Friday, November 28, 2008

Internet advertising will be relatively unscathed in the downturn

Not ye olde banners

Nov 28th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Internet advertising will be relatively unscathed in the downturn

Illustration by David Simonds

AT THE beginning of the year Jeff Zucker, the boss of NBC Universal, a big television and film company, told an audience of TV executives that their biggest challenge was to ensure “that we do not end up trading analogue dollars for digital pennies”. He meant that audiences were moving online faster than advertisers, thus leaving media companies short-changed. Now, near the end of the year, the situation looks even worse, as the recession threatens to turn even the analogue dollars into pennies. Will this hasten the shift towards internet advertising, or will it decline too?

Advertising rises and falls with the economy, though how much is a matter of debate. Randall Rothenberg, the boss of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade association for digital advertisers, points to the remarkable stability of advertising at about 2% of GDP since 1919, when the data began to be collected. This would suggest that ad budgets will move roughly in line with economic output.

But Mary Meeker, an internet analyst at Morgan Stanley, believes that modern ad budgets rise and fall much more than GDP does. According to her estimates, if the economy stops growing, ad spending is likely to fall by 4%. If the economy shrinks by 2%, overall ad spending may fall by 10%. As for the online segment, recent history is cause for pessimism. Between 2000 and 2002, during the dotcom recession, online ad spending in America fell by 27%.

Yet the web has changed a lot since 2002. Back then, gaudy display “banners” on web portals such as Yahoo! and MSN were the preferred technology. These still exist, but they now account for less than 20% of online ad spending. More than half goes to search advertising on Google and rival search-engines, which place small text ads next to results based on the keyword of the query, and charge only when a user clicks on them. In brand advertising, “rich media” ads are taking over from banners. These allow users to interact by clicking, so their engagement can be tracked.

All this makes spending on advertising much less speculative, so that it starts to be treated instead as a cost of sales. This is one reason why online advertising should suffer less than other sorts. This week eMarketer, a market-research firm, predicted that online-advertising spending in America, which makes up about half the global total, will increase by 8.9% in 2009, rather than the 14.5% it had forecast in August. The firm thinks search advertising will grow by 14.9% and rich-media ads by 7.5%, whereas display ads will grow by 6.6%. In short, online advertising will continue to expand in the recession—just not as quickly as previously expected.

Another reason for optimism, says Mr Rothenberg, is that online advertising is making obsolete the old distinction between marketing spending “above the line” and “below” it. In the jargon, above-the-line spending drives brand “awareness” (probably on television) or “consideration” by a consumer planning a purchase (probably in a newspaper). Such spending is often slashed in recessions. Below-the-line spending includes promotions or coupons to whet the consumer’s “preference” for the brand as he nears a purchase, or schemes such as frequent- flyer miles to increase his “loyalty” afterwards. These budgets are more robust.

Online marketing increasingly aims for awareness, consideration, preference and loyalty all at once. Mr Rothenberg gives the example of a rich-media ad for Kraft, a food company, in which a yummy image raises brand awareness, a click reveals a recipe that increases consideration, another click provides coupons and yet another click initiates a game that can be shared with friends. Marketing managers can therefore defend their online budgets as being both above and below the line.

The industry is also cautiously excited about two new forms of online advertising. The first is video. So far nobody has found a way to advertise inside online clips on a large scale. YouTube, which Google bought for no less than $1.65 billion two years ago, is “a huge end-user success,” says Eric Schmidt, Google’s boss, “and we’re awaiting the monetisation.” This is his way of saying that YouTube, despite showing 5 billion video clips a month, has trivial ad revenues. The site is experimenting with text “overlays” inside clips and sponsored videos for specific search terms, but it is early days. “If only we could schedule the revolution,” jokes Larry Page, one of Google’s founders.

If something close to one is in fact near, it may not come from YouTube. Ads onHulu, a video site that is a joint venture between Mr Zucker’s NBC Universal and News Corp, another media giant, appear to be selling well. Hulu is different from other video sites in that it only shows professionally produced videos, such as programmes and films from NBC, Fox, MGM and Warner Brothers. It runs a relatively small number of short, fun “pre-roll” ads. These incorporate some of the advantages of the web. Viewers can, for instance, vote on how good a particular ad was.

The lesson appears to be that the problem was not the format but the fact that so much of the footage online, especially on YouTube, is “user-generated”. Brands are wary of putting their ads next to amateur clips because they may be boring or offensive. This is less likely to be a problem with professional content. From a small base, says Mr Rothenberg, online-video ads grew from 1% to 3% of all interactive ads in America in the first half of the year.

The other hope is for ads on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. They are experimenting with a variety of advertising formats, though none has yet proved very successful. Their big weakness is that users go to social-networking sites to socialise, not to shop (as they might on search engines). Their biggest strength is that users spend so much time there. Two years ago 11% of time spent online was at Yahoo! and MSN, two web portals; now their share is down to 5%, and 5% of online time is spent at YouTube and Facebook.

Online traffic, in other words, is moving towards sites where advertising has so far proved ineffective and is therefore cheap. This, says Ms Meeker, presents an opportunity for innovation and arbitrage by clever marketing managers as they cut their conventional ad budgets. It may also provide a glimmer of hope for the advertising industry as it enters recession.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Things You Didn't Know About Thanksgiving

T-Day on a Tray

n 1953, someone at Swanson severely overestimated the amount of turkey Americans would consume that Thanksgiving. With 260 tons of frozen birds to get rid of, a company salesman named Gerry Thomas ordered 5,000 aluminum trays, recruited an assembly line of women armed with spatulas and ice-cream scoops and began creating mini-feasts of turkey, corn-bread dressing, peas and sweet potatoes — creating the first-ever TV dinner. Thomas later said he got the idea from neatly packaged airplane food.

Football & Feastin'

Thanksgiving is ruled by two very powerful f-words: "food" and "football." Nearly as old as the sport itself, the tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving began in 1876, when the newly formed American Intercollegiate Football Association held its first championship game. Less than a decade later, more than 5,000 club, college and high school football teams held games on Thanksgiving, with match-ups between Princeton and Yale drawing more than 40,000 fans out from their dining rooms. 1934 marked the first NFL game held on Thanksgiving when the Detroit Lions took on the Chicago Bears. The Lions have played on Thanksgiving ever since — except, of course, when the team was called away to serve during World War II.


FDR learned the hard way not to mess with some traditions. In 1939, the President declared that Americans should celebrate the annual feast one week early, hoping the decision would spur retail sales during the Great Depression. But Americans did not react kindly to the New Deal meal. Some took to the streets while others took to name-calling; the mayor of Atlantic City solved the controversy by declaring his residents would simply enjoy two meals — Thanksgiving and "Franksgiving." After two years of squabbling (or gobbling, as it were), Congress adopted a resolution in 1941 setting the fourth Thursday of November as the legal holiday.

