do so well with state backing ?

The major takeaway from the 'Princes of Yen' by Richard Werner is about how Japan soared from a destroyed country to an economic powerhouse, before being brought down by the bankers at the BOJ, ostensibly to change the system from a 'state backed economy' to a US-styled one. Ditto with the Asian tigers in Thailand, S Korea etc.

Such managed-economies have failed miserably in many other places - notably in India. China seems to be following the path of its neighbors, however.

On a meta-level, I don't see what the big deal is TBH - whatever floats ones boat eh ? The argument about 'unfairness' is a bit of a joke, since it is well known that there are very deep (albeit hidden) connections/interests b/w state and corporations in Western nations.

> I don’t see what the big deal is TBH

The main issue is that Italy is part of the EU, and also one of its major economies. The argument about unfairness is absolutely not a joke. In fact, it’s the main point. Doing business in China as a foreign-owned company in many sectors of the economy is, simply put, a huge challenge, when not outright impossible. This is mainly due to opaque or protectionist regulations. State-backed competitors also make the market harder to penetrate since they will always win price wars. Then add lack of concern for intellectual property.

Chinese companies don’t have these problems in Europe. Not even close. They enjoy all the advantages of a (basically) free market, whereas the opposite is not true. This is where the “unfairness” is.

The EU has been trying to find some leverage against China to balance the scale for some time now, albeit our efforts have been mild. That’s because the EU doesn’t have a common foreign affairs strategy and individual member states are always more concerned with their internal politics to actually go figure out one.

So China can just come here, pick a country that can be easily enticed by the promise of bilateral cooperation and handsome investments, and all of a sudden the EU now has a member who will start voting against anti-China policies.

Without a unified will, the EU member countries don’t have the contractual power to demand and obtain anything from China. We will be an easy game for them.

It's not that I understand the argument, my point was that many of the mechanisms that provided enormous advantages to Western nations is often rarely spoken about. For instance, US can often infuse large amounts of cash through the central bank because it's position as the global reserve renders it very unsusceptible to inflation. There is also the inexorable power of WTO/IMF and these "international" agencies that are often steered entirely for the benefit of the US and its allies.

I understand this may not apply to EU nations to the same extent, but then there are all sorts of historical inequities in their favor (esp. Britain) that one wonders if this new found "righteousness" is a bit ahistorical.

Consider India - it's basically run by erstwhile cronies of the British empire, who basically transferred all of its generational wealth to the city in little under 200 years. This while it was made into a cocaine tanker to destroy China. It was made to fight European wars, while being footed with the bill, and now the British groan about the pittance they pay India in foreign aid. Never mind that this aid, is mostly geared towards the Anglo-Saxon eugenics schemes of all sorts.

India currently owes about half a trillion to the IMF, after being run by a IMF crony, and his Italian mistress for 10 years. It's easy to guess what the IMF will ask for (far more loudly) when it inevitably goes belly up.

More state backing is great when starting out on the path because it’s relatively straightforward; provide education, infrastructure and stability and your country will take care of itself. You can even goose the figures a bit by boosting a select few companies to be your champions.

The problem is that as you get richer and move up the value chain, you start requiring industry that is more creative, or entirely new creative industries. When creativity is required state backing is horrible at picking winners. And then those industrial champions are now sucking up a lot of the capital within a country.

Eventually the champions become slow and sluggish. But they’re too big to fail; as an extreme example, Samsung’s revenues are 17% of South Korean GDP, to say nothing of their suppliers.

Samsung is a world leader in display tech, memory tech and probably many other things. Slow and sluggish, you say? :)

Before that we had Sony, Sharp, and Toshiba at the top of the world. You can lose your competitive advantage very quickly, and then all of a sudden you'll either get launched into a lost decade or two (Japan) or beg the IMF for money and have to sell off the crown jewels (Korea, 1998).

> Japan soared from a destroyed country to an economic powerhouse, before being brought down by the bankers at the BOJ, ostensibly to change the system from a 'state backed economy' to a US-styled one. Ditto with the Asian tigers in Thailand, S Korea etc.

