China’s balancing act: A slowing economy, debts and a trade war

By most normal standards, an economic slowdown like the one Beijing announced on Monday should have set off alarm bells on financial markets. China said its gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 6.6 percent last year.

The last time it recorded such a slow growth rate was in 1990. Back then, it was the world’s 10th biggest economy; today, it’s number two and catching up with the United States.

But the slowdown has been engineered by the Chinese government, and the latest growth figure came as little surprise to economists. China does not have much choice. It needs to rein in the massive debts it piled up in recent years to drive its spectacular rise. By one estimate, those debts total around 300 percent of the size of its economy.

Beijing is now trying to perform what economists call a “soft landing”. That is, it wants its economy to cool off, but not by too much. It has reversed some curbs on bank lending and infrastructure spending. These measures amount to an economic stimulus, but of a much milder variety than in previous slowdowns.

“If they were to go for any kind of stimulus that looks like unbridled opening of the spigots, then that’s going to create perhaps some kind of a backlash in terms of how China is managing its overall credit and financial risks,” Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy for Asia at Mizuho Bank in Singapore, told Al Jazeera.

The US-China trade war is hurting China’s economy [Reuters]

Trade war complications

And then there’s the trade war with the US. The dispute makes Beijing’s already delicate economic balancing act even more precarious. Analysts say China’s growth rate would be significantly higher if the US had not imposed punitive tariffs last year on more than $200bn worth of its exports. China has retaliated with its own measures.

The government says it can weather the headwinds.

“Downward pressure on the economy is increasing,” said Ning Jizhe, the director of China’s National Bureau of Statistics. “The Chinese economy’s resilience and ability to resist shocks and the long-term trend of stability will not change,” he added.

But the effect of China’s slowdown is already being felt around the world. Apple, maker of the iPhone, lost $55bn of its market value on January 2 after CEO Tim Cook warned of slowing sales in China, blaming the trade war. Its South Korean rival, Samsung, made a similar warning a few days later.

Counting the Cost: Is China’s economy slowing? (24:50)

High stakes talks

The next round of trade talks between the US and China are due to take place on January 30. Economists say a delay in resolving the dispute could hurt the Chinese economy further.

“If there is no trade deal within a reasonable period of time, it would mean that the US reverts to its original plan which was to ramp up tariffs on China from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200bn of their products,” Rajiv Biswas, chief economist at research firm IHS Markit, told Al Jazeera.

“There is also then discussion by President [Donald] Trump over the potential that he could also extend tariff measures to all remaining Chinese exports that don’t currently have these special tariffs on them. If all of those things happen, then of course there’s quite a big downside for Chinese exports,” he said.

Biswas says he’s basing his forecast for China to grow by 6.3 percent in 2019 on the expectation that there is either a trade deal or that a temporary truce that’s due to expire on March 2 is extended.

But any major escalation could result in an even sharper slowdown.

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Ashley Cole: Derby County sign veteran ex-England defender

Ashley Cole won both major European trophies with Chelsea in back-to-back seasons

Derby County have signed former England left-back Ashley Cole on a deal until the end of the season.

The 38-year-old, who has played 107 games for his country, is reunited with former Chelsea and international team-mate Frank Lampard, now Derby manager.

Cole featured in 32 games for US Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy last season before leaving in October.

He made 384 Premier League appearances for Arsenal and Chelsea, and also played for Roma in Serie A.

London-born Cole was described by Lampard as the “best English left-back of the recent generation”, and has enjoyed a career laden with trophies.

He won the Champions League and Europa League with Chelsea, and also lifted three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and a League Cup.

Even at the age of 38, which would make him the oldest player to feature in the Championship this season, Lampard is satisfied Cole can be an effective signing.

“He’s a fantastic player, a quality left-back, and he also brings great experience to the dressing room,” Lampard told the club website.

“I know him very well from our time together at Chelsea, and with England, and I also know what he can bring to the group and the influence he will have.

“Ashley is in good shape, which doesn’t surprise me because he’s an excellent professional, and he will compete for a place in the side like every other player here.

“I’ve made my feelings known over the last couple of days just how highly I think of Ashley and I have no doubt whatsoever he will be a positive addition to our squad.”

