Posts tagged ‘Latin America’


BBC News – The village that just got its first fridge

Three-quarters of the world’s homes have a fridge – an appliance that can revolutionise a family’s life. A tailor in one Indian village has just become the first person in his community to own one – something he has dreamed of for 10 years.

Santosh choosing a fridge

Santosh Chowdhury is pacing up and down speaking into his mobile phone.

“How much longer? It’s left past the auto-rickshaw stand, yes that’s right,” he shouts, and then continues his nervous pacing.

It’s a big day for him and indeed for the village of Rameshwarpur, just outside Calcutta in north-east India.

Santosh has bought a new fridge – not just his first but also the first in the entire community of 200 people. “Owning a fridge is quite rare in a village like ours,” he says.

The lack of fridges in Rameshwarpur reflects the situation across the whole of India. Only one in four of the country’s homes has one. That compares to an average of 99% of households in developed countries.

But change can be rapid when linked to an emerging middle class. In 2004, 24% of households in China owned a fridge. Ten years later this had shot up to 88%.

“Ours is the first generation to own a fridge in my family,” says Santosh. “No one in my father’s and grandfather’s time had ever seen one.”

Rameshwarpur has a distinctly rural feel. People bathe in a pond in the middle of the village, children fly kites in the dusty lanes. The homes are little more than simple huts, made of mud and brick. But the village has electricity and many houses have televisions.

Santosh works as a tailor. He lives in a modest, two-room hut which doubles as his home and workplace. “I don’t have a regular job as such,” he says. “Sometimes I also work part-time in a factory. I make about three to four dollars a day.”

Life is quite hard, especially for his wife Sushoma.

She cooks lunch, stirring a pot of rice on a wood fire outside their hut. It’s something she does every day because they have no way of storing leftovers. So Santosh has to go the market early each morning to shop for groceries.

He’s always wanted to make life easier for his wife and has been dreaming of buying a fridge for 10 years. “Owning one will be so convenient,” he says. “You don’t have to buy vegetables every day, you can store food – especially in the summer.”

So he’s been saving hard, putting away a bit of money every month for a purchase that costs more than a month’s salary. “I don’t make that much money, that’s why it’s taken me so long. But now I have enough,” he says, smiling.

At one of Calcutta’s high street stores, about 15km from his home, Santosh had several models to choose from. Peering inside, he ran his fingers along the side of a bright red model.

“It was quite confusing. It was my first time you know. I couldn’t figure out which one to get,” he says shyly. “My wife wanted a red one. I wanted one that will consume the least power. We need to keep our bills down.”

Finally, the deal was struck. Santosh got a discount because it was the final week of the winter sales. The price was 11,000 rupees (£120) – but more importantly, he was able to pay in instalments, having paid just under half the money up front.

“No one pays cash any more like they used to,” says store manager Pintoo Mazumdar. “Everyone can get a loan from the bank or the store – all you need is a bank statement and ID. That’s why so many lower income people can afford to buy a fridge these days.”



Fridge ownership around the world

76% Global average

65% Asia Pacific

99% Europe and North America

87% Latin America

63% Middle East and Africa

Source: Euromonitor


Santosh’s fridge finally arrives on the back of a cycle rickshaw. He walks along next to it with a broad smile. Many of the villagers come out on to the lane as well, craning their necks to get a better look.

“Careful, careful,” he cries out as a couple of them help carry the fridge into his house.

Then it’s time for a religious ceremony.

His wife applies a dab of vermillion to the fridge, to keep away evil spirits, and then blows on a conch shell to seek divine blessings and welcome the fridge into their home. The fridge has pride of place – next to Santosh’s sewing machine and their tiny television set.

They simply cannot stop smiling.

“We’ve dreamt of this moment for so long,” says his wife Sushoma. “Some of our neighbours have already asked us if they, too, can store some food in our fridge. “And I can’t wait to drink cold water in the summer.”

As Santosh shows off his fridge everyone crowds around, excited. “Imagine, they won’t have to shop for fresh vegetables every day,” says one woman. “I’m thinking of getting one too,” another man says.

It’s a special moment for the Chowdhurys. This acquisition could potentially transform their lives. “I can focus on finding more work and not worry about buying food for the family,” Santosh says. “My wife will get more free time and perhaps she can give me a hand as well.”

With those words, he opens his fridge and places the first contents inside – tomatoes, an aubergine, eggs and some milk.

via BBC News – The village that just got its first fridge.


Northwest set to push Silk Road links – China –

China’s northwest regions are planning to invest more in infrastructure, tourism and tourism-related industries to attract more visitors to the ancient Silk Road that linked China with central Asian nations.

