USF Gets a Confucius Institute

Here’s a story from a couple weeks ago that I didn’t get around to blogging until now. The University of South Florida, in my hometown, Tampa Bay, is going to play host to scholars from Nankai University from here in my adopted hometown, Tianjin. The St. Pete Times has the goods:

Vice provost Ralph Wilcox is in China today to sign agreements with Chinese government and education officials. The institute for Chinese language and culture will open on USF’s main campus in February, when professors from Nankai University in Tianjin arrive.

It will be the only Confucius Institute in Florida, and among 30 established in the United States during the past three years. The institutes aim to boost Americans’ understanding of the language and culture of China, one of the world’s fastest-growing countries and largest economies.

USF’s institute, for example, will provide Chinese language instruction for K-12 teachers. Its instructors will incorporate Chinese culture lessons into a variety of classes – including business, public health and geography, said international affairs dean Maria Crummett.

The Chinese government will give USF $100,000 a year for the institute’s first few years, plus 3,000 volumes for the USF library, Wilcox said. Also, Nankai University will send three professors to teach at USF the first year. And USF has budgeted $200,000 of its own for the first year to cover the salary of a part-time director and a support staff, as well as three campus offices that will serve as the institute’s headquarters for now.

As a loyal FSU Seminole I would’ve rather seen Tallahassee get the institute, but at least it didn’t go to to the Gators. Boo hiss. If nothing else, if/when I move back to Tampa Bay, I now know where I could go to audit some Chinese language courses in the future.


My Week with the N82

Nokia N82Last Thursday night I picked up a Nokia N82 as a replacement for the N95 I lost a few months ago. I had been waiting for the N95 8GB, but the N95’s “big brother” still has limited availability in mainland China. Since the N82 is more or less the N95’s guts stuffed into the N73’s body, it seemed a suitable alternative to waiting for the 8GB.

Though it received a big launch internationally, the N82, curiously, has been a bit of a stealth contender in the Chinese market. Nokia’s big launch in Q4 was the music and gaming-oriented N81, and the N82 hasn’t been thrust into spotlight like the N81 or the N95 before it.

After using the N82 for a week, I can say that I’m happy I purchased the phone. In many ways, it excels over the original N95, and I’m left wondering why Nokia would potentially cannibalize purchases of the N95 8GB by offering such a good phone in the same season. What follows in this post is a review of the high points and low points of my experience with the N82.

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The NYT’s Choking on Growth Series

Starting this summer, and continuing this month, The New York Times has produced “Choking on Growth,” a series of multimedia-enhanced articles on the environmental costs of China’s development. The first article in the series , written by Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley and released in late August, covered the usual topics, such as the desertification of the Hebei-Beijing region, provincial groundwater pollution, air quality in Beijing, and corruption. Though a few months old, some of the information in the article ties in with my previous posting on the potential advantages of “green subsidies” in China by raising the issue of Chinese energy efficiency:

Its [China’s] energy needs are compounded because even some of its newest heavy industry plants do not operate as efficiently, or control pollution as effectively, as factories in other parts of the world, a recent World Bank report said.

Chinese steel makers, on average, use one-fifth more energy per ton than the international average. Cement manufacturers need 45 percent more power, and ethylene producers need 70 percent more than producers elsewhere, the World Bank says.

China’s aluminum industry alone consumes as much energy as the country’s commercial sector — all the hotels, restaurants, banks and shopping malls combined, Mr. Rosen and Mr. Houser reported.

Considering that these industries obtain heavy subsidies from the state, it would seem a good guess that subsidization — aimed at production targets — is actually encouraging inefficiency. The writers continue,

Moreover, the boom is not limited to heavy industry. Each year for the past few years, China has built about 7.5 billion square feet of commercial and residential space, more than the combined floor space of all the malls and strip malls in the United States, according to data collected by the United States Energy Information Administration.

Chinese buildings rarely have thermal insulation. They require, on average, twice as much energy to heat and cool as those in similar climates in the United States and Europe, according to the World Bank. A vast majority of new buildings — 95 percent, the bank says — do not meet China’s own codes for energy efficiency.

In fairness, the new 8-to-10,000RMB/sq. meter apartments popping up in Tianjin and Beijing utilize such things as geothermal heating systems and Western-style insulated windows, and actually use this as a selling point, but, given the price, most city dwellers aren’t going to live in them. Instead, most people in big cities live in apartment blocks constructed in the 1990s and early 2000s, most which have the design flaws mentioned in the article. For instance, the apartment I live in, which was completed circa 2000, bleeds heat throughout winter and does little to keep the heat out in summer.

That said, I’ve also seen some progress during my nearly four years in China. The main building of the old campus of the university I work at, which was finished around 2003, has terrible insulation, whereas the buildings at the new campus, completed in late 2006 and fitted with insulated walls and window glass, are properly warm in winter and cool in summer. Unfortunately, the main downside of the new campus’ design is that the buildings utilize “modern” central air for heating and cooling instead of steam radiators and ceiling fans, a design choice that might render moot the effects of insulation improvements.

