13 October, 2005

hu are you?

This should be included in a China Economic Roundup, which AsiaPundit hopes to resume soon, but the Economist article noted by Mark Thoma very much relates to the incident in Taishi and is worth reading now for context.:

China’s leaders may finally be readying themselves for a change in the mercantilist, growth-at-any-cost model that has prevailed for decades. The Communist Party leaders’ annual meeting on economic policy ended on Tuesday with word of a strategic shift: from now on, there will be more emphasis on redressing the inequality and social disruption that market reforms have left in their wake. The most immediate worry for China’s leaders is social unrest. Last year, the government documented more than 70,000 demonstrations, attended by some 3m protesters. … It needs the export sector to continue booming, in order to absorb surplus labour from the countryside and moribund state-owned companies. But it is aware that the rapid growth of recent years has opened fractures that could grow even wider.

… details are sketchy, it seems improbable that China’s move towards more balanced economic growth will be anything like the kind of radical leap that foreign observers would like. There are some brands of wealth redistribution that would make foreign investors very jittery, such as higher taxes. Hu Jintao, China’s president, is still consolidating power; even if he had a radical vision of a China less dependent on the cravings of the American consumer, it would have to wait until his command of the party was firmer. More importantly, it would have to wait until Chinese consumers became sufficiently confident in the social safety-net and the provision of affordable health care and education that they were willing to save less and spend more. … And though the rising tide of China’s economy undoubtedly has the power to lift all boats, there are worrying rigidities in the system, caused by the under-development of its financial system and the fact that economic reform has not been accompanied by political reform. Officials rightly fret that further economic changes could undermine the stability of the party’s rule. Amid all the talk of addressing the wealth gap, the party’s plenum reiterated a commitment to rapid growth by restating a goal of raising China’s GDP to double its 2000 level by 2010…

While China could use a more egalitarian system of wealth distribution to support a consumer culture and domestic demand, AsiaPundit is concerned that Hu Jintao’s attempts to bring this about will be through a tightening of central planning rather than a loosening.

One of the reasons China is suffering from unequal wealth distribution is because the state still holds far too many of the economic levers (i.e., 66% of domestically listed companies are state-held and private ownership of land does not exist). Part of the reason wealth is not distributed equally is because, as in many third-world countries, power is held by a political elite and not a meritocracy.

This has been changing, especially in coastal cities such as my home in Shanghai, but when you move outward and inland the disparities worsen. I cannot think of any way the problem can be easily solved. A punitive ‘wealth’ tax that upsets the newly ‘rich’ would possibly be more politically risky than allowing the dissatisfaction among the rural poor to fester. An angry and over-taxed Shanghai or Hangzhou could be far more attention grabbing than the beating of any peasant activist.

The Jiang Zimen/Zhu Rongji tag-team wasn’t perfect, not by a long-shot, but I’m concerned that the Hu/Wen Jiabao team may be damaging for China. This is not a comment on politics - neither Jiang/Zhu nor Hu/Wen are or were democratic reformers - but the former, in terms of both rhetoric and action, seems a less-interventionist and more-reformist team economically.

Private wealth and a relatively more-equal system of wealth distribution exists in the cities because it has been allowed to. There is no government policy enforcing it. In the villages and towns, wealth is often concentrated because it is not permitted to be distributed beyond those who head the CPC ’s fiefdoms in those areas.

I have some hope that central government figures realize this. Some government people I have met have been more market oriented than many US Republicans I have encountered (though the latter are running double deficits and sponsoring protectionist bills in Congress, so that shouldn’t be surprising).

While I would testify that the central bank is far more market-oriented than the NDRC, factions in ministries are easier to spot than the thoughts of those at the top. I’m not really sure where Hu’s economic influences lie.

A while back, on the basis of an unsourced item, I expressed some hope that Hu would reverse a mistake of Jiang. Today, I’m worried that he will make it worse.

As the economist said, “it seems improbable that China’s move towards more balanced economic growth will be anything like the kind of radical leap that foreign observers would like.”


AsiaPundit, a foreign observer, awaits the next five-year plan.

