Chinese TV viewers got a truncated version of Barack Obama's inaugural address yesterday thanks to some skittish censors at the country state-run TV network:
The news channel of state broadcaster China Central Television broadcast the speech live early Wednesday local time, but appeared caught off-guard by Obama's reference to how earlier generations of Americans had "faced down fascism and communism."
The audio quickly faded out from Obama's speech and cameras cut back to the studio anchor, who seemed flustered for a second before turning to ask a U.S.-based CCTV reporter what challenges the president faces in turning around the economy.
Here's video of the cutaway from the invaluable Danwei.org:
Xinhua's Chinese translation of the speech also ommitted the reference to Communism as well as the section where Obama said that "those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history."
So much for "unclenching your fist."
If you're looking for job security, you probably don’t want to run for prime minister of Japan. Prime Minister Taro Aso’s government is once again under
threat, following former Japanese minister Yoshimi Watanabe’s resignation from
the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has governed
Ever since 2006,
The legacy of Junichiro Koizumi, who served as
"Koizumi was committed to serious, structural reforms, and no other Prime Minister has made that sort of connection with the Japanese public," the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons told me.
The good news is that
Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images
Predictably, Israel's continued assault in Gaza has led to renewed calls to boycott Israeli products. Everyone has a right to express their political views any way they see fit, but it's safe to say that some proposed boycotts are less productive than others.
More than 2,000 restaurants in Malaysia have removed coca-cola because of the United States' support of Israel. The Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association has also pushed for boycotts of Starbucks, Colgate, McDonald's and Maybelline in order "to protest Zionist cruelty."
Coca-Cola is a particularly odd target since it's bottled and sold locally by a Malaysian-owned company, so the activists are really just hurting their own country's economy. (I remember from college that students campaigning for a campus boycott against "killer coke's" Latin American business practices faced the same problem.) It's also ironic given that the company was once criticized as anti-Semitic because of its reluctance to break an Arab League boycott by selling coke in Israel.
The Malaysian boycott seems pretty pointless, but it's not nearly as sinister as one Italian labor union's call to boycott "shops in central Rome linked to the Israelite community." To his credit, Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno, an ex-fascist who hasn't always had the best relations with Italy's Jewish community, quickly condemned the campaign as reminiscent of 1930s race laws. If only the Italian right was so quick to object when other groups are victimized.
A table-tennis match on Jan. 7 in Beijing marked the 30-year anniversary of the establishment of normalized diplomatic relations between China and the United States on Jan. 1, 1979. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, center left, and China's Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya, center right, attended.
In April 1971, China invited the U.S. table-tennis team to visit in what Time magazine called "the ping heard round the world." One of the Americans was then 15-year-old Judy Bochenski Hoarfrost, right, who returned today to play veteran Chinese player Qi Baoxiang, left. The 1971 visit launched an era of "Ping-Pong diplomacy," and according to Time, "Probably never before in history has a sport been used so effectively as a tool of international diplomacy." Obviously, with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it hasn't been the only time China has used sports to try to improve its image.
The Year of the Ox starts Jan. 26. An "ox," according to Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th edition), is "esp., a castrated, domesticated bull (Bos taurus), used as a draft animal."
The year of the castrated bull seems appropriate given our expectations for 2009.
But some are still hoping for a virily bullish year in the stock markets. South Korea's Financial Services Commission chairman, Jun Kwang-Woo, second right, adorns a bull with a crown of flowers to celebrate the 2009 opening of the stock market at the Korea Exchange (KRX) in Seoul on Jan. 2.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Tokyo Stock Exchange seem to have the ox theme down. Kimono-clad women and a cuddly, cartoon-like ox celebrate the first day of 2009 trading today, Jan. 5.
An undersea cable near Egypt in the Mediterranean was cut today, disrupting Internet access for millions:
The main damage through is to the four submarine cables running across the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal.
It is thought that 65% of traffic to India was down, while services to Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Taiwan and Pakistan have also been severely affected.
The cause of the cut is unknown though there was some seismic activity recorded near Malta. This certainly seems like a pretty serious story:
Jonathan Wright - director of wholesale products at Interoute which manages part of the optical fibre network - told the BBC that the effects of the break would be felt for many days.
"This will grind economies to a halt for a short space of time," he said "If you look at, say, local financial markets who trade with European and US markets, the speed at which they get live data will be compromised." [...]
