As China Staggers, The World Trembles

This week's currency setbacks for the world's second-largest economy have created a financial ripple effect across the globe, with stock market nosedives and raw material prices dropping to dangerously low levels.

Shenyang's Stock exchange in northeastern China
Shenyang's Stock exchange in northeastern China


PARIS â€" If we needed evidence of China's crucial place in the global economy, its currency troubles emerging this week offer a resounding demonstration. By devaluing the RMB, or yuan, against the dollar three days in a row, China has sparked a shock wave â€" perhaps even the beginnings of a panic â€" in markets around the world. Stock exchanges from Frankfurt to Seoul have been left wobbling, and raw material prices, starting with oil, have plunged to levels unseen in more than a decade.

It comes amid a worrying context, despite Beijing's insistence that it is simply readjusting its currency value after a years-long increase. For a little over a year now, Chinese growth has been out of breath, and some sectors such as car manufacturing have been showing clear signs of slowdown. The real estate bubble is also bursting, leaving investors rushing to an immature stock exchange that collapsed at the beginning of July, forcing authorities to take drastic emergency measures to end the crash. The figures of Chinese exports published earlier this week, showing an 8% slump in July compared to a year earlier, planted the last seeds of doubt.

It seems obvious that the country's hypergrowth is now in the rearview mirror, and we can see that the government is trying to mitigate the damage every way it can. It is in the entire world's interest that it finds a quick solution. The Chinese engine is vital for global growth â€" and not just for French luxury brands and German car manufacturers. China alone buys, among other things, between one-third and half of most of the raw materials produced around the world.

The current devaluation, the most significant since 1993, seems intended to support the exports of millions of Chinese companies, and it bears all the signs of a declared currency war. But it should also be viewed as a desirable evolution towards the liberalization of the RMB, a prerequisite for its inclusion by the International Monetary Fund as a reserve currency alongside the dollar, the euro or the pound sterling. This has been Beijing's goal for a long time.

Behind the ongoing normalization, it's the Chinese economic model's viability that's being questioned. Everybody knows the diagnosis: Large state-owned companies represent a crushing weight that smothers private initiative. Restrictions on incoming capital and the tight grip on the banking sector guide investments towards government projects, leaving entrepreneurs marginalized.

From the moment he took office, President Xi Jinping has been pledging to resolve these issues. But growth has weakened more than expected, and the overused strategy of investing in massive infrastructure projects such as the high-speed rail is no longer enough to drive the economy â€" not to mention the matter of these projects actually increasing Chinese debt.

Inside the palaces of Zhongnanhai, headquarters of the Communist Party, government and party officials seem to be hesitating. They obviously fear instability. But more importantly, interest groups that have long enjoyed the status quo are lurking in the systemic obscurity created by the single party. Now that China's economy is second only to the United States, the whole planet is counting on it to reform itself.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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