Three Things Karate Taught Me 

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In 1999, I went to my first karate training. Last week, some fellow karateka and me celebrated my trainer`s 40th anniversary of doing karate in Hungary. We were sitting around the table listening to old stories about competitions, karate camps and about the role of karate in our lives in general. It made me reflect on the way it helps me in my everyday life. Here are three things karate taught me: 

1.  There is always something to improve. 

There are a lot of different things you have to keep in mind when performing karate movements: breathing, speed, focus, power, distance, stability and a lot more. When you start out, all these aspects are on their own and it takes considerable amount of time until you learn to coordinate them at once. But even after years of training, it is guaranteed that you will not get everything right. You will always miss something to some extent. A perfect movement exists only in theory. The only thing you can do is to be so close to this as you can. I think the same applies for other activities, such as work, writing assignments or learning languages. On the one hand, you learn how to be better next time. On the other hand, it takes the weight off your shoulders knowing that nothing can be perfect. 

2.  Being good at something takes long. Starting to like it takes longer

There is a slight difference between people starting practicing karate as an adult and as a child. Training for children usually includes play time too, so that they can keep up their attention. However, both children and adults experience some kind of frustration not being able to perform as they wish. Of course, it does not necessarily mean that they are under pressure all the time but they have definitely more stress during the first few years of training. I think that the initial frustration is important because it pushes you to a point where you begin to feel more and more comfortable. And from that point on, it`s not the frustration that pushes you anymore. You push yourself because you like what you are doing and want to be better at it. I think it`s important to face the fact that learning new things often involves frustration. But what is even more important is that you are aware of where you can get after passing this initial phase. 

3.  You can be a team player even if not playing in teams. 

Except of some rare occasions at competitions, karate is an individual sport. You train for your own health and concentrate on improving your own skills. Usually, you do not form teams and there is no need to earn points. Due to different age groups and physical limitations, each of us train towards their individual goals. However, you get constant feedback not only from your trainer but everybody else around you. You start to feel responsible for other members` success when approaching a karate test for a new belt or an important competition. This kind of mutual attention helps people moving forward. Sustaining such a relationship among colleagues working on different projects and students attending different courses is beneficiary for everybody. Of course, competition among members can be beneficial too. However, too much of it holds back (or even destroys) potential improvement. 

I am sure that a lot of people can relate to some of these points, even if their experience originates from other backgrounds. As for me, it just happened to be karate. 

Four Years Into Abenomics 

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Thinking of the post-war Japanese economy, many of us come up with buzzwords like economic miracle and the lost two decades. In early 2013, the term Abenomics joined the group. But what are its achievements four years later?  

Before going into this, let`s take a look at Abenomics in general and what led to it. The program launched by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is based on the so-called three arrows. The first arrow is targeted at monetary easing by the Bank of Japan in order to achieve modest inflation and to make exports more attractive. The second arrow effects fiscal policy in form of generous government spending. The third arrow aims at boosting private investments by a number of policy measures among others through reforms concerning taxation, labour market and specific industries, such as healthcare and agriculture. All these arrows were shot together. However, the speeds at which each of the measures show results are different. Typically, fiscal measures have a quicker impact on the market than monetary tools. Also, it is debatable if each of the arrows are efficient enough. 

So that we understand Abenomics, it is important to know what led to it in the first place. It all begins with the burst of one of the biggest bubbles in history. Driven by speculation on real estate and stocks combined with extensive money supply, asset prices sharply increased. Indeed, Nikkei reached to 39 000 by 1989 which means a three-fold increase in just four years. Over the same period, interest rates were cut several times, from 5% in January 1986 to 2,5% in February 1987. Finally, in May 1989, the BoJ raised interest rates from 2,5% to 3,25%, sending strong signal against the risks of inflation. Nevertheless, lending was still excessive and the BoJ raised discount rates four more times, reaching 6% in August 1990. About a month later, stock prices declined by 50%. In 1992, Nikkei stood at 15 000. 

As a consequence, non-performing loans increased, firms` balance sheets were damaged and real estate prices collapsed. From that point on, the economy was severely affected by deflationary cycles, since businesses spent less and people began to save more. Over time, the Lost Decade, which originally referred to the period 1990 to 2000, turned into the “Lost Two Decades”. However, some economists, such as Paul Krugman and William R. Cline say that Japan`s stagnation is of demographic rather than of economic nature. Cline, as an example, refers to Japan`s “underperformance” as an optical illusion, stating that the Lost Decades are merely caused by demographics. In fact, from 1991 to 2012 the labour force of the US expanded by 23% whereas Japan`s labour force rose only 0.6% due to its aging population and low immigration rates. But a look at the GDP of both countries expressed per unit of labour force showed similar development. 

