The European Central Bank may have done too little, too late

Policymakers may not have gone far enough in staving off an economic downturn

Katie Martin in London


Monetary hawks have been up in arms ever since the European Central Bank unleashed its latest volley of monetary easing earlier this month. But the more pressing danger may be that policymakers have not gone far enough in staving off a potentially severe economic downturn, leaving those hawks shrieking into a void.

The euro took a lurch lower on Monday and government bonds sprang higher yet again, after research provider IHS Markit said the eurozone economy was “close to stalling”. A “deepening manufacturing recession” is running alongside a slowdown in the service sector, it said, based on its regular survey of business executives.

One shred of comfort was that IHS Markit’s combined purchasing managers’ index for the manufacturing and service sectors spat out a reading of 50.4 in September. That was down from August, but still a nose above the 50 line that points towards economic expansion rather than contraction.

The manufacturing-specific index, however, fell far beyond market expectations to 45.6, and the Germany-focused report was especially grim. There, the manufacturing PMI dropped to 41.4, the lowest since mid-2009. Phil Smith, principal economist at IHS Markit, summed up the manufacturing data as “simply awful”.

The German data were “dismal”, said Rosie Colthorpe, European economist at Oxford Economics. “The reading shows that the industrial sector continues to be hammered by the uncertain outlook. And the outlook does not look much brighter . . . [The] data clearly raises the risk of a German recession in the third quarter.”

This is music to the ears of those hoping to see new lows in the euro before the year is out. At under $1.10 on Monday, the currency is already close to that point.

With no small irony, this all coincides with more signs that dissenters are not backing down in their assault on the flagship policy of outgoing ECB president Mario Draghi, who hands over to Christine Lagarde at the end of October.

On Monday, Klaas Knot, the Dutch central bank president, described the ECB’s triple whammy of lower deposit rates, fresh bond purchases and tweaked lending operations as “disproportionate”. The debate on the governing council about this latest package had been “heated”, he said.

But the data on Monday serve to push that analysis further to the sidelines. They provided “some vindication for Mario Draghi’s decision to go out with a bang”, said Hugh Gimber, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “The task facing Christine Lagarde is a big one: slowing growth in an economy particularly vulnerable to global trade disputes, muted inflation expectations and limited policy headroom.”

If anything, the ECB is at risk of going down in history as having done too little too late — and failing in its vigorous efforts to convince politicians to play their part with fiscal policy.

Here Comes The Deluge Of Meaningless “Good News”

by
 
 
Today’s relief rally is brought to you by chastened US and Chinese trade negotiators who are now working on a “mini” trade deal that will apparently include a reduction in US tariffs in return for some minor Chinese concessions on things like mandatory joint venture partners for foreign companies wanting to set up shop in China. In other words, it’s a face-saving exercise.

Yet stocks are soaring as investors focus on the above while ignoring the potentially much bigger deal of last night’s missile attack on an Iranian oil tanker.

But wait, there’s more. The Fed just promised to start buying Treasury bills at the rate of $60 billion a month and will keep it up through mid-2020. Just don’t call it QE – though in every mathematical way it is exactly QE.

And Brexit, that thing you stopped paying attention to last year, is suddenly looking like a non-catastrophe. From today’s Wall Street Journal:
“Yesterday the Irish Taoiseach and the U.K. Prime Minister both saw – for the first time – a pathway to a deal,” said European Council President Donald Tusk during a news conference in Cyprus on Friday morning, using the Irish moniker for the leader. “I have received promising signals from the Taoiseach that a deal is still possible.”
On Friday, [UK Prime Minister] Johnson also sounded cautiously optimistic. “There is a joint feeling that there is a way forward that we can see a pathway to a deal” Mr. Johnson said to reporters.
What do these seemingly-unrelated pieces of modestly positive news have in common? They all indicate that policy makers have gotten the markets’ message, which is that easy money is mandatory and anything that gets in its way will be met with a financial meltdown.

It’s also worth noting that the markets’ ultimatum – and policymakers’ capitulation – are happening during a time of already extraordinarily easy money. Interest rates, of course, are at historically low levels (most sovereign bonds – including those of Greece – now trade with negative yields) and most major central banks are committed to even lower rates in the year ahead. In addition:

US government spending is rising twice as fast as tax revenues (7% versus 3.4% currently), which is another way of saying Washington is pumping hundreds of billions of new dollars into the economy each year. The Japanese central bank is talking about overshooting its inflation targets while both the outgoing and incoming heads of the European Central Bank are promising all kinds of exotic new QE to go with even more steeply negative rates. US corporate and student debt are both breaking records with each new update. The list of late cycle credit excesses just keeps going.

student loan debt good news


Yet this torrent of new credit isn’t enough to keep Germany out of recession (see German August export slump amplifies recession alarm), or the US from slowing down (see Second-quarter U.S. GDP left at 2%, slower economic growth seen persisting).