"We've lost three out of four lines. If the fourth cable breaks, we're looking at a total blackout in the Middle East," said Mr Wright."These three circuits account for 90% of the traffic and we're going to see more international phone calls dropping and a huge degradation in the quality of local internet,"
If financial transactions as far away as Singapore were really blocked by a minor undersea earthquake near Malta, it's a pretty sobering reminder of the fragile physical ties that make our virtual world possible.
Via Japan Probe, a Hilton in Osaka is offering guests a chance to use the yen's rise against the dollar to their advantage. The price in yen "$80 party" package fluctuates daily based on exchange rates. So if you reserve a party, expecting the value of the dollar to stay low, you can get a pretty good deal.
Here's what you get for your money (in Japanese):
This month marks the 30-year anniversary of economic reforms launched by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping that have turned China today into one of the most powerful countries in the world. In late 1991, the New York Times reported that Deng told China's Economic Daily:
In the end, convincing those who do not believe in socialism will depend on our nation's development. If we can reach a comfortable standard of living by the end of this century [the 20th], then that will wake them up a bit. And in the next century [the 21th], when we as a socialist country join the middle ranks of the developed nations, that will help to convince them. Most of these people will genuinely see that they were mistaken.
Fast-forward to 2008: China has been doing astoundingly well, but people in developed countries aren't exactly admitting to being mistaken about socialism. Rather, "communist" China has learned how to play the capitalist game -- well.
To see a timeline of China's economic advances during the past three decades, check out FP's latest photo essay, "China's 30 Years of Economic Overdrive."
AFP/Getty Images, China Photos/Getty Images
Around 25 people commit suicide every year by jumping from Japan's scenic Tojinbo cliffs. Alarmed by this statistic, local citizens have formed an organization to conduct "suicide patrols" along the seashore, to talk the would-be jumpers down. In November alone they saved six lives, according to Mainichi Shimbun.
In a sign of the times, four of the six were recently laid-off temporary workers.
Photo: Flickr user Simbon
Looking for a safe harbor to park your cash? Invest in Korean ramen. Bloomberg:
[South Korea's] economic woes are helping sales of instant noodles called "ramyeon," which typically cost about 68 cents a pot. Sales rose 38 percent in October compared with the same period last year, according to the 24-hour convenience store chain FamilyMart. Shares of Nong Shim, which makes the nation's best-selling brand of ramyeon, gained 17 percent in the past month.
Sales of cigarettes and condoms are up, too.
Speak Japanese? Me neither. According to Japan Probe, though, this video report tells the tale of one Mr. Nakamura, a boxing-gym owner in bicycle-clogged Osaka:
Nakamura acts a volunteer bicycle parking manners enforcer, standing around for hours forcing people to re-park their bicycles in places he decides. All his efforts are ultimately meaningless, as the sheer volume of bicycles means there will always be parking chaos.
Watch the video here:
François-Xavier Roux, the French doctor who treated North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, has confirmed that the country's Dear Leader did in fact suffer a stroke:
The doctor . . . told Le Figaro, the French daily: “Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke but did not undergo an operation. He is now better.”
Dr. Roux, a Paris-based neurosurgeon, added: “The photos that have just been published seem recent and authentic to me. I have the impression that he is in charge in North Korea. I can’t say more because of medical confidentiality and state secrecy.”
That was the easy part. It'll take a 007-level intelligence effort to find out who's been jockeying for Kim's position.
An editorial in the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece publication, accused Sarkozy of drumming up controvery to draw attention away from his political woes at home. Meanwhile, internet users have called for protests of French goods and stores, such as Carrefour markets, recalling similar protests earlier this year after activists disrupted the Olympic torch relay in Paris.
U.K. Prime Minister Gordan Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have also recently met with the Dalai Lama but without much consequence. Given that France currently holds the E.U. presidency, China is probably concerned at the visibility of French actions. Sarkozy will have to be careful where he sticks his neck out.
Officials say upcoming reforms to China's fuel taxation and pricing schemes will lower gasoline prices, which have remained high despite plunging oil prices.
China has banned pork imports from Ireland due to dioxin concerns.
Direct flights between mainland China and Taiwan will begin Monday with a flight from Shanghai operated by China Eastern Airlines.
In China, arrests marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One well-known dissident, Liu Xiaobo, was detained for his involvement in drafting a public letter that demanded political reform and was signed by over 300 academics, lawyers, artists, and farmers.