Mary Had a Little Thanksgiving Obession

The woman who wrote the classic nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb" also played an integral role in making Thanksgiving a national holiday. After a 17-year letter-writing campaign, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale finally convinced President Abraham Lincoln to issue an 1863 decree recognizing the historic tradition.

Americans at the Abbey

In 1942, London's Westminster Abbey held Thanksgiving services for U.S. troops stationed in England. More than 3,500 soldiers filled the church's pews to sing America, the Beautiful andThe Star-Spangled Banner — the first time in the church's 900-year history that a foreign army was invited to take over the grounds. It was an ironic gesture given the holiday's origins as a festival for pilgrims fleeing religious tyranny in Britain.

Pardon Me, Mr. Presid

The annual White House tradition of pardoning a turkey before Thanksgiving began in 1947, when President Harry Truman took pity on one lucky fowl. Other historians say the practice began during the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln granted a pardon to a pet turkey belonging to his son, Tad. The tradition may alleviate some of America's guilt, but it doesn't stop us from slaughtering more than 46 million turkeys for the holiday. Even so, as Alaska Governor Sarah Palin proved during a recent interview in her hometown, Americans prefer public acts of mercy to massacres.

Slow-Roasting Tradition

While the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621, it would take more than 150 years before all 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving at once, in October 1777. In 1789, George Washington hailed the holiday, while President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the notion, calling Thanksgiving "the most ridiculous idea" ever conceived. For his part, Benjamin Franklin had such an affinity for turkey that he lobbied to make it the national bird (to no avail).

Turkey and Chicken and Duck -- Oh My

Thanks to the culinary genius of Louisiana (or Wyoming or South Carolina — each region has staked its claim), more and more Americans are forsaking Butterballs for Turduckens. A what? Picture this: a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. It's like a Russian nesting doll only with poultry. One store in Louisiania claims to ship more than 5,000 turduckens the week before the feast. Though this may seem like sacrilege to some, the original Thanksgiving meal featured fish, oysters, eel and lobster as well as wild turkey. Other modern pilgrims settle for a tofu version ("tofurkey") or the wildly dangerous "deep-fried turkey."

Fast vs. Feast

Thanksgiving was initially meant to be a fast, not a feast. The devout settlers at Plymouth Rock mostly recognized "giving of thanks" in the form of prayer and abstaining from food. But the Wampanoag Indians, who joined the pilgrims for their 3-day celebration, contributed their own harvest traditions — dancing, games and feasting — from their ancient festival, Nickommoh,meaning "to give away" or "exchange."

What's in a Name?

Three towns have been named after the holiday's starring player — Turkey, Texas, Turkey Creek, La. and Turkey, N.C. — each with less than 500 residents. Legend has it that the pheasant's name came from the wayward traveler Christopher Columbus, who thought he was in India when he arrived in "The New World" and, hence, dubbed the pheasant a "tuka," an Indian term for peacock. The name stuck.

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An audacious attempt by BHP Billiton to get control of Rio Tinto has fallen apart

The sun sets on BHP's bid

Nov 25th 2008

An audacious attempt by BHP Billiton to get control of Rio Tinto has fallen apart

BHP Billiton

BHP BILLITON’S boss, Marius Kloppers, wasted no time leaping into action when he took charge a little over a year ago. In November 2007, barely a month into his tenure as chief executive of the Anglo-Australian mining giant, he began making unwanted advances to Rio Tinto, a vast rival, in the form of a proposed all-share bid that was valued at some $140 billion. After a year of politely but firmly reiterating the merits of the huge deal and several months into painstaking antitrust investigations by the European Union, however, his company has sprung another surprise, deciding to drop its bid, now valued at $66 billion.

The giant mining company admits that the crippling credit crisis and a deteriorating world economy mean that now is not the right time to pursue one of the world’s biggest takeovers. So a year of effort and $450m of shareholders’ cash, the cost of dropping the chase of Rio, have yielded nothing. The decision to quit may pain the ambitious Mr Kloppers, but the reasons for doing so had been mounting steadily.

A year ago commodities were bubbling. But worsening economic times have seen commodity prices plummeting from record highs. Mining firms’ share prices have tumbled too. Few mining bosses were ready to claim that their industry had overcome its customary cyclicality. Yet none would concede that the source of their new prosperity, China’s booming economy, was in any danger of losing its appetite for their wares. In fact a looming world recession and a modest slowdown in China have sent commodity prices into a tailspin and severely crimped cashflow for both firms.

As BHP’s bid for Rio progressed rumours swirled of other planned takeovers by big mining companies made bullish by high prices and bumper profits. Talk abounded about Vale and Xstrata; Xstrata made a tentative move for Lonmin and other chatter suggested that a Chinese bid might emerge for Rio. But the price of targets was commensurately high so none of the mooted deals materialised. Now the last bid on the table has dropped off too. BHP blamed the credit crisis in particular. Rio is loaded with debt (around $40 billion) from its acquisition of Alcan, a Canadian aluminium company, in 2007. BHP’s debts are more modest at $6 billion. Had a merger gone ahead BHP had a loan facility in place with its bankers but may have feared that it would face severe difficulties in the future refinancing Rio’s additional debt.

The world’s steelmakers will rejoice. Customers had feared that a combined firm would use its market power to run up prices. The deal was predicated on iron ore, where Rio and BHP occupy the second and third spots respectively behind Brazil’s Vale, the world biggest supplier. The main cost savings would have come through consolidating operations in Australia.

The European Union’s competition authorities, the regulators most concerned about the deal, are in the throes of assessing its impact. The betting is that they would have allowed it to go through but would have required significant divestments. But getting a decent price for these assets from rivals would have proved near impossible for an industry paralysed by a dearth of financing.

Although Mr Kloppers has not pulled off the deal BHP may still be in a good position to benefit from the troubles facing the mining industry. If commodity prices stay low and banks start lending again then smaller mining companies will represent great bargains for firms with a healthy balance sheet such as BHP. Rio, loaded with debt, looks in less good shape. Miners with heavy borrowings, such as Xstrata, have been punished by investors. Rio’s shares plunged by as much as 42% after BHP announced that it would not continue with its bid. A year of potential megadeals has yielded nothing: consolidation in the mining industry might be on hold for some time.

Is the Next Steve Jobs Already Working for You?

Is the Next Steve Jobs Already Working for You?

Cohn says first you need to know the characteristics of breakthrough innovators. They are socially savvy, charming people with excellent analytical skills who never rest on their laurels and can identify the solutions likeliest to win over top leadership. But you have to seek them out using good talent-management techniques. The Starwood hotel chain, for example, has candidate innovators lead cross-functional teams in developing high-potential ideas, and then has them present those ideas to senior management. In short, you should test would-be innovators with live ammunition.