You're talking about some of the most successful economies in the world, vs a China that grew a lot in a short time and now faces real problems (debt, slowdown, political crackdowns, etc.)

I'd still rather be a citizen of SK or Japan than China.

China has been doing central planning for more than two thousands of years. Japan and Korea copied the system.

I would say it's because it's properly planned capitalism. They however face growth issues because of lack of freedom. On the other side they have power to build massive projects that benefit the entire region or country.

You need an enlightened leader for this to work.

> The European Union is also worried about unfair competition from Chinese companies, which are controlled by the Chinese government and benefit from the state’s financial backing. EU leaders in Brussels are preparing a strategy to counter the growing influence of China, which they describe as a “systemic rival.”

Most of the Western articles I've read express concern over Italy's involvement in the BRI. However, I am cautiously optimistic: maybe having one of the G7 countries participate in the BRI is a good way to cooperate with China and bring a more inclusive and globalistic approach to working with China? I think it's too early to tell how this will end, but I'm less pessimistic than most.

Look at Sri Lanka where nothing has been done except environmental disaster. Now Sri Lanka owes its soul, and land, to China. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/world/asia/sri-lanka-chin...

Montenegro has a bridge to nowhere built by Chinese workers instead of locals. Billions owed to China for a useless bridge. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-europe-mon...

It seems to be China "invading" countries to gain territory only in a roundabout way. Like the Godfather China made an offer that couldn't be refused.

I’ll take useless bridge any day over so many destroyed bridges that US left in montenenegro in yugoslavia bombings and wars elsewere in the world.

Technically the bombing was done by NATO. The US forces which participated were just one of several militaries acting under overall NATO command. Ironically Montenegro is now a NATO member.

Thanks for this. Do you think it would be different if it's an EU member state? i.e., with EU oversight (assuming there is any), the BRI funds and investments could be applied and used differently.

The bridge seems a terrible investment, regardless of who pays for it, but these terms are terrible:

"Under the terms of the contract, an arbitration court in China would have jurisdiction in the event of any legal dispute. CRBC won commitments that all imported construction materials, equipment and other goods be exempt from customs and value-added tax. Chinese workers were given 70 percent of the work."

Thr Chinese government issues a loan then disputes are handled by a body whose independence is highly questionable.

one model for how it's going to work out is the US experience of stronger economic integration with China over the last 30 years. the EU should simply study in great detail the pros/cons of that history.

the analogy seems useful:

* China has the more united and disciplined central government, while the US had a more federalized, decentralized government, approximately like the EU.

* China has based its economic growth on exports, which is far less true of the US (and EU excluding Germany)

* China does not guarantee many (or any) economic rights to outsiders within its boundaries, whereas the US does. similarly the EU grants relatively strong rights, including government financial assistance and medical care, to outsiders within its boundaries

the simplest prediction is that it will turn out roughly the same way as it has for the US, and Germany, the EU zone's current main exporter, has the most to lose.

Actually China, the biggest exporter, exports for less than 20% of its GDP. Nearly all of the major countries depend more on their exports except Japan and the USA.


But the model of economic growth China pursued in the last couple of decades is export driven. This assessment is from 2011:

Much of China’s remarkable growth between 1978 and 2000 can be explained by the reform. But the more recent and faster growth in the last decade has been mainly driven by exports.


The biggest problem with the BRI initiative as sold by China, is it puts money in the hand of the least trusted entity with developing economies. The Government.

China for certain, knows that the optimistic promise of the BRI initiative will be met, and that they are trading long term debt with strong political influence.

What happened in Srilanka should be a warning to any other country intending to enter BRI.

There is a reason these countries would never start these projects without outside support. It is because, within the framework that the country operates, such a project will objectively speaking, never be profitable.

Was the oligarchy in those nations any better than their government?

Government at least is a more observable entity than oligarchy.

