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Viral Shedding Peaks – BEFORE Symptoms!

By Shlomo Maital

The late Li Wenliang, China’s hero doctor who warned us

   A very large number of research papers are now emerging from China, by Chinese scientists and scholars, related to biology, medicine, education, and other areas. China is sharing with the world what it has learned.

   Yesterday’s Nature Medicine features a very important article by a large group of Chinese researchers, which shows this:

     “We report temporal patterns of viral shedding in 94 patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and modeled COVID-19 infectiousness profiles from a separate sample of 77 infector–infectee transmission pairs.

     We observed the highest viral load in throat swabs at the time of symptom onset, and inferred that infectiousness peaked on or before symptom onset. We estimated that 44% (95% confidence interval, 25–69%) of secondary cases were infected during the index cases’ pre-symptomatic stage, in settings with substantial household clustering, active case finding and quarantine outside the home. Disease control measures should be adjusted to account for probable substantial presymptomatic transmission.”

   Meaning?   Three rather scary words: substantial pre-symptomatic transmission. We spread the coronavirus even before we feel symptoms.

     This is why social distancing will need to be enforced for quite some time, until tests are widely available and can provide results within hours. If you have no symptoms, then anybody can be a carrier and spreader. Anybody.

     Finally, we are learning about this insidious enemy – is anyone expressing some gratitude to the Chinese for sharing?

         Well, a small gesture – here are the names of the researchers who co-authored this paper: Xi He, Eric H. Y. Lau, Peng Wu, Xilong Deng, Jian Wang, Xinxin Hao, Yiu Chung Lau, Jessica Y. Wong, Yujuan Guan, Xinghua Tan, Xiaoneng Mo, Yanqing Chen, Baolin Liao, Weilie Chen, Fengyu Hu, Qing Zhang, Mingqiu Zhong, Yanrong Wu, Lingzhai Zhao, Fuchun Zhang, Benjamin J. Cowling, Fang Li & Gabriel M. Leung

 

 

European (Dis)Union: Shame on Them!

By Shlomo Maital

    Italy is desperate. With more COVID-19 cases and deaths than China, it is now ‘triaging’ (selecting) those who get medical care and not treating those 60 years old and over. Don’t blame them – they have to, they lack medical equipment and doctors and hospital beds and ventilators.

   Wait. Italy is part of the “European Union”, a union of 27 nations banding together to help one another and support one another.

   Right?

   Apparently, wrong.   The nation coming to Italy’s rescue is not the other 26 EU nations, but Russia, which has sent medical supplies and personnel.

   (And by the way, United States? Which used to help other nations? Not in the age of Trump… America First!)

   Slovakia’s leader noted that his desperate requests for help from the EU were turned down cold. But China did come to the rescue, and it is China which is now sending medical aid to other nations. The press claims it is done to restore China’s image, badly damaged by the fact that COVID-19 originated in China. Maybe, too, it is done because China simply gets it.

   European Union? It was not Brexit and Britain that has damaged European union, but the Europeans themselves. Whatever happens in this crisis, Europe will not be the same. If nations in a union do not help one another in time of need, then there is no union.

   Shame on you, Europe.  I can’t believe that none of the other 26 EU nations can spare any medical supplies or equipment, at all.  Nor is there a single EU person in charge of EU overall policy. 

It will be very hard for the Europeans to put Humpty together again, after pushing him off the wall and not even offering a bandage.

 

 

COVID-19: Lessons from Three Smart Small Asian Nations

Part 2. Hong Kong

 By Shlomo Maital

   Hong Kong is officially known as “the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. It has 7.4 million people and GDP per capita of some $46,000 – higher than that of Israel.

   Here, according to the New York Times, is how Hong Kong dealt with the COVID-19 crisis, influenced strongly from its traumatic experience with SARS in 2003:

  “ Hong Kong’s heavy death toll from SARS, nearly 300 people, has spurred residents in the semiautonomous Chinese territory to exercise vestigial muscles of disease prevention this time around, even as the local authorities initially dithered on whether to close the border with mainland China. Nearly everyone, it seemed, began squirting hand sanitizer. Malls and offices set up thermal scanners.”

