The news earlier this month that three bottles of Château Lafite, from the 1869 vintage, had sold at auction in Hong Kong for £437,900 gives a new meaning to the “China price”. This phrase usually means the lowest price – reflecting the competitiveness of Chinese manufacturers. But there is also a “China price” at the top end of the market, as rich Chinese bid up the price of rare, luxury goods to levels that make western rivals go pale and slink out of the auction room.
The “revelations” in the latest download from WikiLeaks strike me as surprisingly dull. You would have thought that, in 250,000 pages of diplomatic cables, there would be insights that were a bit more startling than the suggestions that Angela Merkel is cautious, Silvio Berlusconi is vain, Nicolas Sarkozy is thin-skinned and David Cameron is a bit of a lightweight. Tell me something, I didn’t know.
It may be that, as people trawl through the data, they come across something genuinely interesting. For the moment, however, the only thing that made me raise even half an eyebrow was the suggestion that the Saudis and the other Gulf Arabs are pushing the Americans to bomb Iran. The Israelis have been saying that this is the Saudi position for ages – but, hitherto, I’ve always taken that with a pinch of salt, since it is obviously in Israel’s interests to make that case. So it is a bit surprising to find out that the Saudis really do seem to want a strike on Iran. Read more
Yesterday, I had a rather sad conversation with a friend in Portugal. The country has just had to force through another austerity budget; and fears are mounting that it will be next in line for an EU bail-out. “We should never have entered the euro”, my friend lamented. “Everything went downhill from there. For us and for everyone.”
Until recently, it was extremely hard to find members of the Portuguese business and political elite who would entertain such thoughts. I remember visiting the country in late 2002, and writing a gloomy column for The Economist which made the argument that the euro was working out very badly for Portugal. I recieved a courteous welcome in Lisbon. But I think they dismissed what I had to say as the ramblings of a Eurosceptic Brit. Read more
In this week’s podcast: We look at Ireland and its four-year austerity plan announced yesterday and as the euro plunges further we discuss the impact of the Irish debt crisis on Portugal and Spain. But we start this week’s show in Asia and the unprovoked attacks on South Korea by North Korea. Read more
Britain’s Conservative Party promised to restrict immigration during the last election campaign. But the policies they unveiled this week are pointless and self-defeating. At a time when Britain should be doing everything it can to help private business, the government is deliberately setting out to make things harder by imposing an arbitary cap on the number of skilled migrants who can come into the country to work.
The people the government are seeking to exclude are not poor foreigners who will compete with unskilled workers, or who will sit around on the dole. These are talented people with job offers, who will help British businesses to grow and who will pay taxes in Britain and spend their salaries here. And yet the government is intent on cutting their numbers. Read more
By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent
You can understand why the latest flare-up of tension in the Korean peninsula has left Barack Obama none too happy.
Obama has had a pretty poor November so far, what with historic reverses in the midterm elections and a wretched G20 in Seoul where, rather than rallying the rest of the world against China’s currency policy, he found himself at the receiving end of several countries’ strictures about the Fed’s attempts to reflate the stumbling US economy. Read more
North Korea has launched an artillery barrage against a South Korean island, killing two servicemen and seriously injuring more than a dozen troops and civilians, in a dangerous escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.
South Korea returned artillery fire after North Korea on Tuesday unleashed a hail of 200 shells on Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea.
“Tell me how this ends,” was the question posed by General David Petraeus about the Iraq war. European leaders are asking the same question as they contemplate the crisis in the eurozone.
Having failed to construct a firebreak in Greece, the Europeans are hoping that they can stop the euro crisis in Ireland. But, even as an Irish rescue package is put together, the bond markets are already looking with unhealthy interest at Portugal. After Portugal, Spain is assumed to be next. And, if a really big economy such as Spain needed to call the financial fire brigade, the whole future of the euro would be in serious peril.
I hadn’t fully taken on board the American right’s demonisation of George Soros, until I attended a Republican Party rally in Nevada last month. I asked one of the women organising it whether she was one of those people who believe that Obama was not born in America. “Oh no”, she said, “but I think he’s controlled by foreigners.” Like who, I asked. “George Soros”, was the reply.
Now a new level of Soros hatred has been reached with a long attack on the billionaire financier on Fox Television by Glenn Beck, who is probably now the most powerful right-wing pundit in the United States. Watch it here. It’s staggering. Read more
Audio Ireland, Berlusconi, food prices
In the podcast this week: We ask whether the resignation of four officials earlier this week marks the end of the Berlusconi era; we look at the results of the Food and Agriculture Organization food outlook report about rising prices and what this means for emerging markets and we ask what is the future for Ireland as it teeters on the edge of accepting a bailout loan from the EU and the IMF.