Posts Tagged ‘China’

General Motors pivots toward China

March 6, 2014

This video, which has been making the rounds of the Internet for nearly two years, is deeply flawed, as well as possibly out of date.  But the producer, whoever he is, makes a good point.  The managements of General Motors and other big corporations headquartered in the United States are not especially American in their orientation.  They go wherever profit takes them.

I remember reading about some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, fantasizing about the possibility of creating their own nation on an uninhabited island, free of annoyance by the pesky U.S. government and American public.

This is not the case with the management of Chinese corporations.  They are closely aligned with the Chinese government and the goal of making China a rich and powerful nation.  This makes for an unbalanced relationship.

There are many economic reasons, including cheap labor, for U.S. companies to manufacture in China.  One of the reasons is that China is now the world’s largest market for automobiles, and no car manufacturer can afford to ignore the Chinese market.  And the Chinese government, like the governments of many other countries, does not allow foreign companies to sell products in their country unless they have local manufacturing content, and, more importantly, they share their manufacturing know-how.

When I reported on Eastman Kodak Co. and Xerox Corp. for the Rochester, N.Y., newspaper in the 1980s and 1990s, corporate executives explained that this was the reason they set up manufacturing plants in Mexico, Japan and other countries.

The government of the United States, which is the OPEC of consumption, was in a better position than any other to impose such requirements.  But this was not done.

The U.S. government operated under the theory that unrestricted free trade was best for everybody, and if other governments were so foolish as to hurt themselves by restricting trade, that was a problem for them, not for us.

The problem with such arguments is that when manufacturing goes away, the skills and knowledge needed to make things – the so-called human capital – goes away with them.

Instead of the U.S. government imposing domestic content requirements on foreign manufacturers, some of our state governments offer them economic incentives, tax abatements and an anti-union legislation.

To be clear, I don’t think government policy is the only reason, or even the main reason, why auto companies operate where they do, or whether they succeed or fail.  But it is a fact that the governments of most other industrial countries are pro-active in promoting domestic industry.  The U.S. government doesn’t take an interest in the success of its manufacturers until they are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Hat tip to Don Montana for the video.

The passing scene: Headlines & links 11/22/13

November 22, 2013

China Tests First Combat Stealth Drone by Agence France Presse.

PROC Says No Longer in China’s Interest to Increase Reserves by Bloomberg News.

The Chinese government is developing its military technology and increasing military spending.  At the same time the Peoples Bank of China announced it will no longer increase its dollar reserves, which was done to hold down the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan.  This means U.S. imports from China will cost more in dollars.  This may mean that China intends to reduce its holdings in U.S. Treasury Bonds, since their value would be less in terms of Chinese money.  China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.

Turkey pushes crossroads politics by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to make Turkey the crossroads between Europe and Asia for oil and gas pipelines.  This means keeping in the good graces of the governments of Iran and Iraq.

Ukraine Won’t Sign EU Agreement by Michael Kelley for Business Insider.

By rejecting an invitation to join the European Union and instead joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the government of Ukraine has decided to align itself with Russia rather than the West.

Japan’s Losing Battle Against ‘Goldman Sachs With Guns’ by Willliam Pesek for Bloomberg News.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

The Yakuza, Japan’s crime syndicate, operates opening and controls a large and growing part of the Japanese economy.

UN surveillance resolution goes ahead despite attempts to dilute language by Ewen MacAskill and James Ball for The Guardian.

The United Nations General Assembly is ready to go ahead with a strong resolution condemning unlawful and arbitrary surveillance and asserting a basic right of privacy, despite efforts by the U.S., British and Australian delegations to water it down.  Those three nations, plus Canada and New Zealand, are part of the “five eyes” to share surveillance data.

Hamid Karzai urges Afghans to let US forces stay another decade by Emma Graham-Harrison for The Guardian.

United States gives Afghanistan year-end deadline for crucial security deal by Hamid Shalizi and Jessica Donati for Reuters.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

As the old proverb goes, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.

How long can China be a “one child” nation?

November 18, 2013

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When I was a boy, I read in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not newspaper feature that if all the people of China marched four abreast past a given point, they would march forever—because the population of China was increasing faster than the population of China could march.

china.one.child.policyFor the past 30 years the Chinese People’s Republic forbid most couples to have more than one child.  This slowed Chinese population growth and, if continued, would cause China’s population to level off and decline.  While this lessens the likelihood that China’s population will overshoot its economic resources, this policy comes at a high cost.