Northwest set to push Silk Road links

Shaanxi province, whose capital, Xi’an, was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road, has launched a tourism investment fund of 5 billion yuan ($804 million).

“Thanks to the rising influence of China’s western tourism, the tourism industry of Shaanxi province has enjoyed a fast and steady growth in recent years,” said Bai Aying, vice-governor of Shaanxi province. “Now Shaanxi province has invested a lot to operate major tourism projects with the theme of Silk Road culture.”

Gansu province, with more than 1,600 kilometers of the Silk Road, is rapidly improving its transportation network as well. According to the provincial tourism authority, in the next five years, Gansu will connect major national scenic spots with nearby cities, counties and major transport roads.

Gansu will also work to attract more overseas visitors by facilitating more international airlines and gradually opening international ports of entry at the Dunhuang and Jiayuguan airports.

In September 2013, President Xi Jinping proposed an economic belt that would revive the ancient Silk Road. The trans-Eurasian project is proposed to extend from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea.

This year has been set as the Silk Road Tourism Year by the China National Tourism Administration. It is expected to facilitate regional cooperation, deepen mutual understanding and establish mutually beneficial ties for all nations involved

Li Shihong, head of the administration’s marketing and international cooperation department, said CNTA will introduce a three-year plan to coordinate the Silk Road tourism development around the country. It also will help to leverage the economy in less-developed regions.

Industry insiders said they believe this is a new opportunity for China to reintroduce its western regions and upgrade tourism facilities and services.

“The Silk Road is one of the early tourism brands that China introduced to the world. It has cultural meanings and global reputation,” said Dou Qun, a tourism industry professor at Beijing Union University. “And China has developed tourism products along the Silk Road for more than 30 years that all provide a solid foundation for another round of development this year.”

“Besides marketing, tourism authorities should also work closely with other departments including culture, transportation and public facilities to expand the current tourism products and improve the tourism experience,” Dou said.

via Northwest set to push Silk Road links – China –


Does China Care About its International Image? | The Diplomat

China’s global image faces challenges — but if asked to choose between its national interests and preserving its national image, China would choose the former

Does China Care About its International Image?

A recent poll conducted by the BBC World Service shows that China’s international image is not that great around the world. Although this year China’s international image is equally divided (42 percent vs. 42 percent) between those who think China’s influence is positive and those who think it is negative, China’s image in Japan and South Korea (two of China’s most important Asian neighbors) is quite negative. In South Korea, only 32 percent of South Koreans have positive perceptions of China whereas 56 percent of them hold a negative perception of China. In Japan the picture is ugly as only 3 percent (a record low) of Japanese hold positive views of China whereas 73 percent view China as a negative influence in Asia.

However, China’s image in Africa and Latin America is quite positive. All three African countries surveyed have very high levels of positive views of China, with 85 percent in Nigeria, 67 percent in Ghana, and 65 percent in Kenya. Of all four Latin American countries surveyed, only Mexico has more negative views than positive views of China (40 percent vs 33 percent); the other three countries are mostly positive about China (Peru 54 percent vs. 24 percent; Brazil 52 percent vs. 29 percent; Argentina 45 percent vs. 20 percent). Another interesting finding about China’s international image is that most advanced countries hold negative views of China, with the U.K. (49 percent vs. 46 percent) and Australia (47 percent vs. 44 percent) being exceptions. Especially puzzling is Germany, which only has a 10 percent positive view of China against 76 percent negative views of China. This might not be surprising as most advanced countries happen to be democracies and they are often quite critical of China’s lack of democracy and human rights problems.

A natural question that one might ask is “does China care about its international image?” Due to China’s recent assertive actions (here and here) in East China Sea and South China Sea, it might seem like China is not worried about its image among its Asian neighbors. But it is inconsistent with China’s efforts in recent years to enhance its soft power and build a positive national image around the world. Thus, the puzzle is this: if China does care about its international image, why would China behave in a way that hurts its own national image? This is a legitimate question given some evidence showing that many in Asia now see China as a big bully.

There are three possible explanations for the seeming inconsistency between China’s national image campaigns and its recent assertive behavior. First, it could be that China does not genuinely embrace the idea of national image or soft power. According to realist logic which is dominant in China, what really matters in international politics is material power; also, soft power often is a byproduct of material power. Thus, the Chinese leadership might have accepted the idea “it is better to be feared than loved” in international politics. If indeed this is the reasoning behind China’s foreign policy in recent years, then it is not surprising at all that China feels little need to promote its national image.

