Great Wall of China and South China Sea: Historical Parallels

2016 07 01 South China Sea

Highly recommended: The WSJ‘s Andrew Browne on parallels between China’s Great Wall, which was erected at a time of debate about the country’s role in the world, and their current claims in the South China Sea:

Echoes of this history reverberate today in the South China Sea, where China is building massive fortifications — artificial islands dredged from the seabed — to help defend a “nine-dash line” claim that encircles almost the entire waterway and reaches almost 1,000 miles from China’s coastline.

U.S. Adm. Harry Harris rails against the man-made islands as a “Great Wall of Sand.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter warns that China risks building a “Great Wall of self-isolation” through actions that have alarmed its neighbors.

In a matter of days, a United Nations-backed court in The Hague is expected to rule on a challenge to China’s claim brought by the Philippines. The decision will address an issue that has preoccupied Chinese dynasties since antiquity: Where does China end?

This has infuriated Chinese leaders; the presumptuousness of foreign jurists sitting in judgment upon what China regards as a matter of Chinese sovereignty is intolerable. Beijing has boycotted the proceedings.

Yet there’s an even more fundamental issue at play, one that dominated the debate in the old Ming court and that has rumbled on ever since: How should China conduct its relations with the world?

Image: Wikipedia.


Norm Ornstein Explains the Rise of Donald Trump

Norm Ornstein, of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, explains the rise of Donald Trump:

When you look at populism over the longer course of both American history and other countries that have suffered economic traumas as a result of financial collapse, you’re gonna get the emergence of some leaders who exploit nativism, protectionism, and isolationism. They’re components — sometimes greater, sometimes lesser — that are baked into the process. So you’ve got a bit of that.

But if you forced me to pick one factor explaining what’s happened, I would say this is a self-inflicted wound by Republican leaders.

Over many years, they’ve adopted strategies that have trivialized and delegitimized government. They were willing to play to a nativist element. And they tried to use, instead of stand up to, the apocalyptic visions and extremism of some cable television, talk radio, and other media outlets on the right.

And add to that, they’ve delegitimized President Obama, but they’ve failed to succeed with any of the promises they’ve made to their rank and file voters, or Tea Party adherents. So when I looked at that, my view was, “what makes you think, after all of these failures, that you’re going to have a group of compliant people who are just going to fall in line behind an establishment figure?”

Related post from last month: Michael Barone: ‘Trump Can’t Break the Republican Party.’.

To which Mr. Ornstein might reply: It’s already broken, and that’s why Trump’s the Republican nominee.


In This Week’s Newley’s Notes: Singapore’s ‘Smart Nation;’ Trump on India; Conroy on SC Eats; Dog Hug Warnings

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

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Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

Singapore Is Taking the ‘Smart City’ to a Whole New Level – I’m really proud of this story, which was months in the making.

My colleague Jake Watts and I wrote about the Singapore government’s unprecedented effort to collect data and assist city planners in making the country run more smoothly. There are, as we note, some privacy concerns.

We also worked with colleagues on this interactive feature, which includes three animated videos showing how some of the technologies work. You might recognize the narrator’s voice.

The story has proven quite popular, spending some time among the most-read stories on over the last few days and attracting more than 50 comments on our site. As of this writing it has been liked and shared more than 9,000 times on Facebook, and has garnered more than 100 comments there.

What Donald Trump Said About Indian Call Center Workers – At a rally in Delaware, the Republican front-runner described his experience calling his credit card company in what he said was a quest to investigate outsourcing.

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1) Dogs don’t like being hugged. I really hope this research is off-base, but it makes sense.

2) Speaking of dogs: At a recent Atlanta Braves game, a dog in a hot dog costume ate a hot dog. I love it. (Via Patrick B.)

3) “Why do thieves steal soap?”” An interesting look at the economics of theft, including fencing, market demand and retail value.

4) Improbable quote of the week:

“Now I hear millennials and people of all ages saying Crystal City is so cool,”

Wait, is Crystal City, Virginia becoming…hip?

5) Hunger-inducing quote of the week: Pat Conroy on South Carolina food – among the state’s many wonders:

The subject of food is a serious one the length and breadth of this state. Our barbeque sauce is mustard-based and our peanuts are boiled and served in wet paper bags. An oyster roast in sight of a lowcountry river is an act of priest-like enjoyment and cause for a pagan-like joy. At a Charleston hospital during my Citadel years, I met a leper who told me he contracted leprosy when he killed and ate an armadillo. I’ve no idea if he was telling the truth or not, but I didn’t wish to shake his hand and armadillo meat shall never pass my lips – but that’s the kind of thing that turns up when you’re moseying around South Carolina and you don’t mind talking to strangers.

(Thanks, Miles B.!)

Reader feedback: Regarding the very strange upcoming flick “Swiss Army Man,” which I mentioned last week, Colin C. writes in to say: “I liked Swiss Army Man better when it was called Cast Away and starred Tom Hanks. That movie was delightful.”


