1. March 2010 earthquake in Japan. At 5:46 GMT (2:46 local time in Japan), a massive earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Japan. It unleashed a huge tsunami which swept Japan’s eastern coastline and pushed buildings, boats, cars and people miles inland. This “wildcard” event in Japan will shape the nation for the next 2 to 5 years.
- For an in-depth look at the Japan disaster in statistics, analysis and video, see Japan 2011 in figures.
- As of 4/10/11, here is Reuters’ latest factbox on the Japan disaster.
- The UK Telegraph has a timeline of the disaster, from tsunami to nuclear crisis.
- Earthquakes happen every year, and the number of large-magnitude earthquakes is fairly constant. It was a matter of time.
- Large swathes of arable land in Sendai have been made unusable because the tsunami swept them with toxic chemicals.
- Along Japan’s northeastern coast, several hundred miles of cleanup (Washington Post)
- The confirmed death toll has reached 13,000. The death toll will likely go higher: there are an estimated 28,000 dead, but their bodies have not yet been found: likely swept out to sea.
- Radiation fears linger. The Fukushima plant will likely have to be decommissioned. Other countries are stepping up radiation monitoring: South Korea says it is testing seawater and ocean life for radiation and Korean fish markets have been hit with radiation fear.
- Meanwhile elderly refugees “overwhelm Japan” (WSJ).
- And many nations throughout Asia are helping to respond (UCA News).
- The Japanese military is playing a leading role in the recovery effort (Military.com).
- We have to be careful when we talk about the “why” of the disaster. Many different theological explanations have been espoused, and now there are arguments about them. At two opposite extremes: Piper and McLaren. Other examples: Cindy Jacobs, and Scientific American on the tendency to see signs everywhere.
- Scientists, too, are pondering the unparalleled dangers of unlikely disasters and “black swans” (Washington Post).
- There have been frequent comments about the “deep reservoirs of strength in Japan’s economy and national character” revealed by the earthquake (see Foreign Affairs for an example of an analysis of how the March 11 disaster will change Japan).
Food and Hunger Issues.
2. China may not be able to meet sharply rising food demand from its domestic resources (WSJ) although it does have huge food reserves. Food price spikes have been an important contributor to revolts in the Middle East.
3. Famine in North Korea has again reached dangerous levels (see WFP/FAO/UNICEF special report, 35 page PDF), with over 6 million of people living in conditions of food insecurity and risking starvation. A coalition of 54 NGos have urged a permanent humanitarian channel to ensure the flow of aid. However some worry that the North is exaggerating the crisis and funneling the aid to the elite. The British ambassador said the markets seemed well-supplied in the capital city. Nevertheless many seem to believe the crisis is real: see UPI, NYT, WSJ, AsiaNews.IT, Reuters, Khaleej Times, Asia Times, UK Guardian, and Voice of America.
4. Although food is rarely an issue in Japan, the 2011 Disaster has impacted Japan in several ways: first, in that it is difficult to get food stocks to refugees who need it; second, many countries are worried about radiation poisoning in Japan’s exports.
5. China’s incredible economic growth leads it to more and more influence abroad.
- It’s no secret that China has transformed itself into a highly entrepreneurial and capitalistic country. China’s entrepreneurs are helping it win and some thing it does capitalism better than the U.S. They are chasing the Chinese dream. Some are even cultivating the attitude, “Get rich or get lost.” Martin Jacques addressed TED on the topic of China as the largest and most dominant country in the world.
- As a result, the nation has become more and more wealthy. It has replaced Japan as the second largest economy, and will likely surpass the U.S. as the largest economy in the world by 2030. On Forbes’ list of the 400 richest in China, 128 are billionaires. Beijing and Shanghai are increasingly home to billionaires.
- This wealth has to go somewhere. Some is being spent on luxury goods. The purchasing power of the middle class is rapidly increasing and thanks to urbanization, “values are shifting.” The “hunt for status has made China into the second largest luxury goods market in the world” (see Chinese consumer trends in a global perspective, ericsson.com, PDF, for a particularly insightful look at the growth in rampant materialism and status-seeking).