   “The most important thing is that Hong Kong people have deep memories of the SARS outbreak,” said Kwok Ka-ki, a lawmaker in Hong Kong who is also a doctor. “Every citizen did their part, including wearing masks and washing their hands and taking necessary precautions, such as avoiding crowded places and gatherings.”

   “The Hong Kong government eventually caught up to the public’s caution. Borders were tightened. Civil servants were ordered to work from home, prompting more companies to follow suit. Schools were closed in January, until at least the end of April.”

     “On Tuesday, the government of Hong Kong, where only 157 cases have been confirmed, announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers from abroad beginning later this week.”

     SARS outbreak occurred nearly 17 years ago, in 2003. Despite this, the memory of SARS and the measures adopted at that time are fresh in the minds of Hong Kong citizens. It was the people of Hong Kong who acted, even before the government and administrative officials took action, in the COVID-19 outbreak.

     I am certain the same will be true of COVID-19. We will remain this for generations. And hopefully, in the next pandemic, we will act promptly, as Hong Kong did.

 

Births in China: Social U-Turns are Hard!

By Shlomo Maital

     Social U-turns (radical changes in policy involving social behavior) are immensely difficult.    Consider China’s one-child policy, now doubled to “two children are OK”. It’s not working too well.

       China’s one-child policy aimed at lowering the growth rate of its rapidly growing population.   The policy set a firm legal limit on the number of births parents could have, and was introduced in 1979. In the mid-1980’s it was changed to let rural parents have a second child if the first was a girl. The policy lasted three decades and was abandoned at the end of 2015.

   A New York Times report by Sui-Lee Wee and Steven Lee Myers, from Beijing, now notes that China’s birth rate has fallen to the lowest rate in six decades, despite the rule change permitting two children. In 2019 only 14.6 million babies were born in China, in a population of 1.4 billion. That is a 1% birth rate – not sufficient to supply the labor China’s economy needs.

     Why has China’s birth rate not increased since 2015? Here is the best explanation. “We are all only children,” said a young Chinese dental assistant, “and to be honest, a little selfish. How can I raise a child when I’m still a child myself? And take care of him and feed him at midnight?”

     I have a strong suggestion for China’s leaders. Contact Dan Ariely at Duke U. and his group of researchers, along with Richard Thaler, George Lowenstein, Robert Shiller, and other leading US behavioral economics experts. Ask them to design a few small-sample experiments. The Chinese people are very very pragmatic. They do what is in their interest.   How can having two children be shown to be in the interest of hard-working Chinese middle-class educated couples? I’m pretty sure the behaviorists will have some answers.

       Notice how hard a social U-turn is, even in China, where authorities rule with a strong hand. If you believe America is going to change radically, even if Trump loses in November, please think again. Social change has strong momentum and by the laws of physics, Momentum equals mass times velocity. There is a large mass of Americans who think like Trump, and even if you slow their velocity the momentum is still immense.

World Economy: Heading South West (That’s Not Good)

By   Shlomo Maital    

I know I am repeating myself.  I wrote about this just recently.  But, the latest Ifo (Munich think tank) survey reveals this:        

  “In the first quarter of 2019, the economic climate indicator for the advanced economies has tumbled to its lowest value since the fourth quarter of 2012” 

                                  
  The graph above shows on the x axis, “assessment of the current economic situation”  and on the y axis,  “economic expectations” (how you think the economy will trend in the coming 6 months). 
    The worst outcome is:  the ‘dot’ moves south west (i.e. the economy is declining, and it will continue to decline in the near future).
     Ifo Munich gathers data on the world economy, by region, by a survey of experts. 
     Look closely at the graph –the “world economy” moves strongly south west.  So do the Euro area and advanced economies.  Same for Mideast and North Africa.  Nowhere does any economy move other than west (down). 
      Why?   How about – US -China trade war, global uncertainty, Brexit,  EU disunity, and….   The list is long. 
       We can blame part of this on Trump.   He has thrown a monkey wrench into the world trading system, introduced massive uncertainty….and the world economy has cooled.    When the two largest economies in the world, US and China,  AND Europe, all cool at once….   We are in trouble.
       Fasten your seat belts.  It will get worse before it gets better. 

