Avoiding a fractured digital global economy

Primary school students play video games on smartphones in Zhengzhou city, central China's Henan province, 17 July 2018 (Photo: Reuters).

Authors: Shiro Armstrong, ANU, Rebecca Sta Maria, APEC Secretariat and Tetsuya Watanabe, RIETI

Digitalisation accelerated during the pandemic as societies adjusted to social distancing through rapid responses in healthcare, education and service delivery. The digital economy is the new economy, underpinning productivity growth, development and prosperity globally. Sources of innovation and technological progress are increasingly diffuse with the emerging world and China becoming important sources of new technology. But a global governance deficit and geopolitics are contributing to a digitally divided global economy.

Strategic rivalry between China and the United States is leading to digital decoupling and contributing to a more fragmented digital global economy. Different standards are being set in Europe, the United States and China.

The Asia Pacific includes China, the United States, and countries that are proactively engaged in rule-making. East Asia is the most data rich region in the world. There are shared global interests and common challenges, as well as huge potential productivity and growth gains, that should encourage agreement on principles and rules to govern the digital economy — and dialogue and cooperation for confidence and trust building along the way.

Middle powers like Australia and Japan will need to find creative solutions and groupings that are inclusive. ASEAN must also be at the centre of finding multilateral solutions and keeping regional arrangements open and outward oriented.

Digital protectionism is on the rise, fuelled by the lack of multilateral rules and norms, interest in promoting home-grown companies and geopolitical rivalry.

Since much of the digital economy has the features of a public good, barriers are detrimental for economic growth and development. A digitally divided global economy will affect supply chains, productivity, people’s livelihoods and the growth potential of economies, including those at the technological frontier.

There are major security challenges around data privacy, use and sharing, as well as cyber …continue reading


Cup Noodle adapts Internet hit song “Kao-don” into new commercial

This commercial is about as addictive as Cup Noodle itself.

Instant ramen brand Cup Noodle and its maker Nissin are always pushing the envelope when it comes to both innovation and advertising. Whenever you see YouTube compilations of memorable Japanese commercials, you can usually count on about a third of them being from Nissin alone.

For example, here’s a spot for a cheesy variant of Cup Noodle in which various people made of cheese grind their own heads for your enjoyment

But this time, they seem to have struck just the right vein of both weirdness and quality in their latest commercial for their new Cup Noodle Pro line of protein-rich instant ramen. It’s pretty much in line with Nissin’s flare for the unusual, but the following ad also has an interesting origin story behind it.

It all started in July of last year. As Japan, like much of the world, was struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, a charming song came along that made people forget their troubles by the thousands. That song was “Kao-don” (“Face Smash”) by singer-songwriter Chiaki Mayumura, and is an incredibly catchy tune based on an unpleasant dating experience an acquaintance of Mayumura once had with “the most horrible man who thought he wasn’t.”

But what really helped send this song into the stratosphere was the collaboration with YouTuber Hajimemashite Matsuo Desu. His channel had already gained a massive following, largely thanks to his many animated shorts featuring a fast-talking mouse and chicken, along with with occasional appearances of squid as well as himself in both animated and live action form.

The result is an oddly hypnotic music video that is quickly approaching two million views, about 50 of which were by me in the past few hours.

In the opening to the video, the mouse is eating …continue reading


Hyogo Prefecture to give 320,000 fans to restaurants for customers to cover mouths, dine “safely”

It’s better than nothing, but….

The coronavirus pandemic has had a negative effect on many businesses, especially restaurants, since gathering in groups in tight quarters is exactly what we want to not be doing at the moment.

Some Japanese restaurants like Saizeriya have gotten creative and created special masks that allow customers to also eat, but their efficacy is debatable.

Recently though, the Hyogo Prefectural government decided on a new strategy to try and open up businesses in a more safe way: by giving out Japanese fans to restaurants for customers to use while dining.

▼ The distribution includes uchiwa fans (pictured left) and sensu fans (pictured right).

The goal of using the fans is for groups of customers to cover their mouths with them when talking to each other, preventing “splash” and the spread of the virus. Presumably the fans could also be held up while eating as well, as opposed to masks which have to come off when chewing.

Plans are to distribute 20 fans to each applicable restaurant in the capital city of Kobe, as well as three other cities, totaling 320,000 fans. Whether or not they will be cleaned between customers using them isn’t made clear, but hopefully that will be the case.

Toshizo Ido, the governor of Hyogo Prefecture, said that fans compared favorably to using masks because: “When you take off [a mask], the risk [of spread] goes up.”

Certainly that is an issue, but is using fans the solution? Japanese netizens overwhelmingly disapproved of the new measure:

“Sounds like they’re out of ideas.”
“I think they forgot about microdroplets that can get through the fans.”
“If you eat out with someone who’s infected, an uchiwa is not gonna help.”
“How was this even suggested, …continue reading


Do persistent current account imbalances hamper regional and global growth?

