The best way to get the most out of this course, and to learn about the geography of (or just about anything else about) Asia is to follow the news from the region. The news does not only tell us about events, but more importantly about the issues (and geographies) underlying them.
1. Apple in China. The New York Times has run two lengthy articles about Apple’s operations in China. The first, ‘How the U.S. lost out on iPhone work,’ reported that cost is only one of the reasons much of Apple’s operations are located in China. Cost, it turns out, is only one factor. The other is the speed with which Chinese factories can begin to make a new product.
The details of this story are interesting, but more important from our perspective about the ways in which it helps us understand the rise of China in recent decades. Without understanding this, you can’t understand modern China.
The second NYT story looks at the ‘human costs [that are] built into an iPad.’ It focuses on the working conditions and health of workers in the factories of Apple’s Chinese contractors. Again, this is a story that tell us more about China than it does about Apple.
(Another article reported on a poll that shows that owners of iPads and iPhones are less concerned than the general public about whether their electronic gadgets are made in the United States.)
Also on the subject of Apple suppliers in China, the public radio show This American Life recently carried a story titled ‘Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,’ which reports on over 100 interviews with workers at Foxconn (Apple’s iPhone and iPad manufacturer.)
2. Minorities in China. One of most politically sensitive issue for the Chinese government is the status of ethnic minorities in China, particularly Tibetans and Uighurs (Moslem Turcik people living mainly in Xinjiang Province in the country’s far west.) Suggesting that these two regions should become independent, or even have a greater degree of autonomy, is a sure way to get into serious trouble in China.
A short story in today’s news reports on the deportation of Uighurs from Cambodia to China (and their speedy conviction and imprisonment upon their arrival.) This story speaks volumes about China’s internal policies, and also about the way that it exercises its political power in Southeast Asia (it is likely to be Cambodia’s largest source of foreign aid in the coming year, displacing the U.S.)
Just in case I haven’t convinced you yet, you may want to think about the cultural geography of Oreos. Can you think of any other brand names that have tailored their products to particular international markets? Or have not?