Global Slowdown – Beware!
By   Shlomo Maital

 
  
  I regularly participate in an economic survey run by a Munich-based research institute, that tracks how the world economy is doing.  The latest results are not good.
  The heat map shown above indicates whether economies are booming green or slowing yellow, orange, light red, dark red. 
    You can see at a glance looking at the ‘heat map’,  that the US, Europe and emerging and developing economies in Asia are all slowing.  Basically the whole world is slowing down, economically.
     Why?   The US is cooling, as businesses choose not to invest the tax windfall given by the Trump Administration but rather to buy back their shares.  China is cooling, owing to the trade war with the US.  Europe is cooling, owing to deep uncertainties about Britain, Italy, Hungary and other nations, and a growing spat between France and Italy.
    In short – look for a global slowdown, that feeds on itself —  US demand slows, hurts China, which hurts the Asian economic ecosystem..which in turns slows….
     A good time to set aside some savings, for rainy days ahead.

 Infrastructure:  Europe, China – and America
By Shlomo  Maital 
 
    In Economics, there are not many principles we can cite with absolute certainty.  Here are two of them:
   1.  The rate of return on investment in Research and Development is in many cases astronomical.  In 1958 Prof. Zvi Griliches found that investing in research in hybrid corn “paid a return of at least 700 per cent”.   Few other social investments can rival this. Yet countries continue to underinvest in R&D.
   2.  The rate of return on investment in infrastructure (roads, transportation, communication, education) is equally astronomical.  Yet in the West countries continue to undersave and underinvest in infrastructure.
   The contrast between Europe, China – and the US under Trump is stark.
    The EU, not noted for bold innovation, is undertaking a huge infrastructure project that will link Malmo, a Scandinavian port, with Palermo, a port in Italy.  This project will help reduce the large gap between the wealthy Northern EU and the relatively poor Southern EU.  It will do much to knit the fractured EU together, in the wake of Brexit. 
     China has a bold vastly expensive program to build a new Silk Road, linking China with Europe, the Mideast and Africa.   The One Belt One Road initiative, now changed to “Belt and Road Initiative”   is, according to Wikipedia “one of the largest infrastructure and investment mega-projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, equivalent to 65% of the world’s population and 40% of the global GDP as of 2017.”
     And the US?   Well,  on a recent visit there, I used Waze (an application developed originally in Israel, now owned by Google) to navigate.  In the US,  Waze informs the driver of potholes. And, trust me – I heard about a LOT of potholes from Waze while driving in the eastern United states.  Some of them were big enough to swallow Trump’s ego.
      President Trump speaks often about infrastructure.  He has plans to fix it, including thousands of crumbling bridges. But here’s the catch.  The latest Trump tax cut put a huge hole in the government budget and added $1.5 trillion to the deficit.   So there is no money left for infrastructure investment.  The solution?  Trump thinks he can get private industry to finance it, using tax credits.
       This is science fiction.  Basic economics shows, the return on infrastructure investment is largely “social”,  that is,  not captured by private investors, but accruing in a diffuse manner to all of us.  So why would private money invest in it? 
         China, EU – and the US.  Another instance of how the US has become a Third World nation, and China, in the Third World, is becoming First World. 