The second reason could be that China does care about its national image but the problem is that China is inexperienced or even clumsy in promoting its national image. Indeed, in recent years China has put in lots of resources into its ‘public diplomacy’ which has generated mixed results. Just think about how much money Beijing spent on the Beijing Olympics 2008 to promote China’s positive image. It is abundantly clear that Beijing does want to present a positive and peaceful national image to the international community. Nonetheless, it could well be that officials in China who are in charge of promoting national image are incompetent or there is no coordination between different ministries and actors such as the Foreign Affairs ministry and the military. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally released a position paper on the 981 oil rig crisis after a month had passed. Although this is helpful, one wonders why China could not have done it earlier. Now the damage is already done. Also, China has maintained that Vietnamese vessels have rammed Chinese vessels more than 1,400 times, but it would be much more convincing if China could release videos showing how the Vietnamese vessels rammed Chinese ships. There are many other examples like this one, suggesting that China’s public diplomacy needs to be more skillful and sophisticated if it is going to win international public opinion.

Finally, China’s neglect of its national image could be explained by a rational choice strategy that puts national interests in front of national image. Thus, China does care about its national image, but it cares more about national sovereignty and territorial integrity. When forced to choose between sovereignty and national image, China will choose sovereignty — and any other country would do the same. As Xi Jinping said earlier this year, China will never sacrifice its core national interests, regardless of the circumstances. Viewed from this perspective, national image becomes secondary compared to territorial integrity.

via Does China Care About its International Image? | The Diplomat.


Study Released at World Urban Forum Shows Value of Waste Pickers – Businessweek

You don’t rummage through piles of garbage looking for recyclable items if you have other options in life. Waste pickers are pretty close to the bottom of the career prestige ladder. But they do provide a useful service, simultaneously reducing the volume of waste that goes into landfills and providing useful raw materials like glass, plastic, and paper to manufacturers.

Indian rag pickers search for usable material at a Dhapa dump site, the waste zone in eastern Kolkata

A study released last week at the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, based on interviews with hundreds of waste pickers, street vendors, and home workers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, finds that all three types of workers “could make greater contributions if local policies and practices supported, rather than hindered, their work.” The study was performed by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (Wiego) and its partners in what’s known as the Inclusive Cities project.

Waste pickers are a prime example. Local governments often seem ambivalent about whether to support them or shut them down—for example, by trucking away waste and burying or burning it before anyone has a chance to pick through it.

via Study Released at World Urban Forum Shows Value of Waste Pickers – Businessweek.

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China pivots to Latin America

China is tired of US meddling in the west Pacific. This is one of the steps it is taking to rebalance the power-politics between it and the US. Worthy of Sun Tzu.

China Daily Mail

In September of this year, China announced a $40 billion investment to build a canal through Nicaragua that is to be an incredible engineering marvel. The proposed canal is still in the early stages of development, and was rapidly pushed through the Nicaraguan parliament earlier this year. The potential waterway is expected to dwarf the Panama Canal both in economic prospects and in sheer size and glamour. The Panama Canal has long been associated with the military and economic might of America in the region.

However, with the proposed Nicaraguan Canal, it represents a shift in world geopolitics with China becoming an economic powerhouse in the region that is long considered to be America’s private backyard. With America preoccupied with the “Pivot to Asia” and neglecting Latin America, China is stepping up with its own “Pivot to Latin America.”

China is right to work towards closer relations with…

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* China worries spur Mexico stock market flows

Reuters: “Mexico has been on the wrong side of China’s economic boom for the last decade, but is now seeing an upturn in its fortunes as the Asian powerhouse’s economy slows and international stock pickers look to hedge their bets.

Fund managers are shifting the composition of their portfolios to protect themselves against further slowing in China. That is bad news for exporter Brazil, but good news for Mexico, which has low trade exposure to Asia and which is starting to claw back the export share and wage competitiveness it lost to China.

After China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Brazil boomed due to a seemingly endless Chinese appetite for soybeans and iron ore, while Mexico’s manufacturers struggled to compete with cheap goods in their main U.S. market.

Brazil has grown almost twice as fast as Mexico in the last decade and overtook its northern rival as Latin America’s biggest economy in 2005, becoming a darling of investors.

But a recent soft patch in Brazil and a slowdown in China’s breakneck growth are prompting some investors to take another look at Mexico’s strong ties to the United States and the chances its new president will undertake major reforms that could push up growth.”

via Analysis: China worries spur Mexico stock market flows | Reuters.

Nothing ever stands still. At one time Japan was the destination of all new and high tech; then came South Korea’s turn; soon followed by China. But the laws of physics say that everything seeks equilibrium and the lowest common denominator (water seeks its own level). So as China’s minimum wages rise (by law – at 10 to 15% pa), other countries that appeared to be expensive are slowly becoming competitive. China, of course, will not stand still either; but will move up the value chain, as it has been doing steadily over the last 5 to 10 years.

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