And let's not pretend uneducated citizens know any better to manage investment...

China is doing what is a great advancement for the world: integrating east and west, and in the process bringing the long forgotten areas in the middle east into the world trading order. The more investment in the Silk road, the more we will have a robust economic system integrating countries that until now were forgotten by the previous world order.

They weren't 'forgotten' they were made irrelevant through technology (airplanes, shipping containers, etc) and geo-political trends (the fall of the ottoman empire).

As great as it sounds on paper there are quite a few economists who are skeptical about the ROI from all of these investments.

But I do like how bold it is, which you rarely find in western countries (large scale infrastructure projects). They can barely build a stretch of road without it costing 10x the budget and getting caught up in years of political horse trading.

'There are quite a few economists who are skeptical about the ROI from all of these investments'.

Yes but the BRI is not designed solely for economic gain, but to lay the basis of a new Sino-centric order.

The closest comparison is with the Marshall plan. The US spent huge sums to rebuild Western Europe, countries that by the 1970s began to undercut the US economy. But it was essential to the post-war US order, the defeat of Soviet Union, and other long-range strategic goals.

Some of it is probably a debt trap. The Djibouti port and Hambantota are perhaps warning signs of things to come.

Anyone who has bought chinese goods on AliExpress will disagree :) The journey takes < 14 days (vs up to 60 by sea) and volume growth has been dramatic in the past couple years.

> Over the past five years, China’s trade in goods with countries along the Belt and Road has exceeded $5.5 trillion

The idea looks good on paper, it will be important to keep an eye on the underlying actions that are made to ensure it is not used for nefarious reasons. This part is specially difficult when transparency is lacking.

Right, I don't quite understand why there's so much secrecy around OBOR projects if the CCP really believes these deals are a partly altruistic and fully mutually beneficial agreement. It would seem to be be in their interest to publicize the terms if that were the case.

Especially given the CCP's documented history with bribing foreign leaders to agree to similar deals.

Did they bribe the previous US presidents to sign business deals during the last 30 years? I think it is entirely inappropriate to think that briberies are the only reason to do business with China.

A train road can't handle economic scale like ships can. The belt is a excuse for modern colonization through debts

Trains are still the most fuel economical way to transport products through long distances. And trains can also transport loads to intermediary locations in a much more efficient way than ships.

No, they are not.

Ships try to deliver cargo as deep in the country as possible. Then trucks take over ( Europe), because of different destinations.

You think they are joining the world trade order, I just see an expensive debt trap that won't even change 0,1% in a countries trade

The advantage of trucks over trains isn't as large as you seem to believe. E.g. at the port of Hamburg, the majority of cargo (55%) is transported onwards by truck, but the share of trains (42.8%) isn't that much smaller. https://www.hafen-hamburg.de/en/statistics/modalsplit

In all my statements, the statement of trucks vs trains was irrelevant. Your numbers side with the fact that after harbor, trucks are more popular.

It's that I call bullshit on the one road one belt.

That trains vs container ships is irrelevant. Trains lose big time

That's it's more a "build useless infrastructure that you otherwise can't afford and that Chinese will build with no locals" debt trap for countries to China.

Trains are way faster than ships and handles much bigger scale than airplanes

2 weeks by train is still no alternative for planes.

2 weeks is also no replacement for ships, because of scale. It's something in the middle where there is no alternative.

It's also insignificant alternative in the scale against ships.

There is some information that usually won't show up in BBC but discussed in other places which might worth some attention for HNers:

Some part of the cooperation is on development of Africa which probabley is part of China's current plan or even part of OBOR. We know that Italy is major victim of the wave of iligle immigrants accross the ocean. An inductrialized and stable Africa is also in the interest of Italy. That could explain why Italy is more interested in OBOR than other Eurapian countries.

Does that make sense?

I’m not sure that passes a basic sniff test.

It’s much more likely after decades of poor economic management and a weak economy, Italy is willing to sacrifice some principles/accept some risk in return for Chinese investment in ports and businesses. China has invested heavily in Greece as well for the same reasons.