Cole joins a Derby side pushing for promotion to the Premier League, with the Rams sixth in the table after Saturday’s win against Reading.

Find all the latest football transfers on our dedicated page.

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Huddersfield Town appoint Jan Siewert from Borussia Dortmund as new manager

Jan Siewert has taken charge of Huddersfield on a deal until summer 2021

Huddersfield have appointed Jan Siewert to succeed David Wagner as manager.

Siewert, 36, has left his position as coach of Borussia Dortmund’s second team to join the Terriers on a deal until summer 2021.

Wagner, who held the same position at Dortmund before joining Huddersfield in 2015, left the club by mutual consent on 14 January.

Huddersfield are bottom of the Premier League on 11 points – 10 adrift of safety – with 15 games remaining.

Siewert’s first game in charge will be at home to Everton on 29 January.

Mark Hudson took temporary charge for Sunday’s defeat by Manchester City.

“We enjoyed tremendous success under our previous head coach, David Wagner, and we’ve subsequently appointed a new head coach that bears many similarities to him; a young, aspirational German from Borussia Dortmund II,” said Terriers chairman Dean Hoyle.

“However, that does a disservice to Jan, who is his own man. There is much more to this appointment than that.”

Hoyle says the club have “succession plans in place for our key roles” and had followed Siewert’s career “with interest”.

He added: “Given David’s success at Huddersfield Town, we knew that it was prudent to look to the future in case an offer came in that he couldn’t refuse. David was fully aware that we were undertaking this work – you must prepare for the future.

“Jan’s name came to our attention in his previous role as assistant manager and Under-19 coach at VfL Bochum. We first spoke with him over two years ago and we’ve kept in communication since.

“His reputation in the game is very good. He’s known as a coach who is ambitious, has many qualities and who has strong philosophies. As such, it came as no surprise to us when he moved to one of the world’s biggest clubs, Borussia Dortmund.”

Hoyle also said that Siewert has turned down several approaches to leave Dortmund, but “jumped at the opportunity” to join the Premier League club.

“He believes in our ethos and likes what he knows about Huddersfield Town, which made me very proud,” added Hoyle.

“In the short term, we will continue to fight as hard as possible against relegation from the Premier League. We’re not giving up on that.

“We will also plan for the medium and long term, whatever the outcome. Jan is committed to us and is excited to take on the challenges we have ahead, whatever they look like.”

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US has ‘no plan for Syria’ after pullout: Ex-envoy Brett McGurk

The United States has no plan for Syria as it proceeds with President Donald Trump‘s order to pull troops out of the country, Washington’s former anti-ISIL envoy, who quit in protest against the withdrawal, said.

Brett McGurk, who was the envoy to the US-led global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, said on Sunday that “there is no plan for what’s coming next” and this increases the risk to the US forces.

He spoke in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, after a suicide bomber on Wednesday killed four US military personnel and 15 others in the northern Syrian town of Manbij.

It was the deadliest attack on the US troops since their deployment in Syria in 2014 to assist the local forces fighting ISIL.

The bombing came after Trump’s announcement last month that he was ordering a full withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops from Syria, shocking allies and prompting the resignations of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis as well as McGurk.

‘Withdrawal began’

Senior US officials have since given contradictory statements about the US intentions. On January 10, the Pentagon said the withdrawal process had begun. It started with the removal of equipment, not troops, according to the Pentagon. It is uncertain how long a full withdrawal will take.

“The president has made that clear – we are leaving. And that means our force should be really with one mission: to get out and get out safely,” McGurk told “Face the Nation”.

But he added: “Right now we do not have a plan. It increases the vulnerability of our force… It is increasing the risk to our people on the ground in Syria and will open up space for ISIS.”

Most importantly, said McGurk, the US cannot expect “a partner” such as NATO-ally Turkey to take the place of the US.

“That is not realistic. And if our forces are under order to withdraw, as at the same time they are trying to find some formula for another coalition partner to come in, that is not workable. That is not a viable plan.”

Trump announced the US withdrawal because, he said, ISIL had been defeated – something McGurk and other experts dispute.

