Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 4.6.21

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

Detailed info on Galicia and Pontevedra city here. 

Correction: I’m sure most readers will have realised it should have been NIMBY yesterday, not MIMBY.


We now have the Nepal variant of the Indian variant, now called Delta. In the UK at least. This could go on forever, if common sense is ignored and a sense of perspective never gained. 

Spain details a new [traffic light] system of coronavirus restrictions to be applied until 70% of population is vaccinated. Despite opposition from some regions, the measures – including early closing hours and capacity limits for bars and restaurants – will be obligatory across the country. Details here. Will the Madrid Presidenta, as is her wont, take this to the Constitutional Court?  P. S. As I write, I see that Galicia, the Basque Country and, of course, Madrid are going to defy the government.

Cosas de España/Galiza

A friend has told me that our local health centre is ‘chaotic’, so this report of Spain’s primary healthcare centres ‘buckling under pressure’ didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Good to know that: Queen Letizia’s latest dress shows the potential power of royal style. Though I’m not sure what it means and can’t be bothered to read below the headline . . 

The Spanish-American war of 1898 was a veritable disaster for Spain. It was ‘sparked’ by an explosion on a US ship in Havana harbour in which more than 200 men died. The US accused Spain of a torpedo attack and off it went, to take over Cuba and other Spanish possessions. As of today, the truth is: No one has ever established exactly what caused the explosion or who was responsible. It is known that the ship’s magazine exploded but it’s not known why. One consequence on this hammering of the final nail into the coffin of Spain’s empire was a high degree of anti-Americanism here which – fuelled by US neutrality in the 1936-9 Civil War – is said to persist today. Though I’m sure individual American are treated as nicely as every other guiri.

Back in modern times . . . The government is planning to revise the obsolete(medieval?) law of sedition, which was used against the Catalan rebels now in jail.

A propos . .  . María’s Level Ground: Days 59-60 Those pardons.


Fair comment, I suspect: President Rebelo de Sousa reacted angrily to the move from Green to Amber, saying the British government was obsessed with infection rates, even though hospital admissions and deaths were at low levels. He described the UK’s stance as “health fundamentalism” and claimed it “does not recognise that we live in a different situation than we lived before vaccination”.

I might go and spend a week down in nearby Portugal, to display solidarity. And to enjoy leitão assado more than once.


Err . . . Arizona plans to execute prisoners with the cyanide gas used in Auschwitz. Work to revive the state’s 20-year-old gas chamber is taking place amid a shortage in lethal injection supplies. . . .


Covid reorders the world’s strategic landscape – but not as China expected, says AEP in the article below. Which might just settle a few fears about the danger of an imminent `yellow peril’.

A Guardian article on the consequences of the leak theory proving to be true.

The Way of the World 

The decision to give the next football World Cup to Qatar was always, shall we say, highly questionable. But now we read: The Qatari state has been accused of playing a central role in a secret money laundering operation to send hundreds of millions of dollars to jihadists in Syria. I guess this might fall into the category of ‘unintended consequences’. Doubtless, though, the corrupt officials who financed slaughter can live with themselves. In their luxury homes.

Not a bad idea?: Emmanuel Macron sets up a unit to fight fake news, over fears that next year’s presidential election could be hit by a “pandemic” of disinformation. It’s catchily entitled The National Agency for the Fight Against Manipulations of Information. But surely there’ll be an acronym.

Finally  . . . 

The Humanist article I cited yesterday mentioned the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. I heard today that publishing was banned in the Muslim world until the 19th century. But an article I’ve found says the printing press was introduced in the Islamic world in 1727. So only a mere 300, not 400, years after the West. Which must say something.


Covid reorders the world’s strategic landscape – but not as China expected. Repression, vaccination problems and now the Wuhan lab revelations are pushing the pendulum away from China and back to the West: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the Telegraph 

The democratic West did not lose the pandemic after all. The US will probably emerge in better fundamental shape from the events of the last eighteen months than Xi Jinping’s China. This is an enormous geopolitical upset.

It was universally assumed after Wave One and Two that the chaotic, ill-prepared states of North America and Europe had suffered an irreparable blow to their collective prestige, and a concomitant loss of global economic caste. We can see in hindsight that they suffered neither.

Jiang Jinquan, Xi’s propaganda chief, declared that Beijing’s success in stamping out Covid-19 with seemingly minimal economic damage had shown “the superiority of China’s political system”.  The Communist Party believed that China’s sorpasso had been pulled forward by a decade and was henceforth unstoppable.

Kishore Mahbubani, the prophet of Eastern ascendancy, said Covid marked the definitive start of the Asian Century. The pandemic would accelerate the shift to a ”China-centric” global system where the enfeebled white man would have to learn his new place . Deference to Western societies and values would be “replaced by a growing respect and admiration for Eastern ones”. It made sense at the time.

A year later it is far from evident. American and European vaccines are the miracle cure sought by everybody. Japan’s vaccination drive has been strangely inept and nine prefectures covering 50pc of GDP are still under a state of emergency. A fourth wave has filled hospitals, and the Indian Delta variant has again thrown the Olympics into doubt.

Japan’s economy remains stuck in recession.