Returning to the articles themselves, one innovative thing about them is that each article features a Mandarin translation (in PDF) and a recording of someone reading the article in Mandarin. While I have doubts about whether Chinese people need to hear the articles for themselves to believe it — after all, they can see the effects with their own eyes — they nonetheless represent a form of outreach, and might also make the articles interesting as classroom discussion materials.

However, after reading through most of “Choking on Growth,” I’m left with a question. Are these articles and others like them in the Western press just intended as 2008 Olympics raspberries, or will the media keep up the scrutiny on China’s development after the Beijing Olympics?

George Will Is Grumpy

In a messy, bloggish column, George Will unloads on America’s presidential candidates. First, he rakes a few of the Democrats over the coals:

About one thing, Hillary Clinton is, remarkably, both clear and opaque: Jefferson is anachronistic. “We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?” Well, okay, what does “all that” mean to someone stuck in congested traffic? Or annoyed by the price of cable television? What does Mrs. Clinton mean?

John Edwards’s health-care agenda involves un-Jeffersonian bossiness. “It requires,” he says, “that everybody get preventive care. If you are going to be in the system, you can’t choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years.” In an ad running in Iowa, Edwards brandishes his mailed fist at Congress, to which he vows to say: “If you don’t pass universal health care by July of 2009, in six months, I’m going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you.”

What power would that be? What power enables presidents to “take” health care from people who have it by statute? This is the Democrats’ riposte to the grandiosity of the current president’s notion of executive prerogatives?

Then he rips into the surging Mike Huckabee:

Many Iowans think it would be wise to nominate a candidate who, when the Republicans were asked during a debate to raise their hands if they do not believe in evolution, raised his. But, then, Huckabee believes America can be energy-independent in 10 years, so he has peculiar views about more than paleontology.

Huckabee combines pure moralism with incoherent populism: He wants Washington to impose a nationwide ban on smoking in public, show more solicitude for Americans of modest means and impose more protectionism, thereby raising the cost of living for Americans of modest means.

The more plausible Gov. Mike Huckabee becomes as a candidate — he’s now out-polling Romney in Iowa — the more he sounds like a more articulate version of Gov. George W. Bush, circa 2000. And that should give most Republicans pause, not because of Huckabee’s religious beliefs, but because of his un-Republican vision for government. As even liberals admit, Huckabee’s a nice guy, and his heart may be in the right place, but I shudder to think about the size of the deficits and the direction our economy would take under Huck’s harder, better, faster, stronger compassionate conservatism.

h/t The Corner

CFLs in Developing Countries

cfl-bulb.jpgI went lightbulb shopping over the weekend and wound up looking through the stock of bulbs in the local Wal-Mart. Like Wal-Mart in America, Chinese Wal-Marts are pushing the compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs big time. And, given the environmental and economic benefits of switching to CFL or LED bulbs, we can all applaud Wal-Mart’s stance. (An aside: I really ought to check out other retailers and see if they’re also stocking CFLs in bulk.) The only problem is, as far as I can tell from looking at what’s on the shelf, Chinese customers aren’t buying CFLs in large numbers.

The reason may be simple: price. Good-quality Chinese incandescent bulbs can be bought for as little as 25 cents apiece, while CFL bulbs sell for $4-$5. While a Westerner might absorb the costs of getting a CFL because it pays for itself in the long run, for Chinese consumers, a single CFL is the same as the price of 3-4 homecooked meals or one nice dinner out. Assuming they have twelve bulb sockets in their home, if they replaced all of the bulbs in their home with CFLs, it would cost more than a month’s heating bill in an average house here in Tianjin.

This got me to thinking: of all the developing countries in the world, China, with its huge, rapidly urbanizing population, conspicuous coal pollution, and relatively low energy efficiency, is the country which stands to benefit the most from CFLs. (India would be a close second.) Yet the costs of buying CFLs make them prohibitive for the average working-class Chinese, and also deter all but the most green-minded middle- and upper-class consumers. So how to get Chinese people to buy them? Since the price of the bulbs is unlikely to drop in the short run, one answer may be to reduce the price CFLs for Chinese consumers through a government subsidy.

While many subsidies in the world today are anachronistic (Western farm subsidies) or ill-advised (infant industry protection), subsidies aren’t always a bad policy in the short run.* (See Malawi’s recent history of fertilizer subsidies as evidence of this.) Subsidizing lower CFL prices and other “green” purchases — cleaner cars, homes with proper insulation, recycled consumer goods — would also help to offset the massive environmental damage China has suffered while maintaining a growth-first economic policy. Since China is on record as being opposed to sacrificing economic growth in its production centers in order to improve the environment, promoting greener consumption could reduce the overall environmental impact of the Chinese economy as the government implements policies aimed at stimulating China’s service and retail sectors.

* The obvious caveat being that subsidies left in place over the long run can outlive their usefulness and even become perverse. China provides many examples of this, such as its overflowing steel reserves, which are the result of from relentless subsidization from 2000 on, and have produced many undesirable economic and environmental effects.