Why aren't migrants shipped around proportionately to the various EU countries?

Because (a) borders in Schengen are open so migrants who get shipped can move somewhere else without issue and (b) many EU countries have xenophobic governments at the helm which would prevent such a solution (just like they prevent being a migrant destination by treating them as inhumanly as possible).

Your (a) is untrue.

For one, borders are difficult for migrants to cross: trains and coaches near borders are often checked for migrants, some borders are under police surveillance (like between France/Italy), etc.

Second, Dublin agreements force migrants to apply for asylum in the first EU country that they give their fingerprints in (ie the one where they have their first encounter with police). Most migrants have fingerprints in Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Spain, ie the countries on the outskirts of Europe. So migrants can’t just walk to the country of their choice and claim asylum, as they will be “deported”, as a rule, to a country they explicitly don’t want to be in (Italy had high acceptance rates until recently but can offer no work, Hungary is known for extreme racism and violence against migrants, etc.)

Your (b) is on point though. Italy has been asking for a fairer distribution of migrants among the Member States for some time, but the most powerful Member States like their South/Eastern European moat a lot

Yeah would like to add that asylum applicants are given very limited work privileges limited to a specific area within a country, where the countries try to distribute the load quite a bit.

But it's also easy to just keep walking to the country you want to be in since all the border controls are gone once you reach schengen area. Few easily avoidable exceptions. Further compounded by all these countries retaining their own asylum protocols, so even if a country is landlocked or access is limited by some other geographical feature, if you are able to show up then you are able to request asylum.

China need to win over India if it wants Belt and Road.


Please don't start doing nationalistic flamewar again on HN. I realize it's hard to resist, when other people are posting provocative comments. But taking the thread further in the low-information, high-agitation direction is exactly the wrong thing to do here.


Agreed Sir! but why political threads are allowed on HN in the first place? What is Hacking in it? I Just pointed them out to read Jhon Perkins book before painting a rosy picture of the West, the book was written by another American.

I'd request HN team to flag all such threads at first place. I visit HN to learn about Tech, Biz and STEM related, not about politics. Thanks.

The mandate of HN is to gratify intellectual curiosity. Some stories that do that have political overlap. There's no way around it.

I wrote a bunch about that here if anyone wants more: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17014869.

That only means that the US DOES rely on economic hitmen, it doesn't necessarily mean China does NOT have economic hitmen.

umm... OBOR could the Chinese version of IMF and World bank, who knows?

The World Bank already exists and China was the second largest borrower from it between 2013-2018. Read that again, it's not a mistake. At a time when China was booming and loaning out money on the OBOR, they were simultaneously the second largest borrower from the World Bank. So what are they really doing with OBOR?


Hmm. Italy allies with an evil dictatorship that has a concentration camps for millions of minorities, and prosecutes religion by shutting down churches and jailing pastors. Sounds familiar...

Trolling like this will get you banned here. Please don't.

Also, it looks like this account is using HN primarily for political and nationalistic battle. We ban accounts that do that, because it destroys the intellectual curiosity HN exists for. Would you mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the spirit of this site to heart? We'd be grateful.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19470535 and marked it off-topic.

The US has allied itself with China since the 80s...

The US is not an ally of China. It cooperates with China to maintain peaceful military and political relations in Asia and it has vast trade with China. There's a dramatic, fundamental difference between being an ally and being a global competitor that you try to get along with (ie try not to go to war with as you collide repeatedly on matters of perceived national interest).

Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, etc. Those are allies of the US. I don't think there's actually much confusion in the difference between a US ally relationship like Britain and the modern US relationship with China.

The difference between being an "ally" of US or not only has to do with its current economic interests. Until recently China was viewed as a big friend. And the US only decided to do something against it when it became clear that China would not allow US companies to control their economy. In the list of US "friends" we see dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Thailand, and countries with numerous human rights violations such as the Philippines. This is not a great track record for a country that purports to be the champion of democracy around the world.

