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There are many rituals that accompany a political leader’s trip abroad. Lots of set-piece, camera-ready events; masses of meetings with handshakes; and then the transactions — all those big-ticket trade deals that are there to be announced as evidence to voters back home that it has been a worthwhile endeavour. Theresa May’s visit to China this week stuck to the script. The UK prime minister returned home on Friday touting billions of pounds of deals. Very much the entrepreneurial “global Britain” that will flourish post-Brexit.
If only, says Isabel Hilton. In an opinion piece, the editor of China Dialogue argues that the trip actually brought little advantage to the prime minister. British exporters and investors keen to access the Chinese market came away with few real benefits — unless you count a promise to remove a ban on British beef that dates back to the UK’s BSE outbreak 30 years ago. Elsewhere, there are tensions. Beijing wants Britain to give a blanket endorsement for its Belt and Road Initiative — which Mrs May has so far resisted.
Isabel argues that the trip reflects a harsh reality: the Chinese leadership is well aware of how weak Mrs May is back home and that Beijing holds the stronger hand. “If Britain is needy now, [President Xi] knows it will be needier later,” she writes. “China can afford to wait.” The “golden era” in Anglo-Chinese relations so confidently proclaimed by Mrs May’s predecessor as prime minister, David Cameron, and his chancellor, George Osborne, is looking tarnished.
Doctor tech: Is the lumbering US healthcare system immune to tech disruption? Richard Waters believes that we may soon get an answer following this week's news that Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway are teaming up to go into the healthcare business. The sector is an obvious target given its spiralling costs and the persistently sub-par health outcomes it delivers. Tech companies see it as an attractive opportunity to deploy the power of algorithms and apps. But, says Richard, "it will take something more than today’s freewheeling data economy to deliver on this promise." Trust will be a big issue.
Closing the gap: For eight years Marcus Ryder was a manager at the BBC. In a powerful opinion piece he explains his role in the gender pay gap that has become a crisis for the broadcaster. From his experience part of the reason lay in budgetary constraints, part of it was due to structural factors as teams and staffing changed. None of this is acceptable. The way forward, he writes, is transparency and honesty — especially from those managers, men and women, who have been complicit in maintaining a flawed system.
Slow thinking: Monmouth Coffee is one the great successes of London's artisanal food and drink scene. Queues often stretch far out the door. But for Tim Harford it is a case study in the curious way good ideas spread. The business has been going for 40 years, plenty of time for imitators to mirror its profitable model. Yet few have bothered to try. For many companies, Tim writes, "The status quo is comfortable, especially for the people who get to call the shots." Put another way, it actually takes a while for good ideas to percolate.
Whales awailing? Wikie the killer whale from the Marineland Aquarium in Antibes made headlines around the world this week when it emerged that she could "speak". Our fascination with the chatty mammal is understandable, says Pilita Clark. Humans love to believe they can communicate with animals. But Pilita remains sceptical. How much is just wishful thinking? "The true significance of the Wikie study is that it underlines the continuing depths of our ignorance about animals," she writes.
Best of the week
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The dangers of digital democracy by Rana Foroohar
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Cloning breakthrough heralds China’s scientific rise by Anjana Ahuja
America rejects the world it made by Gideon Rachman
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Trump’s words are disconnected from his actions by Edward Luce
Saudi Arabia’s ‘normalisation’ baffles global business by Roula Khalaf
UK defence minister tries a pre-emptive strike over his life story by Robert Shrimsley
Uncomfortable questions for Merkel’s Germany by Frederick Studemann
Jamie Dimon and the dangers of staying too long at the helm by Patrick Jenkins
What you've been saying
There is a well-known saying: “Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”. In many Eastern European countries (not just Hungary and Poland), despite the poor performances of populist parties in power, liberal-oriented parties have failed to re-acquire credibility among voters. Western commentators often dismiss this trend as the inevitable result of dark forces (nationalism and populism) that somehow prevail in the minds of gullible eastern European voters. This is a convenient way of neglecting the legacy of the first two decades following the end of communism in Europe. Until liberal political forces come to terms with it, they are unlikely to reacquire any political credibility among voters.
Comment by Little Briton on Beijing plays its advantage to press Theresa May on trade
The nature of Britain’s exports is the major reason for our low sales to China. Germany exports four times as much to China as we do. That is mainly because China needs German machine tools, advanced industrial equipment and cars. They apparently do not believe they need our services. Brexit is very unlikely to change that, however many trade deals we sign.
Charities are right to look into the source of funds — letter by Tim Wilson in response to The fig leaf of charity can no longer excuse sleaze
Merryn Somerset Webb argues for a cap on the total number of charities operating under the supervision of the Charity Commission. She recommends 2,000, which would effectively de-register 95 per cent of the current list. Trying to cover the resultant gaps through vast “super charities” would require attempts to address themes as diverse as the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, the delivery of food banks and the support of older people in the early stages of dementia who can still live independently. Try shaking that tin for the non-profit Serco and see how keenly the public gives!
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FT View: Theresa May’s wavering does no favours in Brexit talks It makes sense to keep the UK in a customs union for trade in goods
FT View: Whisper it, Germany can afford higher inflation There is limited evidence of overheating, despite the streak of growth
The Big Read
The Big Read: ‘Crypto crazy’ Japanese mystified by virtual heist The $500m theft of XEM coins by an anonymous hacker is threatening the country’s faith in cryptocurrencies