1) Good news: TV. According to Geoffrey Fowler in the WSJ, Chinese media authorities have decided to let international broadcasters transmit live from Beijing during the games. This might sound like a "Duh, no kidding!" obvious and trivial decision, but it forestalls what could have been a big problem.
Yes, yes, the Chinese government had given its OK to real-time broadcasts from the sporting arenas themselves. The whole world will learn at the same time whether Liu Xiang, the defending Olympic champion in the 110m hurdles and all-round spokesman (along with Yao Ming and Jackie Chan) for every product on every billboard in China, can endure the unbelievable pressure on him and win another gold.
But at any big event, TV networks love to swing to supplemental coverage. "Now let's go across town to the Houhai district, where Matt Lauer is standing by live to tell us how ordinary Chinese people react to their basketball team's surprising victory over the United States." Until now, it wasn't clear that the authorities would let anyone do this. They were hinting that all TV broadcasts except from the sporting sites would have to go through a delayed-transmission screening system that would let government censors turn off the signal if anything unseemly showed up on the screen.
People at NBC (official US broadcaster) and elsewhere were obviously not delighted about this, and it was shaping up as a huge running sore that would make the games a nonstop reminder of the most closed aspects of Chinese government policy. Good for the Chinese authorities in doing the right thing, although belatedly, and good for whatever outside officials helped them to this conclusion.
2) Less good news: travel and entertainment business. In these last few days in Shanghai, I've revisited lots of places (restaurants, bars, shops) that are popular with visitors and talked with lots of people I know who operate this kind of establishment.
Every one of them has told the same story. Business is way down from a year ago. Many fewer foreign visitors around. Correctly or not, they all blamed the visa crackdown.
Bright side: my wife and I could walk right in without a reservation anyplace and sit wherever we liked.
3) Neither good nor bad but interesting: Olympic economics. My friend Andy Rothman, the China Macro Strategist of CLSA in Shanghai, has devoted his recent "Sinology" newsletter (not available on the web) to the overall impact of the Olympic games on the Chinese economy.
Below are some excerpts from the complete report. Highlights for the general public: that the end of the Olympic investment boom won't depress the Chinese economy much or at all, since Beijing is so small a share of the whole national economy and since sporting-related investments have been so small a part of the overall investment boom. Also, that there will be some interesting regional effects of shutdowns of coal plants and heavily-polluting factories. And that the biggest risk during the Olympics is -- you guessed it -- that the government will overreact to protests and demonstrations and show its worst face to the world. Excerpts below.
One concern investors have expressed is that the government will shut down a huge number of Beijing factories in an attempt to improve the city’s generally terrible air quality, and that this would have a significant impact on the national economy. This is unlikely.
First, because the government seems focused on dealing with one of its most serious air pollution problems, vehicle emissions... Second, many heavy industrial plants have already been permanently relocated outside of the city. Third, we do not expect significant restrictions on power plant operations. Both because Beijing needs the power, and because most plants in the Beijing area have already installed flue gas desulferization equipment.... Fourth, while vehicle restrictions will disrupt commercial activity and additional bans on construction and heavy industry operations in Beijing are likely, these will not have a significant impact on the national economy.
Keep in mind that Beijing is a very small part of China, accounting for only 1% of the national population - - compared to 29% for Athens, 18% for Sydney and 25% for Seoul. Beijing contributes about 3% of national fixed asset investment (FAI) and less than 4% of China’s GDP. So limiting construction and industrial activity in the capital city for three months will not have a significant impact on full-year national economic growth....
A study by US and Chinese scientists found that about one-third of airborne particulates and 25-60% of ozone at the Olympic stadium can be attributed to sources outside of Beijing. Over the last several days the central government has imposed new restrictions on some of Beijing’s neighbors. Forty factories, including two cement plants, have been shut in Tianjin, which will host some of the Olympic football matches. Another 300 factories have been ordered to close in Tangshan, which is 150km from Beijing in Hebei. Overall, industry experts estimate that the restrictions in Tangshan will close 5-7% of national steel production for three months.
The Olympics will also have a regional impact on coal, which is already in short supply in parts of the north-east due to the closure of many unsafe small mines. Restrictions on the use of explosives, both to limit airborne particulates and to prevent a terrorist incident, will lead to somewhat lower coal production this summer... But the primary reason for coal and power shortages is the ongoing effort to improve mine safety, not Olympics-related restrictions....
While we are not worried about the economic impact of the Olympics, we are very concerned about how the PRC authorities will handle the protests that will inevitably take place next month...
Arrests of protestors will not have an immediate impact on the Chinese economy - unless the confrontations turn violent and protestors are killed or injured. This scenario is unlikely, but could result in Western consumers boycotting Chinese consumer goods. Mass arrests that do not result in injuries are likely to have a more subtle, longer-term impact: making it more difficult for mainland companies and the Chinese government’s new sovereign fund to invest overseas; damaging the image of goods made in China, which could slow export growth and the move by Chinese manufacturers to higher value-added goods; and raising the level of tension over human rights in China’s key diplomatic relationships.
There is a lot more, but that's enough for today.
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