Next stop: Barking
Jan 13, 2017 (WiC 351)

Barking was recently named the worst place to live in the UK, according to property news portal Rightmove. The London borough derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Berecingas’, meaning a settlement of birch trees, but it is also speculated the name morphed to Barking owing to a lunatic asylum being added to a medieval abbey, and hence the phrase ‘barking mad’.

The reason for this lengthy preamble is that Barking is the latest destination for a Chinese train – specifically a new freight service from Yiwu, a city famed for its wholesale market. WiC has reported before on the Chinese trains heading for Europe, which have journey times roughly half those of ships and are suitable for moving higher-value goods (such as computer parts). The first UK-bound train left Yiwu on January 2, tugging 200 containers of clothes and household goods. The 12,000km journey will take 12 days and according to Forbes this latest leg of the new Silk Road will “symbolically usher in a new stage in China-UK relations”.

On the contrary, the Financial Times last weekend stated that the “golden age” of Sino-British relations was coming to an end after its brief flowering during the Cameron-Obsorne years. It cited frostier relations with Theresa May’s government – with a Chinese financier telling the FT there were no plans for a second Chinese government bond issuance in London to cement its status as a global renminbi centre.

As to the economics of the new Barking-Yiwu train, WiC wonders what goods from the UK could fill the return route to China? Whisky, Burberry raincoats and fading Premiership footballers could be candidates…

Keeping it Real
Jan 6, 2017 (WiC 350)

Cristiano Ronaldo is said to have been the subject of a blockbuster bid from an undisclosed team from the Chinese Super League that offered Real Madrid €300 million ($315 million) for the Portuguese striker. He would have earned €100 million per season if club and player had accepted the deal.

The flow of foreign talent to China showed no sign of abating in December after Chelsea sold Oscar to Shanghai SIPG for £60 million ($73.8 million), and Shanghai Shenhua paid £72 million to Boca Juniors for Carlos Tevez, reports the Guardian (with Boca having to refund 60% if Tevez leaves within a year). Both players will be on stratospheric wages, with Argentine media reporting that Tevez will earn $78.4 million over two years – about 20 times his previous salary.

Ronaldo doesn’t seem tempted by the millions on offer. “China is a new market which could buy some players. But for Cristiano it’s impossible… Money is not everything in life,” his agent Jorge Mendes reassured. Mendes is not short of a buck himself, mind you, as the dealmaker extraordinaire for a number of the world’s best players.

Even the referees want to get their piece of the Chinese pie, it seems, after Mark Clattenberg of the English Premier League was asked if he would try his luck if he got the chance. “There is no offer on the table but if they made an offer it would be under consideration,” was the hopeful response.

Back in China the riches being lavished on international players are now generating media alarm. “The sum of Rmb4.1 billion has been invested by the 16 Chinese Super League clubs in 2016 and more than 80% has been used to pay foreign coaches and players,” the People’s Daily complained. “Many clubs’ budgets on foreign players are over two-thirds of their entire expenses. In the meantime, the youth system and infrastructure is not receiving enough funding.”

The Plough at Shanghai
Dec 9, 2016 (WiC 349)

The locals at the Plough at Cadsden have had to get used to the bar filling up with Chinese tourists seeking out fish and chips and English ale. The reason is that it was the pub that hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping last October, when the then UK leader David Cameron took him to his local and Xi ordered just those things. The event was broadcast on China’s national TV news, and showed Xi talking with some of the Plough’s regulars and knocking back two pints of Greene King’s India Pale Ale with considerable ease. (Sales of that beer surged in China as a consequence.)

The establishment’s landlord has called it “the most famous pub in the world” and according to the Morning Advertiser, it has become “an attraction for Chinese tourists”. And this week Xi’s visit was to have even bigger consequences for the pub, with Christie’s brokering its sale to Chinese investors. Its new owner is SinoFortune Investment which plans to export the “English pub concept” to China and open replica Ploughs in major cities. It may be onto something. As we noted in issue 346, Chinese drinkers have been turning away from mass-produced local lagers to more premium foreign brews – much like the stuff on tap at the Plough.

WiC has a suggestion: now that he’s out of a job, maybe SinoFortune could hire Cameron to take on the role of chirpy publican at the ‘Plough at Shanghai’.