Islamic Roots of Identity in Xinjiang, China

Memo #188 – Among the numerous cultural restrictions aimed at China’s Uyghur population, the Chinese government focuses particularly intently on control of religious activities. This past Ramadan saw an increase in state-imposed restrictions on ordinary Islamic practices among the Uyghurs. Since Beijing proclaims support for a distinct Uyghur identity while suppressing Islamic practices, it is worth reconsidering the historical connections between identity and Islam among the Uyghurs and their ancestors. Continue reading

Why Technology Needs People: Gold, Phones, and Bicycles

Memo # 177 – “We treated our precinct captains like gold,” wrote David Plouffe, an architect of President Obama’s 2008 US election campaign. “The challenge” lay in “marrying digital technology and strategy with a strong grassroots campaign.”

Plouffe’s insights had been anticipated a year earlier in an election in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, where a party led by a Dalit (former untouchable) woman won unexpectedly. And the story about the centrality of technology and people came full circle early in 2012 when Uttar Pradesh voted to throw out the incumbent government. Continue reading

The Republic of China: Restoring a Father’s and a Nation’s Life Story

Memo #167 – One of the most famous modern Chinese writers, Pai Hsien-yung [Bai Xianyong白先勇], has just brought out a photo-biography of his father, Pai Chung-hsi [Bai Chongxi 白崇禧]. The book, Father and the Republic, was published in spring, 2012 simultaneously in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China—a breakthrough, a transcendence of political barriers. Continue reading

Japan and South Korea’s History Divide

Memo #165 – Despite the United States’ shift in strategic attention to the Asia Pacific, fiscal constraints and defence spending cuts highlight the need for greater military cooperation among Asian partner countries. There are myriad security issues in the region. Japan and South Korea, the two key US allies in Asia, are significant actors in this context. But enhanced defence cooperation continues to be hampered by controversies regarding Japan’s history of aggression on the Korean peninsula. In mid-May, Seoul cancelled the planned signing of two military accords with Tokyo, citing domestic criticism on any military pact amid unresolved bilateral history issues. Continue reading

Japanese History Textbook Controversies: The Missing Link

Memo #144 – History textbook controversies in Japan (教科書問題) focus on “facts” about particular events and question specific phrasing and numbers. In the past, Chinese and South Korean governments have charged that Japanese government-screened history textbooks allegedly trivialized and/or justified past atrocities. Continue reading

Why do Chinese Migrants Have to Pay so Much to Work Overseas?

Memo #135 – Unskilled workers from China have to pay exorbitant costs to work abroad in Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, their top three choices. Fees, averaging 8,000 USD, are not charged by human smugglers but licensed employment intermediaries. In fact, transnational labour migration through legal channels costs significantly more than illegal migration. This is not unique to China. Across Asia, the percentage of legal migrants is increasing – more than 800,000 Chinese by the end of 2011 compared to less than 60,000 in 1990. Why is the cost increasing? Because Asian states rely on intermediaries. Continue reading


Memo #135 – 日本,新加坡和韩国是目前接纳中国非技术劳工最多的三个国家;中国人去这三个国家打工,要付8,000美元的中介费。这些钱不是给人贩子,而是给有正规执照的中介机构。事实上,通过合法途径出国打工的成本要明显高于非法迁移。这并不是中国特有的现象。在亚太地区,合法移民的比例在增加——2011年底有80多万中国人在境外就业,大大高于1990年的6万人——但是成本也大幅度增加了。其原因就在于,亚太国家依赖于中介机构管理跨国劳动力流动。 Continue reading

Government Policy in East Asia’s Digital Economy (Video Interview with Dr. Ken Coates) (Part 2/2)

Memo #130 – Government policies have played a crucial role in the development of the digital economy in East Asia. Japan’s investments in the sector go back to the 1960s and 1970s, with many of the early efforts laying the foundation for the subsequent success of Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba. Taiwan’s formidable “triple-helix” of government, business, and universities bore fruit in the emergence of the impressive “Taiwan Inside” effort to expand computer manufacturing. Korea’s government invested heavily in digital infrastructure, making the country the most wired in the world. China’s extensive innovation investments in everything from computer hardware to a network of animation studios have produced a great deal of research and commercial activity in the sector. Continue reading

East Asia’s Digital Economy (Video Interview with Dr. Ken Coates) (Part 1/2)

Memo #125 – Over the last quarter century, East Asia has played a dominant role in the digital economy. Taiwan, China, Korea, and Japan host many leading digital manufacturing firms. They exert enormous control over everything from video game consoles and cell phones to netbook computers and digital automotive control systems. As the digital economy grew in size and importance, so has East Asia’s presence in the digital space. Continue reading

One Hundred Years of Waiting

Memo #107 – For many Chinese, the Xinhai Revolution will be recalled on October 10 as modern China’s founding moment a century ago. The revolution ended an imperial system whose foundations go back millennia. In those terms, 1911 was a great success. But suppose that, rather than look backward, we look ahead. What if we measured the republican revolution by the republic it ushered in, and not the empire it ushered out? Continue reading