China’s Mega Projects Series

This series on China is pretty amazing. It covers important, strategic and ambitious projects that the neighboring country of us Vietnamese has been working on.

It is understandable to compare Vietnam to China. There are a lot of similarities shared between the two countries in terms of history, culture, political systems and economic models. Yet, the difference I notice is that China has been light years ahead with regards to not only generating money/growth, but also investing in growth.

In Vietnam, we don’t have that kind of projects covered in the series above. We have been working on the first ordinary metro for almost a decade and the project is only about 60% done. In the meantime, China has super fast trains operated in the country and a magnificent highway network. We don’t have the advances in technology that China has boasted about for years. On the global stage, we don’t command the respect that China does. If some of universities in China are now among the world’s best, those in Vietnam still lag so far behind.

Sad to say, but I have to admit that Vietnam blew a chance some 40-50 years ago. We used to be the Singapore of the region. Now, we are so far behind our peers and neighbors, and there aren’t many reasons that can convince me that things will be turned around in the future.

Automated farming in China

I came across a video clip showing how farming is automated in China. It’s not widely adopted yet, but I don’t think the day when that happens is too far away from now.

This is how farming is done in Vietnam

Source: Wharton University

Admittedly, even though there must be innovation in agriculture in Vietnam and technology is used to some extent, the photo above illustrates the current inferior technique adopted in my hometown.

Imagine the difference in efficiency and value created between the automated method and the manual laborious one.

If you are one of the workers who don’t own land and who is hired to work others’ land, automation isn’t good news for you. Your job is threatened. Nonetheless, if you are in the agriculture business, automation is a boon improving efficiency and lowering costs. If you are an end user consuming agricultural goods, automation can bring the prices down.

If we look at it from a collective standpoint, technology or automation in particular, in the majority of cases, should bring net benefits to the society. Innovation and advancements come from standards continuously being raised, I believe.

China, High Tech, Convenience and Privacy Concern

I was poring through the Youtube channel of Bloomberg, which features quite a few informative videos and this one was particularly interesting to me:

The video talks about a world of tech alternatives to what we are all familiar with: Facebook, Amazon, Youtube… Name one famous tech household name and there is a Chinese counterpart. Also, it shows a little bit of how QR codes and by extension, mobile payments are popular in the country. However, what is most interesting to me is the extent to which surveillance takes place in the world. In the video, a Western guy told a story of how his WeChat account’s money got deducted 20 seconds after he jaywalked in Shenzhen. That’s disturbingly fast. Plus, the government knows everything you do and ranks you based on your social behavior.

I have been of an opinion that an authoritarian leadership in China is a significant factor in its fast ascendency economically and politically in the world stage. Decisions are quickly made and there is singular focus as well as continuity due to the fact that there is one ruling party and for the foreseeable future, one ruler (aka Xi Jinping). On the other hand, decisions and policies take ages in the US and the pattern is, as I observe, that one president will undo all the work of the his predecessor, if the predecessor comes from the opposing party. The same may also be said to the ruling party in Congress.

On the other hand, it can be argued that privacy violations in the Western world are nowhere near as severe as they are in China. The NSA may have the same capabilities as the Chinese government in terms of surveillance, but we haven’t, thankfully, seen it do what the Chinese government is doing. Plus, the society we are living in allows us to practice freedom of speech more than the one in China. In the US, you can make fun of anyone in the government and Congress, though I don’t think you should do so in China.

If you think about it, we have speed of decision-making process due to one ruling party vs the lack of freedom, or convenience vs human right violations at the extremes. You can have one extreme at the expense of the other, but you can’t have both. It’s like the dilemma: does the means or the end matter more?

What works for this country will not likely work for another. I don’t know which one is inherently superior. I think it is just down to personal preference and perspective. Personally, I value freedom more.