>There's a dramatic, fundamental difference

Yes, the difference being "when it suits the US it's OK, when it suits somebody else, it's bad".

>China is built on thievery and finally after decades of escalating theft US is looking like we’re being more aggressive, maybe.

Yeah, more proving my point.



Not to mention that the same exact argument was once leveled at the "subpar" "copycat" "ripoffs" of Taiwan and Japan (regarding cars, electronics, etc) back in the 60s and 70s. Funny how that turned out...

US declared China as main competitor last year (as declared by VP pence), enforced high tariffs as punishment on China, and the US military is on high alert with China as the main enemy focus for years to come. Because they realized Xi Jing Ping the dictator was a paradigm shift.

Europe is now just doing the paradigm shift, urging its member states to act as a unified front against China. Something that Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, India, New Zealand, and Vietnam has started to do

Yes, Italy is also allied or has trade partnerships with a country that tortures prisoners, overthrows democratically elected governments, invades countries on the whims of its military industrial complex, uses drone strikes indiscriminately, and who tech economy thrives on oil/oligarch money...

Yes, Italy is also allied or has trade partnerships with Saudi Arabia or Israel.


Nationalistic flamewar is against everything this site is for, and we ban accounts that do it. Please don't do it again.


Because everyone is just flourishing under the US world order.

The lesser evil, any country with Western norms has my vote. Nothing is perfect

For you, east is China, Mideast and subcontinent only, right?

Western norms, could also be India/Japan from my point of view

You should read john perkins then.

I think the US ideals of freedom of speech/thought/religion are great, but unfortunately the US "ideal" of greed seems to be what the US is better at exporting.

Strange take. I’m socialist and communist countries, the rich make their money off government corruption. In the US rhe rich make their money off providing value to people in the free market.

When I look at a list of billionaires, for most of them I don't see any kind of value that they generate to society. In fact you will even find criminals like Donald Trump.

I don’t believe you’ve actually looked up a list of billionaires then.

That freedom of thought is free insomuch that it conforms with the dominant ideology.

Many states have bans against people serving in government jobs if they are communists. How is that free?



1. Many states is 4.

2. The Supreme Court has ruled that these laws are unconstitutional, so they are completely unenforceable.

Not everyone, but the current, post-Soviet, US-led world order has seen the greatest reduction in world poverty probably ever in history. South Asia is heading from being poor to being middle income, the AIDS epidemic is in retreat in Africa, etc. My home country of Bangladesh was known for its extreme poverty when we left in the 1980s. Now, thanks to capitalism and westernization, poverty has plummeted, and it is on pace to become a middle-income economy by 2021.

The "US-led" part has very little to do with that reduction in world poverty; if anything, it's all about countries other than the U.S. adopting the same sorts of market-based norms and institutions that the West themselves adopted in the 1980s. To think of socially-beneficial innovations as "Westernizing" just because the West got there first is pretty clearly a fallacy - https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/07/25/how-the-west-was-won/

I will leave you this quote from History of the New World by Girolamo Benzoni:

Egg of Columbus

"Columbus being at a party with many noble Spaniards, where, as was customary, the subject of conversation was the Indies: one of them undertook to say: —"Mr. Christopher, even if you had not found the Indies, we should not have been devoid of a man who would have attempted the same that you did, here in our own country of Spain, as it is full of great men clever in cosmography and literature." Columbus said nothing in answer to these words, but having desired an egg to be brought to him, he placed it on the table saying: "Gentlemen, I will lay a wager with any of you, that you will not make this egg stand up as I will, naked and without anything at all." They all tried, and no one succeeded in making it stand up. When the egg came round to the hands of Columbus, by beating it down on the table he fixed it, having thus crushed a little of one end; wherefore all remained confused, understanding what he would have said: that after the deed is done, everybody knows how to do it; that they ought first to have sought for the Indies, and not laugh at him who had sought for it first, while they for some time had been laughing, and wondered at it as an impossibility."

