Who Should Run The IMF? A Chinese Point Of View

Europe has been clamoring for one of their own to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and keep the continent’s lock on the key post. For the sake of democracy and development, that’s a bad idea, says Xu Guoping of South Centre agency.

Zhu Min, the former Chinese central bank deputy governor, was a top Strauss-Kahn deputy and potential successor.
Zhu Min, the former Chinese central bank deputy governor, was a top Strauss-Kahn deputy and potential successor.
Xu Guoping


Last week, Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund after being arrested on allegations of sexual assault on a hotel maid.

Among all international organization chiefs, the IMF managing director is the most important, and Strauss-Kahn's resignation immediately set off a battle of succession.

The leaders of European countries were very prompt in assuming that, according to custom, this position should again be taken by a European.

This so-called tradition that the managing director of the IMF ought to be a European while the World Bank chief is always an American has sparked off more and more questions that are getting harder and harder to answer.

The leaders of these two organizations should be chosen according to the capability of any nation's citizen. It is colonialist or neo-colonialist dogma to guarantee that an international candidate is a European or American. People from developing countries should be given an equal chance, particularly because the GDPs of these countries are growing ever bigger as a share of the global economy.

Among these countries, China, in particular, but other Asian countries too, have huge foreign exchange deposits. In the past few days, numerous media have mentioned candidates from India, South Africa, Singapore and Turkey as worthy successors. Yet the European Commission's President and the leaders of countries like Germany, France or Italy continue to insist that it ought to be a European. The reasons given vary: European countries are the main creditors, Europe is facing a serious financial crisis, it has the most competent candidates, and others.

The irony is that one of the most popular European candidates, Christine Lagarde, hails (again!) from France. Why should a French IMF head who steps down because of a sex scandal be replaced by another French candidate? Since the IMF was founded, the position of the managing director has been held by a disproportionately high number of Frenchmen (35 persons over 64 years).

Europeans leaders argue that a European would do a better job at handling the debt crisis currently facing such countries as Portugal, Greece and Ireland because of his or her deeper understanding of Europe.

This is an odd theory that exposes the double standard of Europeans. Between 1997 and1999, when countries from Southeastern Asia encountered a tremendous debt crisis, and the main debtors then were countries like Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea, nobody proclaimed that the IMF should be run by an Asian because of their better understanding of the region. Similarly, in the 1980's and 1990's a lot of Latin American and African countries had the same trouble, and were major borrowers from the IMF. None of these nations' citizens had a chance to head the organization.

Chakravarthi Raghavan, a specialist on international organizations, thinks that the spreading economic crisis is indeed an excellent reason for having a non-European leader of the IMF.

Raghavan points out that when the international organization was in the process of democratization in the 1980's, the US and Europe didn't allow the developing countries to take control of the IMF or the World Bank because they were the debtors. "So the same logic should apply now," he says: a European should not to lead the IMF. Raghavan says that: "the money lent by the IMF to European countries has become a tool for protecting the French and German banks. They are the main creditors of Greece, Portugal and Spain and their state bond holders."

In the end, because of the IMF's extremely undemocratic voting mechanism, Europe is still likely to be the winner of the succession battle. They control 30% of the votes, the United States 16.7%, Japan controls 6%, and Canada 3%. If all developed countries support the same candidate, they are very likely to win.

On the one hand, Europe clamors for the principles of democracy in developing countries. On the other hand, they dominate positions like that of the IMF in a blatantly undemocratic way. It is clearly a double standard.

(Xu Guoping is the Executive Director of South Centre, a Geneva based intergovernmental organization and think tank for developing countries. He is a Chinese Malaysian known also as Martin Khor)

Read the original article in Chinese.

Photo - World Economic Forum

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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