Once you identify breakthrough innovators, you need to give them access to the right mentor and peer networks. That helps them develop their excellent raw talents and build solidarity with key people in the company. It's also a good idea to remove these innovators from revenue-generating line positions and plant them in the middle of the organization, where no formal boxes exist. Cohn calls these "innovation hubs." That doesn't mean you trash your specialized business units. In fact, innovators need access to these specialists. They just need the freedom to cut across the specialties.

The bottom line is that finding and nurturing innovators is tough. But it's essential if you want to reduce the chances of another company surprising you with innovation that blows you off the map.

What have you done to find and groom breakthrough innovators in your company? Cohn's recommended practices provide excellent guidance, but they're by no means the only ones. Please share what you know.

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Supply Chain Management Applications Market To Grow 7% Annually Through 2012.

Supply Chain Management Applications Market To Grow 7% Annually Through 2012.

IndustryWeek (11/26, Selko) reports, "The supply chain management (SCM) applications market will grow 7% annually for the next five years, despite the gloomy economic conditions of 2008, according to a new study from AMR Research." Currently "a $6.5 billion market, the market will reach $9.2 billion in 2012." The study also "named five major forces that will be at work in the economy and society in the foreseeable future, and how the supply chain and the technologies that support it will help companies in the next five years." The major forces include high inflation, increasing commodity prices, "threats to brand security," the importance of cash, and sustainability becoming "a component of corporate decision making."

FDA Finds Trace Levels Of Melamine In US-Made Infant Formula.

FDA Finds Trace Levels Of Melamine In US-Made Infant Formula.

The FDA's discovery of trace amounts of melamine in infant formula attracted significant attention in major US newspapers and on cable TV. The New York Times (11/26, A19, Martin) reports the discovery raises "the possibility that the problem was more extensive in the United States than previously thought." Although "few details were available late Tuesday, agency officials said they had discovered melamine at trace levels in a single sample of infant formula. It was also discovered in several samples of dietary supplements that are made by some of the same manufacturers who make formula." FDA spokeswoman Judy Leon said, "There's no cause for concern or no risk from these levels." She "said the contamination was most likely the result of food contact with something like a can liner, or from some other manufacturing problems, but not from deliberate adulteration."

        The Los Angeles Times /Bloomberg (11/26) reports, "Of 77 samples tested, only one was found to have melamine, said Leon, who declined to identify the product." The contamination was discovered "as part of an FDA testing program begun after the chemical was found in Chinese products. The amount of melamine in the US sample was 'well below' 250 parts per billion, Leon said." Leon said, "That is what is considered trace amounts. ... It has nothing to do with adulteration."

        The Washington Post (11/26, Shin) in its "Check Out" blog cites the Bloomberg News story and points out, "Not sure how this jibes with the Food and Drug Administration's recent risk assessment which said it was 'unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns' but you be the judge!"

        In an article published on the web sites of over 150 US media outlets the AP (11/26, Mendoza, Pritchard) reports FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition director Dr. Stephen Sundlof said, "The levels that we are detecting are extremely low. ... They should not be changing the diet." He "told the AP the positive test results 'so far are in the trace range, and from a public health or infant health perspective, we consider those to be perfectly fine.'" The AP notes, "That's different from the impression of zero tolerance the agency left on Oct. 3."

        The Wall Street Journal (11/26, Zhang, Wang) reports, "Dr. Sundlof said the agency didn't find the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid in any infant formula sample. Together, the two substances cause kidney stones, among other illnesses, and sickened the Chinese infants." Despite the assurance of FDA officials "the findings are likely to upset parents who feed formula to their babies. But just how much is at stake for the manufacturers isn't certain." CNN (11/26) also reports the story.

BHP Billiton Withdraws Hostile Bid for Rio Tinto.

BHP Billiton Withdraws Hostile Bid for Rio Tinto.

On the front of its Marketplace section, the Wall Street Journal (11/26, B1, Matthews, et al.) reports that "BHP Billiton abruptly broke off its 18-month pursuit of rival mining company Rio Tinto, saying the recent fall in commodity prices and worsening world economy made the $68 billion deal too risky to complete." Even though "BHP said it could still pursue other mining companies weakened by the downturn, the collapse of the all-stock combination -- once valued at more than $170 billion -- could be the last nail in the coffin of the great merger-and-acquisition boom that stretched from 2004 to 2007." According to the Journal, "the merger would have left 70% or more of the world's seaborne iron ore, a key steelmaking ingredient, in the hands of two companies -- BHP-Rio and Brazilian mining concern Companhia Vale do Rio Doce -- giving them extraordinary leverage over buyers. Steelmakers protested the merger from the outset."

        The New York Times (11/26, B3, Wassener) adds, "BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, abandoned its hostile bid to acquire Rio Tinto" also saying that "regulatory concerns in Europe meant the deal was no longer in its shareholders' best interest." Notably, "BHP's decision, which took most observers by surprise, is one of the sharpest examples to date of the way in which global financial and economic turmoil is jeopardizing corporate expansion plans." BusinessWeek (11/25, Scott) also reported the story.

        WSJournal Calls BHP Withdrawal "Pyrrhic Victory" For Chinese Steel Group. The Wall Street Journal (11/25, Peaple) notes, "By accident or by design, China Inc. is getting what it wanted in BHP Billiton's withdrawn bid for Rio Tinto. For a key player in the contest -- Chinalco -- it's surely a Pyrrhic victory. Together with the U.S.'s Alcoa, Chinalco -- or Aluminum Corp. of China as it's formally known -- last February paid $14.1 billion for a 12% stake in Rio Tinto's London-listed shares, giving it a 9% share of the Rio Tinto Group." Notably, "Chinalco put up the lion's share of the money." The Journal points out, "A joint BHP-Rio Tinto entity would have had enormous pricing power over key raw materials such as iron ore -- no good thing for China's steel companies."

Software lets workers collaborate online by clicking together

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sharing the Browser

Software lets workers collaborate online by clicking together.

By Erica Naone --- from

Online collaboration often consists of little more than forwarding links or snippets from a Web page to a friend or colleague with a few comments dropped in. IBM is hoping to change this by letting people share the browser itself. This is the idea behind Blue Spruce, an experimental browser project that IBM hopes may change the way many people use the Web.

Come together: IBM’s Blue Spruce project lets users work together via the browser. In the example above, financial analysts talk to one another through a high-quality video link, while going through news feeds and stock prices together. 
Credit: IBM

David Boloker, CTO of emerging Internet technology at IBM's software group in Boston, says that Blue Spruce is a logical progression for the browser. After spending several years researching mashups--applications built by bolting together several smaller pieces of software--Boloker and his colleagues realized that many of the same tools could be used to build a tool for collaborative Web browsing.

The browser in front of him shows the result. It features real-time video of Boloker and a colleague in one corner, a streaming video news clip in the center, and real-time stock data at the bottom. Both Boloker and his colleagues can control the page using separate cursors. And, using a special feature, any changes that they make to the page show up in a different color.