> The European Union is also worried about unfair competition from Chinese companies, which are controlled by the Chinese government and benefit from the state’s financial backing.

So... like many European companies and even entire sectors?

Besides Oil and Gas, which companies are state owned? Bonus points: which of those states are authoritarian?

I didn't say state-owned, I said they had economical backing from the state. Many of them. Just look at the bottom of many European websites and you'll see the logo of the EU.

Whether the states are authoritarian or not is irrelevant to me and to the question.

The weakness of centralized planning is what allowed the western way of life to dominate in a world where technology hampered its effectiveness.

In this new world we may need to accept that our individualistic nature has become that very same weakness that dooms our way of life in the great game of life.

The reality is throughout civilized human history there are certain aspects of society that are better planned centrally, certain aspects that are better planned completely individualistically, and certain aspects that are better as a varied mix of both.

The biggest problem is people who insist one of those stances is the only correct one in practice, as well as morally, and deride other proven better options simply because of an ideological distaste for it.

A lot of us here are from the Tech and specifically software industry, and one of the most common refrains is to use the best tool for the circumstances. Sometimes that may be a functional language like Haskell, and in other cases may be Javascript.

The same concept applies to central planning vs markets. Both are just a few of many tools, and the correct approach is to pick the best tool for the specific job.

Maybe it's getting late, but I can't seem to parse your first sentence.

What is the its you are referring to when you say technology hampered its effectiveness.

Secondly, I don't believe it is widely accepted that our nature is individualistic. Individualism is a moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, social outlook.

I think the GP means that central planning was hard to pull off without modern communication tech like phones and internet. So, the western style of federated semi-autonomous regions proliferated, since it didn't depend on strong central control.

However, in the age of instant global communications, it may be that effective central planning is "better," or at least possible.

And now, the individualistic model may not be compatible with the planet-scale adjustments we need to make to prevent catastrophic environmental change.

Also, I agree individualism is not necessarily humans' natural state. We probably self-organize into loosely affiliated extended family units in the absence of imposed hierarchy, but humans are nothing if not adaptable.

Centralized planning works if leaders are "right" about things, and have a certain measure of benevolence. Many East Asian economies (Singapore, South Korea, China, Taiwan, etc.) had dictators that did the "right" thing and brought about huge economic growth.

However, centralized planning has one fatal evolutionary flaw -- any errors from the top are amplified. The biggest example of this was China closing its ports in the 1400s following imperial decree, which started China's long path to civilizational decline because it cut off trade and new ideas. (China's thinking was: we're big and diverse enough internally -- we don't need no one else. This kind of insularity always brings about downfall.)

In Europe, because there wasn't a single monolithic power but instead many independent jurisdictions, as a whole it was more robust to errors. When a certain nation-state was on the rise, another declined, but overall there was progress. There were many golden ages, e.g. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English, and they each had their time in the sun. Europe as a whole progressed.

Centralized planning is always more efficient; but if the leaders get it wrong, errors can be catastrophic.

Decentralized/democratic systems are always less efficient; but are ultimately more robust to changing environments and errors in the system. They are self-correcting to some extent.

Many successful countries start out with centralized systems, and often transition to decentralized/democratic systems (often not without some upheaval). The United States (and a few other countries) are unique in the sense that they started with a democratic ideal, but as far as I can tell they are exceptions to the norm.

Agreed. I feel modern tech could enable a style of government that combines central planning with fast cycles of democratic leadership selection, allowing a sort of "fail faster" approach to policy experimentation so-to-speak, but only when combined with a strong safety net to catch the people who fall through the mistakes.

But such a thing would probably require forming a new society from scratch. As you mentioned, the USA was the "Great Experiment" that many old-world royalists scoffed at. Maybe the time will come for another?

>However, in the age of instant global communications, it may be that effective central planning is "better," or at least possible.

And I will add one more thing other than instant global communication. Big Data. You can now have Data Real Time and see the Trend and changes being plotted in real time as well.