More on China’s New Silk Road

By Shlomo Maital

My friend Einar Tangen is an American citizen who has been living and working in China for many years, and is a commentator for Chinese English-language TV.   Here is his ‘take’ on the BRI Belt Road Initiative:

   By putting $124 billion on the table, towards his ambitious $5 trillion 60 country grand plan, Chinese President Xi Jinping made it to the front page of world news, politics and economics.   At the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), Xi made it clear that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is at the center of a new Chinese soft power and trade approach, not just regionally, but globally. In all, over 100 nations sent representatives, of which over 60 have, or are in the process of signing up to the BRI. Some have nicknamed it “WTO 2.0.”

     Notable was Xi’s “rising tide” exposition of inclusive predictability, contrasted sharply with Trump’s “America First” situational impulsiveness. But, as China moves into the Trump vacuum – while money talks, it also divides – so as countries are looking at the opportunities, China will need to continue shouldering the challenges and possibilities. 

     BRI is aimed at physically, economically and socially linking both countries and their citizens. For example: Farmers in remote parts of Thailand, Kazakhstan or Sri Lanka, might have heard of WTO, but without physical access to roads, rail or ports, it meant nothing. Under BRI, for those nations that participate, farmers will get the physical access and internet tools they need, to reach markets around the world.

   But, while China is leading this bold new effort, it cannot do it alone and will need partners. Dealing with such partners will require an understanding of their political, economic, linguistic, social and cultural realities. This will require a learning curve, part of which Beijing is attempting to solve with person to person cultural and educational exchanges and scholarships.

  China’s BRI is a new kind of trade initiative, one that dispenses with the post WWII ideological trade doctrines championed by the World Bank, IMF, ADB, large corporate interest and many developed nations, in favor of a non-interventionist inclusive pragmatism focused on sustainable trade and market development. The idea seems to be to figure out ways to stabilize the world by creating moderate prosperity regionally and now globally.

   BRI’s ability to gather under one roof Iran and Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel, rivalling only the UN in this area, is a testament to the possibilities of this approach. But, the world does not change in a day, and the certitude of American exceptionalists and those who champion an inflexible version of Liberal, Democratic Capitalism, remain unconvinced.

   For the developing and emerging nations it is a vital lifeline to the infrastructure they need to develop their economies and stabilize their countries. Concerns about basic human rights are essential, but there has been little progress trying to solve them using the barrel of a gun. 

   My own conclusion: Yesterday Donald Trump spoke in Saudi Arabia, basking in the glow of many many billions of dollars of arms sales, as the Saudis use their petrodollars to buy American support against their fanatical foes Iran. As Trump tries to organize a Sunni coalition against ISIS, and fanatical Islamic terrorism,     China works to reinvent global trade.  

      Which do you think will benefit humanity more? Which leader has the most powerful vision?

 

 


 

 

Regional to global, “WTO 2.0”

 

The WTO ushered in a tide of prosperity that linked nations, but not always people; BRI takes the WTO idea one level deeper, but without the ideological baggage.

 

 

As Xi’s frequent references to the time and distance made clear, this is not a short term political feel good project to appease a restive electorate, but a carefully staged multi-level far reaching initiative. So, what was initially a response to the U.S. maritime encirclement effort, has become the focal point of China’s efforts to: change global governance and finance models away from ideological absolutes towards pragmatic consensus; modernize its economy; create new sustainable markets; and escape a looming middle income trap.

 

Trade and soft power

 

 

Under the BRI, if a country does not like the actions of another country, it can simply not trade with them, or put the matter before the UN, but no mandate of righteous will exist to force a solution by arms.

 

As such, China’s BRI is not only a trade vehicle, but a soft power initiative, one that will emphasize consensus over corporate models of interaction between countries.

 

100, 54 and 29

 

Over 100 hundred nations and international organizations attended the BRF, of which 54 have signed on in some capacity. 29 country heads attended, but, the BRI has a way to go, as not all countries, identified in the BRI, sent heads of states or senior representatives.

 

At the next forum, scheduled for 2019, given the amount of attention and, dependent on China’s progress, it is probable that the number will go up dramatically. For example: the presence of the ABC’s, Argentina, Brazil and Chile, all represented by their presidents, except for Brazil, makes it clear that the allure of Xi’s grand plan is now global.