Blue Spruce is not, in fact, a completely new browser; it's just a clever way of linking together existing browsers (the current prototype works with a modified version of Apple's Safari). After logging in to the Blue Spruce server, several users can interact with Web pages and applications while the Blue Spruce software makes that server think that it's dealing with a single browser. Anything that a user does on the shared page is sent to the Blue Spruce server, which sends the change down to other participants.

"We really started focusing on asking, 'How do I take that browser container and extend it much further than has ever been done before?'" Boloker says. Instead of having to forward a Web link via e-mail or instant message, Boloker's group wanted to create a system that would let people share information online as easily as if they were sitting in front of the same desk. "We're trying to replicate face-to-face interaction," Boloker says. He adds that this goes beyond Web conferencing because it allows multiple users to interact with pages and Web applications, rather than letting just one user take control. 

Collaborating on real-estate: A potential real-estate buyer and an agent could view real-estate data from Google Maps, Trulia, and Zillow using the software. Either party could control the Web page or input data. 
Credit: IBM

IBM hopes that Blue Spruce can prove useful for many business workers. For example, financial analysts might start the morning by navigating to a shared Blue Spruce Web page, where they analyze news stories and changes in the stock market together. If the users don't want to share an entire Web page, the project also has a "huddle" mode that lets them create shared work spaces that contain only limited information.

Although Blue Spruce currently works with only one browser, it is built with broader compatibility in mind. It uses the Web markup language HTML 5, which enables its real-time video and audio feeds without additional software. This is an unfinished standard, but it should eventually be adopted by other browsers. The demonstration system is also built on top of the WebKit, a rendering engine used by both Apple's Safari browser and Google's Chrome browser that includes some features of HTML 5. Until all browsers support HTML 5, Boloker says, his group will make Blue Spruce work by building add-ons.

Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University's interactive telecommunications program and author of the book Here Comes Everybody, says that the project is most significant in that it shows that IBM has identified the Web as a powerful business platform. "IBM, the great seller of Big Iron and custom software, has decided that simplicity plus ubiquity is a better strategy for them," Shirky says. By moving the work environment into the browser, he says, the company is acknowledging a fact of modern computing: people need tools that will be easy to use no matter what operating system they run or what programs they have, and the browser may be the best way to provide them.

Although Blue Spruce is still a research project, Boloker says that IBM plans to test it early next year with companies in the financial and health-care industries. Assuming all goes well, he says, IBM will expand to six test customers later in 2009.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Path Out of the Woods

A Path Out of the Woods

We need China to see that its interests are aligned with America's. If not, things could get very, very ugly.

For weeks the world has eagerly awaited word from the Obama transition team about the people who will head up the next American administration—the new secretaries of state and Treasury, the attorney general. But one of the more crucial positions in the Obama administration probably isn't going to be filled for months and will likely get little attention when it is—the post of U.S. ambassador to China.

Everyone knows that China is a major power and our representation there is important. But right now, we need Beijing like never before. China is the key to America getting through the worsening economic crisis. The American ambassador in Beijing (OK, this is a metaphor for all those officials who will be managing this relationship) will need to make sure that China sees its interests as aligned with America's. Or else things could get very, very ugly.

There is a consensus forming that Washington needs to spend its way out of this recession, to ensure that it doesn't turn into a depression. Economists of both the left and right agree that a massive fiscal stimulus is needed and that for now, we shouldn't be worrying about deficits. But in order to run up these deficits—which could total somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, or between 7 and 11 percent of GDP—someone has to buy American debt. And the only country that has the cash to do so is China.

In September, Beijing became America's largest foreign creditor, surpassing Japan, which no longer buys large amounts of American Treasury notes. In fact, though the Treasury Department does not keep records of American bondholders, it is virtually certain that, holding 10 percent of all U.S. public debt, the government of the People's Republic of China has become Washington's largest creditor, foreign or domestic. It is America's banker.

But will the Chinese continue to play this role? They certainly have the means to do so. China's foreign-exchange reserves stand at about $2 trillion (compared with America's at a relatively puny $73 billion). But the Chinese government is worried that its own economy is slowing down sharply, as Americans and Europeans stop buying Chinese exports. They hope to revive growth in China (to levels around 6 or 7 percent rather than last year's 12 percent) with a massive stimulus program of their own.

The spending initiatives that Beijing announced a few weeks ago would total almost $600 billion (some of which include existing projects), a staggering 15 percent of China's GDP. Given their focus on keeping people employed and minimizing strikes and protests, Beijing will not hesitate to add tens of billions more to that package if need be.

At the same time, Washington desperately needs Beijing to keep buying American bonds, so that the U.S. government can run up a deficit and launch its own fiscal stimulus. In effect, we're asking China to finance simultaneously the two largest fiscal expansions in human history—theirs and ours. They will probably try to accommodate us, because it's in their interest to jump-start the American economy. But naturally their priority is likely to be their own growth.

"People often say that China and America are equally dependent on each other," says Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics. "But that's no longer true. China has two ways to keep its economy growing. One way is to finance the American consumer. But another way is to finance its own citizens, who are increasingly able to consume in large enough quantities to stimulate economic growth in China. They have options, we don't. There isn't really any other country that could finance the American deficit."

In his fascinating new book, "The Ascent of Money," Niall Ferguson describes the birth of a new nation after the cold war. He calls it Chimerica—and it accounts for a tenth of the world's land surface, a quarter of its population and half of global economic growth in the past eight years. "For a time it seemed like a marriage made in heaven," he writes. "The East Chimericans did the saving, the West Chimericans did the spending." The Easterners got growth, the Westerners low inflation and low interest rates.

Like Stiglitz, Ferguson believes that China has options. "They will certainly try to keep American consumption going, but if it becomes clear that it isn't working, they do have a plan B," he said to me last week. Plan B would be to focus on boosting China's own consumption through government spending and easing credit to their own people.

"The big question today," Ferguson said, "is whether Chimerica stays together or comes apart because of this crisis. If it stays together, you can see a path out of the woods. If it splits up, say goodbye to globalization."

In recent years the most important and difficult ambassadorial posting has unquestionably been the one to Baghdad. Over the next decade, the toughest and most crucial assignment may well be in Beijing.

Five Questions (And Answers) About Citi's Bailout

Five Questions (And Answers) About Citi's Bailout

Employees walk through the Citigroup headquarters in New York, November 24, 2008.
Employees walk through the Citigroup headquarters in New York, November 24, 2008.
Brendan McDermid / Reuters
In its latest move to prop up the nation's flailing financial system, the U.S. government unveiled plans Monday to rescue one of the world's biggest banks, plowing $20 billion of new capital into Citigroup and shouldering up to tens of billions of dollars in losses tied to the bank's soured assets. After a brutal week for Citi — marked by pink slips for tens of thousands of workers and a 60% drop in its stock price — news that the government would step in sent shares soaring, rising 58% from Friday's close. "Equity investors were panicked about the company's viability," says David Trone, who follows Citi at the investment bank Fox-Pitt Kelton. "This takes away the remote possibility that the company could find itself in bankruptcy."

