Hot to trot: China and the world in the Year of the Horse
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia. Born in Brazil, he's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Washington, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Even before 9/11 he specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central and East Asia, with an emphasis on Big Power geopolitics and energy wars. He is the author of 'Globalistan' (Nimble Books, 2007), 'Red Zone Blues' (Nimble Books, 2007), 'Obama does Globalistan' (Nimble Books, 2009) and a contributing editor for a number of other books, including the upcoming 'Crossroads of Leadership: Globalization and the New American Century in the Obama Presidency' (Routledge). When not on the road, he alternates between Sao Paulo, New York, London, Bangkok and Hong Kong.
No wonder the number one portal and search engine in China, Baidu, came up with a spectacular map, refreshed every eight (lucky) hours, pinpointing the most popular departure and arrival cities and the most congested itineraries.
The Chinese zodiac, as we (but not jihad-spewing Wahhabi preachers) all know, assigns an animal – real or mythological - to every year. The horse – widely considered very auspicious - is seventh in the list, preceded by the snake and followed by the goat.
China, as we also know, is in a hurry to become the largest economic power in the world. The word ‘immediately’, in Mandarin, is pronounced as ma shang, which means ‘on horseback’.
Thus, all across China and the global Chinese diaspora, the most popular Year of the Horse greetings are photos of cash, a house and a car, all on horseback. That means, literally, a wish for the recipient to get hold of lots of dough, buy a house, and buy a car. Immediately, of course.
Now imagine 1.3 billion Chinese furiously galloping towards affluence, many at the same time. With a little help from gambling in Macau.
Yet it won’t be such a fairytale (and ecological disaster). A China Daily editorial admitted that “there’s plenty to complain about,” listing everything from “urban dwellers about haze” and “rural residents about arbitrary land acquisitions,” with special emphasis on “corruption, injustice, income gaps and food safety.”
A catalogue of ills plaguing still fast-developing China which won’t be magically solved by an auspicious horse.
A key source to decipher what might happen in the Year of the Horse is a feng shui (wind-water) master. All across Asia – and a few Western enclaves - multitudes adjust their lives based on feng shui to achieve the right balance between metal, wood, water, fire and earth, and reap maximum luck and material benefits. The problem is each master usually comes with his own interpretation.
This is a Year of the Wooden Horse. Wood is easily combustible. So that will translate into a lot of scandal and conflict.
Feng shui masters from Hong Kong to mainland China are talking about a hot - literally - 2014, with temperatures melting people’s brains and a propensity towards earthquakes and volcano eruptions. All that because the earth will be ‘irritated’ by a lot of fire, and because the Wooden Horse is easily combustible. Japan and China, as well as Indonesia, are in the danger zone.
But it’s in geopolitics that the Year of the Horse may portend some serious trouble. The immediate configuration is in the South China Sea, with the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands – that is, the possibility of a hot war, however contained, between China and Japan. Even possible dates are on the radar: February, May or August 2014. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even telegraphed the chance of war during the Davos talkfest.
The US and European Union economies may somehow pull through towards a recovery, while Southeast Asia and South Asia will be turbulent. That’s an extrapolation of current trends in emerging markets after the Fed started tweaking with quantitative easing.
There are no feng shui alarms regarding Russia; that would imply a smooth Olympics at Sochi and President Putin solidifying his mastery of geopolitical chess.
2014 may be very tricky for US President Barack Obama – born in the Year of the Ox in 1961. That would come in the form of “obstacles to cutting through political red tape,” according to Hong Kong feng shui master Chow Hon-ming.
This implies hell between the Obama administration and Republicans in the Beltway; not only in terms of Obamacare, minimum wage and a new immigration policy, but also what is the key geopolitical story of 2014; the possibility of a definitive nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 – which is essentially the story of a possible détente between Washington and Tehran.
Some feng shui master must urgently examine the chart of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – who is bound to face as many internal ‘obstacles’ as Obama.
If we look back in history, the previous Year of the Wooden Horse was 1954. Then, both the US and the USSR were testing nuclear bombs. We all know how it developed; the MAD (‘mutual assured destruction’) meme throughout the Cold War, up to 1989. Talk about turbulence.
1954 was also the year of Dien Bien Phu, when Vietnam defeated France – an auspicious victory of the former ‘Third World’ against neocolonialism - just to have, years later, the exceptionalist (and napalm-heavy) Empire to deal with.
So what the world needs in 2014 is perhaps a Trojan horse. A horse that looks like it’s wooden, but in fact is made out of an un-combustible material. Just like the Terminator.
Kung Hei Fat Choy!
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.