Politico - China: The new Spanish Empire? < 5min

Though China has been the global economic star of the last low-growth decade, it remains a totalitarian dictatorship, with its economy shrouded in state secrecy. What we’re encountering in this crisis is the spectacle of a closed society colliding with the forces of complex, free-market capitalism. If we look beyond China, we can find a long history of these collisions, dating back hundreds of years, as both closed societies and capitalism evolved and became more complex. And the history has a clear but unsettling lesson to offer: When such a collision happens, it’s a moment to genuinely worry. ... Since the dawn of capitalism, closed societies with repressive governments have — much like China — been capable of remarkable growth and innovation. Sixteenth-century Spain was a great imperial power, with a massive navy and extensive industry such as shipbuilding and mining. One could say the same thing about Louis XIV’s France during the 17th century, which also had vast wealth, burgeoning industry and a sprawling empire. ... But both countries were also secretive, absolute monarchies, and they found themselves thrust into competition with the freer countries Holland and Great Britain. Holland, in particular, with a government that didn’t try to control information, became the information center of Europe — the place traders went to find out vital information which they then used as the basis of their projects and investments. The large empires, on the other hand, had economies so centrally planned that the monarch himself would often make detailed economic decisions. As these secretive monarchies tried to prop up their economies, they ended up in unsustainable positions that invariably led to bankruptcy, collapse and conflict. ... China is a new case, for it has mixed capitalism and totalitarianism in a unique way. ... The government may not be able to control the stock market, but it does successfully keep a veil over state finances. This is what closed, authoritarian governments have done since the 16th century. ... what we are seeing in this current financial crisis is likely to be only the beginning of the political and societal crisis brought about by a dictatorship’s efforts to simulate the performance of a capitalist economy — but one that only grows. ... There is no historical example of a closed imperial economy facing large capital-driven, open states and sustainably competing over a long term.

Eurasia Group - Top Risks 2016 > 15min

1. The Hollow Alliance: The trans-Atlantic partnership has been the world’s most important alliance for nearly seventy years, but it’s now weaker, and less relevant, than at any point in decades. It no longer plays a decisive role in addressing any of Europe’s top priorities. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and the conflict in Syria will expose US-European divisions. As US and European paths diverge, there will be no more international fireman—and conflicts particularly in the Middle East will be left to rage.
2. Closed Europe: In 2016, divisions in Europe will reach a critical point as a core conflict emerges between Open Europe and Closed Europe—and a combination of inequality, refugees, terrorism, and grassroots political pressures pose an unprecedented challenge to the principles on which the new Europe was founded. Europe’s open borders will face particular pressure. The risk of Brexit is underestimated. Europe’s economics will hold together in 2016, but its broader meaning and its social fabric will not.
3. The China Footprint: Never has a country at China’s modest level of economic and political development produced such a powerful global footprint. China is the only country of scale today with a global economic strategy. The recognition in 2016 that China is both the most important and most uncertain driver of a series of global outcomes will increasingly unnerve other international players who aren’t ready for it, don’t understand or agree with Chinese priorities, and won’t know how to respond to it.
4. ISIS and “Friends”: ISIS is the world’s most powerful terrorist organization, it has attracted followers and imitators from Nigeria to the Philippines, and the international response to its rise is inadequate, misdirected, and at cross purposes. For 2016, this problem will prove unfixable, and ISIS (and other terrorist organizations) will take advantage of that. The most vulnerable states will remain those with explicit reasons for ISIS to target them (France, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States), and those with the largest numbers of unintegrated Sunni Muslims (Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and across Europe).
5. Saudi Arabia: The Saudi Kingdom faces a growing risk of destabilizing discord within the royal family this year, and its increasingly isolated status will lead it to act more aggressively across the Middle East this year. The threat of intra-royal family strife is on the rise, and a scenario of open conflict, unimaginable prior to King Salman’s January 2015 ascension, has now become entirely realistic. The key source of external Saudi anxiety is Iran, soon to be free of sanctions.
6. The rise of technologists: A variety of highly influential non-state actors from the world of technology are entering the realm of politics with unprecedented assertiveness. These newly politically ambitious technologists are numerous and diverse, with profiles ranging from Silicon Valley corporations to hacker groups and retired tech philanthropists. The political rise of these actors will generate pushback from governments and citizens, generating both policy and market volatility.
7. Unpredictable Leaders: An unusually wide constellation of leaders known for their erratic behavior will make international politics exceptionally volatile this year. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are leaders of an unruly pack that includes Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and – to a lesser but important extent – Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko. These unpredictable leaders make our list for 2016 because their interventions overlap and conflict. One powerful, erratic leader spells trouble; four spell volatility with major international implications.
8. Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff is fighting for her political survival, and the country’s political and economic crisis is set to worsen in 2016. Contrary to hopes among pundits and many market players, the battle over Rousseff’s impeachment is unlikely to end the current political stalemate. Should the president survive, her government won’t gain the political boost necessary to move on the economic reforms needed to tackle the country’s growing fiscal deficit. If Rousseff is ousted, an administration led by Vice President Michel Temer won’t fare much better.
9. Not enough elections: Emerging markets underwent a historic cycle of national elections in 2014-2015, but this year there are relatively few opportunities for EM voters to make themselves heard at the ballot box. As slower growth and stagnating living standards stoke popular discontent, governance and stability will suffer. Historically, markets have been less volatile in non-election years, but this time will be different. By raising popular expectations, the massive income growth that most EMs enjoyed over the past 10 years has created conditions for a rude awakening.
10. Turkey: After a decisive victory for his AK party in late-2015, President Erdogan will now push to replace the country’s parliamentary system with a presidential one. He’s unlikely to reach his goal in 2016, but his aggressive electioneering will further damage an already battered Turkish business and investment climate. On the security front, there is little prospect of an imminent end to PKK violence, and unrelenting US pressure on Ankara to clamp down on the Islamic State will produce only modest results while making Turkey more vulnerable to new attacks by ISIS.
* Red Herrings: US voters aren't going to elect a president who will close the country to Muslims. China’s economy isn’t headed for a hard landing, and its politics will remain stable. Continued strong leadership from Japan's Shinzo Abe, India's Narendra Modi, and especially China's Xi Jinping will keep Asia's three most important players focused on economic reform and longer-term strategy, reducing the risk of conflict in Asia’s geopolitics.