The implication?

The current batch of tepidly positive announcements will not do the trick and will therefore be followed by ever bigger and better ones, until easy money, massive government deficits, and soaring private sector credit stop working.

Then the only news that will matter is the fact that “good” news no longer matters.

Enchantment and Geopolitics

By George Friedman

The fundamental problem of geopolitical theory is simple: Why do soldiers choose to die for their country? Gen. George Patton famously told his troops that he didn’t want them to die for their country. He wanted the other poor bastards to die for theirs. He and his troops knew that as solicitous as Patton appeared to be of their health, many of them would die in the course of killing their enemy.

Thomas Hobbes wrote that the passion of men was to avoid pain and achieve pleasure. It is out of this concept that much of modern utilitarian philosophy arose. Utilitarianism argued for the greatest good for the greatest number. It never settled, from my point of view, why I should care about the happiness of the majority. Out of this came Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, who argued that the greatest good came from everyone selfishly pursuing their own ends. Smith was trying to square the circle, solving the problem that Hobbes posed (the passionate pursuit of one’s own pleasure) and that John Stuart Mill (the father of utilitarianism) argued for: the pursuit of the good of the many. Thus was born Smith’s economic man, feeling virtuous about being selfish.

If nations were simply economic systems, there might be some way to support this. But nations also go to war, and in war, the principles of passionate pursuit of pleasure or the selfish creation of the greatest good dissolve the logic of all of this. The avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure are subsumed in a universe in which death is common and the only alternative is killing. It is not the state of nature – the war of all against all – that Hobbes wanted to erase. It is a world where the nation exists but rejects the passionate pursuit of pleasure in place of something else: duty.

Duty grows out of the love of one’s own, a point I have made many times. It is the love of the things to which you were born, from which you derived language, faith, indeed your very self. It is the thing that you cannot escape and cannot imagine living without, regardless of your passing whims. But this is insufficient to explain duty. After all, your death in a war will savage those you were born to. You may be defending your own, but you are engaged in a vaster enterprise. Armies are impersonal entities, in which death is a mathematical abstraction, and in which whether a soldier lives or dies rarely makes any difference except as a decimal point in a vast equation. No one who has fought in a war believes his death will be decisive. Yet most soldiers in most armies fight nonetheless.

The duty we are speaking of is patriotism, and patriotism represents a vast entity, the nation, in which each soldier disappears into insignificance. The love of one’s own doesn’t easily translate into love of the nation. The principles on which the nation was founded are too abstract and distant from everyday life. The history they draw on is too old to bear meaning when a machine gun opens fire. Even your buddies, the men on whom you depend and whom you will love forever, are not enough to bind you to the vast enterprise of war. It gives you a tactical bond, but the meaning becomes apparent only later.

When you go to a cemetery to say farewell to someone you once loved, and hear the rifles report three times, and the bugler play taps, tears that were never there before come easily. Those mourning know that they have lost something of themselves but have lived the moments of their lives that really mattered. These were the moments that they could not bear to remember for a long time, and the moments at which things they did were the worst they could imagine. Only later, when taps plays, do they realize that the moment at which they did the worst was also the moment they did the best. They don’t think of it themselves. They instead recall every fear and every act of brutality they committed. They know they are lost, but they also know that the one who is being buried has redeemed them and everyone else, because he had been righteous and without fault. It is an enchanted moment, terrible and great, but a moment in which their memories permit them to forgive themselves.

We are now addressing enchantment in a very practical way. Enchantment begins with the fantasy of being a soldier, of being strong, of being brave, of belonging to the few who stand between your home and war’s desolation. It continues in remembrance. There is pride in coming out of basic training, in joining a unit going into combat, in living through the combat. Enchantment is like the owl of Minerva, the owl who spreads its wings at dusk. Enchantment is remembrance of things that never were.