Japan lodged a complaint with Beijing on Monday over Chinese ships that sailed near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.
Business & Economics
Chinese exports fell for the first time in seven years as consumer demand continued to weaken elsewhere in the world.
The government urged domestic airlines to cancel or postpone aircraft orders to keep costs low during a period of weak demand for travel.
Science & Environment
The "taikonauts" from China's recent spacewalk mission are on a tour through Hong Kong and Macao where they are meeting with students, scientists, and the public at large.
Topping the United States for the first time, China published more scientific theses in 2007 than any other country.
Perhaps it comes a surprise to no one, but a new report shows that more than 90% of China's richest people are the children of senior officials (Hat tip: WSJ China Journal).
Photo: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
China recently released a list of the 15 foreigners who have had the biggest influence on China since its economic reforms 30 years ago. It's no surprise that the government -- led by its arch-technocrats, hydraulic engineer President Hu Jintao and geological engineer Premier Wen Jiabao -- chose to shine the spotlight primarily on Nobel winners, scientists, and bureaucratic heads.
Those honored include Chinese-American physicist Franklin Yang Chen-ning, who helped restore China's research community after the bleak years of the Cultural Revolution; Hein Verbruggen, the International Olympic Committee member who helped bring the Olympics to Beijing; and Seiei Toyama, a Japanese environmental expert who "worked on reforestation projects in regions subject to desertification," according to the Wall Street Journal.
If that list leaves you scratching your head, you aren't alone. It does contain one "big name" though: starchitect I.M. Pei, who was actually born in Guangzhou before he moved to Hong Kong as a child and later the United States.
It's surely right to honor these people for their work, particularly when they otherwise might be overlooked. But the list leaves me wondering: Which other foreigners might make the list? Michael Jordan? Kobe Bryant? After all, basketball is now the most popular sport in China. Bill Gates? Gorbachev? As long as it's not Ronald McDonald.Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images
Remember the massive protests against U.S. beef that took place in South Korea last summer?
Well, last Thursday, while Americans were feasting on Thanksgiving turkey and the world's attention was drawn to the Mumbai terrorist attacks, South Korea's supermarket chains resumed selling U.S. beef. The 2003 ban on U.S. beef, prompted by fear of mad cow disease, was lifted in June. Until last week, though, only tiny butcher shops and some restaurants had been selling beef from the United States.
Were the supermarkets finally swayed by President Bush's endless paeans to the delicious taste of American cattle? "I'm more than willing to eat U.S. beef, and do -- eat a lot of it," he told a Japanese TV station in 2005.
Nope. It's about consumer demand in tough economic times. U.S. beef costs 60 to 70 percent less than Korean beef. As one satisfied customer told the Associated Press, "It's cheap -- that's all we consumers care about."
Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
In a new tally, Chinese officials said Monday that six infants died and nearly 300,000 were sickened by melamine-tainted milk during the recent scandal. A Ministry of Health statement revealed that 860 babies are still hospitalized with urinary-tract or kidney problems, 154 of them in serious condition.
Confidence in China's dairy industry remains weak as year-on-year dairy exports dropped 92 percent in October. However, heavily discounted valuations for Chinese dairy companies prompted the U.S. private equity firm KKR to invest $100 million in one Chinese raw milk supplier, seeking to ride the $18 billion market back up as regulation strengthens and people return to consuming milk.
KKR's vote-of-confidence shows that industry experts believe the Chinese government is capable of implementing and enforcing effective regulations. The scandal, however, which involved large numbers of small milk suppliers, illustrates the difficulty the government has had in addressing agricultural and food-safety problems before they become crises. Prevention is the next step.
Taxi strikes spread to the city of Foshan in Guangdong province. Three-hundred drivers are protesting exorbitant management fees and lax regulation of unlicensed cabs.
Inflation has eased with the slowing economy, prompting Chinese officials to drop food-price controls enacted earlier this year.
Charter flights have retrived the last of more than 3,000 Chinese citizens that were stranded in Thailand after protesters shut down Bangkok's main airports.
China's vice premier, Wang Qishan, called for more concrete measures to stimulate domestic demand as Chinese exports continue to fall.
Some 770,000 people took the national civil service exam on Sunday. They are vying for 13,566 government spots.
Business & Economics
The China National Petroleum Corporation signed a $3.29 billion deal to build an oil pipeline in the United Arab Emirates.