Here are answers to five basic questions about the deal:

1. What is Citi getting?
Specifically, the government will back a $306 billion pool of troubled loans and securities largely related to the floundering residential and commercial real estate markets. After Citi absorbs the first $29 billion in losses on these securities, the government — first the Treasury Department and then the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) — will step in and bear 90% of any further losses. In return, the government gets up to $7 billion in preferred stock and the right to buy more shares at $10.61 — not a bargain these days with Citi trading in the single digits, but perhaps worth more down the road. On top of that, $20 billion from the Treasury's Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) will be injected into the company in exchange for preferred shares that come with an 8% dividend.

2. Didn't the government already rescue Citigroup?
True, this is not the first government handout. On Oct. 13, Treasury told Citi and eight other large banks that it would be buying billions of dollars worth of stock in their institutions, the opening move in a mass recapitalization plan for the banking sector. Citi got $25 billion in exchange for preferred shares on which it will pay 5% interest for five years, and then 9%


But last week, events took a turn for the worse. Negative reports on consumer default rates and troubling statistics on commercial loans unnerved investors. Two moves by Citi — taking $80 billion in risky assets off the auction block and transferring some mortgage-related securities held in an off-balance sheet vehicle back onto its books — spooked shareholders already wary of what unknowns might be lurking. On Nov. 18, the company announced it would be laying off about 50,000 of its employees, or 20% of its global workforce


In the end it was too much bad news. Citi stock plummeted, dropping 60% over the course of the week, to $3.77 a share. During the week other parts of the market confirmed Citi's stressed state. The cost of credit-default swaps that protected investors from losing money on Citi's bonds skyrocketed, signaling a lack of confidence in the bank's ability to survive. Bankruptcy rumors circulated, and fears grew that people doing business with Citi — including its retail banking customers — would pull their money. At that point, regulators felt they had no other option but to step in.

3. Why save Citi when other banks are going under?
Citigroup, with $160 billion in revenue last year, more than 300,000 employees and tendrils in every corner of finance, both domestically and abroad, is the poster child for an institution that is allegedly "too big to fail." A much smaller financial institution, Lehman Brothers, was allowed to go down — and shock waves hit corners of the financial world, like money-market mutual funds, that no one had anticipated. The fear is not only of pain inflicted, but also of unpredictability.

Citi is not the first bank to hit the wall. When Washington Mutual, which had a balance sheet less than a third of the size of Citi, went down, the FDIC immediately flipped the company to JP Morgan. But marrying off Citi was not a viable option. "There isn't anyone to hand Citi to," says Roy Smith, a professor of finance at New York University's Stern School. "This is the King Kong of banks."

4. What are the chances we'll have to save Citi yet again?
There are still plenty of questions around Citi's long-term health. The government's rescue addresses $306 billion worth of troubled assets from Citi's $2 trillion balance sheet. The bank, though, has roughly another trillion dollars in assets that aren't on its balance sheet, kept in entities that are somewhat removed from the company. These assets could be problematic if the economy grows worse. Fox-Pitt Kelton's Trone also points out what's not included in the government backing: $129 billion in non-residential consumer loans like credit cards, auto, small business, student and personal lines; $150 billion worth of consumer loans overseas; and Citi's corporate loan portfolio. Put simply, there's room for more to go wrong.

Plus, there's market psychology to contend with. The jittery stock market isn't about to calm down anytime soon, and those jitters apply doubly to financial institutions. Moreover, during the past two decades Citi has made some hundred acquisitions, leaving a sprawling company that can be incredibly hard to understand. "The market lost confidence that Citigroup, which is such a vast organization, had it all under control," says NYU's Smith. "The question is, does this intervention restore confidence to a market where we're dealing with psychology and not analytics." In this environment, it probably pays for the government to keep its checkbook handy.

5. Does this rescue mean Citi's stock is a buy?
With the government injecting a total of $27 billion into Citi, and getting warrants to buy more shares, existing shareholders will be diluted — in other words, every shareholder now owns a smaller slice of the business. On the upside, the government's involvement has already sent the stock on a mini tear, closing at $5.95 on Friday, up from last week's low of $3.77 (about the cost of an ATM fee at one of Citi's branches, as one commentator pointed out).

One other immediate effect: common stockholders can say goodbye to their dividend, which was 16 cents last quarter. To make sure the government's money — i.e., the taxpayer's money — isn't simply passing through the company and into other hands, the deal prohibits Citi from paying dividends of more than a penny per share for three years without approval from Treasury, the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve. If Citi goes out and raises more money on its own through a common stock offering, there's a greater chance the government will allow for a greater dividend to be paid. That would be nice for shareholders. And right about now they could use a little nice.

In The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria argues that the "rise of the rest" is the great story of our time.

In The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria argues that the "rise of the rest" is the great story of our time.


Cover"This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else." So begins Fareed Zakaria's important new work on the era we are now entering. Following on the success of his best-selling The Future of Freedom, Zakaria describes with equal prescience a world in which the United States will no longer dominate the global economy, orchestrate geopolitics, or overwhelm cultures. He sees the "rise of the rest"—the growth of countries like China, India, Brazil, Russia, and many others—as the great story of our time, and one that will reshape the world. The tallest buildings, biggest dams, largest-selling movies, and most advanced cell phones are all being built outside the United States. This economic growth is producing political confidence, national pride, and potentially international problems. How should the United States understand and thrive in this rapidly changing international climate? What does it mean to live in a truly global era? Zakaria answers these questions with his customary lucidity, insight, and imagination.

Konsumforscher fordern zur Steuersenkung auf

Konsumforscher fordern zur Steuersenkung auf

25. November 2008, 08:01 Uhr

Die Wirtschaft schwächelt, und die Menschen halten ihr Geld zusammen. Daher fordert der Chef der Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung die Regierung zu Steuerentlastungen auf. Doch Kanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU) lehnt ab. Ihre Beamten diskutieren dagegen Einkaufsgutscheine – 500 Euro für jeden Arbeitnehmer.

Der Vorstandschef der Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (GfK), Klaus Wübbenhorst, hält möglichst frühzeitige Steuersenkungen für den richtigen Weg, um die Konjunktur und den privaten Konsum zu stabilisieren. „Es nützt nichts, Steuerentlastungen erst für 2010 anzukündigen“, sagte Wübbenhorst. „Es gibt keinen Grund, damit zu warten.“

Wübbenhorst nannte als Beispiel eine befristete Absenkung der Mehrwertsteuer. Für den privaten Konsum 2009 sieht der GfK-Chef trotz der Rezession nicht schwarz. „Wir halten ein Wachstum von 0,5 Prozent für möglich“, sagte er.