- More and more is being invested abroad—making some nervous. China has become the 5th largest global investor, and the scope of its overseas investments are nicely shown in this infographic from the Heritage Foundation. A brief review of a book by Weiner helps encapsulate the influence China has abroad and some of the fears about it. Europe is worried about protecting its interests, and China is worried about European debt.
- In the long-term, Chinese are moving to places where China is invested. Many wealthy are choosing to emigrate (change citizenship) to more open places using investment immigration: but it’s not just the wealthy. Over a million Chinese (from engineers to chefs) have moved to work in Africa.
- And places and peoples are working to make themselves more amenable to Chinese investment. Parents are seeking Mandarin skills for their children.
6. China’s massive economic growth is leading to massive urbanization driven by rural-urban migration inside China.
- Growth is leading to frequent changes in the basic minimum wage. Zhejiang in eastern China recently raised its minimum monthly wage to 1,310 yuan (US$200). Other provinces are likewise adjusting their minimums upward.
- The 285 million rural migrants to China’s cities are excluded from full urbanization benefits because they do not have an urban “hukou” or household registration. Their average monthly income is 1,690 yuan, is growing, and is the main source of income for their families back home. Migrant income is fueling the growth of the rural economy.
- While China’s cities are great, there are also great slums. The Global City And The Global Slum – Forbes (blog) reveals slums in China, and also “slum politics.”
- There has been a generational change, however, in the nature of migrants. Older migrant workers went to cities to earn money for a few years and then return to their villages. The new, younger generation have left the farm behind: they have come to the city and intend to stay. China must integrate the new arrivals, and this is a challenge. In fact, in some situations the cities are overwhelmed, there are not enough jobs, and many millions of would-be workers have had to return to their rural homes.
- Land is being urbanized even faster than the population is urbanizing. This leading to major cultural changes. Urbanization is threatening food security by reducing the amount of available arable land. Some landless Chinese farmers are even emigrating to Africa to search for land and agricultural opportunities: is Africa China’s “Promised Land”, as America was for Europeans, offering the hope of freedom and the good life?
- In the midst of this rural-urban migration, families are being fractured: parents are leaving to work in cities, and children are left with grandparents or other relatives. They are the “left behind”: millions of children growing up without one or both parents. The Left-behind children are prey to mental ills (People’s Daily)
- In order to facilitate economic growth, China had launched the world’s most ambitious public works project: its high speed rail network. Recently this program has been challenged both by budgetary shortfalls and corruption. The trains are expensive: high end business travelers can use them but poor migrant workers are reduced to buses, the number of which are soaring. In addition, China is building more airports, probably reaching 230 by 2015.
- Rapid urbanization is leading to rapid pollution.
- The rapid growth of labor is leading to the rise of a worker movement: China’s laborers are organizing for higher wages and more rights.
7. In addition to this internal migration, many expatriates are coming to China seeking business opportunities. New legislation is being written to manage the skyrocketing number of foreigners coming to China.
8. Japan’s economy has been devastated by the 2011 Earthquake and will likely be a long time in recovering.
War, Conflict, Military
8. China has the world’s second largest defense budget and its largest military, and it is rapidly expanding its capacity. It has what appears to be an aircraft carrier nearing completion. It is moving closer to deploying a “carrier killer” missile. The Eurasia Group listed both China and North Korea as 2 of its top 10 risks for 2011. It has set up its first private bodyguard company: is this the beginning of a Chinese “Blackwater”?
9. North Korea also has an army of over 1 million. It continues to lurch confusedly between offering charm and rattling its sabers. The possibility of conflict between North and South Korea, or between North Korea and other nations, is not to be dismissed lightly.
Technology & Science
10. Censored or not, use of the Internet has grown exponentially in China.
11. Mobile phones are the most common way that people use the Internet.
- There are well over half a billion mobile phone subscribers in China alone. At least a quarter of those—and perhaps more—access the Internet via their phone. Many mobile web users are mobile-only; they do not access it any other way. (This is not necessarily “smart phones” like the iPhone—other handset cans access the mobile Web.)