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by @ 10:13 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Economy, Northeast Asia, Economic roundup

pre-christian noodles

Forget century eggs, forget the CPP’s claims to have invented soccer and the flush toilet… Again via Boing Boing, the New Scientist endorses a far more believable claim, that an Asian nation invented noodles.:

 Data Images Ns Cms Mg18825212.800 Mg18825212.800-1 650

Who invented the noodle is a hotly contested topic - with the Chinese, Italians and Arabs all staking a claim.

But the discovery of a pot of thin yellow noodles preserved for 4000 years in Yellow river silt may have tipped the bowl in China’s favour. It suggests that people were eating noodles at least 1000 years earlier than previously thought, and many centuries before such dishes were documented in Europe.

“These are undoubtedly the oldest noodles ever found,” says Houyuan Lu at China’s Institute of Geology and Geophysics in Beijing. His team found the noodles buried 3 metres deep in flood-plain sediment at Lajia in north-eastern China after lifting out an upturned bowl. The “spaghetti-like” noodles, up to 50 centimetres long, sat atop a mound of silt which had sealed them in the bowl following a major earthquake and flood.

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by @ 9:33 pm. Filed under Food and Drink, China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

myanmar/burma net filtering

China, with its shed loads of foreign reserves and booming economy, can afford to buy expensive technologies to keep its netizens in the dark. It naturally offends my libertarian sensibilities that it chooses to do so. But for Burma/Myanmar spend its limited cash on net-censoring technologies is not only offensive in terms of liberty, it strikes me as deeply wrong economically. (link via Boing Boing):

Myanmar “employs one of the most restrictive regimes of Internet filtering worldwide that we have studied,” said Ronald J. Deibert, a principal investigator for the OpenNet Initiative and the director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto.

Myanmar now joins several nations, including China, Iran and Singapore, in relying on Western software and hardware to accomplish their goals, Mr. Deibert said.

Microsoft, Cisco and Yahoo, for example, have all come under fire recently for providing technology or otherwise cooperating with the Chinese government to enable it to monitor and censor Internet use.

I would argue with the reporter that Singapore, unlike China and Iran, does not rely heavily on technology to limit Internet freedom. The number of sites the city state blocks is limited to a handful of symbolic targets such as Playboy. Singapore authorities exercise control via good-old-fashioned libel law and the sedition act.

With its periodic bans of blog-hosting sites, the free and democratic South Korea is much more guilty of blocking websites than Singapore.

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by @ 8:56 pm. Filed under South Korea, Blogs, Singapore, China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Myanmar/Burma, Southeast Asia, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Censorship

ox knee, chicken embryos and fish crap

Shanghai-based Michael Ohlsson has started a great but - pardon my cultural relativism - totally gross new food blog: WeirdMeat.com. Since its conception, Michael reviews regional delicacies North Korean ox knee plus Philippine cuisine such as chicken embryo in shell and fish crap noodles

Yesterday I did lunch at a food court in midtown Cebu City, Philippines. There’s about 8 Filipino food counters with a wide selection of fast foods. Next to the Pizza Hut counter was Sugbahan Food Counter and that’s where I got to try two bizarre seaweeds. In between these seaweeds was another green thing that looked like Japanese "green tea" cold soba noodles. You’ve probably seen those thin green noodles. But these turned out to be something other than soba. I asked the ladies behind the counter what each of these items were, but they were lazy and annoyed with my obviously silly and tedious questions. They just nodded and yawned when I asked if the green noodle things were noodles or not. So I just ate some as a side dish to the other weird stuff I had here. They tasted and acted like any other noodle.

But later that night … I stumbled upon a remarkable and life-changing moment of truth about these innocuous green noodle wanna-be’s. A truth that will go down as one of the most memorable weird meat moments….

 Uploaded Images Fish Shit2-708435 Uploaded Images Fish Shit1-785191After several confirmations with the staff, we concluded these were definitely fish feces. These "green noodles" are actually fish poop! …

… It’s called "Lokot" in the local language, so now you know how to ask for it. I never dreamed of eating fish sh!t, but in the name of weird meat research, we soon had a plate of this crap and another bucket of beer. Besides, I’d already eaten it for lunch and thought it was fine.

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by @ 8:31 pm. Filed under Food and Drink, Blogs, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Philippines, Weblogs, North Korea

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