Now there are signs that China’s government is reconsidering this policy.  This matters to the whole world, not just to China, because its estimated 1.4 billion people are about one-fifth of the human race.

Besides the violation of human rights involved in forced abortions, the one-child policy had resulted in an aging population that must be supported by a dwindling Chinese work force.  It’s true that this is the situation in many countries, including the USA, but it is made more extreme by China’s population policy.

China has a surplus of young men over young women, because traditional Chinese families value male babies over female babies.   Then there is the so-called 4-2-1 problem, in which couples must help two sets of aging parents, but have only one child to help them in their old age.

China historically has been more populous than India, but India is now catching up.  India’s population is an estimated 1.3 billion, and may well overtake China’s.   Does this put China at a military and economic disadvantage?  Bertrand Russell once said that disarmament treaties among nations should include provisions for limiting population growth.  This is fanciful, but points to a real problem.

The Chinese government does allow exceptions to the one-child policy—including parents of twins, certain minority groups, foreigners, residents of Hong Kong, and rural families, who are allowed to have a second child if the first child is a girl.

Recently the government allowed another exceptionCouples had been permitted two children if both of them were only children themselves; now two children are allowed if just one of them is an only child.  The change affects an estimated 30 million women of child-bearing age.   China’s population is about 1.4 billion, so the policy affects a relatively small number.  The question is whether it means further changes are coming.

Demographers observe that when nations achieve a certain level of prosperity, population growth levels off, as parents decide their family’s future is better with a couple of well-education, successful children than with many poor children.  There is no way to say when or whether this would have happened in China, or whether it would have come soon enough to bring China’s population into line with its resources.

I would not wish to live under China’s government, but I respect China’s leaders for facing up to the reality of their situation and taking action.   They face hard choices.  I hope they decide correctly, both for the sake of the Chinese and the world.

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What Americans can learn from Chinese sages

November 10, 2013

Michael Puett’s course on Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory is the third most popular undergraduate course at Harvard University, behind only Introduction to Economics and Introduction to Computer Science.  Christine Gross-Loh wrote in The Atlantic about some of the insights the students gain.

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The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications.  Confucius, Mencius, and other Chinese philosophers taught that the most mundane actions can have a ripple effect, and Puett urges his students to become more self-aware, to notice how even the most quotidian acts—holding open the door for someone, smiling at the grocery clerk—change the course of the day by affecting how we feel.

Grossloh_ChinesePhilosophy_PostThat rush of good feeling that comes after a daily run, the inspiring conversation with a good friend, or the momentary flash of anger that arises when someone cuts in front of us in line—what could they have to do with big life matters? 

Everything, actually.  From a Chinese philosophical point of view, these small daily experiences provide us endless opportunities to understand ourselves. When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are that helps us when approaching new situations.

Mencius, a late Confucian thinker (4th century B.C.E.), taught that if you cultivate your better nature in these small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence, altering your own life as well as that of those around you, until finally “you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand.” (more…)

Glimpses of Asia: the new, the old, the strange

November 5, 2013

The world is so full of a number of things
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
==Robert Louis Stevenson

Refrigerator delivery to base camp on Everest

Refrigerator for Everest base camp

This collection of links, most of which I got from an American e-mail pen pal who lives in Asia, is a reminder that, despite all the awful things that happen, I live in a world that is so damn interesting.  

Inside Japan’s ‘Suicide Forest’

Gender bending in Japan

Countries within Nations.  The combined populations of China and India exceed the populations of North and South America plus western Europe.  Chinese provinces and Indian states are comparable to well-known sovereign nations, and are becoming increasingly independent.  This article includes interactive maps, on which you can click on an individual province or state and see which country it equals in population.

Chinese man finally meets his Internet crush—and she’s his daughter-in-law.

A festival of eagles in Mongolia

Kim Jong Un’s Luxurious ‘Seven-Star’ Lifestyle Of Yachts, Booze And Food

The highly unusual company behind Sriracha, the world’s coolest hot sauce.  I love Vietnamese hot sauce.

Sriracha chili sauce company under fire for spicing up air around factory. The City of Irwindale filed lawsuit after residents surrounding the California factory complained of burning eyes and headaches.

The Chile Pepper Institute.   Chile peppers originated in the New World, but they’ve become so much a part of the cuisine of many Asian countries that you wouldn’t think so.