Coca-Cola submitted an application to Chinese anti-trust regulators, hoping to win approval for its acquisition of Huiyuan Juice Group, which commands half of China's juice market.
Science & Environment
China launched the "Yaogan IV" satellite, which will conduct land surveys and aid in disaster prevention and relief.
Earlier this year, retired New York City subway cars were turned into underwater reef habitats off the U.S. coast. As for Beijing's old subway cars, many now house impressionable youngsters. Beijing sent 60 cars to quake-affected Sichuan province, where they were converted for use as student dormitories.
Photos: China Photos/Getty Images
As the global economic environment continues to worsen, the People's Bank of China has cut its key one year interest rate by 1.08 percent to 5.58 percent. It has also lowered the required reserve ratio that banks must maintain. This comes as the World Bank lowers its forecast for China's 2009 GDP growth from 9.2 percent to 7.5 percent. China's cabinet announced that it was studying measures to bolster struggling automotive, steel, petrochemical, and textile businesses.
Analysts have responded positively for the most part to the rate cut. They've applauded Chinese authorities for taking extraordinary measures to ease the slowdown and have looked favorably on China's continued use of interest rate tools to stimulate the economy, instead of depending on investment spending. More rate cuts are probably in store.
More than 500 workers at a toy factory in Southern Guangdong province clashed with police after they were fired. Some had worked at the factory for more than 10 years.
An official says the government has released more than 1,000 rioters involved in the protests in Lhasa, Tibet earlier this year.
Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Greek leaders yesterday, pledging more cooperation on trade, energy, and tourism.
The Ministry of Finance earmarked another 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) for reconstruction efforts in earthquake-hit southwest China next year. This comes on a top of 70 billion yuan already committed for this year.
Business & Economy
Huang Guangyu, one of China's richest men and head of the Chinese retail electronics giant Gome, has been detained by police who are investigating stock manipulation charges.
China Eastern airlines saw its losses on fuel-hedging trades surge to 1.83 billion yuan ($268 million) as the price of fuel plummeted. Other Chinese airlines have seen similar losses.
Science & Environment
A new report says pollution has made a third of the Yellow River, China's second longest waterway, unsuitable for farming, fishing, or factory use, and 85 percent of it unsuitable for drinking.
A panda bit a student after he broke into its zoo enclosure, seeking a hug.
Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Havana, Cuba yesterday, where he signed more than a dozen economic agreements between China and Cuba. The deals included purchases of Cuban raw materials such as nickel and sugar, a $70 million pledge to help renovate Cuban hospitals, and the postponement of debt payments that Cuba owes China.
Hu also met with former Cuban President Fidel Castro, whom he praised for having struggled "to safeguard state sovereignty" and adhered "to the path of socialism, thus winning respect from people worldwide, including the Chinese people."
Granma, the Cuban Communist Party mouthpiece newspaper, imparted praise on China's economic reforms the day before the visit, but also criticized the income disparities that have arisen. It will be interesting to see which of the reform precedents set by China, arguably the most important of Cuba's communist brethren, President Raul Castro may deem appropriate for the island nation.
Thousands of protesters clashed with police in northwestern Gansu province over a government plan to resettle residents. This latest in a string of unrest in western and southern China has officials concerned that forthcoming economic hardship could cause isolated incidents to spread into wider discontent.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opened offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to prescreen Chinese goods bound for the U.S.
China rejects the possibility of sending troops to Afghanistan.
Despite warming relations between China and India, India has cast suspicion on China's growing presence in the region, especially in The Maldives.
Business & Economics
A long awaited fuel tax will soon come into effect. Proceeds are to replace road tolls as a means to fund highway construction.
China's internet-based economy grew by 52.2 percent in the third quarter, with advertising and games making up 72.7 percent of the total income.
Science & Environment
In a bid to reduce chemical residues in milk, Chinese scientists are using herbs in place of hormones to increase milk production in cows.
A new study finds that 12 percent of Chinese children and adolescents in big cities are overweight and notes a growing rate of diabetes.
After catching a Ningbo teenager illegally posting advertisements, officials had the boy cover his body with those advertisements as punishment. Naturally, the pictures wound up online and have sparked debat. (Hat tip: WSJ China Journal.)