Update: After poking around in some local Tianjin shops, I’ve come to the conclusion that Chris Waugh (in comments) is right about CFLs being more common than my post suggests, though they’re still uncommon in some schools and larger businesses here in Tianjin. Strangely, most of the CFLs I’ve seen in shops and markets have had an ugly yellow tint like a cheap incandescent bulb. Chinese companies are probably churning out cut-rate CFLs to compete with the high-quality foreign brand CFLs.

A Peace Conference to Make War

Writing in the NYT, historian Michael Oren looks at the comparatively low-profile Annapolis Middle East Peace Conference and makes the case that the various parties — Israel, the Arab world, the Quartet, and beyond — were drawn together by the specter of a nuclear Iran:

… [I]n spite of its glaring handicaps, Annapolis must be deemed a triumph — not of peacemaking, paradoxically, but of girding the region for conflict. Though no doubt sincere in their desire to neutralize the Arab-Israeli irritant in Middle Eastern affairs, participants in the conference were above all motivated by their fear of a radical and relentlessly aggressive Iran. This fear has deepened with the success of the Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza, as well as the expansion of Iranian influence westward into the Iraqi vacuum.

The inability of the international community either to entice or deter the Iranians from producing nuclear weapons adds urgency to the need to unite those countries threatened by those bombs. That, and not American fiat, brought 49 states and organizations to Annapolis; that, and not the yearning for an Israeli-Arab accord, impelled a Saudi prince to sit alongside an Israeli prime minister.

Not unexpectedly, the Iranians reacted ferociously to Annapolis. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pronounced it a “failure” and the government-controlled press promised to “bring down Islamic wrath” on its participants. But such rage merely betrays the anxiety induced by Annapolis in Tehran. For the first time a coalition of Western and modern Arab leaders has coalesced and declared its commitment to resist “extremism” in the Middle East — a well-known euphemism for Iran.

What’s more, new efforts have begun to confront Iran outside of the United Nations and woo Syria from Iran’s orbit. An international conference may not be the ideal formula for attaining Israeli-Palestinian peace, but it can provide a powerful forum for expressing solidarity in the face of war.

The sight of Arabs and Israelis not quite breaking bread together, but at least sitting to discuss policy in a large forum, is heartening, though I’m not so certain I’d agree with Oren that Annapolis was the start of a grand anti-Iranian coalition. In fact, I might even call it wishful thinking from an Israeli perspective. It goes without saying, however, that tensions created by Iran — and by the ongoing war in Iraq — would increase the likelihood of cooperation among the countries of the region.

Iran is symbolic of a myriad of security concerns. Firstly, as presumptive figurehead of Shia Islam, belligerent moves by Iran are seen, rightly or wrongly, by Sunni-majority Arab states as increasing the hostility of their Shia populations. The Saudis in particular most look at the role Iran has played in helping Shia insurgency in Iraq and worry about similar conflicts arising in the north of their country.

Secondly, because Iran is at least structurally democratic, and because Iran has always supported, if not led, Islamic parties like Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran represents a revolutionary political threat to the monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Jordan) and tribal autocracies (Syria) of the region. Paradoxically, although Iran is an avowed enemy of liberalism, it is also a supporter of democracy in the Middle East, and because Iranian democracy is married to sharia, it is much more palatable than the variety Iraqis are struggling to swallow, which comes with burdensome expectations such as rights for women, pluralism, and free speech. Thus, the dissatisfied masses of the Arab street may see Iran’s Islamic Republic as a worthy political model to emulate, especially if Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons.

This brings me to the final point. A nuclear-armed Iran doesn’t loom as a hegemonic threat in the region — hence the low likelihood of an anti-Iranian coalition — but it does represent a tipping point that will make real the threat of proliferation in the Middle East. If Iran’s nuclear weapons are opposed by the Arab states, it’s not because the Arabs fear the Iranians would use them against Sunnis, or even that Iran would use them against Israel, but because it would compel the Arab states to race against one another (and Iran) to develop and stockpile their own arsenals. Neither conventional arms nor the American security umbrella would be seen as enough to guarantee the sovereignty of Middle Eastern countries.

One might argue, if Israel’s nuclear arsenal didn’t provoke proliferation in the region, why would Iran’s be any different? The difference, and the Arabs know it, is that Israel’s arsenal was developed as protection against a grave existential threat, namely, the Arabs themselves. Though officially secret, Israel’s weapons are the rattlesnake’s rattle of the Middle East, warning the other nations, “Don’t Tread on Me.” The fact that Israel’s arsenal is such a special case is why few Arabs countries defend Iran’s nuclear program on grounds that “well, Israel has the bomb too.”

Iran, on the other hand, faces no credible security threat — even if having America at her doorstep has doubtless elevated the perception of threat — and instead seeks to acquire nuclear arms to prove that the Islamic Republic is a great power, perhaps even a world power. In effect, Iran’s desire to be perceived as “strong” would “conventionalize” nuclear weapons among the oil states and bring with it the expectation that every country’s military should have the bomb. And fear of that situation, and the uncertainty it will bring, is enough to make even Arabs and Israelis sit down and talk.