- South Korea is a heavily wired society: had some 45 million mobile phone subscriptions in 2008, or a 90% penetration rate. Two-thirds of Koreans make payments using their cell phones. A third of South Korean students send over 100 text messages daily. Koreans on average consume 129 minutes of digital television on their phones. 80% of Koreans have broadband access, and 57% of Korean music sales are digital.
- Japan, too, is heavily wired. In a 2005 population of 127 million, some 94 million had phones and 82 million subscribed to mobile data services. Interestingly, SMS messaging has apparently been less popular due to a lack of SMS interconnections between operators. Mobile email is more common.
12. China’s sciences in general are booming. China is poised to overhaul the US as the biggest publisher of scientific papers.
Politics, Governance, Regulation, Control, Oppression
13. Although China’s economy has opened up drastically, the government still attempts to regulate and control society. Censorship is widespread, over all forms of communication. China is nervous about the revolts in the Middle East, and “the 12th Five-Year Bluepring on Economic and Social Development for 2011-15 had much to say about the Party’s new imperative to impose tighter control” (Asia Times). Although some have been talking about the possibility of a “Jasmine Revolution,” John Robb’s analysis from a source in China suggests that the “Jasmine Revolution” doesn’t exist inside China—but perhaps outsiders are formenting the fear of the idea of a revolution in the minds of the government. Most Chinese don’t seem overly concerned about changing this: middle class Chinese are enjoying a better standard of living (see economics, above) and are not interested in change.
14. North Korea remains firmly closed. The current food shortage has done nothing to loosen the regime’s group. After the revolts in the Middle East, South Korea began dropping leaflets into North Korea urging the people of North Korea to rise against the government, but the North Korean government threatened war if they continued. To smuggle information out of North Korea is to risk imprisonment and execution, yet there are citizen-journalists who do.
15. Japan’s government has been rattled yet again due to the current crisis. The current leadership was not especially stable, and its future once the worst of the immediate crisis is past is very much open to debate.
16. As China urbanizes and Westernizes, it is abandoning its traditional vegetable-based diet in preference for Westernized fast food. Bicycles are giving way to subways and cars. A third of the population is now overweight and 92 million Chinese have type 2 diabetes.
17. China is considering reversing its one-child policy. The casualties of this policy have been severe. But at this point many Chinese only want one child anyway. Some economists are contending that the low birth rate is destined to stifle China’s economic growth.
18. Many Buddhist-based societies (in China and elsewhere throughout Asia) have festivals in which they provide “paper tokens” for those in the afterlife—e.g. paper money so that the dead can buy things in the underworld. As the Asian world has modernized, other things have become available in paper form too—including paper houses, paper cars, paper microwaves, paper televisions, and paper cell phones. Now, the latest craze: paper iPads. And just like the real iPads, paper iPads are sold out too.
19. Women in China: here’s a Letter from China: Women Struggle for a Foothold in Chinese Politics (NYT)
Outlook of the next generation
20. There are over 630 million people under the age of 24 in China—about double the population of the United States. At least 30 million Chinese youth suffer from emotional and behavioral disorders (People’s Daily).
21. In Japan, “Hundreds of thousands of Japanese young people now face a transformed Japan that will test a generation reared in affluence yet dismissed by its elders as selfish materialists.” (NYT) Will they rise to the challenge (TIME)?
22. Christianity in China is a growing influence.
23. This is not to say that persecution has reached an end in China, and of course it continues in North Korea.
24. There is still a dramatic need for Bibles for believers in China.
25. Much was made some years ago about Back to Jersualem and the idea of 100,000 Chinese missionaries moving through Muslim lands toward Jerusalem, evangelizing everyone along the way. Much is still made of this in many quarters. I theorize that more made of Back to Jerusalem than perhaps is deserved, at this point at least.