A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘china

[LINK] “Is this China’s Chernobyl moment?”

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Open Democracy’s Maria Repnikova describes how the contemporary Chinese response to the Tianjin explosion demonstrates the flexibility of the Chinese system, contrasted to the late Soviet respons eto Chernobyl.

[T]he Chinese authorities, while sometimes still treating information as a “ virus on the verge of infecting the masses,” now often treat crisis coverage as a potent tool to be deployed. For the past decade, Chinese authorities have refined a ‘contained transparency’ approach, focusing on guiding public opinion via selective censorship mixed with the selective dissemination of information and responsiveness to public grievances. Some media coverage is allowed, but reporting is restricted as much as possible to the official version of the Xinhua News Agency. Central officials make appearances at disaster sites and hold news conferences, albeit sometimes after a short delay, and the official press carries hopeful messages regarding disaster relief and top-level investigations. This was the approach to Tianjin.

Although censorship was pervasive after the blast, it was carefully targeted. Many critical posts were swept from the web, but many survived, even if only temporarily. Moreover, a number of traditional media platforms launched impressive investigations of the disaster, pushing the envelope of the official directive of Xinhua-only coverage. Topics they covered included the ownership structure of Ruihai, the high death toll among fire-fighters, and the links between Ruihai and the state-owned company Sinopec. These reports called, in different ways, for greater official accountability. The state’s willingness to allow these reports to circulate points to the intentionally incomplete nature of control, a sense that bounded bottom-up feedback can be helpful rather than harmful even in a state that prizes top-down control.

Finally, we are now seeing a burst of official responsiveness to public questioning and discontent. Top executives of the offending company have been detained, and the mayor of Tianjin publicly admitted responsibility for the scandal. This official responsiveness to the disaster, however, is being carefully managed to ensure that the central state can still be seen as a benevolent guardian, while the blame is placed squarely on local officials.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 27, 2015 at 7:44 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • blogTO notes that someone built a lego replica of Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood circa 1887.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the OSIRIS REx asteroid sample return mission’s launch.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on the HD 219134 planetary system, just nearby.
  • The Dragon’s Tales suggests nuclear fusion is getting measurably closer.
  • Joe. My. God. has more on the man who murdered a teenage girl at Jerusalem’s pride parade.
  • Language Hat notes the attitude of Jabotinsky towards the Hebrew language.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the mid-19th century convergence of anti-Communist and pro-slavery attitudes.
  • Marginal Revolution looks forward to an Uighur restaurant in Virginia.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw reflects on wool.
  • Torontoist reviews all of the terrible food available at the Canadian National Exhibition.
  • Towleroad reports testimony about the terrible fates facing gay men under ISIS rule.
  • Why I Love Toronto reports on the blogger’s exciting week.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the accidental release of Russia’s casualty information in the Ukrainian war, with two thousand dead.

[LINK] “In China, a ghost town points to shifting fortunes”

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The Washington Post‘s Simon Denyer looks at the Chinese rust belt. Northeastern China is in a bad state.

Giant skyscrapers tower unfinished and abandoned around a lake that forms the centerpiece of this new town. The wind blows through the empty hulk of what was supposed to be a multistory hotel and restaurant complex. A salesman insists that people have moved into one of the few housing complexes to be completed around the shore, but as dusk falls, only a handful of lights blink on. He offers to throw in a free car with every apartment purchased.

This is Shenfu New Town in the northeastern province of Liao­ning, built to handle the overflow from the once-booming industrial cities of Shenyang and Fushun.

“Build it and they will come,” the saying goes. But here, in China’s industrial heartland, people are leaving instead of coming.

For much of the past decade, this was China’s fastest-growing region, the home of the heavy industry that powered the nation’s rise and rode on the coattails of a construction boom unparalleled in history.

Today, China’s economy is undergoing a painful transition that has left heavy industry reeling and set investors’ nerves jangling. The stock market is crashing, and fears of an economic slowdown are spreading. In the real economy, nowhere is the brunt of that slowdown and the pain of that transition being felt as sharply as here in the northeast.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 26, 2015 at 7:37 pm

[LINK] “How Silver Wrecked China”

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Bloomberg View’s Stephen Mihm gives his readers a useful history lesson, looking at how US silver policy in the 1930s may have plunged China into Communism.

The Great Depression was a global crisis — almost. Every significant economy was devastated, with one notable exception: China. The reason was simple. In 1929, the U.S. and every other major nation pegged their currencies to gold. As the economic historian Barry Eichengreen has described, adherence to this standard punished countries by imposing “golden fetters” that led to crippling deflation. The fixed exchange rates of the gold standard helped transmit the monetary shocks around the world.

China, alone among the world’s major economies, operated under a silver standard in which the currency was pegged to a specific weight of that metal. This had the effect of allowing its currency to depreciate, and largely shielded it from the worst effects of the Great Depression. The economic historian Ramon Myers concluded that “China simply did not experience any national economic depression as the world depression deepened.”