This binds an army together, but what binds the soldier to his nation? Plato saw poetry as less than philosophy but essentially as political. Beauty was essential to being enchanted by the political. The poem tells the tale of a past that never was and tells the tale so beautifully that the citizen is seduced. Indeed, it is that tale that seduces him. In geopolitics, the glue that binds a nation together, and the nation to its warriors, is the poem.

One of the most poetic moments for an American soldier (my apologies to all sailors, airmen and Marines) is a piece of poetry, the oath millions have taken:

I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

It is an ugly piece of writing, I agree, but it takes a young man or woman and confronts them with the enormity of what they have become. They are no longer a child, and the love of their own has expanded dramatically to defending the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obeying the orders of the president and, through him, the American people. The one taking the oath never understands it in that moment. It is only after a long time that they understand what it says. But the moment they take it, they understand that they are no longer what they had been but something else, something mysterious, dangerous, with new loves and hates. They know this, and later discover that that moment brought enchantment to their life. But even before that, they realized that their life was no longer simply their own. They are seduced into sacrifice.

This is true in different ways in all countries. For me, there is little more moving than the Russian national anthem, which I urge you to listen to if you have never heard it. It is the song of our former enemy. But if you listen to it, you can understand why the Russians stood their ground at Stalingrad, when it was said there is no land behind the Don. The United States had better logistics and air superiority and owned the electromagnetic sphere. But we didn’t have this song and I always envied the Soviets and the Russians for their national anthem.

But it was never mine and never could be. I do not like our national anthem, but it is my anthem and when it plays in the appropriate time and place, I know that it is my song, a song about war, courage and defiance. I far prefer “America the Beautiful,” but I can envision the rockets bursting in air and the price that was paid for being an American.

Enchantment is the essence of the nation and therefore a foundation of geopolitics. Without enchantment, all that holds the nation together is interest, and interest can divide as easily as it can unite. A divided platoon is a dead platoon, except when drinking on Saturday night. A nation so divided by interest that it cannot find common ground is a nation that Lincoln spoke of. The poem that held the country together – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” – was also a poem that tore the country apart until one army crushed the other. And as powerful as the poem was, the two sides never quite forgave each other. For enchantment to work, it has to be the right poem for the right people. Still, for me, for all the faults I felt when I was young, and that I feel now in my country, it is a superb and enchanting poem.

And with this, it is time to take a break and turn to the other reality of geopolitics: the love of the ordinary.

Doug Casey on How to Profit from the Most Politically Incorrect Industry

by Doug Casey



International Man: What are your thoughts on the mining business?

Doug Casey: Gold mining was once an excellent business. For example, take the Homestake Mine in Deadwood, South Dakota, discovered in 1876, about the time of Custer’s Last Stand actually. After they went into production— selling shares in local saloons to raise capital—their dividend was something like 100% of the initial share price, per month. It was, as the phrase goes, "like having a gold mine." Today, however, a gold mine can be as much a liability as an asset. The world has changed since that phrase was coined.

Even though the technology was very primitive and inefficient in those days, labor costs were low.

You didn’t have to worry about environmental problems. There were no taxes on everything you earned. You didn’t have to pay mountains of money to lawyers. NGOs and native groups weren’t hanging around, looking to perform a shakedown. Today, you probably pay your lawyers more than you pay your geologists and engineers.

Gold mining is unfortunately no longer a business in which, like in the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, you can get a couple of guys, some picks, and mules and go out and find the mother lode. Now, it’s a large-scale, industrial earth-moving operation next to a chemical plant.

Worse, mining is now one of the most politically incorrect of all industries. The public hates it.

They think miners rape the land, displace native people, and burn up Mother Earth’s natural resources. And sometimes they do; development necessarily upsets some apple carts. But mining—believe it or not—is now usually more eco-friendly than most agriculture and a lot of manufacturing.

Not only that, but since people have looked for mineral deposits for thousands of years, the earth’s surface is pretty well picked over. Prospectors have been looking for valuable deposits basically forever, and the low-hanging fruit is gone. Remaining high-grade large-volume deposits are typically in unstable, undeveloped countries—places where you really don’t want to invest perhaps a billion dollars in an immovable asset.

Most so-called mining companies are really exploration companies. They usually have neither an asset nor a source of income. Instead, they spend money looking for viable deposits—which is quite literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. Finding some gold is one thing. Finding an economic deposit of gold is something else entirely.

And even if you do find an economic gold deposit, it’s exceptionally difficult to make money mining it. Most of your capital costs are upfront. The regulatory environment today is onerous in the extreme. Labor costs are far above what they used to be. It’s a really tough business.

