Urbanization in China

This month saw the formal change in leadership in China, with Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang taking over the positions of president and prime minister at the 12th National People’s Congress.

It quickly became clear that one of Li Keqiang’s main policy items will focus on urbanization in China as a way to maintain economic growth. Urbanization has been an important development in China for the past decades, with the urban population outnumbering the rural population since 2011.

The China Economic Watch blog looks a little closer at this intended focus of the new administration:

“What is interesting about Premier Li’s approach is that it takes the issue of urbanization, which has been the primary driver of regional disparity and income inequality, and repackages it in a way that addresses those exact issues.”

It won’t be easy to tackle the issues that come with urbanization and urban development in China, and to turn them into a source of positive economic development. It will be interesting to follow how this works out in the next few years; also from a Dutch point of view. Many organisations from the Netherlands are involved in the topic of urban development locally but also in China as some news items & events from the past week will show:

  • last Monday, Pakhuis de Zwijger hosted an evening on working in China as a Dutch architect, including a screening of the documentary “The Making of the World’s Largest TV Tower” about the Guangzhou TV Tower;
  • last Thursday I attended the book launch for “The Shanghai Alleyway House; a vanishing urban venacular” at IIAS;
  • the Dutch company Arcadis has signed an agreement with the city of Wuhan to work on restoring some of the old parts of the city (article in Dutch);
  • the Dutch company Inbo recently was one of the experts at an expert meeting for the Shenzhen International Low Carbon City.

It seems that Dutch expertise can be useful in some of the issues that Chinese cities will tackle in the next few years. However, in my discussions on this topic over the last few weeks the big question remaining is how to successfully connect these many and various companies and experts to the right projects and local governments in China. My next few weeks will be spent exploring this question further to look for possible solutions.

North Korea, the risks of isolation

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to Prof. Remco Breuker and his views on North Korea and recent developments on the Korean peninsula. I have been following him for some time through Twitter and as it turns out we are fellow Japanologists. Though I suppose we both hide that well – Remco Breuker has gone over to the Korean side, while most of my professional life over the past few years has been focused on China.

The lecture was very timely as of course the Korean peninsula is causing quite some headaches again. One of the reasons for my fascination with East Asia is in large part to do with the immense variety of the countries in the region: six countries with completely different political, economic and social systems.

The North Korean state is the one that possibly is the most puzzling in the region to most outside observers. Isolated, poor, but with a large population, large reserves of minerals and a definite streak of independence. And again the country is causing problems by renouncing the cease-fire with South-Korea, and testing its long range missiles every few months or so. Remco Breuker gave us some more background on why this is happening, and gave some interesting insights and thoughts. Some examples:

> Unification is growing more unlikely, not only because of the immense financial cost involved but research in South Korea is showing increasingly that in fact younger generations in South Korea don’t look at the North anymore as being of the same country. As Remco Breuker put it: they are South Koreans, not Koreans.

> No one wants any kind of armed conflict on the Peninsula, but in the current situation unintended escalation is an easy risk.

> Engagement is the only way to get any further in this process. Increasing sanctions on North Korea is only making things worse, as to the people in North Korea it confirms what they know of the outside world: everyone, especially the US, wants to destroy North Korea. However, engagement will not be easy – and to quote Churchill will have to be “failure after failure after failure”. It may also mean that some people in the regime will not get the punishment (straight away) they deserve as the first and foremost objective should be to improve conditions in the country itself for its population. It may be necessary to engage exactly those people who are responsible for the current situation to get there.

There is no easy solution, and there is definitely not an easy way out of the prospect of North Korea becoming a nuclear power. In Breuker’s view this will be something we will have to deal with, as it looks unlikely/impossible that this will be bargained off the table.

Especially the discussion on the role of the regional powers such as Japan and China was a part that I would’ve liked to go on for longer. The complexities of the region are many, and some aspects of it are not really understood here at all. Again, the abduction issue was brought up – the topic of my MA/MSc thesis – which is still having an effect on the Japanese position towards North Korea. I guess some things never change: what may look like an insignificant issue to us in faraway Europe means everything to a resolution that may or may not come.