 

In Chile’s case they cemented an agreement to join the AIIB, which now has 77 members and will be at 85 by year end. The membership of Chile, Bolivia and Brazil and possibly Argentina, in the future, is an important milestone which shows both the global attraction of Xi’s plan and the drift away from Trump’s notions.

 

China and the U.S.

 

Ironically, given the history of why the BRI was created, the U.S. sent a delegation headed by a senior member of the Trump team, which acknowledged the importance of the BRI and then lobbied for American firms to be included in future projects. Interestingly, they were welcomed, just as was the DPRK, as Beijing went to great lengths to demonstrate, that politics was not part of the BRI.

 

But, to the majority of the world, the take-a-way will continue to be the contrast between Trump’s Me first vs. Xi’s rising tide; a contrast which is reshaping trade and soft power, as countries like Mexico, shift their wheat and corn imports from the U.S. to Argentina and Brazil.

 

Money talks, money divides

 

The numbers immediately drew the eyes of the world, the flip side was a spirited jockeying, by those attending, for inclusion as benefactors and participants. The question is; will countries see the value in Xi’s grand plan or just fight over who gets what.

 

Challenges, opportunities and solutions

 

Xi’s BRI has a long road ahead of it, and it seems China is willing to be patient.

 

The main challenges will be: understanding their partners, convincing a critical mass of them to see the value of the system, a sometimes hostile or indifferent international press and ideological, spheres of influence and territorial conflicts.

 

On the opportunities side, it could change global governance towards a more consensus rather than corporate driven model, help China through its middle income trap period, soak up excess industrial capacity, create new markets for goods and services and politically and economically stabilize countries, by offering better economic alternative and opportunities.

 

On the solutions side, for Xi’s part his willingness to step forward and attach resources to his grand plan indicates a willingness to take a leader’s role; his attention to political, economic, linguistic, social and cultural understanding is a measured path to avoiding misunderstandings.

 

But in the end it will be the smaller, but vital pieces of roads, rails, sea ports, airports, agreements, financing and the things which make them work; like the TIR Convention China joined last summer, which allows sealed containers to pass from source to destination, without the need to have inspections or pay tariffs along the way.

 

It is a grand plan and one which envisions a different future, the only question is will the world react positively or be content to struggle under the system we have now.

 

Einar Tangen is a political and economic affairs commentator, author and columnist

 

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

 

 

 

 

Pinyin: The Story of Zhou Youguang

By Shlomo Maital

zhou-youguang

Zhou Youguang

pinyin

Pinyin Alphabet

     This is the story of how an “amateur” with courage and passion can change a huge nation and enhance the lives of many millions of ordinary people.

     Zhou Youguang, father of Pinyin, died last Saturday in Beijing. He was 111 (one hundred and eleven)!  

       Here is his story.   We can learn a lot from it.

       But first – what is pinyin? Pinyin in Chinese means “spelled sounds” – i.e. phonetics. Pinyin is simplified Chinese, or “Romanized” Chinese. What is Romanized? It is “the conversion of writing from a different writing system to the Roman (Latin) script”. Mandarin Chinese has thousands of characters; it is a pictorial language, with a great many symbols or pictures. Learning those characters was well beyond the schooling abilities of ordinary Chinese. And using those characters, it was very hard to spell Western names, or Chinese names, or to use the computer.

       There have been many “Romanized” Chinese systems. But Zhou Youguang’s system was by far the best and simplest. How did it come about?   The New York Times obituary (Jan. 17) reveals a lot.

           He was the son of a prominent family – his father was an official of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, 17th c. to 1912. Zhou was born in Changzhou. He studied economics at St. John’s University and Guanghua Univ. During the war with Japan he moved to the then-capital Chongqing. There he worked for a bank, and met Zhou Enlai, a star who would become China’s long-time premier, 1949-1976.   In 1946 Zhou went to New York to work with China’s Wall St. agent Irving Trust, and returned to China after the Communist take-over in 1949. He taught economics, until Zhou Enlai asked him to head a committee that would alphabetize Mandarin and boost literacy.