International Man: How can the mining business be a terrible business to operate and invest in, while at the same time being an excellent place for speculations that can offer life-changing profits?

Doug Casey: I’m not sure how many thousands of gold mining stocks there are in the world today.

Let’s say about 2,000, though most of them are junk. If they have any gold, it’s mainly a word written on their stock certificates.

So why are we interested in this area? It’s because more than any other area, mining in general, and gold mining in particular, is driven by fear and greed.

Let’s say it costs $1,000 to mine an ounce of gold. If the price of gold drops to $900, you’re losing money hand over fist. If it’s at $1,100, you’re making a modest return. But if the price of gold rises by only 9%, from $1100 to $1,200, your profits double.

If the price of gold doubles, from $1,000 to $2,000, your profits go up at least tenfold. They don’t just double like the price of gold has. And of course, everybody hopes that their little company, which might have a market cap of a few million, will stumble on a deposit worth a few billion. Maybe your stock goes 100-to-1 or more. Unusual, but it happens.

International Man: Doug, you’ve been involved in the space for over 40 years and made huge profits. You’ve seen numerous market cycles. Where are we in the cycle right now?

Doug Casey: I think this is the end of a long bear market cycle that started in 2011.

Until recently some mining stocks were selling for less than the cash they had in the bank. So, you got the property, the technology, the management, all these things for free. That stage has past, but it’s unimportant. The big gains are still ahead.

Mining stocks have been poking their heads up above water now over the last year and have done quite well recently.

I’ve been in this business since Nixon devalued the dollar in 1971 and gold rose from $35. Since then there have been about five gold mining bull markets where the market as a whole for these stocks went up ten to one and then subsequently crashed about 95%. In other words, it went down more than it went up in all these cases. Right now, we’re once again at a cyclical bottom.

With all the money that’s been created by governments and central banks, and as cheap as these mining stocks are right now, the chances are excellent we’re going to have a gigantic bull market. Maybe the last one, since I expect the world is going back to using gold as money—at which point we’ll have a stable gold price.

In the meantime, I think mining stocks could go absolutely insane. The prices will have no relation to fundamentals, because everybody will want to own them.

Now’s the time to get into these stocks. It’s possible to make life-changing returns in them in the course of a 3–5-year cycle.

International Man: Recently, the price of gold broke through a 6-year trading range and has kept rising. What does this tell you?

Doug Casey: We’re in a new gold bull market. You’ve got to remember that gold’s last peak—actually this is true of most commodities—was back in 2011.

Over the last several years, they’ve bottomed, and now they’re headed up again. At least gold and silver are. The others—grains, tropicals, meats—will follow.

So, I’m very bullish and optimistic.

International Man: How are you positioned right now in the mining space? How do you sift through all the noise?

Doug Casey: Well, at this point you can throw a dart at a list of gold stocks and you’ll probably make money. That’s what happens in bull markets, but that’s certainly not the best way to do it.

Most of the investment letters that follow mining stocks seem to have gone out of business during the last bear market, but there are a few that I follow.

I used to make a trip to a mining project someplace in the world at least seven or eight times a year when I was doing this very actively.

I don’t do that so much anymore. Partially because I’ve been there and done that. The idea of crawling around hundreds of feet underground in dark, wet, cold tunnels, or helicoptering to mining camps in the middle of the jungle has less appeal for me than was once the case.

These were great adventures while I did it. But there are a few guys in the business who are competent and honest and still do that. I let them sort out the wheat from the chaff.

When possible I buy stocks in the form of private placements. That’s because, for the reasons I indicated earlier, mining companies are constantly raising money, at least while they’re in the exploration and development stage.

International Man: What are your thoughts on Marin Katusa?

Doug Casey: I’ve known Marin for 15 years. Over the years, I’ve known scores of guys in this business, and I think Marin is at the top of the pyramid.

The fact of the matter is that Marin is unique. He knows how a mine works, having actually built a successful mine himself. He understands the markets for the metals and the details of both exploring and producing. He has as good or better a grip on those things than anybody in the investment business today.

But equally important, Marin has the street smarts to size up the character of people who run these companies—which is absolutely critical. And he knows how to structure deals that are investor-friendly.

I pretty much reflexively buy all of the deals that Marin gets involved in.