As the Depression worsened in the early 1930s, the world’s biggest economies came off the gold standard, allowing them to expand their money supplies and stimulate demand. As plenty of scholars have observed, countries that did so recovered more quickly. The U.S. took the plunge in 1933, during the first year of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.

That was the first blow to the Chinese economy, ruining the competitive advantage it possessed when all other countries remained on the gold standard. As its currency began to appreciate, making its goods more expensive in world markets, its balance of payments turned negative, and imports exceeded exports. The worst was yet to come.

In the U.S., Senator Key Pittman of Nevada was hatching a plan that would prove the undoing of China. Pittman, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, professed to be concerned that China was stuck with a silver currency that had limited purchasing power in global markets. If Pittman could drive up the price of silver, he proclaimed, China would see its purchasing power increase, enabling it to purchase more goods from the U.S.. Both countries would benefit.

China did not.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 26, 2015 at 7:30 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • blogTO notes that this year, the Canadian National Exhibition will host more high-calorie culinary atrocities.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the final pass of Cassini around Saturn’s Dione.
  • Crooked Timber considers the opportunity costs of war.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at the war in Donbas.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw notes the Chinese-led revival of the Silk Road as a trans-Eurasian rail route from Poland.
  • Spacing describes the funiculars of Portugal.
  • Torontoist celebrates Summerworks.
  • Towleroad reports on Zachary Quinto’s arguments about safer sex techniques.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy advances an argument against immigration restrictions.
  • Why I Love Toronto shares more local Toronto craftsmakers.

[LINK] “Here’s How Brazil Is Giving Every Citizen Free Mobile Data”

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The title of Ian King and Christiana Sciaudone’s Bloomberg article is slightly misleading, in that the free data access being considered is limited in scope. This might well expand in the future, at least based on precedents elsewhere in the world.

Once considered the next great growth engine for the smartphone industry, Brazil is on the decline. With its economy shrinking and unemployment on the rise, many Brazilians are making do with dumb phones. They find the cost of an Internet-connected device prohibitive, particularly when they factor in mobile data fees.

One possible solution borrows from a technical breakthrough made by AT&T half a century ago. The Brazilian government is working with local companies and Qualcomm, the world’s largest mobile phone chipmaker, on a modern version of toll-free calling. A new 1-800 system for mobile data allows Brazilians to access their bank accounts for free on smartphones without incurring data costs. The government of São Paulo plans to extend free data services to some official websites by the end of the year.

Banco Bradesco, one of the country’s biggest banks, began exploring a free data program after observing that many customers had stopped using the company’s app and were switching back to such traditional banking services as phone calls and visits to the teller. A survey of those customers found that they couldn’t afford data plans and didn’t have access to Wi-Fi during work hours, when banks are open. Bradesco teamed up with technology giant Qualcomm, and together they spent a year negotiating with Brazil’s four main phone-service providers. The bank purchased data packages wholesale and started rolling out the program in 2014. Bradesco customers can check account balances, transfer money, and pay bills without buying a data plan. “The response was excellent,” says Mauricio Minas, a vice president at the bank.

[. . .]

Sponsored data has been tested in other emerging markets, with some success. Internet.org, a pet project of Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, provides free access to a limited group of websites—Facebook being one—in Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. Two of China’s largest mobile operators began offering one-day free access to Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace in 2013 to get people hooked on the shopping site and to encourage data use.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 18, 2015 at 9:05 pm

[LINK] “Japan Exports Its Way to Irrelevance”

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Bloomberg View’s William Pesek argues that Japan’s economic policies, relying as they do on export-driven growth, leave it at a disadvantage relative to–among others–China.

There’s a difference between bad economic news and the devastating variety that Japan received Monday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have been able to weather the second-quarter data showing a drop in Japanese consumption and a 1.6 percent decline in annualized growth. But it’s not clear his government can recover from the latest news about sputtering exports, which fell 4.4 percent from the previous quarter.

An export boom, after all, was the main thing Abenomics, the prime minister’s much-heralded revival program, had going for it. The yen’s 35 percent drop since late 2012 made Japanese goods cheaper, companies more profitable and Nikkei stocks more attractive. But China is spoiling the broader strategy. The economy of Japan’s biggest customer is slowing precipitously, which has imperiled earnings outlooks for Toyota, Sony, and trading houses like Mitsui.

But Abe needs to recognize, as China already has, that this is only the latest sign of a broader reality: Asia’s old export model of economic growth no longer works.

China’s devaluation last week raised fears of a return of the currency wars that devastated Asia in the late 1990s. That’s a reach, considering that exports are playing less and less of a role in China. McKinsey, for example, found that as far back as 2010, net exports were contributing only between 10 percent and 20 percent of Chinese gross domestic product. The services sector is growing in size and influence to rebalance the economy — not fast enough, perhaps, but change is nevertheless afoot.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 18, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Posted in Economics

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