Zu steuerlichen Entlastungen rät auch die EU-Kommission in Brüssel. „Allgemein können vorübergehende Mehrwertsteuersenkungen schnell eingeführt werden, um einen starken fiskalischen Impuls zu schaffen, der den Konsum stützt“, heißt es in dem Entwurf des angekündigten Konjunkturprogramms. Die bereits vorgeschlagene reduzierte Mehrwertsteuer auf arbeitsintensive Dienstleistungen sollen die EU-Länder Anfang 2009 verabschieden.

Außerdem werde die Kommission einen Entwurf für niedrigere Steuersätze bei umweltfreundlichen Produkten vorlegen. Schließlich spricht sich Brüssel dafür aus, die Lohnsteuer für Geringverdiener zu senken.

Die Kommission geht mit dem Plan, der einen Rahmen für eine gemeinsame Antwort auf die Wirtschaftskrise abgeben soll, auf Kollisionskurs mit der Bundesregierung. Deutschland lehnt bisher ermäßigte Mehrwertsteuersätze etwa für Handwerkerarbeit ab, weil damit noch mehr Ausnahmen im EU-weiten Durcheinander der Verbrauchssteuern geschaffen würden.

Auch Einkommensteuersenkungen lehnt die Bundesregierung entschieden ab. Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU) will erst im Bundestagswahlkampf für eine Steuerreform werben. Eine Mehrwertsteuersenkung, wie sie Großbritannien vorhat, lehnten Deutschland und Frankreich ab, sagte Merkel nach dem Treffen mit Präsident Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

In der Bundesregierung spielen Beamte andere Varianten durch, um den privaten Konsum wieder anzukurbeln, dem eine wesentliche Rolle für das Wirtschaftswachstum zukommt. Wie das „Handelsblatt“ unter Berufung auf Regierungskreise berichtete, ist ein Betrag von rund 500 Euro je Arbeitnehmer als Konsum-Gutschein im Gespräch.

Wenn die Regierung nur die 30 Millionen sozialversicherungspflichtig Beschäftigten unterstütze, koste das den Fiskus im kommenden Jahr zusätzlich 15 Milliarden Euro, berichtete die Zeitung. „Wenn die beschlossenen Instrumente nicht ausreichen, werden wir mit weiteren Milliarden die Konjunktur ankurbeln“, zitierte das „Handelsblatt“ einen hohen Regierungsbeamten.

An den Details der möglichen Ausgabe von Coupons werde jedoch noch gearbeitet. Unter anderem werde geprüft, das „500-Euro-Geschenk“ mit der Verpflichtung zu verknüpfen, dass der Bürger beim Einlösen zusätzlich eigenes Geld investieren müsse.

Laut dem „Handelsblatt“ wird die Ausgabe solcher Gutscheine im Finanzministerium für einen geeigneten Konjunkturimpuls gehalten, weil anders als bei Steuersenkungen nicht die Gefahr bestehe, dass das zusätzliche Geld gespart werde. Der Sprecher des Bundesfinanzministeriums, Torsten Albig, wies den Bericht zurück. „Das ist absurder Unsinn“, sagte der Sprecher von Finanzminister Peer Steinbrück (SPD).

Auch die US-Regierung will wegen des wirtschaftlichen Abschwungs infolge der Finanzkrise laut einem Zeitungsbericht 25 bis 100 Milliarden Dollar in ein Programm zur Stützung von Verbraucherkrediten stecken. Finanzminister Henry Paulson wolle das Vorhaben am 25. November bekannt geben, meldete das „Wall Street Journal“ unter Berufung auf mit der Angelegenheit vertraute Personen.

Die Pläne zielten darauf, die Verfügbarkeit von Auto- und Studentenkrediten sowie Kreditkarten zu verbessern. Dazu solle die US-Zentralbank Federal Reserve eine Fazilität auflegen, um Investoren beim Kauf von Wertpapieren zu unterstützen, die mit solchen Krediten hinterlegt seien. Das Finanzministerium will seinen Beitrag zu dem Programm den Angaben zufolge aus seinem 700-Milliarden-Dollar-Paket zur Stützung der Finanzbranche nehmen.

Deutsche wollen mit China auf Piratenjagd gehen


Deutsche wollen mit China auf Piratenjagd gehen

Von Johnny Erling 25. November 2008, 09:31 Uhr

Ein deutscher Marinegeneral sucht Unterstützung im Kampf gegen die Piraten bei den Chinesen. Die denken über ein Eingreifen nach. Auch, weil Indien, Japan und Südkorea bereits mitmischen. Bisher erlaubte China seinem Militär internationale Kooperation nur im Kampf gegen Terrorismus und Drogenhandel.

Marineinspekteur Wolfgang Nolting hat während seines Besuchs in Peking bei Chinas Militärführung vorgefühlt, wieweit sie bereit ist, gemeinsam mit Deutschland gegen das internationale Piratentum im Indischen Ozean vorzugehen. „Die Marine Deutschlands und die von China sollten zusammenarbeiten, um die Piraten zu bekämpfen“, zitierte die Nachrichtenagentur Xinhua den deutschen Marinegeneral. Chinas Verteidigungsminister Liang Guanglie legte sich nicht konkret fest. Nach Angaben von Xinhua stimmte er aber zu, dass alle „nicht traditionellen Sicherheitsrisiken“ stärker beachtet werden müssen. Liang sagte, dass sich die militärischen Verbindungen zwischen China und Deutschland „zunehmend vertiefen“.

Die ausführliche Berichterstattung über den Vorschlag Noltings zeigt Pekings hohes Interesse an dem Thema. Bisher erlaubte China seinem Militär internationale Zusammenarbeit nur im Kampf gegen Terrorismus, Drogenhandel oder bei der Teilnahme an Manövern der Shanghaier Kooperation. Die außenpolitische Wochenzeitschrift „Herald Leader“ berichtet nun über öffentliche Debatten darüber, ob sich China künftig auch an Militäraktionen außerhalb seiner Grenzen etwa gegen somalische Piraten beteiligen sollte. Mehrere chinesische Schiffe wurden bereits gekapert. Die innerchinesische Debatte wird seit den Aktionen der indischen Marine und Aktivitäten japanischer und südkoreanischer Schiffe hitziger.

Eine Mehrheit unter den im Internet Diskutierenden plädiert dafür, dass Chinas Marine zum Schutz der eigenen Handelsflotte internationale Verantwortung übernehmen soll. Alle Aktionen sollten aber unter dem Dach der Vereinten Nationen (UN) geschehen. Kritiker nennen dagegen gewaltsames Vorgehen außerhalb der eigenen Grenzen einen Bruch mit der Tradition, Probleme über den Dialog zu lösen. China gerät als neue Handelsnation in ein Dilemma. Es muss immer mehr strategisch wichtige Rohstoffe über den Seeweg einführen, ohne allerdings bisher die Sicherheit der Seerouten garantieren zu können.

