Asia

It’s no secret that the US is at the centre of global trade. But how is what it trades with the world changing? The US International Trade Commission, the independent government agency which investigates anti-dumping cases in the US and also acts as a trade data clearinghouse, this week put out its annual “Shifts in US Merchandise” report. Here’s four things in the report worth thinking about:

1. Americans love their cars and their iPhones. They were the biggest contributors to the $10bn widening of the US trade deficit in 2012. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Japan’s public diplomacy hovers between the ludicrous and the sinister. In recent months, the country has specialised in foreign policy gaffes that seem designed to give maximum offence to its Asian neighbours while causing maximum embarrassment to its western allies.

By Gideon Rachman

The world is so busy cheering on the emergence of democracy in Myanmar that it is in danger of averting its eyes from the assault on democracy in another Asian state – Sri Lanka.

David Pilling

A recent cartoon in the China Daily depicted the Statue of Liberty holding a listening device instead of a torch and a tape-recorder in place of a legal tablet. The Global Times, in both its Chinese and English editions, noted what it said was US “aggressiveness in cyberspace” and its “hypocrisy in saying one thing and doing another” – a reference to Washington’s demands that China stop its nefarious hacking campaign. The Global Times even suggested Beijing keep Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked information about US domestic and international information-gathering activities, and milk him for all the information he’s worth. “This concerns China’s national interest,” it said. Read more

Sampling wine at a Shanghai wine fair (AFP)

As the China-EU solar dispute deepens, oddly enough, wine has been brought into the fray.

Here are seven interesting factoids you may (not) know about China and wine.

1. Chinese investors have bought up 30 French chateaux vineyards over the past four years and they aren’t stopping at that. There’s another 20 deals in the pipeline. Will they be affected by any probe?

2. Chinese wine importers were prominent bidders in the recent Elysee wine sale.

 Read more

By Gideon Rachman
The world will be watching the body language at this week’s US-China summit. If Barack Obama and Xi Jinping can establish a friendly rapport, they will challenge the fatalistic notion that China and the US are doomed to confrontation. That pessimistic view is underpinned by an economic shift that the Americans find uncomfortable: by 2016, Mr Obama’s last year in office, China’s economy is likely to be larger than that of the US.

Gideon Rachman

South Korea is, in many ways, an incredibly impressive place. It was as poor as India in the 1950s, but now has wealth levels comparable to Spain or New Zealand. It is also now the 12th largest economy in the world, measured according to purchasing power. It has produced world-beating companies like Samsung and Hyundai – as well as a vibrant pop-culture.

Yet, talking to South Koreans, it is pretty apparent that there is also a darker side to the country’s economic miracle. There are two particularly shocking statistics. South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world. And it also has the lowest birth-rate in the developed world: 1.2 children are born for every woman. As a result, the society is ageing very rapidly. One prominent economist in Seoul told me that if the country cannot turn around its demographics, “South Korea will implode in two generations time.” Read more

Gideon Rachman

France’s cultural commissars should hop on a plane and visit South Korea. Any fatalism about the relentless march of English-speaking entertainment would be banished if they did what I did earlier today in Seoul – and visited the purveyors of K-Pop. Korean pop music not only dominates its local market. It has also gone global.

Of course, the most famous single K-Pop hit was Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, which topped the charts in 30 countries last year. But K-Pop has been a phenomenon for almost 20 years now – and it is just getting bigger. Read more

Jeremy Grant

 Najib Razak, Malaysia's prime minister

Najib Razak, Reuters

In the New Straits Times, Malaysia’s solidly pro-government newspaper, a beaming prime minister Najib Razak is pictured in an advertisement. It lists a range of goodies he promises for the electorate if his ruling coalition is voted in at Sunday’s landmark general electionRead more

Esther Bintliff

On Friday, South Korea advised the 175 workers left at the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea to leave for their own safety. Photographer Chung Sung-Jun captured part of the journey for Getty Images. In a set of striking photos, cars and vans are shown piled high with factory goods, to the extent that some of the drivers appear to have had no clear view through their windscreens. The workers joined compatriots who have left the zone since work was suspended earlier this month as a result of the escalating tension between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Seven South Koreans were held back on Monday, according to the BBC:

“Officials said the North insisted that some South Korean staff remain to negotiate unpaid wages. They did not believe the seven would be at risk.”

APRIL 27: South Korean workers arriving from the Kaesong joint industrial complex in North Korea at the inter-Korean transit office on April 27, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The FT’s Song Jung-a reported on the start of the exodus a few weeks ago:

“Long lines of cars and trucks loaded with heavy luggage crossed the border gate into South Korea this week as South Korean workers brought raw material and half-finished products back to minimise losses.”

APRIL 27: South Korean workers arriving from the Kaesong joint industrial complex in North Korea at the inter-Korean transit office on April 27, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Kaesong began operating in 2004 – the product of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, and a symbol of the potential for economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

According to a US congressional research note from 2011, products manufactured in the industrial park include “clothing and textiles (71 firms), kitchen utensils (4 firms), auto parts (4 firms), semiconductor parts (2 firms), and toner cartridges (1 firm).” Read more