The Weirdest and Most Revolting Foods That You Could Actually Eat.  Most of these are from Asia.

Malaysia court rules non-Muslims cannot use ‘Allah

Best places to retire abroad. These include Chiang Mai in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Singapore Laws. Travelers beware.

Trick or Treat – A look at Indonesia’s horrifying masked monkey trade.

Anoman fight with the dragon Java.   A painter’s beautiful works based on traditional Javanese stories.

De-stressss with a snake massage.

Bizarre, hilarious, disgusting Thai bracelets from a bracelet vendor at the night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Thailand racism row reignited by Unilever ad for skin-whitening cream.

Kitchen of the Golden Temple.  This sacred shrine in India feeds up to 100,000 people a day regardless of race, religion and class.

Burka Avenger Episode 01 (w/ English Subtitles).  The Burka Avenger is a children’s cartoon show produced in Pakistan.

Obama’s Worst Pakistan Nightmare

Saudi comedian mocks ban on women driving with viral video

I don’t draw any bottom-line conclusion from all this, except an awareness of how limited my knowledge is, and a reminder to beware of sweeping generalizations about others nations and civilizations.

Glimpses of Asia: the good, the bad, the odd

November 5, 2013

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The world scene: Notes & links 10/30/13

October 30, 2013

The World’s Billionaires List in Forbes

Billionaires: Decline of the West, Rise of the Rest by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh for Triple Crisis.

Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s billionaires indicates there are still more billionaires in the United States than in any other country, but the rest of the world is catching up.  China has the second largest number of billionaires and Russia has the third, followed by Germany, India, Brazil and Turkey.

The new list reflects the growth of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China)  relative to the United States, western Europe and Japan.   Broad and Cavanagh wrote that it also reflects growing inequality throughout the world.  The world’s richest man, Carlos Slim of Mexico, has a net worth of $73 billion, equal to 6.2 percent of Mexico’s GDP.  The third richest is Amacio Ortega, the Spanish retail king, who accumulated a fortune of $57 billion in a country where a fourth of the work force are unemployed.  If you’re wondering, the world’s second richest billionaire is Bill Gates and the fourth richest is Warren Buffett.

The Most Important Labor Strike in the World Is Happening Right Now by David Callahan for Common Dreams.

Millions of workers across Indonesia are on strike, demanding a higher minimum wage (it is now about $200 a month) and a universal health plan.  This is important for U.S. workers because Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation in the world after China, India and the United States, is a giant sweatshop which helps depress wages worldwide.

The sooner Indonesia follows the path of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and develops a sizable middle class, the better not only for Indonesia, but for the United States, because Indonesia will become more of a potential market for U.S.-made goods and less of a magnet for how-wage employers.   Labor unions historically have helped bring wage-earners into the middle class.

Will the House of Saud pivot to China? by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times

Turkey’s Choice: Chinese Missile Defense or NATO? by Semih Idiz for Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse.

The Turkish government is negotiating to obtain a missile defense system from the Chinese Precision Machinery Import and Export Company, which also supplies military technology to Syria, Iran and North Korea.  The Turks said the Chinese bid is lower and offers technology transfer withheld by Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and other western bidders.  This is another example of the fact that China is now a global power, and not a regional east Asian power.

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Big Brother scene: Links & comments 10/23/13

October 23, 2013

The United States is not a totalitarian country, but there are all-too-many Americans with a totalitarian mentality.

The US government’s secrecy problem just got worse by Elizabeth Goiten for Al Jazeera America.

A federal judge ruled that the U.S. government is justified in keeping information secret when its disclosure could be used as propaganda by terrorist organizations.  In other words, the worse the crime committed by the government, the more reason to keep it secret from the public.

In the long run, the best defense against anti-American propaganda is not to commit crimes and abuses of power.  This decision goes the other way.  It gives the government the legal right to enforce coverups.

We already know that the government classifies information as secret in order to cover up mistakes and wrongdoing.  This court decision says that the government has a legal right to do this.

Why I Will Never, Ever, Go Back to the United States by Niels Gerson Lohman.

A Dutch novelist describes his experience trying to cross from Canada into the United States—hours of questioning about his life followed by a determination that he should be barred from the USA because he had visited too many majority-Muslim countries.

Many foreigners report that the experience of entering the United States is much like entering the old Soviet Union before it fell.  Aside from the wrongness of giving low-level government employees such arbitrary power, is this the face that we Americans want to present to the world?