       “I’m just an amateur,” Zhou said to Zhou Enlai. “Everyone is an amateur”, came the wise response. Pinyin, developed by Zhou, was adopted by the Chinese government in Feb. 1958. It met rapid acclaim, and brought literacy to millions. It also saved Zhou’s life. Chairman Mao was very suspicious of economists, jailed many of them, and with Zhou’s U.S. Wall St. background, would likely have been jailed for many years (a friend of his was jailed for 20 years and committed suicide), had it not been for his Pinyin fame.  Zhou himself spent years in a labor camp, like many Chinese intellectuals.

     Today Chinese schoolchildren first learn to read by the pinyin system before graduating to studying characters. China’s illiteracy rate is only 5 per cent!   Around the world, foreigners study Chinese through the pinyin system.

   What do we learn? First, Zhou was passionate about language, and curious about it. He leveraged this into an outstanding innovation, perhaps because he was not a professional linguist, and hence able to simplify.   He was willing to try, despite lacking academic credentials. He pursued his passion.    Second, optimism. “When you encounter difficulties, you need to be optimistic”, he told an interviewer. “Pessimists tend to die.”

     This echoes the famous story about the two wolves within us: Fear and Hope. Which wolf wins?   The one you feed….    

Did Open Borders Destroy U.S. Manufacturing?

By Shlomo Maital

 open-borders

   In the recent US Presidential election, Donald Trump campaigned largely on how trade (i.e. imports, open borders) has destroyed blue-collar jobs. His voters agreed.

     But is this true? Have globalization, open trade in goods and services, and cheap imports, destroyed good US jobs? Or were there other causes?

     You won’t find a more authoritative answer than that from MIT, in Suzanne Berger’s 2013 book Making in America:   From Innovation to Market (MIT Press), based on her work with the MIT Task Force on Production in the Innovtion Economy.

       Here are some relevnt passages:

Even taking into account job losses resulting from outsourcing as well as import competition, it was difficult as recently as a decade ago to find clear evidence of a heavy impact of open borders on manufacturing employment. …In 2003, [such job losses] involved less than one percent of layoffs; in 2004 they went up to 2 per cent. …job losses in manufacturing were mainly the result of productivity gains which might reduce the total numbers of those needed to produce a finite quantity of goods. …[Studies showed] the bottom line was that Chinese imports accounted for 33 per cent of manufacturing job decline between 1990 and 2000 and 55 per cent between 2000 and 2007.   But [focusing mainly on rising Chinese productivity and falling China-facing trade barriers] 16 per cent of manufacturing job losses between 1990-2000, and 26 per cent between 2000 and 2007, were attributable to rising import competition from China.”

   Bottom line: At most, a third to a half.   And more likely:   one-sixth to one quarter of job losses were due to Chinese imports.  

     So what does that mean?   There were other causes, deeper ones. Labor-saving machinery and automation (robots). Low skills. And dumb policy. Berger notes: “Germany abandoned much of its low-end manufacturingwhile expanding employment in higher value-added segments.”   And America??

             Recently a former senior VP of Intel, Mooly Eden, spoke at Technion and noted that the moment manufacturing wages rose in China, Intel shifted to Vietnam and built 1 million square feet of manufacturing capacity there.  

             China lost jobs – why? Globalization? Or because their productivity failed to keep pace with wage increases?  

             It’s hard to predict the future. But here is one pretty safe guess. While Trump tackles America’s job problem and rebuilds manufacturing, based on a wrong assumption, he will fail.   It won’t help to start a trade war with China. So in four years, his supporters will find that he failed to deliver.

           What then? Will they vote Democrat? Or will we get an even farther-right crackpot candidate, as has happened in Europe?  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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