Wednesday, April 8, 2015

China's War on Golf

Last week, the Chinese Central government began a crackdown on golf by shutting down 66 "illegal" golf courses, which is 10% of the nation's fairways.  While  Beijing has be officially forbidden the construction of new golf courses since 1984, they have proliferated in the PRC. Between 2004 and 2009, 400 new golf courses were created despite the ban (tripling the number of links). But as the Chinese maxim goes, the mountain is high and the emperor is far away.

Aside from being good for generating yuan for their communities by catering to elites, foreign tourism and sparking ancillary business opportunities, golf courses were a great way to gain graft.
The local officials would line their pockets from the construction (as they expropriate peasants' land and profit from the sale to the golf industry) and they are can be surreptitiously sanctioned as being "ecological restorations".  How conveniently corrupt.

The day after the golf course crackdown occurred, a Commerce Ministry official was investigated (effectively being found guilty) for participating in a golf event, which violated one of Chinese President Xi Jinping's eight rules against extravagance by government officials. From a political perspective, it makes sense for a fledgling government to embrace the game.

Despite the burgeoning number of golf courses in China, it is considered "the millionaires game". Mao Zedong banned golf in 1949 as bourgeois "green opium".  Today, a round of golf can cost $150, in a nation where the average daily salary is $5. So it still remains "the rich man's game".

From a political perspective, it makes sense for a fledgling government not to be seen embracing the game of golf.  Gordon Chang has been warning for years that the Chinese economy is on a precipice and a severe world financial downturn which results in a weak demand for cheap Chinese labor could spark a downfall in the current polity in Beijing.  So a public crackdown from the Beijing government  on golf appeals to the have nots to  quell any clamoring for revolution while President Xi Jinping re-establishes central control over wayward provincial politicos engaged in crony capitalism.

Yet it is unlikely that China's War on Golf will actually forbid the game.  Beijing has been spending serious capital on grooming a team to qualify for the Rio de Jainero Olympics in 2016.  It's a tension between domestic tranquility and international glory.

Dan Washburn, the author of  "The Forbidden Game" (2014) considers Chinese Golf to be apt allegory for the corruption, land grabs, environmental issues and escalating economic disparity that have become hallmarks of New China.

Washburn is ambivalent as to what will result from the war on golf.  Washburn's metric is how the seized fairways are used in five years. Considering China's dismal track record on environmental issues, it is dubious if the seized courses will end up as actual "ecological restorations".

Will they be re-appropriated like the Shanghai Golf and Country Club in Hongqoai Park, which was converted into the Shanghai Zoo in 1954?  Or will the seized courses go the way of Wonderland, a Chinese rip off of Disneyland, which is rotting away due to lack of business and uncertain legalities.  China has a series of ghost cities, which are colossal waste of investment that temporarily pump up the GDP and esteem of a local official while saddling the area with a white elephant and a mountain of debt.

h/t: Dan Washburn 

Post Scriptus 04/10/2016: The Communist Party in China has now declared that teeing off is no longer a crime in China

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