Out with the Arab-style

China’s repression of Islam is spreading beyond Xinjiang

Millions more Muslims are being targeted by the Communist Party




AS DARKNESS BEGINS to settle on Duanjiaping village, a few men in white skullcaps head towards a large mosque. It is time for the Maghrib, the fourth of the five daily prayers of devout Muslims. It is clear even before they reach the building’s high yellow walls that all is not right. The prayer-hall’s four minarets, topped by golden crescent moons, are still a towering landmark. But they are covered in scaffolding and green netting (see picture), and they are not due for repair.

It is less than six years since hundreds of Muslim men gathered in the mosque’s courtyard to celebrate the completion of its new Arab-style prayer hall. It had cost 9.8m yuan ($1.37m)—a tidy sum in a county that is officially classified as impoverished. The festivities had official blessing. The imam of one of the most important mosques in Lanzhou, the provincial capital, was there. So too was a senior leader of the government-backed Islamic Association of China.




Much has changed. A chill political wind has been blowing over Duanjiaping and hundreds of other villages and towns in Linxia, a majority-Muslim prefecture in Gansu province, which borders on the Tibetan plateau and the far western region of Xinjiang. Many villages in Linxia have at least one mosque, with minarets visible far and wide.

The one with the scaffolding in Duanjiaping can accommodate 3,000 worshippers. Its grandeur is not unusual. In recent decades rural communities in Linxia—China’s “little Mecca”, as it is often called—have vied to outdo each other in mosque-building. Now the government is not only reining them in. It is tightening controls on their faith as well.

The horrors of China’s campaign against Islam in Xinjiang are well-known. About two years ago reports began to emerge of the building of a vast gulag there. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs have been thrown into it—many simply for seeming too pious. There are about 10m Uighurs in China. But they form only about half of the country’s Muslim population. Linxia is home to more than 1.1m Muslims mainly belonging to two ethnic groups: the Hui and the Dongxiang.

There are Muslim communities scattered widely across the rest of China (see map). Most are made up of Huis. Because of Xinjiang’s history of separatism and terrorism, Uighurs are suffering by far the harshest clampdown experienced by any of these Muslim groups. Outside Xinjiang, however, other believers are starting to feel the effects, too.




The government’s attitude towards Muslims in the interior began to change in 2016 after China’s leader, Xi Jinping, set out plans for the “sinicisation” of the country’s religions.

Christianity and Islam, having strong overseas connections, became the main targets. Officials set out to purge them of foreign influences deemed threatening to the Communist Party. In the case of Islam the aim was partly to prevent the spread of radicalism and with it, terrorism.

Among Muslims elsewhere in China, however, there have been no reports of terrorist links. The Huis were once China’s model Muslims, quite unlike the Uighurs in Xinjiang who have chafed at Chinese rule for decades. A few of them have occasionally used violence to vent their grievances. The Huis have no separatist ambitions or known terrorist connections. They claim descendancy from Arab and Persian traders who settled more than a millennium ago.

After centuries of intermarriage they have become ethnically assimilated with Han Chinese, who make up more than 90% of the population. Huis in Linxia have historically played an important role as middlemen in trade between Tibetan and Han communities. Many have grown rich by trading a Chinese medicine that is often used as an aphrodisiac, known as caterpillar fungus. It is harvested from the Tibetan hills. Linxia is home to one of the country’s biggest caterpillar-fungus wholesale markets; its traders are mostly Muslims.

But as the scaffolding in Duanjiaping shows, the government worries that Muslims in Linxia are absorbing the same influences from Islam abroad that it says have fuelled strife in Xinjiang. “Right now, work related to Islam is even more complicated than it has ever been before,” Gansu’s party chief, Lin Duo, told a meeting of senior officials in July last year.

Off with their domes

One aim of the sinicisation campaign is to reduce visible links between Islam in China and that in the Arab world. China fears that Saudi Arabia in particular—as much a draw to Muslim pilgrims in China as to those elsewhere—will poison Chinese Islam with Wahhabism, a puritanical strain that is often linked with extremism.

But its efforts to prevent this are affecting many Muslims who have no truck with militancy. In March officials in the southern city of Guangzhou announced rewards of up to 10,000 yuan for reporting on “illegal religious activities”, including organising private trips to Mecca. China’s Muslims can only join officially arranged ones.

The mosque in Duanjiaping is a casualty. Officials have ordered it to remove its Arab-style minarets and replace them with Chinese-looking ones. A picture of what the mosque will eventually look like is displayed in the entrance. The minarets will have green-tiled upturned eaves in Chinese style. The central bulbous dome will be replaced by a pavilion-like structure, also classically Chinese.

