Vegas, Baby


Okay, I don’t get Vegas. I’ve never been interested in gambling (and can someone please explain to me what poker is doing in ESPN? On what planet does this constitute a sport?), and the whole sort of tacky aesthetic of Las Vegas only amuses me in small, infrequent doses. I mean, I got a pretty good giggle out of Caeser’s Palace, when I saw it a couple of years ago, but as a vacation destination? I don’t get it.

A lot of Asians apparently do, according to this LA Times report, and Las Vegas is going all out to make them welcome:

In almost every way, Las Vegas is catering to Asians, offering Asian entertainers, high-stakes baccarat tournaments and rice congee by room service. The festivities and decorations for Chinese New Year have become second only to those for New Year’s Eve…

…In part, Vegas is reacting to the success of gaming in Macao – and hoping to capitalize on it. The Chinese territory’s 22 casinos, with their proximity to the sheer wealth and population of China, are viewed as competitors and appetizers for Vegas’ allure. This year casino gambling revenue in Macao is expected to edge past that of Las Vegas. Each locale brings in more than $6.5 billion.

“There’s no question in our minds that as more and more Chinese customers experience Macao, their natural curiosity is going to make them find out what the major leagues are like in Las Vegas,” said MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman. (An MGM Grand is scheduled to open in Macao in 2007.)

“If you go to Macao and you really like it, the next thing on your list is going to be to come to Vegas.”

As tourism markets go, China is a jackpot in the making. Within five to 10 years, overseas travel will lure an estimated 100 million Chinese annually, a figure that will dwarf every other market in the world, tourism officials said.

One Vegas tour operator is quoted as saying, “For China, in their mentality, this is the ultimate destination.”

Like I said, I don’t get it. But who am I to argue with slot machines in restrooms and a pina colada-scented volcano?

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Jacques Chirac: Sinophile

French President Jacques Chirac this past week revealed himself to be a true connoisseur of Chinese history, visiting several cities including Xian, which Chirac called: “The holy land of Chinese civilization.” According to the People’s Daily, the French President keeps a number of Chinese artifacts in his office including, “bronzes from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 BC) and a Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) sculpture of Guanyin, the goddess of compassion and mercy.” So Jacques loves the Middle Kingdom. Of course $14 billion worth of airplanes and $1.5 billion worth of locomotives can buy a lot of love.

Cross-posted at Jottings from the Granite Studio

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Frank Rich: Staying and Dying

This is for old Times’ sake, and it’s a great read. Relatedly, I just saw Bush on CNN saying if we let the insurgents take control of Iraq, we’ll soon be fighting them in the US. How much longer can he keep spoon-feeding such nonsense to the American people? The insurgents are fighting for domestic power, not global domination. The handful of global jihadists involved in Iraq will keep on trying to hurt America long after the fighting in Iraq has ceased – it’s a war based completely on false premises. Are people still falling for Bush’s BS? They sure aren’t over here in Asia.

Dying to Save the G.O.P. Congress
By FRANK RICH
Published: October 29, 2006

IF you happened to be up around dawn on Tuesday, you could witness the death rattle of our adventure in Iraq live on CNN. Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the American commander, were making new promises from the bunker of the Green Zone, inspiring about as much confidence as Jackie Gleason and Art Carney hatching a get-rich-quick scheme to sell a kitchen gadget on ‘The Honeymooners.’

(more…)

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“Counter the Asian termites with a US-Nato free trade zone”

What a suggestion: the US and Europe must join forces to combat the approaching enemy, who lies in wait armed with smiles, bows and a blood-lust for domination of world trade. Although the author at times refers to these enemies as “Asia,” he is referring specifically to China and India. The solution to the imminent threat will be a US-Nato free trade zone that stands up to the advancing enemies, insisting on fair and open trade policies. As a side benefit, the European and US cultures will converge, each benefitting from their respective positive attributes, while economies on both sides of the Atlantic will be stimulated. (Now does that all sound dreamy or what?)

It’s a great day for metaphors. The article I posted about below compares China to a lobster. This one compares China and other rising Asian powers to termites. It’s a fascinating argument, excerpted at length from War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity, Germany’s best- selling book by Gabor Steingart. In some ways, it reminded me of the recent debate we’ve been having about Europeans and Muslims, and the challenge is similar: to what extent do you embrace and cooperate with those who harbor a vastly different set of values from your own? It is a question that every non-Asian doing busines in Asia has had to come to terms with at one time or another.

At airports in Beijing, Jakarta, Singapore and New Delhi red carpets lie ready, Western national anthems can be played flawlessly on cue — and they even parry Western complaints about intellectual property theft, environmental damage and human rights abuses with a polite patience that can only be admired. The Asians are the friendliest conquerors the world has ever seen.

A stoic and dark superpower

Their secret is stoic perseverance, the weapon they use to pursue their own interests while at the same time disregarding ours. What looks like a market economy in Asia, actually follows the rules of a type of society which former German chancellor Ludwig Erhard liked to call a “termite state.” In a termite state, it is the collective rather than the individual which sets the agenda. Tasks that serve the aims of society’s leaders are assigned to the individual in a clandestine manner that is barely perceptible to outsiders. It is a state that encourages as much collective behavior as possible but only as much freedom as necessary. We don’t know what they feel, we don’t know what they think and we have no way of guessing what they are planning. Indeed, this is what makes China a dark superpower.