Vanity Fair - Terrorism, Migrants, and Crippling Debt: Is This the End of Europe? 5-15min

Europe is beset by so many crises that it can be hard to remember them all. In rough order of prominence, they are: homegrown terrorism, the largest migration of people since World War II, sovereign debt, doubts about the euro’s viability, the rise of extreme right-wing parties such as France’s National Front, Russia’s menace to its western neighbors, growing Euro-skepticism (especially in Britain, which may easily vote to leave the European Union in a forthcoming referendum), the election of hard-line governments in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Catalan independence movement. Many of these are related—the sovereign-debt crises and doubts about the euro, for example—but they have combined over the last two years into a perfect storm which, with the notable exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel, has shown Europe’s leadership to be wanting in both speed and imagination. ... This is exactly what ISIS wants: to shut non-Muslim Europe down, to close the schools and places of culture and have people trembling in their beds, which, to be fair, was what ordinary Belgians were saying. ... The last time I knew for certain that I was witnessing history was on the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 26 years ago, perhaps the most optimistic moment in Europe’s postwar era. Today, this trek of the needy and desperate through Europe’s hopelessly undefended borders may not be as cinematic as the images of people tearing down the wall between freedom and dictatorship, but it is every bit as transformative, and it does now threaten the “tranquil sway” of the Continent.

Bloomberg - Djibouti Is Hot 5-15min

Thomas Kelly, the American ambassador here, likes to say that Djibouti today feels like what Casablanca must have felt like in 1940. “All the different nationalities elbowing into each other,” he says. “All the intrigue.” ... About 4,000 soldiers and contractors live here, and they include commandos from Joint Special Operations Command, the team that undertakes the military’s most sensitive counterterrorism operations. After the 2012 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a 150-member rapid response team was established at Camp Lemonnier, assigned to handle future threats to diplomatic personnel abroad. Djibouti is also the U.S. military’s regional hub for drones, and it sends thousands of Predators and Reapers across the region each year.

Blackstone - The Ten Surprises of 2017 6min

1.   Still brooding about his loss of the popular vote, Donald Trump vows to win over those who oppose him by 2020.  ...
2.   The combination of tax cuts on corporations and individuals, more constructive trade agreements, dismantling regulation of financial and energy companies, and infrastructure tax incentives pushes the 2017 real growth rate above 3% for the U.S. economy.  Productivity improves for the first time since 2014.
3.   The Standard & Poor’s 500 operating earnings are $130 in 2017 and the index rises to 2500 as investors become convinced the U.S. economy is back on a long-term growth path.  ...
4.   Macro investors make a killing on currency fluctuations.  ...
5.   Increased economic growth, inflation moving toward 3%, and renewed demand for capital push interest rates higher across the board.  The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield approaches 4%.
6.   Populism spreads over Europe affecting the elections in France and Germany.  ...
7.   Reducing regulations in the energy industry leads to a surge in production in the United States. Iran and Iraq also step up their output.  ...
8.   Donald Trump realizes he has been all wrong about China.  Its currency is overvalued, not undervalued, and depreciates to eight to the dollar.  Its economy flourishes on consumer spending on goods produced at home and greater exports.  Trump avoids punitive tariffs to prevent a trade war and develops a more cooperative relationship with the world’s second largest economy.
9.   Benefiting from stronger growth in China and the United States, real growth in Japan exceeds 2% for the first time in decades and its stock market leads other developed countries in appreciation for the year.
10. The Middle East cools down.  ...