First Arrow - Monetary Policy

Nevertheless, Japan`s economy is hold back by high savings and low interest rates. In this case, monetary policy often fails to stimulate consumer spending so that the economy is stuck into the so-called liquidity trap. One of the central targets of Abenomics is to achieve 2% inflation. Therefore, the Bank of Japan started a large-scale asset purchasing program in 2013. During the first round, the BoJ`s balance sheet showed a two-fold increase. In 2016, the BoJ decided to try something new and lowered interest rates to minus 0.1% in order to discourage banks from keeping their reserves at the central bank.  

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So, could monetary policy ignite growth? Despite its initial success, the two percent inflation target has not been achieved. The consumer price index rose merely 0.2% in March 2017 on a year-on-year basis. The BoJ governor, Haruhiko Kuroda expressed last year that it is not realistic to achieve their target by 2018. Raising wages could stimulate spending and increase consumer prices. However, employers are reluctant to take this step. Wages rose only 0.5% last year and it was the biggest rise since 2010. Meanwhile, household spending decreased 1.3% in March compared to the previous year.  

However, the central bank`s quantitative easing led to a depreciating Yen and to record-high revenues of export-oriented firms. Interestingly enough, wages and investments at home still have not improved considerably. 

Second Arrow - Fiscal Policy

As for the second arrow, Abe targeted 20.2 trillion yen towards infrastructure projects in 2013. In 2014, two packages of 5.5 and 3.5 trillion yen followed. In the same year, Japan raised consumption tax from 5 to 8% in order to hold back public debt.  

This represented a step backwards from the intentions of Abenomics, pushing Japan into recession for two consecutive quarters. The government foresees raising consumption tax again. However, given the severe effects on consumption, Abe postponed it until 2019. 

In February, Christopher Sims, an economist, hold a presentation about his findings concerning monetary and fiscal stimulus. According to him, in a low-interest environment, fiscal policy can act similarly to monetary policy and a combination of these can reverse deflation. Until the consumption tax hike both policies showed promising results. In that respect, Sims advices the Japanese government not to raise consumption tax again, since it damages the combined effect of these policies. 

Third Arrow – Structural Reforms

The third arrow is considered to be essential for Japan`s long-term success but many people think that not enough structural reforms have taken place so far. Especially labour market reforms are needed. In March, unemployment rate stood at 2.8%. That is the lowest level since June 1994. Nevertheless, Japan is facing huge labour shortage. Also, about a third of the workers are employed on a non-regular basis, receiving less money and benefits than permanent workers. 

In order to make the labour market more flexible, Japan has to provide more opportunities for youth, female, senior and non-regular workers. Currently there are about 14 million people eligible for the so-called spousal income tax deduction. It provides tax benefits for married couples if a spouse`s salary does not exceed a certain amount. Although the government thought about abolishing this benefit, they came up with another solution last December: a tax credit increase which motivates part-time working spouses to extend their working hours. Also, more flexible immigration policy could release some burden from the labour market.    

Reforms took place on the level of specific industries as well. As of April 2016, customers can choose their electricity supplier. Further liberalization of the power market is in progress. It is expected that power generation and transmission will be separated in 2020. Also, deregulation in the area of agriculture is on the way. It includes the decrease in power of Central Union of Agricultural Cooporatives, also known as JA-Zenchu. The step intends to boost competitiveness among farmers who will be able to choose the way they would like to be audited in the future. 

China`s Renewable Energy Market - Current State and Outlook

When it comes to environmental issues, China makes the headlines again and again. On the one hand, the articles often refer to China as the biggest polluter in the world. No wonder, if we consider the serious social outrage over air pollution: according to a 2015 survey of the PEW Research Center, 76 people out of hundred are concerned about air pollution and ranks second among all the social problems mentioned (the first being corrupt officials). On the other hand, articles report on the investments made into renewables – by far the biggest in the world.

In 2004, China devoted $3 billion to renewable technologies. Since then, investments into the sector increased almost 35-fold by 2015, to a record $102,9 billion. To put it into perspective, investments of the US reached about $44 billion and Europe around $49 billion.  The International Energy Agency estimates that China will install 40% of global wind energy and 36% of all solar over the 2015-2021 period. 

In 2015 wind power supplied more energy than any other renewable energy source in the world. China, the main contributor to this achievement, led new installations and continued to do so in 2016 by adding 42% of the global wind capacity. Solar installations increased as well. In fact, China more than doubled its solar capacity last year. 

China`s electricity portfolio is still dominated by coal-fired power plants. In 2016, wind accounted for 4% and solar only for 1% in the energy mix and almost a fifth of the electricity is generated by hydro power.  However, China has huge potential to increase the share of wind and solar. A recent study from MIT finds that wind could provide 26% of the overall electricity demand by 2030 but it requires major improvements on the grid-system.  