McGurk has previously warned that the US pullout would shore up Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and lessen the US’s leverage with Russia and Iran.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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How Bloomberg plans to create his own lane in 2020

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s top boosters insist he hasn’t made up his mind yet about running. He’ll make an official announcement within a month. | Steve Pope/Getty Images

2020 Elections

‘Bloomberg’s kind of money buys a lot of loyalty — or at least silence. Anyone else would be toast.’

White. Male. Old. A Wall Street billionaire.

At first glance, Michael Bloomberg would seem to have zero appeal in a Democratic Party where progressive populism is on the rise and activists and elites say it’s time for a woman or a person of color to win the White House.

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But unlike any of the other presidential hopefuls, Bloomberg plays a dominant leadership role on two of the top issues on the minds of progressives heading into the 2020 cycle: climate change and gun control. He’s spent a decade as the nation’s preeminent financier on those issues, buying considerable goodwill in progressive circles. If he runs, those familiar with his thinking say, they’ll be the pillars of his campaign.

No successful presidential campaign has ever been anchored to those issues. But the politics surrounding climate change and gun control have changed dramatically in recent years, and nowhere more than in the Democratic Party. In a splintered field where the former New York mayor’s message would be reinforced by a theme of governing competence and private sector success, those close to him believe Bloomberg could find traction despite his seemingly awkward fit.

“He’s not going to be running to the far left like the other candidates are. He describes himself as fiscally moderate, fiscally conservative, but he’s clearly socially liberal and he’s a key driver of social policies,” said a top Bloomberg insider. “For Mike, it’s not ideologically driven, It’s pragmatic. People die from an excess of guns in America. People are dying and suffering and will continue to from the effects of climate change.”

Bloomberg is polling and collecting “data,” the source said, and climate change and guns are “going to drive Democrats to the polls.” The politics of climate change have been front and center with the opening of the new Congress as Democrats discuss making a “Green New Deal.”

Bloomberg’s top boosters insist he hasn’t made up his mind yet about running. He’ll make an official announcement within a month.

If he decides to run, Bloomberg told reporters in Iowa last month, he would make climate change “the issue.”

Guns won’t be far behind.

“I’ve devoted a lot of my life now to fighting gun violence,” Bloomberg said Thursday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at an event for Everytown for Gun Safety, a group he formed five years ago after he was New York Mayor. “When I left office, I knew that I couldn’t walk away from that responsibility … I’m going to devote my life to a job that has not been finished.”

As the philanthropist and founder of an eponymous news and information company publicly mulls a presidential bid, Bloomberg is already acting like a major candidate, except he has a net worth estimated at $51 billion, a vast network of activists who have depended on him for years and a private plane that can take him wherever he wants to hold events with them and soak up free media coverage.

In the past four months, Bloomberg has visited 27 cities, dropping off checks with grateful activists and mayors who want to fight global warming or the gun lobby or both. Bloomberg has contributed so much to gun control and climate change groups that aides can’t give a precise figure of the total donated to all over the years, estimating it at “hundreds of millions” — $110 million of which was given to the Sierra Club alone for its “Beyond Coal” effort.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, has privately met with political players about a potential 2020 bid, as he did in Iowa where he ostensibly traveled in December to screen a new documentary he financed about climate change, “Paris to Pittsburgh,” and spoke to Moms Demand Action, a gun control group affiliated with Everytown. He’s also hired an aide just to handle press inquiries about a potential bid and this month re-released his book, “Bloomberg by Bloomberg.”

On Jan. 29, Bloomberg returns to New Hampshire for his second visit, after making scheduled appearances in Northern Virginia, Annapolis and Washington D.C., where he’s scheduled to speak Monday at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Breakfast with Rev. Al Sharpton.

It’s there, at a memorial for the civil rights icon with Sharpton, that the limits of Bloomberg’s progressive bonafides come into sharper focus. Sharpton, other black leaders and even federal courts have criticized the racially biased “stop-and-frisk” New York policing policies that Bloomberg embraced as mayor and that he recently stood behind as a necessary crime-fighting tool, despite evidence to the contrary. On his Iowa trip, protesters harangued him about stop and frisk and other issues.

Bloomberg insiders privately acknowledge stop and frisk is a liability in a Democratic primary. It’s not the only one.

