Thursday, January 31, 2008

After a while, you stop snickering...

The astonishing emergence of China in my lifetime from the disastrous Great Leap Forward (great book about it here) to the major holder of US debt and a spectacular national economic story forces my old prejudices to be reevaluated.

In science, China has become a major player in biotech even while hundreds of millions practice folk wisdom not far removed from voodoo. Of course, playing fast and loose with (OK - pirating) intellectual property rights can help developing countries leapfrog stages that took other nations decades.

Regardless, the gap is narrowing, as Chinese scientists (AKA "sea turtles") return home from education and research abroad.
Backed by a government intent on promoting innovation and fuelled by the “brain gain” of talented scientists and entrepreneurs returning from abroad, China’s health biotech industry only needs a more favourable investment climate to emerge as a global force in the production of therapies and medicines – both new and low-cost generics – experts say in a new study.

Long considered a skillful product replicator, China today boasts of daring medical science innovation and stunning breakthroughs – including the world’s first commercialized gene therapy product and the sole cholera vaccine tablet. However, Chinese firms face an uphill battle in attracting high-risk venture capital needed to sustain innovative, research-driven projects, says the study published by Nature Biotechnology. [More]
Of course, that need for investment capital could be overcome in a Beijing-minute should the government decide to merely channel a portion of the accumulated savings surplus to internal investment instead of foreign assets.
Several key emerging economies sit on swollen stockpiles of hard-currency reserves. Their governments have ample cash to goose their domestic economies if the outlook for global growth deteriorates beyond expectations. China alone boasts a $1.5 trillion reserve, the consequence of the USA's ballooning trade deficit with Beijing.

"The size of emerging markets has increased noticeably in recent years. They have reached a size sufficient to buffer some of the cyclical movements in developed economies," says Gene Huang, chief economist of FedEx(FDX).

In China, for example, the economy now is roughly six times its size in 1990. Living standards, especially in cities, have risen accordingly and provided millions of young Chinese with conveniences and luxuries that their parents could have scarcely imagined.

In 2007, the economy grew at an annual rate of 11.4%, the fifth-consecutive year of double-digit increases. China's economy is steaming along so quickly that policymakers have been trying to cool it by raising interest rates and mandating larger down payments for property purchases. A little slowing, thanks to the U.S. downturn, will be welcomed. [More]
So when a story like this shows up, I don't dismiss it out of hand.
CHINESE weather boffins say they have stopped the rain from falling in experiments aimed at guaranteeing a dry opening ceremony at August's Olympic Games.

With no roof on the showpiece Bird's Nest stadium, the Beijing Meteorological Bureau has been charged with developing methods of preventing wet weather spoiling what promises to be a spectacular start to the Games on the evening of August 8.

"Our experiments with rain mitigation have been aimed at light rain," said Zhang Qian, head of weather manipulation at the bureau.

"With heavy rain it is more difficult. The results with light rain have been satisfactory."

Ms Qian said different strategies were used to stop rain on different types of clouds, but both had proved not to harm the environment. [More]
So when everyone else is watching the Olympic athletes more than a few meteorologists around the world will be squinting at the sky, I'll bet.

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