In Deutschland mehren sich derweil ebenfalls die Stimmen, die ein klares und hartes Vorgehen gegen die Piraten fordern. So sprachen sich die Grünen für eine deutsche Beteiligung am Horn von Afrika aus. Voraussetzung für die Beteiligung der EU müsse allerdings eine klare Resolution der UN sein, sagte Parteichefin Claudia Roth. Rund 3,5 Milliarden Menschen in Somalia seien in Not. Nahrungsmittel könnten wegen der unsicheren Seewege nicht geliefert werden. „Es muss gehandelt werden“, so Roth.

Mit großer Eile treibt auch die Bundesregierung die Vorbereitungen für ein entsprechendes Bundeswehrmandat voran. Wie der stellvertretende Vorsitzende des Verteidigungsausschusses im Bundestag, Karl Lamers (CDU), am Montag im ARD-„Morgenmagazin“ sagte, soll unmittelbar nach der spätestens bis zum 8.Dezember erwarteten Entscheidung der EU eine Kabinettsvorlage erstellt werden. Lamers rechnet am 10.Dezember mit einer Entscheidung im Kabinett und bis zum 19.Dezember mit einer Abstimmung im Bundestag. Das Mandat solle der Marine die Möglichkeit geben, gegebenenfalls Schiffe zu beschießen und zu versenken. Bei der Frage, ob Beamte der Bundespolizei auf den Marineschiffen mitfahren sollen, ist die große Koalition laut Lamers auf dem Weg der Einigung.

Sehr konkrete Vorschläge zur Piratenbekämpfung kommen aus dem Iran. Der Mullah-Staat ist nach Regierungsangaben bereit, notfalls mit Gewalt vorzugehen. Vize-Verkehrsminister Ali Taheri sagte der Zeitung „Ebtekar“, die Regierung halte ein entschlossenes Handeln für richtig. „Die Islamische Republik Iran ist in der Lage, den Piraten entgegenzutreten. Falls notwendig, können wir Gewalt anwenden“, sagte Taheri. Ein Sprecher des Verteidigungsministeriums milderte dies jedoch ab. „Lassen Sie uns erst einmal sehen, welche Option angebracht und wirksam wäre.“

Derweil haben die somalischen Entführer des Supertankers „Sirius Star“ ihre Lösegeldforderung nach Angaben der somalischen Islamistengruppe ICU auf 15 Millionen Dollar heruntergesetzt. Zuvor hatten die Islamisten angekündigt, das Schiff in Eigenregie zu befreien, weil es einem muslimischen Land gehöre. Ursprünglich hatten die Piraten 25 Millionen Dollar für die Herausgabe des rund 330 Meter langen Tankers aus Saudi-Arabien verlangt.

The price of online robbery

The price of online robbery

Nov 24th 2008

The cost of goods and services offered by cybercriminals

BANK details are the most popular single item for sale by online fraudsters, according to a new report by Symantec, an internet-security firm. They are also the priciest, perhaps because the average account for which details are offered has a balance of nearly $40,000. Sales of details of credit cards make up some 30% of all goods and services on offer on “underground” servers, and nearly 60% of their value. Cards without security codes (or CVV2 numbers) are harder to exploit, and are usually cheaper. A criminal may wish to use “cash-out” services to convert stolen online goods into real currency for a slice of their value. Scams involving the design and hosting of fake webpages for phishing attempts, as well as the “mailer” applications used to send phishing e-mails, are also popular.


Monday, November 24, 2008

China: Neue Häfen und Transportwege zur Energiesicherung

China: Neue Häfen und Transportwege zur Energiesicherung

Von Dirk Ruppik

China versucht, Transportwege für wichtige Rohstoffe im Rahmen des Energiesicherheitsplans mit Militärbasen zu schützen und neue Umschlagshäfen und Transportwege zu schaffen. So wird das Land immer mehr zu einem ernstzunehmenden Konkurrenten der USA um Öl. Das enorme Wirtschaftswachstum und der zunehmende Energieverbrauch im Land der Mitte ist ein zweischneidiges Schwert und gibt nicht nur Anlass zur Freude, sondern schürt auch Ängste bei der chinesischen Regierung. Der Energiekonsum steigt beständig und kann bei weitem nicht durch eigene Kohle- und Ölreserven gedeckt werden. China muss neue Versorgungsquellen in anderen Ländern erschließen beziehungsweise sichern und wird damit immer mehr zu einem ernstzunehmenden Konkurrenten der USA um Rohstoffe, wie Öl. 

Der US-amerikanische Luftwaffen-Oberstleutnant Christopher J. Pehrson hat in seiner im Juli 2006 erschienenen Studie mit dem Namen „String of Pearls: Meeting the challenge of China´s rising power across the Asian littoral“ das Bestreben Chinas beschrieben, zunehmend Zugang zu Häfen und Luftwaffenbasen sowie diplomatischen Einfluss vom Südchinesischen Meer, entlang der Straße von Malakka, über den Indischen Ozean bis in den Arabischen Golf zu erhalten. Das Land versucht sich mittels strategischer Stützpunkte und Einrichtungen, die wie Perlen einer Perlenkette entlang der wichtigen Seefahrtswege aufgereiht sind, mit wichtigen Energieressourcen im Mittleren Osten und Afrika zu verbinden. „Die Perlenkette ist mehr als eine marine Strategie oder Militärstrategie. Sie ist auch weitgehender als eine regionale Strategie. Sie ist eine Manifestierung der chinesischen Ambitionen einen starken Machtstatus zu erhalten und eine selbstbestimmte, friedvolle und erfolgreiche Zukunft zu sichern“, heißt es in der Studie. Laut Pehrson ist dies „eine komplexe strategische Situation, die die künftige Richtung der chinesischen Beziehungen mit den Vereinigten Staaten, als auch die Beziehungen mit Nachbarn in der gesamten Region bestimmen könnte.“ 

Die US-China-Kommission schätzte die Situation in 2005 wie folgt ein: „China müht sich global zunehmend seine Energieversorgung auf eine Art und Weise zu sichern, die einen direkten Wettbewerb um Energieressourcen mit den USA ankündigt. Dies produziert die Möglichkeit eines Konflikts zwischen den beiden Nationen.“

Abhängigkeit vom Öl

China stand in 2007 laut Energy Information Administration (EIA) der amerikanischen Regierung auf Platz drei der Weltrangliste der erdölimportierenden Länder mit 3,67 Millionen Barrel pro Tag hinter Japan mit 4,84 Millionen Barrel pro Tag. Die USA ist Spitzenreiter mit 12,21 Millionen Barrel pro Tag. Deutschland liegt auf dem vierten Platz mit 2,32 Millionen Barrel pro Tag. Laut EIA werden rund 38 Prozent des Zuwachs bei der Weltnachfrage nach Öl dem Land der Mitte zugeschrieben. 