“The government says we have to do it, so we’re doing it,” says a caretaker. The work will not offend religious sensibilities and will be done at the government’s expense, he claims. That contrasts with reports from other places where similar work is being carried out. In a nearby town, Kangle, a nervous Hui man surveys another mosque with scaffolding on its minarets.

He says “trouble” broke out there a few days earlier when local religious-affairs officials ordered their demolition. They were erected in 2014. The following year the mosque was named a “model religious site” by Linxia’s government. No longer, it seems.

In August last year there was trouble on a much bigger scale in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, a province bordering on Gansu that is home to about one-fifth of China’s Hui people.

For three days thousands of Muslims in the town of Weizhou staged protests at a massive mosque—initially over a government order that the entire building be knocked down because it had not received planning permission, and subsequently over a revised proposal that only the domes be removed. Remarkably, the local government backed down. But it was clearly worried about the turmoil.

In November the party chief of Ningxia visited Xinjiang where he signed counter-terrorism “co-operation agreements”. He noted religious similarities between the two provinces and said, ominously: “That’s why Ningxia went to learn from Xinjiang.”

In Gansu the official Islamic Association has circulated 20 recommended designs for mosque roofs “with Chinese characteristics”. Officials say they want no more “Saudi-isation” or “Arab-isation” of buildings. The association has instructed Muslims to forsake the common practice of building or expanding mosques without government permission and to make them less “vast and extravagant”.

It has also tried to tighten its control over the religion itself. It has ordered Gansu’s teachers of Islam to reject any new doctrine from outsiders. “Anything that does not already exist at home should not be accepted from abroad,” said the association’s annual report, published in March. “If something does not exist locally then it should not be approved if it is introduced from elsewhere.”

Part of the sinicisation effort is called the “four-enter” campaign. This means ensuring that four things are introduced into every mosque: the Chinese flag, propaganda concerning China’s laws on religion, “core socialist values” and the country’s “outstanding traditional culture”. In Linxia, the impact is clear.

The flag flies over many mosques. Billboards proclaiming socialism’s importance to Islam fill their courtyards. Preachers have been being told to incorporate these values in their scriptural teachings. And they must undergo regular testing on such matters to retain their permits to teach.

Linxia’s party chief, Guo Heli, tried to put a positive spin on the clampdown during a visit to local mosques in June. “We must reduce the frequency, duration and scale of religious activities,” he said, suggesting this would “lessen the burden” on the faithful.

The authorities are also trying to reduce Islam’s influence in society. In Linxia this involves curbing the “proliferation” of the use of the term “halal”. Provincial officials have accused Linxia’s main city of “giving too much prominence to religious aspects” in its plans to expand the local halal-products industry.

As part of the de-Arabisation campaign, officials have ordered restaurants to stop using the word “halal” in Arabic on their signs, as many once commonly did. Only traces now remain.

On many Muslim restaurants across China, including recently in Beijing, such lettering has been painted over or prised out.

By changing the design of Duanjiaping’s mosque officials may hope to reduce Islam’s profile, just as officials on the coast have been trying to make Christianity less visible by removing hundreds of large crosses from the tops of churches. In line with regulations issued last year forbidding the building of mosques that are “overly tall”, the new minarets in Duanjiaping will be much lower. Mosques have also been ordered to install less-powerful loudspeakers. Officials have stepped up efforts to keep children out of them and bar minors from religious instruction.

The government’s controls over Islam are still relatively relaxed in Linxia compared with those in Xinjiang, where Muslims, if they are not thrown into “vocational training centres” (ie, prison camps), are subject to intense digital surveillance, a heavy police presence and intrusions into their homes by prying officials.

Many of Linxia’s mosques retain their Arab-style minarets (locals say they are cheaper to build than Chinese-style ones, which require skilled carpenters and expensive wood). Only a handful of mosques have so far been told to rebuild theirs, says a local Hui-culture expert. Extremism, he says, “has not become a trend” locally.

But the authorities insist it is spreading. In July the leader of a central-government inspection team said that in some parts of Gansu “religious extremist forces” were already “dominating and corroding” grassroots political bodies. This was, she said, “a problem worth attention”. Extremist is a word that trips lightly off officials’ tongues.

It is often used to describe behaviour that in many other countries would be regarded simply as devout. Muslims in the rest of China may not suffer the Uighurs’ terrible fate, but they have reason to be nervous.