At 76 years old, Bloomberg probably has one last chance to have a reasonable shot at the White House. And insiders are keenly aware that a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat will struggle in a party that’s drifted leftward. Also, the billionaire financial tycoon who saw Occupy Wall Street erupt in his city in 2011 when he was mayor will have some explaining to do to a party that’s concerned about wealth disparity.

But in a crowded Democratic primary where everyone moves left, the centrist, self-funding billionaire could have enough money and voters to sustain a long campaign that could last until the 2020 convention.

There’s also hope that, if Bloomberg runs, his activism on guns and climate will mute some of the incoming he would otherwise get from the left. So might the fact that he contributed an estimated $110 million to help 21 Democratic congressional candidates win in November.

“Bloomberg’s kind of money buys a lot of loyalty — or at least silence,” said one top Florida Democrat. “Anyone else would be toast.”

It’s not that Bloomberg has merely purchased or rented support. Instead, Bloomberg has earned credibility by picking big fights long ago that weren’t so popular.

Climate change barely registered as an issue as recently as 2008 when Barack Obama he first ran for president. As an Illinois senator, Obama still had a measure of loyalty to the coal industry, and the jobs that came with it, in the south of the state. Since then, climate change has steadily risen in importance amid increased warnings from scientists, concerns about the intensity of killer storms and, especially for Democrats, President Trump’s labeling global warming a “hoax” and his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords.

In reaction, Bloomberg help found a group called America’s Pledge to get cities, states, business and universities to meet climate change goals under the accords. He’s also the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action, and chairs a financial task force and board concerning Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and Sustainability Accounting Standards for private enterprise.

The Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, said Bloomberg has been “a leader on climate for 20 years.” And Heather Hargreaves, executive director of the NextGen America group funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, said Bloomberg has “obviously put his money where his mouth is.”

Hargreaves said that in 2008 even activists weren’t talking about climate change much. Now the major Democratic presidential hopefuls all have platforms.

The same is true of guns. When Bloomberg a decade started his first gun control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, taking on the National Rifle Association was considered political suicide. On the 2008 campaign trail, Obama would only go so far as to say he supported “some common-sense gun safety laws.”

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms,” Obama said. “I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.”

But today, all the major Democratic candidates and likely candidates for president advocate for issues like an assault weapons ban or universal background checks, said Peter Ambler, executive director with the gun control group Giffords, which works in tandem with Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety.

Exit polls after last year’s elections showed that Democrats ranked gun control as the second-most important issue behind healthcare. Ambler said Bloomberg’s advocacy has been so deep and long that he’s earned an air of “authenticity” among activists.

“I don’t think when he started focusing on this 10 years ago that the issue would have been as politically powerful as it is today,” Ambler said. “I’m certainly old enough to remember John Kerry dressing up in a duck hunting outfit because he felt he needed to appeal to the NRA in some way shape or form. The politics have changed.”

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The A-Z of Believing: W is for Words

The word is the means by which we navigate our relationship with the world – Tony Judt

The vocabulary of religion is not straightforward. Even the word itself is uncertain. Is “religion” derived from Middle English, meaning “life under monastic vows”, or from the Latin religio (“reverence”) or religare (“to bind”)? I’m unsure – as are my academic colleagues.

What we do know is that by the fourth century, the concept of “religion” as developed by Christianity represented a practice that committed the believer to a set of rules and beliefs separate from lifestyle. One could argue that by this definition neither Judaism nor Islam are religions. Likewise, the OED’s definition of religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods” implies that Buddhism is not either.

The origin of words causes difficulty. The term Holocaust, for example, refers to the years 1933-45, during which 6 million Jews and 5 million others (including Roma, gay people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists and disabled people) were murdered. Etymologically, holocaust is a transliteration of the Greek, meaning “burnt offering”. Unsurprisingly, many people do not like to use a term that has sacrificial overtones, as if appeasing God. The word Shoah, which has connotations of destruction and rupture, is preferred in interfaith dialogue.

Ah, here we go again: “dialogue” when it includes a third party is sometimes referred to as a “trialogue”, but this presupposes, incorrectly, that “di-” in dialogue means “two”. In fact, the word dialogue, from Greek, means “through words” ie discussion without an indication of number.

