China pushes its economic leverage

Chinese woman working on laptop

The rise of China and its impact on economies all over the world isn’t a new story, but this overview in the New York Times is worth reading. The tone is one of looking at the downside of China’s economic empire and the unwillingness of desperate partners like European nations to assert themselves. But there is an upside, as China can provide much needed capital to struggling countries, and this also gives China a huge stake in stability around the world. There are certainly concerns on issues like the environment and human rights, but one needs to look at the big picture as well. Fortunately, President Obama’s foreign policy is aimed at engaging but also containing China, and he has been willing to use our own leverage in this relationship.

More Apple audits in China

Apple is ramping up audits of factories in China.

Apple has told a prominent Chinese environmental activist that it will soon launch independent environmental audits of at least two suppliers’ factories in China, the activist said.

The audits come as Apple faces mounting criticism about toxic pollution and factory injuries at overseas suppliers’ factories. The environmental reviews would be separate from an independent probe of working conditions at the China factories of Apple suppliers, including Foxconn Technology, that began last week.

Ma Jun, founder of The Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, told USA TODAY Monday in a phone interview that Apple agreed to the independent audits in late January in response to two reports that IPE and other environmental groups released last year documenting hazardous waste leaks and the use of toxic chemicals at suspected Apple suppliers.

Apple’s image has taken a beating with the problems at Foxconn, so let’s see if this is a new trend.

U.S. won’t cite China as currency manipulator

China undervalues its currency in order to gain competitive advantage around the world. Everyone understands that and it needs to change, but the question in the United State is how to effectively change it. The Obama administration is taking the gradual approach:

The Obama administration on Tuesday declined to label China a currency manipulator after seeing recent increases in the value of the yuan compared to the dollar.

The decision angered some manufacturing groups, which have accused Beijing of artificially holding down the value of its currency to gain trade advantages. A cheaper yuan makes Chinese goods less expensive when they are shipped to the United States. It also makes U.S. goods more expensive in China. Both could increase the U.S. trade deficit with China, which is on pace to hit a record high this year.

The Treasury Department said the yuan has appreciated 12 percent against the dollar in the past 18 months, after adjusting for inflation. In addition, the department said in a semi-annual report that China promised at two high-level meetings last month to make the yuan’s exchange rate more flexible.

Still, yuan is “substantially undervalued” and its appreciation “is insufficient and more progress is needed,” the report noted. The department will “press for policy changes that yield greater exchange rate flexibility” and “level the playing field.”

This will likely end up being a campaign issue as Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates are hammering Obama over China. But progress is being made.

U.S. should increase Chinese tourism

Tom Friedman writes often about China, and his latest column addresses current hot issues like currency valuation, manufacturing and trade. But this paragraph grabbed my attention:

But we also need to stop thinking that a middle class can be sustained only by factory jobs. Thirty years ago, Hong Kong was a manufacturing center. Now its economy is 97 percent services. It has adjusted so well that this year the Hong Kong government is giving a bonus of $775 to each of its residents. One reason is that Hong Kong has transformed itself into a huge tourist center that last year received 36 million visitors — 23 million from China. Their hotel stays, dining and jewelry purchases are driving prosperity here. The U.S. Commerce Department says 801,000 Mainland Chinese visited the U.S. last year, adding $5 billion to the U.S. economy. More Chinese want to come, but, for security reasons, visas are hard to obtain. If we let in as many Chinese tourists as Hong Kong, it would inject more than $115 billion into what is a highly unionized U.S. hotel, restaurant, gaming and tourism industry.

The United States needs to get beyond some of the over-zealous security restrictions imposed after 9/11 and let as many Chinese and other tourists come visit as possible. Tourism has helped to sustain Europe for years, and the U.S. needs to take advantage of this as well.

Bob Dylan in China

Bob Dylan was at the Worker’s Gymnasium in Beijing on April 6th, but there was a ton of controversy relating to his concerts in China. Dylan recently came out with a scathing statement denying that there was any censorship of his songs or lyrics during his performances.

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