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Good news for those of you who answered "China" on question 7 of the current FP Quiz: Your instincts are now correct. At the time of publication, U.S. Treasury data still showed that Japan held the most U.S. treasuries of any country. But new figures reveal that China has now taken the top spot. China increased its holdings to $585 billion in September, compared with $541.4 billion in August. Meanwhile, Japan shaved its holdings from a high of $600.7 billion in March of this year down to $571.4 billion in September.
The October figures will be even more interesting, though. Aside from the $585 billion, China was holding some $400 billion in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt. With the acquisition of the two mortgage lenders by Hank Paulson, American Taxpayers, et al., China announced it would decrease its dollar holdings to diversify its foreign reserve portfolio. How much did China help fund the $700 billion TARP program? We'll know soon.
China Photos/Getty Images
In an interview that appeared on the front page of the Financial Times today, a senior Chinese military official gave some "hints" about China's aircraft carrier program. "Even if one day we have an aircraft carrier, unlike another country, we will not use it to pursue global deployment or global reach," promised Major Gen. Qian Lihua, director of the the Defense Ministry's foreign affairs office.
In last week's FP List, we called for Agent 007 to secretly gather evidence about China's naval capabilities. Far from being reassuring, these vague comments from the Chinese military make James Bond's (hypothetical) task even more urgent. We'd like to know the truth.
In response to the FT article, Richard Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a security think tank, told me today that "China has waged an at times sophisticated and at times facile campaign of disinformation surrounding its aircraft carrier program." He believes the world will never get a transparent description of China's carrier program.
The irony, though, is that this latest "campaign of disinformation", while growing more sophisticated, clings tightly to its facile notions. On the one hand, the Chinese government has deployed an English-speaking and "avuncular" military official (as the FT describes Qian) to massage the international press corps, which is quite unprecendented for China's notoriously tight-lipped military. Yet the Chinese government seems to believe that other countries will not question its intentions, that simply averring it has no wide ranging naval ambitions is enough to divert the world's attention elsewhere.
When pressed about its technological capabilities, "the [People's Liberation Army] will seek to couch their missions in defensive terminology," Fisher says. "However, the usual approach ... is to assess the capability of the platform, its electronics and weapons, and then assume they will be used to the maximum envelope of those capabilities for any range of offensive and defensive missions." When China does launch an aircraft carrier, it's possible that the crosshairs will be trained only on the Taiwan Strait. But that certainly can't last forever. Qian will have to find an easier pill for the rest of the world to swallow.
Photo: KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images
Analysts continue to weigh in on China's gargantuan stimulus package, announced Sunday. Many economists believe that China's economic growth will drop into the 7 percent range despite these latest measures.
One China scholar opined in the Wall Street Journal that the biggest potential for a stimulus package would be to pump funding into health and social services, which would ease burdens on consumers and promote domestic consumption. If the Chinese government chose to do this, it would be quite encouraging for the global economy. Unfortunately, the plan seems to be focused on infrastructure spending, the long-term effects of which are hard to predict. Some news outlets are even hailing this as China's "New Deal."
There is also growing discussion of possible motivations that Beijing may not have wanted to mention outright. Inklings of labor unrest have already begun to sprout up in cities across China, which have seen the closure of 67,000 export-producing factories this year. Plus, many of the country's five million college grads last year still have yet to find jobs. But overall, it's a waiting game until the government releases more details about the plan.
Taxi drivers are on strike in the southern resort city of Sanya, adding to similar strikes in the past week in Gansu province and the city of Chongqing.
Beijing annouces a 240 billion RMB ($34 billion) plan to expand transportation infrastructure. The city's plan to quadruple the amount of subway track by 2012 comes after an already feverish period of development in the lead up to the Olympics.
An angry mob of 400 people attacked police in the southern city of Shenzen to protest the death of a motorcyclist who crashed when an officer tried to hit him with a walkie-talkie.
China reacted with criticism to a comment made by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee claiming that the disputed border region of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to India.
Former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian was arrested as prosecutors prepared corruption charges.
Business & Economy
The Pearl River Delta, a major manufaturing region that includes the southern city of Shenzhen, saw 1,300 companies close their doors in the first nine months of the year.
Chinese CPI, the main indicator for inflation, dropped to 4 percent in October from 4.6 percent in the previous month, signaling a reigning-in of price increases but also an economic slowdown.
Science & Environment
Infectious diseases caused 1,000 Chinese deaths in October. The top culprits were AIDS, rabies, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and neonatal tetanus, which together accounted for 90 percent of the deaths.
China unveiled its first complete map of the lunar surface.