Have a great week!


P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here.


Michael Barone: ‘Trump Can’t Break the Republican Party’

Michael Barone, in a WSJ op-ed Friday, puts the Trump phenomenon in historical context:

Even if Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination and somehow overcomes current polls to be elected president, there will be few Trump clones among Republicans in Congress and in state and local office.

If he is nominated and defeated by a wide margin, he will not leave behind a Trumpist movement with the popular and intellectual depth of the conservative movement following Goldwater’s defeat 52 years ago—his legacy may be little more than an impulse toward opposition to trade agreements and legalization of illegal immigrants. If he is not nominated and tries to run as an independent, he will not have the support of as significant a third-party apparatus as Theodore Roosevelt did 104 years ago.

As this is written, it seems likely but not certain that Mr. Trump will fall visibly short of the 1,237-delegate majority, and that he will inflict significant damage on the Republican Party by protests or perhaps an independent candidacy. But probably nothing like the serious, though temporary, damage inflicted by that vastly more talented, experienced and intellectually serious disruptive New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt.


2 Recent Stories: Asia Shopping Apps and Garena Fundraising

A recent week-long vacation combined with subsequent general busyness means I’ve been delayed in pointing out a couple of recent stories.

The first is a story my colleague and I put together on the rise of Asia-focused consumer-to-conumser shopping apps. Think eBay, but for the smartphone age.

The piece begins:

Instead of listening to music or playing videogames during his daily train commute in Singapore, Jay Pang uses the down time for something different: selling rare sets of Legos via his smartphone.

Mr. Pang frequently manages listings for his online business using a new e-commerce app called Shopee. The app was created by a unit of Garena Online, a fast-growing Internet startup in Singapore valued at $2.5 billion. Mr. Pang frequently taps away on his Samsung Galaxy smartphone during his ride, haggling over prices with customers in real time.

The 29-year-old engineer’s on-the-go business offers a look at the changing face of commerce in the era of the smartphone and is a blueprint for how mobile shopping could evolve elsewhere.

Consumers in the U.S. use their mobile devices more for getting directions or listening to music than for making purchases, according to a 2015 survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center.

But a handful of Asian startups are starting to change the commercial landscape by offering apps that let individuals buy and sell goods directly from one another more easily than on traditional Web-based sites like eBay. The so-called peer-to-peer commerce market is attracting funding from international investors and some companies have valuations of $1 billion or more despite the global economic slowdown.

There’s also a video, narrated by yours truly, embedded at the top of the post and online here.

The second story, out Thursday, is an exclusive: Singapore-based startup Garena has has raised a new round of funding at a valuation of about $3.75 billion.

The piece begins:

Investors are plowing fresh funds into a fast-growing Internet company focused on populous Southeast Asia despite falling valuations for some less-successful startups in the U.S.

Garena Interactive Holding Ltd. has raised $170 million in fresh capital in a fundraising round led by Malaysia’s state investment arm, Khazanah Nasional Bhd., valuing the Singapore-based online entertainment and e-commerce startup at about $3.75 billion, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Garena has now raised more than $500 million, including a round of fundraising in March 2015 that valued the firm at more than $2.5 billion, the person said. The company didn’t disclose other investors in the new round. Earlier investors include the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, one of Canada’s biggest pension funds, and U.S.-based private-equity fund General Atlantic LLC, though neither participated in the new round.

There’s a video for this one, too, embedded above and online here.


By Me Last Week: Facebook Asia-Pac VP Dan Neary Talks Growth in the Region


Facebook, as we all know, has a gargantuan user base — some 1.59 billion people, to be exact.

And as its recent earnings show, the company is doing extremely well, raking in more than $1 billion in quarterly profit for the first time.

Last week here in Singapore I spoke with Dan Neary (pictured), Facebook’s Asia-Pacific vice president, about big picture trends in the region.

In short, the company seems to have many reasons to be bullish on continued Asia expansion.

The story begins:

Facebook Inc. is adding users in Asia at a much faster rate than other parts of the world, an executive said, showing the recent controversy over the firm’s free Internet service in India is not deterring the social networking giant’s expansion in this part of the world.

Dan Neary, Facebook’s vice president for Asia Pacific, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Tuesday that some 540 million of Facebook’s 1.59 billion monthly active users were in Asia as of the end of December, up from 449 million a year earlier.

Facebook is adding users in Asia at a rate of about 20% annually compared to 14% globally, he said.

“The potential is greater in Asia-Pacific than it is in any other region because we’ve got two thirds of the world’s population, and it’s all mobile,” Mr. Neary said.

Also, for the first time, Instagram has broken out the number of users in a country outside the U.S.: It has 22 million in Indonesia, up from 11 million a year ago:

Mr. Neary pointed out that the company’s image-sharing platform, Instagram, is popular in many parts of Asia, as is its WhatsApp messaging app. Instagram is making particularly big gains in Indonesia, Mr. Neary said, which is a key global market due to its population of 250 million.

