Pronouncements that the Belt and Road Initiative is failing are premature, argues Tom Miller, author of China’s Asian Dream and Senior Asia Analyst at Gavekal Research. He is well-versed in the problems facing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and predicted many of them. In his 2017 book China’s Asian Dream, he warned that China’s preference for cultivating close relationships with individual leaders could be a long-term risk for BRI. Eighteen months on, this looks prescient. New governments have won power in Malaysia, Pakistan and the Maldives, and renegotiating deals signed by their predecessors are high on the agendas.
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, there was a sense of unstoppable momentum behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s trillion-dollar plan to build a network of infrastructure connecting Africa, Asia and Europe. When China hosted its 2017 Belt and Road Forum, 29 heads of state and delegations from another 100 countries traveled to Beijing, hoping to cash in on what President Xi Jinping described as the “project of the century.” This year the landscape, at least from the media’s perspective, looks dramatically different as even China’s closest partners make more cautious noises about the BRI.
Compared to other sectors, Chinese e-commerce firms are among the first batches of firms to embrace automation. China accounts for nearly half of global demand for AGVs, enabling one warehouse to process up to 100,000 orders a day with a staff of 20 human workers, work that previously would have required 300-600 people, according to Beijing-based startup Geek+, a leading domestic robot maker in logistics industry. Other tech giants, like Alibaba and JD.com, have also announced plans to invest billions of dollars to roll out next-generation technologies including totally unmanned warehouses and last-mile delivery robots and drones.
Learning how to please Chinese audiences without alienating moviegoers in the US is becoming crucial for Hollywood as box office receipts stagnate in home market but explode in China. Quarterly ticket revenues in China surpassed those in North America for the first time ever in the first three months of 2018, with Chinese cinemas netting $3.15 billion compared to $2.85 billion in Canada and the US. Those figures were boosted by massive takings during the Lunar New Year holiday, always a peak time for Chinese cinemas, but China could become the world’s largest film market in whole-year terms in 2019.
Will two executive-level people doing the same job with the same education background and experience be paid differently? The answer is yes. And unsurprisingly, one of the two is female. How big is the gender pay gap at the executive level? Professor Huang Rong at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, who studied a sample of over 34,000 executives from US publicly traded firms using data spanning an 18-year period, found women executives are paid 31% less than male executives. Although it can partly be explained by objective considerations such as title, experience, company size and performance, a 19% gap still exists.
The moment finally came just after Lunar New Year, 2016. That morning, residents in Lintao, a city of 200,000 in the remote northwest, turned on the taps, but no water flowed. The groundwater that provided the town’s supply had simply run out. A year later, Si County, a cluster of settlements 2,000 kilometers to the southeast, also ran dry. After municipal wells began to empty, local schools and hospitals resorted to drilling their own. In the north, which contains nearly half of the population but only 20% of the water resources, there is not enough to meet demand. Groundwater storage on the North China Plain fell at a rate of more than 6 trillion liters a year between 2002 and 2014.
Few thinkers can speak about global governance with as much authority as Kishore Mahbubani. A former President of the United Nations Security Council, Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Foreign Ministry and Dean of the renowned Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, he has been named “the muse of the Asian century”. In his latest book, due next year, Mahbubani plans to tackle the rising tensions between the US and China. As he explains, the US should embrace a more minimalist and strategic approach to foreign policy to maximize its interests in an era of Asian dominance.
China’s huge current account surplus was once the symbol of its status as the “factory of the world.” But in recent years, that surplus has been shrinking. Last year, it sank to 1.3% of GDP. The half-year deficit announced in August was the first in more than 20 years. Some economists predict China could soon be running a current account deficit. If that happens, it will be a watershed moment with implications for all manner of issues, from the policies Beijing is able to pursue to the status of the RMB as a global currency and maybe even the way the US finances its debt.
The negative effects that industrial revolutions unleash on human society always stem from an overestimation and abuse of the power of new technologies. It has never been more important to heed this point than today. Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are bringing forth a new industrial revolution, and the blind worship of these innovations is already on full display in some quarters.
Chinese millennials promise to reshape the global tourism industry. Unlike their parents’ generation, who preferred to travel abroad on Chinese-organized tour groups, today’s young Chinese are independent, individualistic and willing to try more adventurous vacations. This shift is opening up huge new opportunities for travel and tourism operators worldwide. They can now advertise directly to China’s 400 million children of the 1980s and 1990s, who often book their next trip online and on impulse. For operators able to target this group, the rewards can be spectacular. Chinese millennials already make more overseas trips than all American tourists combined.