Das Land bezieht 70 Prozent seiner Ölimporte aus dem Mittleren Osten und Afrika. Dieses Rohöl wird ausschließlich auf dem Seeweg transportiert. Gefährliche Brennpunkte sind dabei die Straße von Hormus und die Straße von Malakka aufgrund von Piraterie oder im Ernstfall möglichen militärischen Attaken oder militärischen Aktionen. 

Kein Wunder also, dass China begierig nach Stützpunkten für Militärbasen zur Sicherung des Öltransports und neuen See- und Transportwegen (Kra-Kanal, Karakorum-Highway) beziehungsweise neuen Förderländern sucht. Zentralasien wird hier zunehmend bedeutend. Die Volksrepublik entwickelt zum Beispiel Öl- und Gasvorkommen in Kirgisistan und Turkmenistan. Im Sudan in Afrika hat China drei Milliarden US-Dollar (1,92 Milliarden Euro) zur Entwicklung von nicht ausgebeuteten Ölförderstätten investiert. Darüber hinaus hat das Land in 2004 rund 44 Milliarden Euro schweren Vertrag mit dem Iran mit einer Laufzeit von 25 Jahren für Flüssiggas unterzeichnet. China besitzt zudem weitreichende Ausbeutungsrechte im Westen Myanmars und plant den Transport per Pipeline nach Südchina.

Chinesische Außenposten zur Sicherung

Zu den Perlen der Perlenkette (Grafik 1 am Ende dieser Seite) gehören die chinesischen Hainan-Inseln mit in 2006 ausgebauter militärischer Kapazität, die Woody Islands nahe bei Vietnam mit einer Start- und Landebahn, Container- und militärische Einrichtungen im Hafen Chittagong in Bangladesch, eine Hafenanlage in Hambantota auf Sri Lanka,ein Tiefwasserhafen in Sittwe, Myanmar,der Bau und die Finanzierung des Hafens Gwadar in Pakistan, ein Militärstützpunkt in der Straße von Hormus sowie eine Eisenbahnverbindung von Südchina durch Kambodscha zum Golf von Thailand. Weiterhin besteht ein großes chinesisches Interesse an der Sicherung der Straße von Malakka, beziehungsweise am Bau des Kra-Kanals am Istmus von Kra in Südthailand.

Seestraßen von Hormus und Malakka

Die Seestraße von Hormus (Grafik 2) ist ein Nadelöhr, durch das 40 Prozent der weltweiten Öltransporte abgewickelt werden. Durch sie verläuft der gesamte Schiffsverkehr von und zu den Ölhäfen Kuwaits, Bahrains, des Iraks, der VAE und des Iran. Nicht nur China, die USA, Japan und Westeuropa sind von der militärischen Sicherung des Kanals abhängig. Bei einer Blokade oder Sperrung könnten die chinesische Wirtschaft und andere Wirtschaften schlichtweg kollabieren. Das Thema war aufgrund eines israelischen Luftwaffenmanövers Anfang Juli über dem Mittelmeer sehr aktuell. Der Iran hat mit einer Schließung der Straße von Hormus gedroht, sollten seine Interessen in der Golfregion missachtet werden. „Alle Länder sollten wissen, dass wir selbstverständlich anderen die Durchfahrt nicht erlauben, wenn die Interessen des Iran in der Region ignoriert werden“, sagte Generalstabschef des Iran Hassan Firusabadi nach Angaben der Nachrichtenagentur Fars. Die USA, China, Frankr eich und andere unterhalten Militärbasen in der Region.

Die Straße von Malakka ist ein ähnliches Nadelöhr wie Hormus aber zudem noch durch Piraterie bedroht. Einen terroristischen Anschlags mit entsprechenden Folgen könnte man als Supergau für die Weltwirtschaft bezeichnen. Allerdings wurden bei der Sicherung durch die Einführung der Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) im Februar 2005 ein großer Fortschritt erzielt. Zudem haben die Anrainerstaaten der Straße von Malakka, namentlich Singapur, Malaysia und Indonesien, und die Internationale Maritime Organisation (IMO) auf einer Konferenz im September 2007 in Singapur ein neues Rahmenwerk zur Kooperation in Sicherheitsfragen bezüglich des Schifffahrtkanals verabschiedet. „Die verbesserte Koordinierung von Patrouillen und neue Initiativen, wie die Luftüberwachung mit Namen „Himmelsaugen“ haben dazu geführt, dass die Straße von Malakka von der Schiffsversicherungs-Institution Lloyds in London nicht mehr als Kriegszone klassifiziert wird“, sagte der stellvertretende Premierminister von Malaysia Najib Tun.

Neuer Kanal soll Erleichterung verschaffen

Durch die enorme Steigerung des Ölpreises erhält das Projekt eines Kanalbaus durch den Isthmus von Kra (Grafik 3) in Südthailand wieder Auftrieb. Durch den rund 18 Milliarden Euro teuren Kanal könnte der Seeweg nach Nordostasien um ca. 1000 Kilometer verkürzt werden, dabei fünf bis sieben Tage Transportzeit eingespart werden und die terror- und pirateriegefährdete Straße von Malakka umgangen werden. China würde Milliarden von Dollar in den Kanal investieren und die Thai Navy würde die zentrale Rolle bei der Überwachung der Kanalregion übernehmen. Dir Folgen für Singapur, Malaysia und Indonesien wären enorm. Deswegen hat sich Singapur für das kleinere Übel entschieden und unterstützt die alternative Idee einer 230 km langen und rund 560 Millionen Euro teuren Trans-Kra-Pipeline – was wiederum Spannungen mit dem befreundeten China produziert. Bisher ist dieses Projekt ebenso wenig verabschiedet, wie der Kra-Kanal.

Versorgung von Chinas Westen über Gwadar

Durch den pakistanischen Hafen Gwadar könnte ebenfalls Öl unter Umgehung der Malakkastraße über den Karakorum-Highway nach Chinas Westen gebracht werden. Gwadar ist einer der Hauptfokusspunkte, der erste Außenposten in der Perlenketten-Strategie und zudem noch am neuralgischen Punkt Hormus gelegen. Das Land der Mitte will den pakistanischen Hafen in der Nachbarschaft Indiens in ein Transitterminal für iranische und afrikanische Rohölimporte entwickeln. Rund 770 Millionen Euro investiert China in den Ausbau Gwadars zu einem der bedeutendsten Tiefseehäfen Asiens. Inklusive ist der Bau einer Autobahn nach Karatchi und nach Kandahar und Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Der Hafen mit drei Liegeplätzen in der ersten Phase wurde im März 2007 eröffnet. In der zweiten Phase sind weitere vier Liegeplätze geplant.