I also don't know what is the difference between Central Planning and Keynesian.

If we are individualistic, then why do we organize ourselves into communities instead of living as lone wolves?

The truth is that humans are social creatures that prefer the company and support of other humans. The way we spread around the globe as hunter gatherers was through cooperation and mutual support. A lone wolf cannot support themselves if they are hurt, or sick, or lack a skill, or simply didn’t save enough food in hard times. But a community can.

So, I don’t think our nature is individualistic so much as capitalism is individualistic.

Both wolves and humans are social creatures. They key ingredient is highly hierarchical structures. Where individuals compete among themselves for the position in the group. And capitalism is just reflection of that in human societies.

First social creatures that "discovered" hierarchies were lobsters about 300 milion years ago. This is before even trees existed. Very long time from the evolutionary perspective, i.e. they do provide advantage to species that employ it.

Centralized planning has all the same weaknesses it always did. It's a problem of distributed analysis, not a lack of data points.

Italy was something of model for alleged central planning efficiency in the last century. Now it's broke, taking money from the next credit-binging central planning state. It's credit, not proof of either side having superior economic policy.

Centralised planning will beat democratised decision making if they indeed manage to respond in time to a changing environment. The advancements in tech and communication allows you today to be more effective than ever. Think about global corporations with offices around the world. They are effectively operating under a centralised model and they do it very well.

What China learnt in the past 4 decades was how to manage the beast, not behead the messenger and have an effective planning anchored in true market signals.

Another point worth mentioning is that the Four Tigers are working with a planning and investment horizon of 30-50 years. Since they don't have to justify every four years about what they've been up to, they can be more effective in chasing bigger investments that have a longer-term ROI such as research, education, strategic industrial branches.

Now how do you compete with that?

Some people still think China's economy is a centralized one. No it's not. It's a mix of state owned and private - the former really good at long-term planning for national strategic goals, maintaining economic stability and building infrastructures with no short term returns, AND vibrating private sectors that drive innovation and employment. How they keep the balance of the two is mythical to many. However the Chinese came to this mixed system not by design, but with some luck. It needs to be studied and whether it can be replicated elsewhere remains a question.

My understanding is that the Chinese economy is an "artificial" Free Market economy to bridge the gap between Maoism and here-to unforseen Communist Utopia. Hegelian/classical Marxist thinking requires a society to pass through a capitalist phase in order to industrialize to the point that the populace begins demanding socialist concessions.

It was my understanding that the Post-Mao creation of free-market-like conditions in China was an admission by Communist leadership that the Hegelian model of history could not be short circuited (as Lenin and Mao attempted), and capitalist style economics was required to industrialize, but that the capitalist economics was a temporary solution.

I could be mistaken though, and I'm curious why you thought they arrived there by luck.

The belt and road initiative is actually a response to the failure of Chinese central planning. So much of China's economy is specialized in construction at this point that they can't risk the mass unemployment that would result from popping the construction bubble, so instead they're doing everything they can--building high speed trains to nowhere, building infrastructure in other countries, building entire cities that nobody lives in--to keep the ball rolling.

Also, infrastructure does not lead to economic growth. Quite the other way around, really.

It's a sliding scale of return. If your infrastructure is already decent, you will see a terrible return on your investment, as in the case of Japan's debacle of decades of infrastructure investment that produced negative real growth (due to the debt vs growth generated).

If you're China in 1980 or 1990 (ie third world infrastructure), vast infrastructure spend will faciliate your decades-long growth explosion. Without that, you can't become China of 2019, you can't actually go from a $400b economy to a $14t economy. The ports, roads, rail, bridges, utilities, energy generation, et al. is a requirement and produces extraordinary returns in a context like that. It drastically boosts economic productivity and raises your maximum output potential by a lot.