Those who relied heavily on Chinese vaccines have grown wary of large claims and opaque science. Chile vaccinated fast and early with Sinovac, and Hungary with Sinopharm. Both were overwhelmed by fresh waves of hospitalisation and death. Nobody believes trial data any more. 

China is belatedly vaccinating its own population as highly-infectious variants keep popping up. Parts of Guangdong again under draconian curbs. George Gao, head of China’s Centre for Disease Control, says his country’s inactivated vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” and may have to be mixed with Western mRNA technology to contain further waves of contagion. Which raises the question: will China have to rely on repressive surveillance measures long after the West has fully reopened? “The perception of China as the great winner has turned around. The momentum is now on the side of the western liberal democracies,” said professor Ho-Fung Hung, a political economist at John Hopkins University.  “The US and the UK have the pandemic under control and their vaccines are very effective. It is China that is now struggling. Its vaccine diplomacy is no longer working,” he said.

The red-hot US economy has already regained its pre-pandemic levels of GDP but has done so with eight million fewer workers, evidence of rocketing productivity. Lockdowns seem to have condensed seven years of digital take-up into a single year. Who would have imagined that stopping people going to work would be such a Schumpeterian* catalyst?

The OECD’s global outlook this week made an astonishing forecast. It suggested that the US economy would surpass even its pre-virus growth trajectory as soon as the third quarter. By the early 2020s it will have shifted into a higher gear altogether, thanks to Joe Biden’s investment blitz and technological rearmament (against China).

Capital Economics says slumping productivity and the ageing crunch will probably stop China catching up with the US for decades to come. “On our forecasts, China reaches 87pc the size of the US in 2030, up from 71pc now,” said Mark Williams, the group’s chief Asia economist. The workforce peaked in 2017 and is already shrinking. The decline will accelerate to 0.5pc a year after 2030. “If China doesn’t overtake the US by the mid-2030s it probably never will. And if it does overtake, it may struggle to hold on to first place,” he said. The recent census revealed that the population is contracting at a faster rate than either the United Nations of Chinese demographers previously thought. The three-child family rule introduced this week comes too late to reverse a pattern now deeply lodged in Chinese society.

China is adept at stimulating short-term demand in a crisis. The state-run banking system enables it to let rip fast with credit. But the extra output created by each yuan of loans has slumped since the halcyon days of 2008-2009. While the debt ratio has risen to almost 340pc of GDP, the economic growth needed to service these liabilities has dropped from 10pc to nearer 5pc in a decade, with 2pc on the cards by the late 2020s.  “People are naive to think that China has found the elixir of perpetual growth and will always come roaring back. It is just as imbalanced as it was before the pandemic,” said George Magnus from Oxford University’s China Centre.

Its catch-up model of state-led investment is patently no longer fit for purpose. The World Bank says the growth rate of total factor productivity (TFP) – the relevant gauge of the economy – has fallen to 0.7pc from around 3pc before the global financial crisis. It has converged with Western levels of TFP performance at a stage of its economic development where it should be much higher. 

Premier Li Keqiang argued a decade ago that China would end up in the “middle income trap” unless it ditched the top-down model and embraced something much closer to liberal pluralism. He was overruled. Xi Jinping has instead doubled down on police surveillance and the state-owned behemoths, the Party’s machine of patronage and control. He is opting for a “dual circulation” strategy. “It’s just autarky. China is going to become a huge version of North Korea. There is no way it can sustain momentum if it cuts itself off from the West since it relies on the outside world for hi-tech and semiconductors,” said Ho-Fung Hung. Deng Xiaoping’s son, Deng Pufang, warned three years ago that XI was embarked on an “utterly mistaken” course, failing to understand the critical role of the market in the post-Mao growth miracle. Just as important, Xi has violated the cardinal Deng rule: “hide your strength, bide your time”.

He let hubris take hold. Pandemic triumphalism combined with Xi’s wolf warrior diplomacy, Uighur oppression, and the flagrant violation of the Hong Kong treaties, in a revealing foretaste of what Chinese hegemony might feel like.  “The damage has been irreparable. It has been a devastating reminder of the difference between our hierarchy of values and what it means to be a totalitarian regime,” said Roger Garside, a former British diplomat in Beijing and author of a forthcoming book called China Coup: the Great Leap to Freedom. Mr Garside said Beijing has made the same error as the fascist regimes of the 1930s. It has misjudged the ability of the democracies to pick themselves up and mobilise their hidden strengths. 

One result of Xi’s overreach was a Pew Survey of 14 countries last October showing that negative views of China had surged to record levels, even in Korea. Another result is the strengthening of the Quad alliance of India, Japan, Australia, and the US, with Europe crabbing sideways into the same camp. 

President Xi has told his diplomats to mind their language and strive to make China “loveable” but there is no going back once the mask has slipped. The risk for China is that the investigation of the Wuhan lab theory by the US intelligence agencies validates what has until now been deemed a conspiracy theory. If the Chinese state created this virus, covered up the leak, and then allowed airline passengers to seed it around the world, the consequences will be catastrophic. The year that China claimed ascendancy may prove to be its annus horribilis.

*Schumpeter believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its successes, that it would spawn a large intellectual class that made its living by attacking the very bourgeois system of private property and freedom so necessary for the intellectual class’s existence.  ‘Creative destruction’.