Authors Accept Censors’ Rules to Sell in China by Andrew Jacobs for the New York Times.

The Chinese government demands the right to censor and alter books by Americans before it will allow them to be translated and published in China.  Many (but not all) American authors go along with this for the sake of royalties in the huge Chinese market.

Support for Legalizing Marijuana Grows to Highest Point Ever in Gallup Poll by Ariel Edwards-Levy for the Huffington Post.

Gallup reported that 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.  The war on drugs does great harm, especially to young black men in U.S. cities.  But there is a vested interest for continuing in the prison industry and especially among police departments that get income from property seizures in drug cases.

 

Who holds the U.S. government’s IOUs?

October 14, 2013

gov_debt_v-624

We like to say that the U.S. government is financed by borrowing from China.  That’s either a metaphor or an exaggeration.  Most of the U.S. government debt is owed to Americans and much of it to government trust funds, but it is true that if Chinese and other foreign investors decided U.S. Treasury bonds were a bad investment, financing the U.S. government would become a lot harder.

Click on Federal Debt Basics by the Government Accountability Office and What a U.S. Default Would Mean for Pensions, China and Social Security by NPR’s Planet Money for an explanation of the chart.

Since the Federal Reserve Board holds $2.1 trillion worth of Treasury bonds, Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson argued that the debt crisis could be postponed if the Fed simply forgave this debt or suspended collecting interest payments.  Click on Bernanke Could End the Debt Limit Crisis for Grayson’s argument.

I think this would work.   I think it would set a bad precedent.   I think it might be worth risking the bad precedent, but I’m pretty sure that the Federal Reserve Board thinks differently.

News from Asia: Links & comments 10/14/13

October 13, 2013

World Action Now on Fukushima by Harvey Wasserman for Common Dreams

Radioactive Bluefin Tuna Caught Off the California Coast by Ann Werner for the Malibu Sharkbytes blog.  Hat tip to Mike Connelly for both these links.

The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the 2011 earthquake is still a danger not just to Japan and neighboring countries, but to the world.  The first link is to a video by nuclear journalist Harvey Wasserman, explaining the danger involved in removing damaged nuclear fuel rods.  It is like lifting 660-pound cigarettes from a crumpled pack, and hoping not to leak any tobacco.

But the rods can’t be left in place because the plant continues to leak radioactive water.  Bluefin tuna caught off California have traces of radioactive cesium, an element that does not occur in nature but only as part of nuclear reactions.  Cesium, however, is excreted from the body.  Much more dangerous is radioactive strontium, also present in the fuel rods, which accumulates in the bones.

Wasserman is circulating an on-line petition calling for the UN International Atomic Energy Agency to take over removal of the spent fuel rods.

Report: Chinese University Students Forced to Manufacture Playstation 4 in Foxconn plant by Eric Kain for Forbes.   Hat tip to “B Psycho” of Pyschopolitik.

Report: Chinese students forced to make PS4 for Foxconn by Samit Sarkar for Polygon.

In many Communist countries, high school and college students were required to put in compulsory labor on harvests and other necessary tasks.  Compulsory labor evidently is still a part of China’s Communist capitalism.

A Chinese newspaper reported that more than 1,000 students at Xi’an Technological University were required to put in two months work for Foxconn, the giant Chinese manufacturer of electronics components, as a condition to graduate.  It was called an internship, although students said they were not employed in their fields of study.  They were paid $262 a month, the same as other workers.

As “B Psycho” said, if there is a labor shortage, why not offer higher wages?

Chiang Mai locals shocked by ‘rude’ Chinese tourists by Amy Li for the South China Morning Post.

Manners lost in translation by the Bangkok Post.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz for both these links.

Millions of rich Chinese tourists visit Thailand each year, giving a boost to the country’s economy.  But the tourists aren’t always culturally sensitive, as indicated by these two newspaper articles about the behavior of Chinese tourists in Chiang Mai, a northern Thai city that was the scene of a popular Chinese movie comedy, “Lost in Thailand.”

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy? by Christine Gross-Loh for the Atlantic.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz.

Prof. Michael Pruett’s course in Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory is the third most popular undergraduate course at Harvard University, behind only Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science.

The classical Chinese philosophers teach the importance of good habits, self-awareness and the little things of life, and the unities of head and heart and of mind and body.  Some students say these teachings changed their lives.

The previous articles show that the Chinese don’t necessarily live up to the best values of their culture and traditions.  Then again, you could say the same of us Americans.


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