A slew of reactions to Barack Obama's victory speech appeared on China's Internet forums, many of them positive:
So touching! I approve! I continuously supported him and he did not let me down! ... I hope he can really help bring change to America, and also peacefully coexist with China, giving the world positive change!
Read other opinions here.
Photo: China Photos/Getty Images
Here's why you should never bet against Japanese innovation.
At right, Japanese Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe feeds himself with the assistance of "My Spoon" during a demonstration of healthcare robots in Tokyo on Nov. 10. People with disabilities can operate a joystick with their jaw, hands, or feet to direct My Spoon to their mouth.
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
On Sunday, China announced a humongous 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) economic stimulus package to bolster its slowing economy, but many are already questioning how effective the plan will be, both for China and for the world.
The package, which includes spending on low-cost housing and infrastructure projects and new tax deductions for companies, comes at a cost equivalent to 15 percent of China's current GDP. (For comparison, the U.S. Treasury Department's $700 billion bailout plan is about 5 percent of U.S. GDP.)
Analysts have since pointed out, however, that not all of the spending is new. For instance, the 4 trillion yuan price tag includes funds already allocated for rebuilding after this year's earthquakes in southwestern China. Moreover, the funds will be disbursed over the next two years. Given the lag time between undertaking new projects and realizing their economic benefits, this may not be swift enough to prevent GDP growth from dipping below 8 percent -- which some analysts says is the minimum growth rate needed to absorb the millions of rural workers entering the work force. Slower growth could cause unrest and undermine the Communist Party's control.
Even if China's stimulus package does manage to lift the Chinese economy, will that benefit the United States? Some machinery manufacturers may be relieved to find new sales in China and oil companies may be pleased to see Chinese demand propping up oil prices, but much of China's spending will probably go toward procuring raw materials from developing countries for projects such as highways and airports. Given that consumer spending accounts for more than two thirds of U.S. economic activity, Chinese infrastructure spending is unlikely to get the American growth machine going again.
The most magnanimous gesture China could make would be to invest a portion of its estimated $1.9 trillion in U.S. currency reserves back into the United States, perhaps to spur its own badly needed round of infrastructure spending. That's one gift it'd be nice to see under the Christmas tree this year, but the chances seem pretty slim. It looks like Americans will have to rely on their own lawmakers for that shot in the arm.
Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Despite the greater-than-expected losses reported by Ford and GM today, such abysmal results fail to surprise anyone these days. The U.S. car industry's "Big Three" have lumbered on with bloated bureaucracies and product lines for many years now. But what the financial crisis has done is bring into sharp relief which carmakers are poised for survival and which are destined for the scrap heap.
Carmakers the world over have been hurting. Sales at BMW fell 8.3 percent in October, while Toyota recently cut its year-end profit forecast by 63 percent. The outlook is particularly bad for Europe, since 60-80 percent of car purchases there use credit-financing, the availability of which continues to shrink, while only 30 percent of car purchases in Japan are credit-financed. Meanwhile, slower automobile production in Europe is also taking a major toll on U.S. parts suppliers, adding insult to injury as the suppliers' prospects have already tanked with the car industry at home.
But even if carmakers everywhere are suffering, what sets apart a company like Toyota, currently the world's largest car manufacturer, is cash. Toyota has $18.5 billion in cash and a steady hand on those reserves. As for General Motors, flagging sales have caused the company to burn through $6.9 billion in cash in the last quarter alone. Fewer people are buying cars, but GM still has to pay its bills -- employee's wages, the costs of running factories, etc. Now, GM admits it may drop below $11 billion in cash reserves, the minimum it needs to pay those bills, before the year is out. That means bankruptcy. Ford is slightly doing better, but not by much.
So, can U.S. automakers still stage a comeback? They're already behind on fuel economy and alternative energy. GM has some big projects in the works, but it might not survive long enough to see them through. Millions of jobs are at stake, and President-elect Barack Obama seems to favor providing some aid to automakers. But we'll have to see if taxpayers want to get involved. They're probably still reeling from buyer's remorse after scooping up Fannie Mae and AIG.
As Japan's population ages, the country is facing the new and unexpected problem of senior crime:
The number of people aged 65 or older arrested for crimes other than traffic violations totaled 48,605 last year, up from 24,247 in 2002, the Justice Ministry said in an annual crime report. Elderly crimes rose 4.2 percent in 2007 from a year earlier, though the total number of people arrested fell 4.8 percent to 366,002.
