Archive for the ‘Asia’ category

Is the “China Price” Over?

June 11, 2009

According to a BusinessWeek article, China has lost some of its competitive edge in manufacturing. When storage, transportation and supply disruption costs are factored in, there may be as little as a 5.5% cost difference between exporting machined goods from China and manufacturing them domestically in the U.S. The change is largely due to currency fluctuation and increased labor costs for manufacturing higher-tech items – the article points out that China still has a strong competitive advantage in toys and apparel.

More surprising, however, is that manufacturing auto parts and electrical switches in Mexico may now be 20% cheaper than in China. Even so, companies are unlikely to switch their entire supply chains over due to current investments and fears that the “yuan will drop like a stone,” making such a move both costly and futile.

But even aside from the obvious cost issues (and the article does not mention this), companies will eventually have to factor political stability more heavily in their sourcing decisions. There has been a considerable amount of grumbling over both Mexico’s violence and corruption and China’s “iffy” long-term economic prospects — the recent financial crisis has shown China the limitations of its resource-dependent, export-heavy model. China’s urban middle class comprises only a tiny minority of its population, and the bulk of the country’s people have yet to see much of the last 20 years of progress trickle down. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that Beijing’s biggest fear – a government-toppling peasant revolt – could become a reality if millions of people are left without even $1.26/hour manufacturing jobs to sustain them. And if Mexico’s reputed lawlessness continues unchecked, companies will continue to shy away even if cost-related aspects are beneficial.

Interestingly, this article only explores Mexico as a potential sourcing option. India immediately comes to mind as a leader for U.S. manufacturing contracts, should the obvious choices become less and less attractive. In fact, India has already overtaken China in certain areas of skilled manufacturing.

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Korea Launches Own Version of “Peace Corps”

May 8, 2009

It wasn’t so long ago that Korea was a host country to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. In fact, during my time living in Korea, I ran into several individuals who remember their encounters with Peace Corps volunteers including the volunteer’s name, age at the time they were in Korea and hometown. It was really quite touching to hear former students (some of them now government officials) recalling their Peace Corps teachers back when the program was in operation from 1966 to 1981.

But times have changed now.

Over the past few decades, Korea has gone from being a country with a GDP per capita comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia to “a member of the trillion dollar club of world economies.” [CIA World Factbook]

It is now a high-tech, developed nation with a democratically elected government. It is also a country with it’s own version of the U.S. Peace Corps.

The government launched a group of volunteers Thursday to strengthen its goodwill activities in underdeveloped or developing countries around the world in an effort to become a more responsible member of the international community.The group, named World Friends Korea, is the country’s version of the Peace Corps in the United States, launched in 1961 to promote peace and friendship worldwide, officials here said.

About 2,000 volunteers belong to the Korean body, but the membership will grow to over 3,000 by the end of the year, according to a spokesman from the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. Currently, the U.S. is the only country that sends more than 3,000 volunteers abroad annually. [Korea Times]

While I am a little wary of the “branding” efforts the government hopes will result from this program (Korea Times: “Chairman Euh Yoon-dae of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding hoped such efforts will help Korea become a respected and beloved nation”), I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for Koreans to give and assist people in need througout the world and to exchange cultural understanding. This is incredibly significant considering where Korea was just decades ago.

So my contragulations goes out to Korea for developing the country’s own version of Peace Corps. And the best of luck to the nation’s new World Friends Korea volunteers.

How Citizen Journalists in Mongolia are Saving the Environment Using New Media

May 6, 2009

Climate changes in Mongolia are not only threatening the country’s environment, they are also threatening a way of life for Mongolian nomads. Over the decades, seasonal winds have resulted in the desertification of 41% of the country as the nation’s grasslands gradually turn into dust and sand. Poor land management and unsuitable farming practices have also contributed to the problem and as a result, nomadic herdsmen have fewer available grazing plots for their livestock, causing a population migration from rural areas into the cities as families are forced to abandon their nomadic ways of life.

Unfortunately, the problem is not contained to Mongolia/China’s Inner Mongolia as the sand storms also affect cities in China, Korea and Japan. (Yours truly has had the lovely experience of enduring the “yellow dust storms” which frequent Korea every spring.)

The problem is so severe, that increased awareness is needed in the hopes that desertification can be stopped, or at least slowed. In an effort to address the growing concerns surrounding the fate of Mongolia’s land, a Rising Voices grantee, Nomad Green, is working to train citizen journalists in the use of new media in order to spread awareness about the country’s environmental crisis. Through the use of blogs, podcasts, videos and mapping mashups, participants will be better equipped in reaching a broader audience as part of their awareness campaigns.

Click here for the project’s blog and here for more information Nomad Green’s work through the Rising Voices grant program.

Why Do Celebrities Ignore North Korea?

April 24, 2009

I admit, this could be a blessing in disguise, but the question remains.

