Browsing Tag: history of japan

    In Tokyo, These Trains Jingle All the Way
    Articles, Blog

    In Tokyo, These Trains Jingle All the Way

    October 14, 2019


    (humming) – [Narrator] In train and
    subway stations all over Japan, you’re likely to hear a fully composed seven-second jingle that is uniquely written for that station. And if you’re one of the millions of Tokyo metro riders You’ve probably heard one of these jingles composed by Minoru Mukaiya. (lively music) (soft music) (upbeat music) – [Narrator] Over time,
    Mr. Mukaiya shifted his focus to his other passion-trains- and formed a company
    that builds simulators. In this world of trains, he found a new outlet for his music and got to work composing train melodies. Like this one (Shibuya Station music) (pensive music) (Ochiai music) (Takadanobaba music) (Monzen-Nakachō music) (Waseda music) – [Narrator] Having found a
    marriage of his two passions, today, Mr. Mukaiya considers
    himself a lucky man.

    China’s New “Silk Road”: Future MEGAPROJECTS
    Articles, Blog

    China’s New “Silk Road”: Future MEGAPROJECTS

    August 18, 2019


    Having recently completed both the world’s
    most extensive system of expressways and the planet’s longest high speed rail network,
    China is now looking beyond its borders for opportunities to keep building. President Xi Jinping announced at a recent
    summit that Beijing has sealed megaproject deals with 65 countries throughout Eurasia
    and Africa to construct ports, power stations, rail lines, roads, and all the tunnels and
    bridges needed to connect them back to mainland China. At a total cost of over $1 trillion, the One
    Belt, One Road initiative is unprecedented in size and scope. So is the bold funding mechanism: China will
    use its large, state-run banks to provide most of the financing, a risky move, when
    you consider how few of the nations in the O.B.O.R. could afford something like this
    on their own. “Oh,” say the leaders of economically-challenged,
    underdeveloped Laos, Yemen, or Ethiopia — or the blood-soaked regime of Bashar al-Assad
    in war-ravaged Syria — “you want to loan us billions of dollars to build some cool
    stuff in our countries? Of course, why not!?” China is hard-selling the project as a way
    to boost its westward connections, an update of the silk road trade route that played a
    significant role in developing China and the rest of the region 1,000 years ago. But many analysts see this comparison as little
    more than a marketing pitch. Al Jazeera clip: “Is the real point of this,
    East-West service then simply to boost China’s westward connections? [Pauline Loong] “Well I wouldn’t say simply
    to boost China’s westward connections, but I totally agree with Charles that it’s more
    a PR stunt. To call it the “Silk Road,” that’s really
    brilliant—evocative of romantic camel travels in the past. When, you know, you have these lovely silks
    and trade and so forth. And it’s good, because look at all the headlines
    it has been getting, but in practical terms, it’s early days yet.” [Bryce] Aside from the lessons China learned
    from its own recent infrastructure boom, Beijing is also drawing inspiration from the American
    Marshall Plan which financed the rebuilding of Western Europe after it was decimated during
    the second world war. That program was worth the equivalent of $130
    billion in today’s dollars and ensured the US had reliable export markets for the manufactured
    goods and machinery its growing economy had become dependent on producing. China’s modern version — first announced
    in 2013 — is the signature initiative of President Xi Jinping. Several projects have already been completed. Earlier this year London became the 15th European
    city connected directly to China through an ever-expanding global rail system, meaning
    freight trains loaded with goods can now arrive after a 12,000km journey all the way from
    the east coast of the landmass. And, at a cost of $4 billion, China also just
    completed Africa’s first transnational electric railway, which runs 466 miles from Djibouti
    to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Chinese companies designed the system, built
    the line, and supplied the train cars. The many other projects under the O.B.O.R.
    umbrella include: A $6 billion, 260-mile railway connecting
    eight Asian countries. Desperately needed power plants to address
    Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortage, part of a larger $46 billion investment by
    China in Pakistan aimed at offsetting the American and Japanese-backed building boom
    happening in neighboring India, China and Pakistan’s mutual rival. Train lines will connect Budapest to Belgrade,
    Serbia, providing another artery for Chinese goods to reach Europe after arriving in a
    Chinese-owned port in Greece. And — in a move that adds prestige to O.B.O.R. — China is financing more than a third of
    the $23.7 billion cost of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in southwest England. Part of the challenge in analyzing whether
    this building boom is ultimately good for the world is its sheer complexity. Nothing like this has ever been done before
    in human history. Yes, providing underdeveloped countries a
    chance to have better transportation infrastructure, or cleaner power plants is a good thing. But, by funding infrastructure that’s designed
    to enhance commerce and trade — instead of basic services many of these countries
    need more, like clean drinking water, affordable housing, and better education — China’s
    motives seem to favor the wealthy, elite business class. Here are other factors that explain why China
    is undertaking a project of this magnitude: The Communist Party has staked its reputation
    on non-stop economic growth. Since they hold all the power, the Chinese
    people expect them to deliver. But with its domestic megaproject boom nearing
    completion, China must find new buyers for all the steel, cement, and construction machinery
    its economy produces, or many of its factories could grind to a halt. It has decided the solution is One Belt, One
    Road, but lending hundreds of billions of dollars to many countries with weak credit
    ratings and unstable political systems is very risky. Which reveals an underlying sense you get
