Note: I have long kept, on index cards, written notes about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.
Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
By Joe Studwell
Published: Oct. 2007
Read: Nov. 2015
Brief recap: An incisive look at how Southeast Asia’s godfathers got rich by exploiting the region’s dysfunctional governments — and how local elites have used godfathers, in turn.
One of the best books, if not the very best, on the region that I’ve encountered; should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the history of modern Southeast Asia.
The region’s godfathers — largely Chinese and Indians — emigrated to Southeast Asia before World War II, taking advantage of opportunities for concessions and monopolies from local political elites in exchange for not seeking their own political power. Typical godfather behavior would be, for example, to bribe local politicians for lucrative monopolies, which they then used to build their own fortunes. Local elites got a steady stream of incoming cash in return, and weren’t challenged in the governmental sphere.
Southeast Asia and Hong Kong have very few global brands because they employ “technology-less industrialization” — entrepreneurs seek rents and have monopolies, so don’t need to improve productivity or become globally competitive.
The economic landscape in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong is “shaped by the interaction of two historical forces: migration and colonization.” That is, migrants came to Southeast Asia and began building their riches by taking advantage of colonial systems.
Thailand’s Thaksin was a godfather who committed the sin of political ambition — and alienated his fellow godfathers.
Studwell is highly critical of Singapore despite the fact it is known globally for good governance and its outsized economic development. He argues that its small size makes comparisons with countries irrelevant, and that both the city-state and Hong Kong show that small cities with deep water ports and good banking facilities were always destined to flourish in the region, despite their very different political models. “As relatively easily managed city states, with highly motivated and purely immigrant populations,” Studwell writes, “Hong Kong and Singapore perform a simple economic trick: they arbitrage the relative economic inefficiency of their hinterlands. In other words, business comes to them because they perform certain tasks — principally services — a little better than surrounding countries.”
Think Hong Kong, and startups might not spring to mind.
But, as my colleague Lorraine Luk and I recently wrote, the city is home to an increasing number of tech companies working in fields like robotics, finance, bio-engineering and more.
Our intro story begins:
Casey Lau, a veteran Hong Kong Internet entrepreneur, in 2009 co-founded a networking group to promote the city’s burgeoning startup community. By 2013, the group, StartupsHK, had attracted 5,000 individual members. Today, just two years later, it has doubled in size to 10,000 people.
Among Hong Kong’s diverse startups are outfits working on artificial intelligence, Internet finance, robotics and more, as a new Wall Street Journal interactive illustrates.
One local company has developed what it says is the world’s most lifelike robots. Another is using biologically engineered fish embryos to detect toxins. And yet another has developed its own artificial intelligence software to buy and sell stocks.
Indeed, a website started by Lau’s group that provides a listing of local tech firms says Hong Kong is now home to more than 300 startups. The number of co-working spaces in the city, where tech workers share office space, has increased from just one in 2009 to 22 last year, one study found. The number of incubators and accelerators, meanwhile, has grown from six to 16 during that time. Hong Kong is also now home to at least one “hackerspace,” Dim Sum Labs, where people gather to tinker with contraptions like 3D printers and microcontrollers.
To be sure, Hong Kong — like most cities striving to become global technology hubs — is not quite Silicon Valley, and young technology firms here face some very real challenges.
Separately, we profiled six interesting startups.
There’s also a slideshow.
As I wrote here:
Twitter Inc. plans to open an office in Hong Kong early next year to serve greater China and tap advertising revenues from Chinese companies that are quickly expanding, an executive said.
Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s vice president for Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the office will mainly house sales staff, though he declined to say how many. The office is set to open in the first quarter of 2015.
“The real main focus of the office will be sales,” Mr. Rao said. “Building sales capability to work with agencies and advertisers domestically in Hong Kong and Taiwan and those Chinese advertisers looking to go global.”
Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009 due to government concerns it could be used to organize protests. Asked if plans for the Hong Kong office signaled Twitter’s eagerness to enter China should the government lift its restriction, Mr. Rao said, “We would love to have Twitter” reach people “everywhere in the world including China.” But, he added, “Unfortunately, we can’t. That’s not our choice. We don’t control that decision.”
Click through to read the whole thing.
The story was picked up by financial newswires, various news organizations and several tech blogs.
From our China Real Time blog today:
Observers wondering who exactly the ‘foreign influences’ are that Beijing has so darkly accused of helping spur protests in Hong Kong got one possible glimpse — in the shape of American saxophonist Kenny G.
Photos of the curly-maned musician in Hong Kong began surfacing on social media Wednesday afternoon, with Mr. G posing with protesters on the scene, a cardigan tossed around his shoulder, before images of tents pitched across town.
Mr. G’s verified Twitter account appeared to confirm his visit, with the musician posting a smiling selfie backdropped by protest posters, with the accompanying caption: “in Hong Kong at the sight [sic] of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.”
(Mr. G also traveled elsewhere in China earlier last month, performing multiple shows in cities from Chongqing to Shanghai. During that time, he also posted an image of himself in a neon-strung room playing music beside a man who bears a striking resemblance to Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan, with the commentary: “This is what happens when I go to China…My music is super popular there. Look at my Chinese big brother! He can sing.” Mr. Chan couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.)
Queried on the subject at Wednesday’s daily foreign ministry news briefing in Beijing, authorities were distinctly less amused to see the musician pop up in the Chinese territory, which has been rocked by protesters demanding greater democracy in the former British colony. For weeks, party and pro-Beijing media have reiterated their belief that such protesters have been driven by foreign forces bent on undermining Chinese rule.
From the NYT back in May:
There are many things about modern China that defy easy explanation: parents posing their children next to live tigers, the sight of grown women wearing furry cat-ear headbands while shopping, the performance-art-like spectacle of strangers napping together in Ikea display beds.
But no mystery is more confounding than that ofthe 1989 smash-hit instrumental by the American saxophone superstar Kenny G.
For years the tune, in all its seductive woodwind glory, has been a staple of Chinese society. Every day, “Going Home” is piped into shopping malls, schools, train stations and fitness centers as a signal to the public that it is time, indeed, to go home.
The song in question:
That’s the subject of a story I wrote Friday:
A U.S. mobile security firm says it has uncovered smartphone spyware aimed at pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong that comes disguised as an app created by a community of socially minded programmers.
When activated, the Android app reveals the smartphone user’s geographical location, text messages, address book, emails and more, San Francisco-based Lacoon Mobile Security said this week.
Lacoon notes that a link to download the spyware began spreading via chats on the WhatsApp messaging app in recent weeks. Messages, which arrived from an unknown account, said “Check out this Android app designed by Code4HK for the coordination of Occupy Central!”
Clicking on an accompanying link infects users’ phones.
Click through to read the rest.
That’s the name of a new Wall Street Journal documentary:
The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was once the densest place on earth, a virtually lawless labyrinth of crime, grime, commerce and hope. A Wall Street Journal documentary tracks its colorful legacy 20 years after its demolition.
The link above leads to the doc on WSJ.com, and there’s also a YouTube version.
Very much worth a watch.