Even if no one is prepared to say it outright, there are signs of a similar indifference to Western values all across Asia. But it is precisely that unspoken that separates the two worlds. Free labor unions are neither vilified nor permitted. Lip service is paid to the environment as something that should be protected, but at the same time it is torn apart like a car in a wrecking yard. Child labor is condemned even as it is actively tolerated. And a whole range of laws exist to protect Western intellectual property, but those rules are seldom applied.

The Asian elite politely brush off everything that matters to us — the social framework surrounding daily working life, the idea of individual achievement and state-guaranteed fair competition. What we see as essential characteristics of a civilized society, they see as nothing more than bourgeois niceties.

I’m ready for the “R” word to be invoked against the author. Risky as it is to make generalizations about broad groupings of people – especially when that grouping includes parties as disparate as the Chinese and the Indians – I found enough grains of truth in Steingart’s argument to make it worth thinking about. And yes, I know that some of the characteristics he defines as Asian, such as paying lip service to the environment, apply to my own government and business community as well.

Read the article – its alarmist tone is kind of quaint, its proposed solution seems hopelessly unrealistic, but many of its observations are thought provoking.

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China the Lobster

Old argument, new metaphor. I agree with the speaker, James Kynge, author of the book China Shakes the World.

I know it is a clunky, inelegant metaphor, but I tend to think of China as a lobster. Its pincers are well-developed and powerful but its back legs are weak and spindly. The countryss manufacturing prowess (the pincers) is – as you suggest – quite awesome. But in channeling its energies into manufacturing, China compromises its development elsewhere. Herein lies the hope for balanced trade and mutual prosperity from China’s rise. Although China may dominate in manufacturing, it will continue to need the resources, energy and services that either cannot be supplied domestically or are better supplied from overseas.

The truth is that China’s weaknesses – its environment, its creaky financial system, the burden of its population, the shortcomings of single-party rule, a widespread crisis of trust, the lack of a rule of law and others – are almost as profound as its strengths. This may mean that while China will tend to dominate in manufacturing, it may continue to struggle elsewhere, providing opportunities for western businesses.

In other words, let’s not get too hysterical over China. Yes, they are the light manufacturers of the world, but they have as much going against them as for them, and they’re going to need things from us – it’s not a one-way street.

If you’re interested in the whole China Rising narrative, you’ll want to take a look at the interview.

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It’s rude to call the president stupid

Or that’s what some readers have told me via email. I should be gentler on him and less one-sided, they say. And yet I assure you all, I have tried to give him the benefit of the doubt many, many times, especially with the war in Iraq. And, just as when I give the same benefit of the doubt to China’s Communist Party, I end up inevitably disappointed, and my original concerns end up justified.

I want to ask readers, is it possible to watch this and not conclude our president is, indeed, a mental midget? Or am I being unkind and one-sided? Don’t we have the right to expect our president’s IQ to be above room temperature?

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Dixie Chicks Blacklisted by NBC

Go here to see the advertisement NBC refuses to play. Oh, that Republican-hating, god-awful liberal media.

As one of my favorite once-pro-Bush-but-since-seen-the-light sites put it,

From now on Bush followers can spare the outrage when people use phrases like ‘Dear Leader.’ In a free country, for example in the country that once sat between the Atlantic and Pacific, Mexico and Canada, networks do not feel pressured to turn away independent ads that might make the leading party uncomfortable. We don’t live there anymore. Same geographic location, different country.

Read the whole short Balloon Juice post and its update. You will be forced to wonder how the “liberal media” myth ever gained so much currency. Yeah, some reporters might lean left, but the media as a hole bend over backwards in the name of “fairness” and “balance” to appear non-biased, and in so doing stupidly and unforgivingly play right into the hands of the right. Scroll down to see myriad examples of true media bias, and something each and every one of us should be alarmed about. Only in the Age of Bush.

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Blogspot blocked again in China?

Is this true throughout the country or is it perhaps just a local phenomenon? Can you access blogspot blogs where you are?

Never get your hopes raised too high when it seems the party is loosening up. I’ve done it many, many, many times, and usually end up disappointed.

Update: IT headaches continue. If you can’t comment here, go to the above link and comment in the forum. Thanks.

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Chinese Internet exhibitionists

A most extraordinary post on the phenomenon of fast-rising – and, I suspect, fast-disappearing – “Internet idols” in China. Quite funny, and not necessarily safe for work (depending on your employer, I suppose).

Update: Ah, I now see this is a series.

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“The best business blog in China…”

…that’s not yet on the radar screen. If the China Law Blog says it, I expect that it’s true. Check out the blog, This Is China!, for ourself. A quick perusal tells me it’s beautifully written and wonderfully clear and knowledgeable. If you want well-informed insights into business in China, bookmark it now. (Of course, it doesn’t focus on the really interesting stuff like politics and human rights and how bad Bush is, but no blog is perfect.)

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