This brings us onto the topic of translation. One of my favourite set questions for the Bible exam is: is all translation interpretation? The answer is “yes, no, and maybe”. It is virtually impossible to translate perfectly from Hebrew, or Greek, or Arabic into English (or into any other language) without losing some flavour of the original. 

Yet, this has not prevented a translation being regarded as equally authoritative as, if not more than, the original. Who doesn’t love the King James Bible of 1611? And most people who read the Bible do so in translation.

The translation process is difficult partly because of the way language is structured. Some translations bring incidental changes. For example, in English the words “book”, “scribe”, “literature”, “library” and “to relate” (a story) have discrete etymologies. In Hebrew, the relationship between all these words is maintained because they derive from the single root, sfr, creating the possibility of a double entendre which is difficult, if not impossible, to translate from one language to another.  

Sometimes, a translation may be extremely close to the sacred text but its rendering into a different language may result in its own nuances. For example the biblical command (Exodus 20:13), sometimes translated as “you shall not kill” is incorrectly (in terms of grammar) used as a basis for arguing for the merits of pacifism. The translation closest to the Hebrew is “you shall not commit murder”.

Another example of these difficulties is the cry of dereliction that the Gospels record Jesus recited in Aramaic on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The Hebrew text of a later verse (Psalm 22:16/17) reads: “Like lions [they maul] my hands and feet”. But the Septuagint has: “They have pierced my hands and feet”; the difference being caused by the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the yod, which if elongated by a tiny amount becomes a vav.  In scriptural arguments between Jews and Christians, the elongation of this one letter has amounted to much more than a technicality. The phrase can be understood to represent either the despair of the Psalmist, or the redemptive voice of Jesus Christ.

Even the term for the Christian canon has an intricate history. The designation New Testament means “new covenant” (from the Hebrew berit). In the Old Testament, covenant is a sacred agreement, expressing the sovereign power of God, who promises to fulfil his word to his people Israel, who have only to be faithful and obey. 

In the New Testament, the concept is reinterpreted through the experiences of the early Christian community and represents a new phase in the covenant story of Israel. A change in emphasis marked by the translation of berit into the Greek diatheke (“decree”), where it acquires the meaning of a definitive “last will and testament” on the part of God. The Vulgate used the word testamentum, which became the official designation of both parts of the Christian Bible and which we use today: the Old and the New Testament. If you find this complicated, let me tell you, it is.

So, I’ll end with one final example. Which term do you apply to a strip of land along the Mediterranean that became the birthplace of the Hebrew Bible? It lies at an extraordinary location, offering the only available land route between Asia and Africa. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea, to the east a mountainous, virtually impassable stony desert. Located between Mesopotamia to the north and Egypt to the south, whoever controlled that strip of land controlled the major land route for trade or military activity between the great empires that rose and fell. What is that land called? Israel? Palestine? Holy Land? Promised Land?  Occupied Land?

As Mark Twain said, “you pays your money and you takes your choice!”

Next week: X is for Xenophobia

Listen to each episode of An A-Z of Believing: from Atheism to Zealotry on the Woolf Institute podcast site or wherever you get your podcasts


Written and presented by Dr Ed Kessler MBE, founder and director of the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute, this compelling guide to religious belief and scepticism is a must-read for believers and nonbelievers alike.

Founded in 1998 to explore the relationship between religion and society, the Woolf Institute uses research and education to foster understanding between people of all beliefs with the aim of reducing prejudice and intolerance.

Says Dr Kessler: “Latest surveys suggest that 85 per cent of the world’s population identify themselves as belonging to a specific religion, and in many parts of the world the most powerful actors in civil society are religious. Understanding religion and belief, the role they play and their impact on behaviour and decision-making is, therefore, vital.” 

Dr Kessler – who was awarded an MBE for services to interfaith relations in 2011 – is an affiliated lecturer with the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University, a principal of the Cambridge Theological Federation and additionally teaches at the Cambridge Muslim College.

He says: “This A-Z of Believing aims to show how the encounter between religions has influenced and been influenced by the evolution of civilisation and culture, both for good and for ill. I hope that a better understanding of believing will lead people to realise that while each religion is separate, they are also profoundly connected.”

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