The service now has some 22 million monthly active users, up from 11 million a year earlier, making it one of Instagram’s fastest growing markets. Instagram has not previously broken out its user base by country, though it said in September that more than 75% of its community is outside the U.S.

Again, the full story in online here.

Humor Misc.

Starbucks Misspellings: a New One For the Collection


Acquired recently in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Backstory is here.




My Brief Chat with Pat Conroy in 1995



Novelist and long-time South Carolina resident Pat Conroy, pictured above, died Friday. From the Charleston, SC Post and Courier obit:

Pat Conroy, the best-selling novelist and proud adoptive son of the Lowcountry who wrote lyrically about Charleston and unflinchingly about The Citadel, died Friday. He was 70.

The author of “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline” and “The Prince of Tides” and eight other books passed away shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died at 7:43 p.m., surrounded by loved ones and family.

I wanted to expand on these Tweets I posted not long after the news broke:


I enjoyed Conroy’s books for their lyricism and their setting: Like Conroy, I moved to South Carolina’s Lowcountry as a teenager, first landing in Hilton Head and then moving up the coast to Beaufort. And I appreciated that he so vividly portrayed what is so compelling about the South — namely, its many warm people and its haunting geography, especially along the coastline, which is dotted with marshes and trees that drip Spanish moss.


At the same time, though, Conroy did not shy away from illuminating the region’s many flaws, such as its horrendous legacy of racism and the fact that bigoted attitudes are still a fact of life for many even today.

In 1995, it must have been, when Beach Music came out, Conroy appeared at a bookstore on the Emory University campus in Atlanta, where I was a junior and studying English.

Like many college students, I was short on cash, and wasn’t able to spring for the hardcover of the new book. But I brought an old, battered mass market paperback copy of The Prince of Tides, his previous novel, that I’d brought to school and had recently read.


He was there with this father — an abusive figure he’d written about; he stood by silently — and when the event ended I approached the younger Conroy. When I told him I was “from” Beaufort, he broke into a big grin, shook my hand, and said he was delighted to meet me.

He asked me a few questions about what I studying, and said I should “give him a holler” if I ever saw him out and about back at home.

I never saw him again, but that brief interaction has remained with me all these years.

I’ll have to search out that copy of The Prince of Tides I gave him to sign — appropriately, it remains at the family home in SC — but if memory serves, the inscription reads, “To Newley, for the love of South Carolina and the Lowcountry.”


By Me Today: 500 Startups Invests in Vietnam

The story begins:

Silicon Valley’s 500 Startups is starting a fund to pump money into Vietnam, a sign that some foreign investors believe the communist state’s technology scene is set to blossom.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based seed investor and startup incubator said Tuesday that it aims to invest $10 million in some 100 to 150 startups in the fast-growing country.

“I’ve been watching the tech scene here since 2010, and back then it was way too early” to invest, Eddie Thai, a 500 Startups venture partner, told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday at an event to launch the fund in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Over that period of time, the macros [macroeconomic conditions] improved,” said Mr. Thai. “Internet access improved, smartphones became ubiquitous,” and the teams running startups in Vietnam have gotten “stronger and stronger every year,” he said. “This is our call to everybody to say we’re investing, come to us.”

U.K.-based consultancy We Are Social says smartphone ownership is growing quickly in Vietnam, and that 55% of adults in the country now use the devices. The country is also young: Some 41% of the country’s more than 94 million people are below the age of 24, according to CIA World Factbook data. That means there is a huge potential for companies to tap into a growing base of users.


In This Week’s Newsletter: Oatmeal-Centric Restaurants, Nate Silver, Why Chocolate May be Good for Your Noggin

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe!

Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

Uber Rolls Out Motorcycle-Booking Service in Bangkok — The world’s most valuable startup picked Thailand for its first service allowing users to book motorbikes through its app.

(Those who have visited the Kingdom or other parts of Southeast Asia know that motorcycle taxis are popular in the region because they allow a cheap, easy way to cut through traffic-clogged metropolises. I was reminded how strange they might seem to outsiders, however, by someone who left a one-word comment on the story: #deathwish.”)

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1. There exists in America a restaurant that serves 30 different kinds of oatmeal. Amazingly, it is in New York’s Greenwich Village, not Portland, Oregon. (Thanks, Anasuya!)

2. Worth a listen if you’re interested in economics, politics, sports, forecasting, and/or statistics: Nate Silver talks to Tyler Cowen about just about everything you can imagine.

3. Research finding of the week: “Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study.” Yesssssss…

4. Good stuff from The Wirecutter: a detailed guide to improving your smartphone’s battery life

5. Here’s an interesting New Yorker profile of the legendarily frugal Peter Adeney, the Canadian man behind popular blogMr. Money Mustache.

Have a great week!

— @Newley