Is North Korea just not sexy enough? Do stars not want to be affiliated with propping up the Kim Jong Il regime? (I could foresee the North Korean propaganda that would result from Bono holding a charity concert in NYC or Pyongyang for that matter. Of course, the Dear Leader himself is known to be an admirer of many things coming from Hollywood.) Or does the lack of transparency just make it not worth the effort? And if that’s the case, what’s not stopping celebrities from donating their statuses to the victims of other corrupt governments?

When I was growing up, we were told as kids to eat all the food on our plates because children were starving in Ethiopia (this was in the 1980s). These days, parents might as well tell their sons and daughters to eat all their veggies as there are kids dying of hunger in North Korea. Unfortunately, there are kids dying of starvation in many countries and as a result, emphasis or awareness on North Korea’s humanitarian disaster loses out to other nations also struggling with malnourishment.

But this goes back to my original question: What dictates, in the world of stardom, why one country receives attention and another does not? (more…)

BBC’s “Develop or Die” Debate

April 20, 2009

Earlier this year, BBC ran a series on sustainable development titled “Develop or Die.” I have compiled the two-part program focusing on Asia after having found the clips on YouTube.

My thoughts: While there is some finger-pointing toward the West (especially the U.S.), there is recognition that each country needs to take responsibility as well, especially in encouraging sustainable innovations within their own borders. That is an important recognition, although there probably always will be finger-pointing to some extent.

As per the YouTube description:

A debate from BBC series “Develop or Die” on the challenges facing Asian countries in their need to develop further while at the same time facing the need to do so sustainably and in an ecologically friendly way. Discussing options, alternatives, challenges and advantages of sustainable development. Recorded from BBC News on 22.02.2009.

The Question of Cambodia

April 13, 2009

Cambodia girl, originally uploaded by dæxus.

Some of you may have noticed that Cambodia has been making headlines in the news recently. Here’s the reason why: About a month ago, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) issued a report titled “Manning the Barricades” which predicted which countries are most likely to experience social unrest due to the current global financial crisis. In its list ranking the top countries at risk, the EIU put Cambodia in fourth place – tied with Sudan. Needless to say, it was a position the Cambodian government strongly contested, but one the EIU has politely defended.

All this serves as the backdrop for more alarming news which we heard over the weekend: A “devastating” food and oil crisis has forced 50% of Cambodia’s households to to cut back on food, and the recession in Cambodia’s major export markets is expected to have a heavy toll on women and children.

“Women will be disproportionally affected by this crisis. They make up the bulk of the labour force, and they are the backbone of this economy. We know that when women’s incomes are lost, the whole family suffers, especially the children,” cautions UN Resident Coordinator, Douglas Broderick.

All this leads to a much broader discussion.

Despite the fact that parts of the country are making progress since the signing of the 1993 Constitution which allowed for a framework of democracy and social development, “more than 30 percent of the population is still living in extreme poverty.”

Together with corruption and continued human rights violations – especially the increasing forced evictions and land grabbing under the so-called development claims – there is little hope that Cambodia can move out of poverty. Thus the question arises: For whom is the Cambodian government attempting to achieve its development goals?

To no surprise, the article cited above faults the Cambodia government for failure of the country to lift itself out of poverty despite progress being made. For one thing, there is a gross lack of transparency on the government’s part and a blatant abuse of human rights, as detailed in the piece.

Unfortunately, the combination of a non-transparent government and the current financial situation doesn’t leave much hope for Cambodia and potentially serves as the tinder needed to spark an even bigger mess.

The UN fears many poor families will adopt “unhealthy” coping measures such as reducing their number of meals per day or eating less nutritious foods, cutting back on health services, removing children from school to work, and selling household assets or land. This concern is supported by the 2008 National Anthropometric Nutrition Survey, which showed an increase in acute malnutrition in poor urban children aged under five years – linked to higher food prices and reduced earnings among the urban poor.

Add to that the fact that poverty makes children and women more vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking and it seems that there is much about Cambodia’s situation that causes reason for concern.

Traveling the World to Help Children in Need

April 6, 2009

Cleft Lip Before (Chongqing), originally uploaded by interplast.

Cleft lip and palate is a birth defect caused when the tissues of the mouth or lips fail to form properly during fetal development. While doctors don’t know what causes this defect, they suspect it “may be a combination of genetic (inherited) and environmental factors (such as certain drugs, illnesses, and the use of alcohol or tobacco while a woman is pregnant).”

According to KidsHealth.org:

Kids with a cleft lip or palate tend to be more susceptible to middle ear fluid collections, hearing loss, and speech defects. Dental problems — such as missing, extra, malformed, or displaced teeth, and cavities — also are common in kids born with cleft palate.

For unknown reasons, the condition is most often seen in children of Asian, Latino, or Native American descent.

Luckily, this is a curable disease, and thanks to medical exchanges involving teams of volunteer physicians who travel the world donating their skills to children in need of treatment, kids from around the globe are receiving the care they need.

One such medical exchange group is detailing their work on the Love Without Boundaries Blog where they are now in China preparing to carryout numerous surgeries for the patients at Fudan University.

You can read about their first day in country here.

H/T to SharonGilor (Twitter ID: expatguide) of the Expats Moving and Relocation Guide.