Thefts, such as shoplifting and pick-pocketing, were the most common crimes committed by older people, the report said, citing low income, declining health and a sense of isolation as the main causes of the trend. Serious crimes such as murder and robbery were less prevalent among seniors than younger people.
The report said elderly crime is growing at a much faster pace than the population of senior citizens.
The rise in elderly crime has also forced many prisons to renovate their facilities and provide nursing care.
I shudder to think what this will mean for the next generation of yakuza movies.
A historic meeting between Chinese and Taiwanese officials continues in Taipei today. The five-day visit by the top mainland official on cross-strait relations, Chen Yunlin, marks the highest-level talks between Taiwan and the mainland since the two split in 1949. The talks have already yielded an agreement on expanded cross-strait flights, trade, and mail links, and is slated to address greater cooperation in the financial industry.
Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favors independence, is keeping up the pressure with mass protests in Taipei. DPP spokeswoman Cheng Wen-tsang has complained that "people's rights, personal liberties, freedom of speech and judicial rights were seriously violated" by the signing of the agreements.
However, recent DPP measures promoting independence, including a referendum earlier this year that sought the public's approval for Taiwan applying for U.N. membership, have fallen flat. With some 1 million Taiwanese businessmen working on the mainland, more agreements liberalizing trade and travel will likely be the norm.
Flooding and landslides caused by torrential rain kill 51 in southwestern China.
Striking taxi drivers in Chongqing smashed 103 cabs and three police vehicles while protesting the high fees that taxi companies extract from drivers.
A newly proposed regulation could make Aug. 8, the anniversary of the opening of the Olympic Games, a national fitness day and require public sports facilities to admit the public for free.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao congratulated Barack Obama on his election victory.
A panel of Chinese experts foresee China becoming a full welfare state with universal health care and old age pensions by mid-century.
Business & Economy
China and other Asian countries are eager to see whether a President Obama will follow through on protectionist campaign promises.
Bright Dairy & Food Co., a major name in the tainted milk scandal, posted a third quarter loss of 277 million RMB (US$41 million), compared to 390 million RMB in profits (US$57 million) a year ago. Other major dairy producers expect similar results.
Science & Environment
China plans to take to the skies with its own commercial jumbo jet before 2020.
In preparation for the 2010 World Expo, Shanghai has enacted new green policies that seek to reduce pollution and stimulate investment in environmental protection.
Release the hounds! Er. . . the Chinese public, I mean. A swarm of Chinese Internet users tracked down and humiliated an official accused of assaulting a girl.
Photo: PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
In what is being billed as an "historic" agreement, Chinese and Taiwanese officials concluded a pact today that increases the number of cross-strait airline flights and establishes new trade and postal links. The goal is to eliminate the hassle of making travelers stop in Hong Kong on their way between the mainland and Taiwan and to ease similar restrictions on cargo and mail. To be sure, the lead-up to today's deal was a gradual process. Direct charter flights first took off in 2005 and regularly scheduled direct flights began in July of this year.
What all this means for Taiwanese sovereignty, though, is unclear. Does breaking down barriers between Taiwan and the Mainland increase Taiwan's stature as a sovereign state? Or does it expose itself to greater control from Beijing should the Communist Party leaders ever decide to use new economic ties as leverage? Some half a million protesters took to the streets of Taipei a week and a half ago, fearful that Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's engagement policies could lead the small island state right into Beijing's hands.
This is a relationship built on ambiguity though. So long as Taiwanese politicians aren't beating the drum for independence and economic ties continue to strengthen, it is hard to imagine what kind of catalyst could induce Beijing to demand immediate reunification. Taiwan's independence would be a humiliating defeat for Beijing, but forcing its hand on reunification would spark a major, and needless, international incident. Thus, a continuation of Taiwan's muddled identity with ever closer economic ties to the mainland seems to be viable indefinitely.
Photo: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images
At least three kidnapped Chinese oil workers were killed in the South Kordofan region of Sudan on Tuesday. An unidentified group had been holding nine workers of the China National Petroleum Corporation hostage since Oct. 18. The killings apparently took place after a helicopter flying overhead spooked the kidnappers. Chinese and Sudanese officials are now searching for the other hostages.
The Sudanese government has blamed rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which has fought with government forces in neighboring Darfur for six years, for the violence. While JEM has previously accused China of abetting government-sponsored brutality through oil investments, the group has denied responsibility for the killings.