The Chinese government has recently announced a number of policy measures in order to further deploy renewables. Plans about China`s first carbon trading market have been around in the last couple of months and is expected to be launched this year with 3-5 billion tonnes of yearly carbon allowances at the beginning. Today, the largest carbon trading market operated in the EU with two billion tonnes of allowances and it covered 80% of the total carbon trading globally. 

China`s green bond market, too, contributes to financing renewable energy projects. Almost $37 billion of green bonds were issued over the last year which made it the biggest market of such bonds in the world. Considering the size and the extent of environmental problems in China, many would not be surprised about its world-leadership. However, the first issuance just took place in July 2015 – with this in mind, China`s first rank is quite astonishing. 

Sources http://fs-unep-centre.org/sites/default/files/publications/globaltrendsinrenewableenergyinvestment2016lowres_0.pdf

http://ceenews.info/en/power-statistics-china-2016-huge-growth-of-renewables-amidst-thermal-based-generation/

http://www.nature.com/articles/nenergy201686

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2017-02/16/content_28224387.htm

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2017/01/17/china-is-taking-the-green-bond-market-by-storm/

Digital Revolution in ASEAN

The number of internet users in Asia-Pacific is remarkable. Still, the 1,9 billion active users in APAC only account for an internet penetration of 46%, a ratio somewhat below the global average of 50%. When comparing it with the global leaders, North America (88%) and Western Europe (84%), we can see that there is still huge potential in the region. 

A further breakdown of APAC shows that, as many would assume, East Asia performs above average with a penetration rate of 57%. On the other hand, South Asia clearly lacks behind with 33%. In the middle, we find ASEAN, the most dynamic region with regard to digital development.  According to data of wearesocial.com, internet penetration increased from 41% in January 2016 to 53% within one year, a unique year-on-year change compared to other parts of the continent.  

There is no need for detailed explanation about the importance of a well-developed ICT infrastructure in today`s world.  It`s enough to think of the extent it changed trade, education, entertainment and the way we look for information.  ASEAN, too, is trying to catch up with more and more governments willing to make that change happen. Here are some recent developments:

The Philippines towards faster internet

The Philippines is among the slowest in the word in terms of internet speed. According to the latest State of the Internet Report by Akamai, the Philippines (4,5 Mbps) and India (5,6 Mbps) had the lowest connection speeds among the 15 surveyed APAC countries in the last quarter of 2016. 

Because of this, improving internet speed has become national priority. In March 2017, president Duterte approved a national broadband program aiming to “accelerate the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technologies to improve internet speed”.  The program originates from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), a government body created in May 2016 for promoting national efforts in ICT.  

New entrants in Myanmar  

Due to the 2011 economic and political reforms in Myanmar, the country has experienced substantial changes in its ICT environment. According to data of the Freedom House, Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), the leading national telecommunications company has offered SIM cards since the 1990s, but charged more than US$2000. In 2012, prices drop to US$200.  About two years later, foreign investors, such as Qatar`s Ooredoo and Norway`s Telenor started selling cards for $1.50 making mobile phones affordable for the public.  

Today, Myanmar`s mobile phone sector is one of the fastest growing in terms of new subscriptions and further investments intend to push the market forward. Viettel, a Vietnamese company was awarded the fourth mobile licence last year and intends to invest $2 billion in a joint venture with local companies. 

Master Plan on Connectivity 2025

The Master Plan on Connectivity 2025 was adopted by ASEAN leaders in September 2016 and focuses on five strategic areas: sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory excellence and people mobility. Concerning digital innovation, it is estimated that digital technologies in ASEAN could potentially be worth up to US$ 625 billion by 2030, representing 8% of the regions` GDP in that year. 

The plan foresees: 

  • the adoption of technology by SMEs
  • the financial access through digital economies
  • improved open data use in ASEAN member states
  • enhanced data management in ASEAN member states

Efforts both on country-level and the international cooperation contributes to narrowing the digital gap. Despite the very different country profiles and ICT infrastructures, ASEAN`s 10 member states would be the seventh largest economy in the world, if it were regarded as a single country. It will be interesting to see if and how much their further digitalization will affect their ranking.

Sources

1 http://wearesocial.com/blog/2017/01/digital-in-2017-global-overview

2 http://wearesocial.com/blog/2017/01/digital-in-2017-global-overview

3 http://wearesocial.com/sg/special-reports/digital-2016

4 https://www.akamai.com/us/en/multimedia/documents/state-of-the-internet/q4-2016-state-of-the-internet-connectivity-report.pdf

5 http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/06/duterte-approves-national-broadband-program.html

6 http://www.dict.gov.ph/republic-act-no-10844/

7 https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2016/myanmar

8 http://www.myanmarinsider.com/norways-telenor-to-launch-3rd-telecoms-service-in-myanmar/

9 http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Companies/Viettel-to-make-2bn-mobile-investment-in-Myanmar

10 http://aadcp2.org/file/Master-Plan-on-ASEAN-Connectivity-20251.pdf