As another recently discussed (on HN) example, Romania has had one of the world's fastest growing economies in recent years. Economically it's attempting to push into a solid middle-tier economic nation, in the footsteps of countries like Poland, Chile or Slovakia. Romania simultaneously has a horribly lagging roads network that is in desperate need of expansion and improvement. It's very likely that properly building out their roads infrastructure would help facilitate their economic boom continuing; and that not doing so, would act as a serious point of friction on growth long-term. You can't get to $25k GDP per capita, with roads built for a $2k GDP per capita economy.

China's mistake is actually a shining example of the failures of a centrally planned economy. Any reasonably competent person would know that China had to build infrastructure in 1980 and would have probably made similar economic planning decisions that the Chinese did. But even they are stuck in an infrastructure construction bubble in 2020 to the point that it's easier to waste resources building unnecessary infrastructure than to try to reallocate labor and capital and natural resources.

(See also: Stalinist industrialization. It was easier for central planners to focus on the hypothetical exponential impacts of "building machine tools to build machine tools", or to focus on building as many T-34 tanks as possible, than to actually design a self-sufficient war economy, which they never really had--there was a very strong reliance on imports of Allied food, radios, and other small goods.)

It does to a certain point, but then you run into diminishing returns. China needed to build infrastructure in the 80's and 90's because a lack of infrastructure was a bottleneck for further economic growth. Now they're building infrastructure primarily as a means of exerting political power (e.g. integrating western China with high speed rail and Belt and Road).

> Centralised planning will beat democratised decision making if they indeed manage to respond in time to a changing environment

Only if you have competent leadership (which they seem to have right now). When you have a bad leadership and a dictatorship, there's no safeguard to prevent a total disaster to happen. The main advantage of a democracy isn't the power to the people but the separation of power, that's sometimes the last safeguard available to prevent a country to collapse.

> Centralised planning will beat democratised decision making

Centralized / decentralized planning and democratic / autocratic decision making are orthogonal concerns.

Corporate-like government would work perhaps only if citizens can buy social security against failed government. Corporates go bust all the time so that only those with good cerntral planning are left.

You don’t need to compete with it. The chinese dictatorship model (like Soviet union before it) will collapse within time. One man decision making and the need to save face means it is incapable of making quick responses to changing environments. State owned model means there are tons of inefficient companies making inefficient investment decisions. Oppression means it will force others against it.

Thus China currently has a 400% debt to gdp, private firms defaulting and failing while state firms hoards and makes inefficient investments, most of the free world economies aligning against China, more than 1/3 of rich people in China wants to/ are in the process of leaving, etc

This is Italy, anyone can beat them. Maybe now Italy can beg Beijing for money instead of Frankfurt.

Don't you think your analysis is a bit too much simplistic?

The ECB monetary politics was never meant to "save" any specific country (a whole system, maybe. You could argue abut this).

On Beijing giving away money to Italy: it is a commercial deal we are talking about. The political implications of this deal are way more complex than a passing statement.

> Since they don't have to justify every four years about what they've been up to

I think saner governments manage that pretty well, they know research is good and beneficial so there's no questioning.

Meanwhile in the USA, coal is or is not a health risk as policy dictates.

Oh please, China burns coal and pollutes their air, then publishes fake air quality index numbers and won't let their people talk about the air quality.

If you look really closely, and look at the right index, the development of homosapiens today is in a very dare situation. In gross industry out, which should be the true measure of national power, most major economis grow less than one percent even recession after deducting inflation. We human beings are at a historical low since the last industrial revolution. The reason is simple. We are no longer building amazing infrastructures in a large scale as we used to do.

However there's one exception, China. The gross output of China will soon be equivalent to the rest of the world combined. China consumes more cement and steel in five years than the US did in the last 100 years, and China has built more than half of the world's high-speed rails, in just 20 years. It's really a miracle.

That's why I think the BRI could be a real opportunity for many, where China tries to replicate its model of development to other countries through infrastructure building, and investment that those countries desperately need. The new silk road project will be the project of the century. For sure the Chinese will build influence upon it, even a new world order. Time to perfect your Mandarin skill!

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