China has called the incident an "inhumane terrorist deed." However, it seems unlikely the country will use its petroleum agreements to pressure the Sudanese government into ending the Darfur conflict, as many international diplomats have hoped, unless such incidents become commonplace and severely disrupt production.
A new source of concern has emerged for uneasy Chinese consumers as Hong Kong authorities discover excessive amounts of melamine in mainland eggs.
China opened the 6th National Farmers' Games in Fujian province on Sunday. Events include many familiar sports but also tire-pushing, food-carrying, kite-flying, and tug-of-war.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao spoke at the China-Russia Economic and Trade Summit in Moscow Tuesday, praising the strength of economic ties between the two countries.
The government ageed to another round of talks with the personal representatives of the Dalai Lama. However, the Dalai Lama admitted that he has given up on trying to convince Beijing to grant Tibet more autonomy.
Business & Economy
The People's Bank of China cut the benchmark interest rate by 27 basis points to 6.66 percent. This marks the third time China has cut rates in the past six weeks.
Net income at PetroChina, Asia's largest oil producer, jumped 30 percent in the third quarter on record oil prices. Meanwhile, Sinopec, Asia's largest oil refiner, suffered a 39 percent drop in profits. The Chinese government's caps on consumer fuel prices prevented the company from offsetting higher oil costs.
China signed a much anticipated oil pipeline deal with Russia on Tuesday. The deal grants China access to Russian oil in exchange for sizeable loans to Russian energy firms.
Science & Environment
Authorities have discovered a series of iron and gold ore deposits in eastern China that may be worth more than 20 billion RMB ($2.92 billion).
Workers brought the final power-generation turbine online at the Three Gorges Dam, edging the project towards completion a year ahead of schedule.
It's the 21st century. Who better to look over your shoulder than your fellow netizens? Thomas Crampton reports on China's freelance Internet censors.
Photo: Isam Al-Haj/AFP/Getty Images
First, they came for the small-chested people...
A ban on small-chested people riding motorbikes is just one of the novel criteria recently proposed by Vietnam's Ministry of Health. People whose chests measure less than 28 inches would be prohibited under this new recommendation, as well as people who are too short or too thin. This proposal is meant to improve driver safety in Vietnam, which has one of the world's highest road death tolls, presumably because waifish Vietnamese are at greater risk of sustaining serious injury when in a motorbike accident.
Despite being obviously insane, the Ministry of Health's proposal could affect the travel plans of a large number of Vietnamese. Motorbikes make up 90% of the traffic on Vietnam's roads. Many Vietnamese are naturally slight, and malnutrition often stunted the growth of those born during the Vietnam War. The affair has nevertheless been great fodder for Vietnamese bloggers. "From now on, padded bras will be bestsellers," predicted Bo Cu Hung, a Ho Chi Minh City-based blogger.
At the end of last week, the European Parliament found itself in a tight spot. Having made the courageous gesture of naming Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia this year's receipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the EU had to wonder how receptive would China be at the 43 country Asia-Europe Meeting over the weekend. China's cooperation was critical in addressing the global financial crisis. Meanwhile, the Chinese ambassador to the EU penned a stern letter vowing that Hu's award would "inevitably hurt the Chinese people once again and bring serious damage to China-EU relations."
But the summit came and went and no such damage was done. China agreed to back more vigorous regulatory reforms, and said nothing more about the Hu issue. So where was the pressure? If indeed it's an outrage that the EU should cast a spotlight on a man who has "libeled the Chinese political and social systems, and instigated subversion of the state, which is a crime under Chinese law," then the meeting would have been a perfect occassion for China to brandish some new-found might.
But China seems to have lost its stomach for these tiffs lately. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama in September 2007 was met with similar threats to block German companies from doing business in China. But the only punitive measures that China took were to boycott a few meetings in Germany and cancel a handful of ministerial visits. Token efforts at best and trade certainly didn't suffer. Ditto for Canada after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit with the Dalai Lama last year.
Saving face is important for China. But while the government clearly finds foreign criticism humiliating, it doesn't want to put a blight on its future in the global economy, of which it aspires to be a heavyweight player. It's also possible that China is just tallying up its resentments for the right moment. If one day China is in a secure enough position to wield economic and political leverage over Europe, it may not be as conciliatory because of the slights it has received along the way.
Photo: Pool/Getty Images
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