I wonder what the future will hold for the region, a unified Korea – or two countries continuing to go in a very different direction?

Recommended: Shareable

One of my recent website/blog finds is Shareable, a website bringing together stories and news from the world of the ‘sharing economy’. I’m not too sure what I think of naming another concept – I’m not a fan of labelling everything that is supposedly different, but maybe not really.

Anyway, what I like about Shareable – and I don’t nearly read everything – is the variety of topics and the new things I find when looking through a few days’ worth of articles.

It’s where I found Legobombing, where I’m following the saga of a junior co-worker (which coincides with my own route of discovering fitting workspaces and the so often alluded to ‘serendipity’), and many more bits of information on what happens when people find each other and start doing stuff together.

I love the glimpse of optimism and creativity in the midst of so many depressing stories in the news these days.

Saturday reading: on street art in Beijing

My Saturday so far has mostly been spent catching up on my neglected Google Reader subscriptions, Twitter favourites and more. It’s been good taking the time reading about so many different things happening around the world, ranging from:

But the thing that has stuck with me most and that I’d like to highlight here especially is an article I found through UrbaChina, on the evolution of street art in China, focusing on Beijing. Interesting to read on something that has always been part of urban culture here, but which is still a very small movement in China. But growing. I would love to see the documentary about it as well, hopefully it’ll find its way to one of the (Asian) film- or documentary festivals here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMfSjagb36s]

Verover de wereld!

Optimisme. Enthousiasme. Energie. Avontuur.

Dat is mij bijgebleven van de lancering van het Wereldveroveraars netwerk op 28 februari in Pakhuis de Zwijger. Want, is de boodschap tijdens deze middag, als slimme ondernemer zoek je je succes buiten de Nederlandse landsgrenzen. De export, dat is tenslotte het enige economische cijfer dat nog ten positieve groeit.

Het optimisme en enthousiasme hierover was aanstekelijk, en sprak duidelijk uit de korte interviews met de, door het FD en BNR als wereldveroveraars bestempelde bedrijven. Mecanoo, Bols, SpiritIT, Rituals – stuk voor stuk bedrijven die naam maken buiten Nederland.

Dat optimisme was fijn – dat is tenslotte iets wat we weinig horen de laatste tijd, terwijl er ook gewoon nog een hoop dingen goed gaan. Typerend misschien is de reactie die ik vaak krijg wanneer ik vertel dat ik in januari ben gestart als zelfstandig ondernemer: “Dapper!” of “En dat in deze tijd…!”. Ja, misschien is dat ook wel zo; maar de groei zit toch juist in Azië en in duurzaamheid – in mijn stellige overtuiging in elk geval. Dat is dan toch een gouden combinatie? Ter vergelijking: vaak hoorde ik vorig jaar – toen ik nog twijfelend was – bijna alleen maar aanmoediging en enthousiasme. Hoe het ook zij, deze crisis vraagt nu eenmaal om wat creativiteit – en ja, optimisme.

Terug naar Pakhuis de Zwijger en de Wereldveroveraars. Daar was weinig twijfel te bespeuren. Hoewel bijna elke ondernemer op het podium sprak over de noodzaak van een goede voorbereiding en betrouwbare partners, was eigenlijk alleen Rituals zo eerlijk om ook de andere kant te vertellen. Bij het veroveren van sommige markten hadden ze al veel geld verloren. Want dat er risico’s horen bij het internationaal ondernemen is zeker.

De grens over gaan is zeker een avontuur, maar in de woorden van een wereldveroveraar klinkt het verdacht makkelijk. Of misschien is het inderdaad gewoon een kwestie van de juiste mensen kennen. Juist dat wat het nieuwe Wereldveroveraars netwerk wil faciliteren.