    when you look closely at One Belt One Road: China’s increasing desperation. The country’s national debt is already very
    high, but borrowing continues to accelerate at historic levels as state owned banks loan
    more and more money to state owned companies. The prime example of the risks associated
    with the tight rope the Communist Party is trying to walk was the government bailouts
    issued during China’s recent stock market collapse. That crisis was caused by the same sense of
    impatience that’s driving O.B.O.R.—the Party’s need to feed the insatiable economic
    growth monster. Using its powerful propaganda machine, Beijing
    urged its own people to invest their savings heavily in its immature, unstable market—causing
    inexperienced citizens to treat investments in companies like bets at a casino, creating
    a huge bubble that, naturally, burst. The government then suspended trading for
    a while and pumped billions into the system to avoid a total collapse. So really, when you step back, the core motivation
    for One Belt, One Road boils down to the Communist Party’s need to buy itself more time in
    order to come up with its next scheme to prop up the economy, because when it inevitably
    slows down, which it’s already starting to do, the Party’s promise to deliver a
    fantastic economic dream world will have been proven false for everyone in China but the
    elites. The silver lining is that many of the ventures
    China has undertaken will pay long-term dividends, like building up its high-tech manufacturing
    sector, with the anticipation that when OBOR’s transportation networks are complete, it will
    be ready to use them to deliver higher-cost goods like iPhones, drones, and green energy
    technologies to the rest of the world. The other major motivating factor here is
    the unmistakable opportunity to gain even-power status with the United States in Asia. The election of Donald Trump, and then his
    decision to walk away from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that would have hurt
    China, are massive geopolitical mistakes—completely unforced errors that China intends to take
    full advantage of. When it first announced the O.B.O.R. back
    in 2013, Barack Obama had just begun his second term and the US pivot to Asia was in full
    force. With rivals like Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam
    challenging China’s efforts to control maritime trade routes, it was clear China was being
    hemmed in on its Eastern flank. Despite the election of Trump, this is still
    true. So by instead turning instead to the vast
    land mass to the west for new opportunities, China minimizes its reliance on maritime trade
    routes that could be cut off in the event of a destabilizing military conflict. At the end of the day, China is all about
    business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a democracy,
    a dictatorship, or a failed state, China wants to work with you. But this willingness to embrace some of the
    world’s more unsavory characters could backfire. Just look who Xi is sitting next to at the
    O.B.O.R. summit: Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan—two men who look
    more and more like dictators clinging to power with each passing day. That’s not a good look for China, and it
    reminds us that the Communist Party is even less transparent. But in a world where the President of the
    United States is a bumbling fool, these partnerships create much less of an image problem now than
    they would have just a few months ago, when the widely admired Barack Obama was leading
    the free world. If you ask the Chinese, the O.B.O.R. is all
    about peace, an embrace of the concept of coop-etition. A generation ago it was unthinkable for a
    country to invest billions of dollars on infrastructure in another country, but in our hyper-globalized
    world, dominated by interconnected markets, it may become the norm, especially when we
    consider the intangible benefits—greater economic interdependence lowers the risk that
    groups of countries will want to fight with other groups of countries, many of whom are
    bound together by military alliances. Every one of these projects increases China’s
    soft power, giving Beijing more and more leverage in any future negotiation or military conflict. The many foreign seaports it will build and
    manage for the next half century will be particularly valuable chess pieces. Its understandable that Chinese policymakers
    are romanticizing One Belt, One Road as a crowning achievement for their nation—further
    recognition that it has regained its former status as a great civilization that deserves
    recognition around the world. But the reality is that it still has a long
    way to go. Combined, the following factors may weaken
    the optimistic sales pitches being made to foreign officials: a recent Oxford business
    school study argued that half of Chinese domestic megaprojects actually destroyed, not generated
    economic value; a few of China’s previous efforts to build megaprojects in foreign countries
    — like the A2 motorway in Poland — failed miserably; landowners and their representatives
    in the national assemblies of host countries are pushing back hard against attempts to
    take away their land; and public demonstrations against some the projects are beginning to
    take root, and spread. Another dose of reality that should sober
    Beijing is that— after analyzing China’s overleveraged financial position — its credit
    rating was just downgraded by a major agency, whose analysts concluded that its borrowing
    is raising red flags, and its economic growth will continue to slow down. Of course, none of these speed bumps is going
    to stop the Communist Party from attempting to execute their great leap. They are committed 100% to embracing a fundamental
    history lesson — one we were all reminded of by Brexit’s improbable win and the unlikely
    ascendence of Donald Trump — that fortune favors the bold—at least, in the short run. Thanks for watching. Get caught up on all of China’s major domestic
    megaprojects with the mini-documentary I made last year, which started some interesting
    conversations. To learn even more, and to support our work,
    sign up for a free 30-trial of Audible.com — linked below — and you’ll get one
    free audio download, like the great courses on The Fall and Rise of China. Until next time, for TDC, I’m Bryce Plank.