Do persistent current account imbalances hamper regional and global growth?

Current account surpluses have persisted in a number of Asian and European economies throughout the global financial crisis and thereafter. Along with Germany, Japan has a decades-long history of recording current account surpluses. Due to rapid improvements in the competitiveness of its manufacturing sector, Japan has almost continuously recorded trade surpluses since the mid-1960s, and as a result, record current account surpluses (Shirakawa 2011). In addition, Japan faced harsh criticism from the United States (US) of its current account surplus in the 1980s. Germany’s story is similar to that of Japan. To allow for macroeconomic rebalancing, both Japan and Germany agreed to let their currencies appreciate against the US dollar as part of the Plaza Agreement in 1985. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) started to build up large current account surpluses after joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, recording a stunning current account surplus of 9.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007. Although the PRC’s surplus has declined substantially since then, the country continues to face enormous pressure from the US, not unlike the pressure exerted on Japan in the 1980s (Ito 2009).

The question remains as to whether such imbalances require corrective policy action or whether they can be viewed as being a logical outcome of the economic environment. It has been suggested that excessive current account surpluses have hampered growth in deficit countries. The Economist (2017) even identified “the German problem” and asserted that Germany’s current account surplus is “damaging the world economy”. The literature to date has tended to focus on the internal adjustments necessary within countries to address current account imbalances, rather than assessing their impact at the regional and global levels.

Recent work by Beirne, Renzhi, and Volz (2021) addresses the gap in the literature by examining the regional and global growth effects of …continue reading


Tokyo’s Colorful New Toggle Hotel Stands Out in a Sea of Grey

all photos by Shingo Nakashima courtesy Klein Dytham Architecture Tokyo’s new Toggle Hotel, located in the neighborhood of Suidobashi, officially opened for business on April 1, 2021. Located on a triangular site and bound by the Shuto Expressway, the Kanda River and the Chuo Line railway, the hotel finds itself in the epicenter of Tokyo’s […]

The post Tokyo’s Colorful New Toggle Hotel Stands Out in a Sea of Grey first appeared on Spoon & Tamago.

…continue reading


In Japan, you can now earn money for turning your car into an anime itasha

New service pays drivers to promote the otaku media they love while driving around.

In Japan, if you cover your car with anime-character graphics you’re said to have turned it into an “itasha,” literally a “painful car,” since it’s now such an eyesore that it’s painful for non-otaku to gaze upon. But itasha are no longer just painful, but profitable too, thanks to Cheer Drive.

Cheer Drive flips the itasha script in that instead of drivers paying to get custom stickers made, the company itself sends out stickers to applicant drivers, then pays them for driving around with them on their car. It’s essentially a turn-your-car-into-a-paid-ad service, but with the twist that it’s focusing on otaku media, and counting on drivers themselves, while obviously appreciating having some extra money in their pocket, also being happy to show their love for the series being promoted (in Japanese, the word ouen can mean both “cheer” and “support”).

For example, right now Cheer Drive is looking for drivers interested in making their car a BanG Dream! itasha, in celebration of the upcoming BanG Dream! Episode of Roselia, the newest theatrical anime in the franchise, which opens later this month.

Another option is Vanguard overDress, the soon-to-premier anime with Clamp character designs that didn’t get cancelled.

To get started, drivers download the Cheer Drive app, which gives them access to a list of currently recruiting campaigns. After you apply and are selected, you’ll receive three stickers in the mail, …continue reading


The future of digital currencies will be determined in Asia

View of a QR code at a stall supported by mobile payment service Alipay of Alibaba Group, left, and WeChat Payment of Tencent at a free market in Xi'an city, northwest China's Shaanxi province, 21 August 2017 (Photo: Reuters).

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

Next time you’re eating a pizza, spare a thought for Laszlo Hanyecz. Back in 2010, the Florida resident bought two pizzas for about US$20. The problem? He used bitcoin to pay for them — 10,000 bitcoin to be exact. Had he saved those bitcoin instead of spending them on pizza, they would be worth more than US$580 million today. It’s not all bad news. Laszlo goes down in history as the first person to use bitcoin in a commercial transaction. His toddler enjoyed the pizza, too.

The multi-million-dollar question now is: what’s next for digital currencies? The answer will be found in Asia.

While things aren’t looking good for bitcoin, particularly in India where it is set to be banned, the story for digital currencies more generally is positive, with big benefits for the economies that move first.

For the true believers, bitcoin is the currency of the future with endless possibilities: it will hobble corrupt governments, empower the disenfranchised, promote financial inclusion among the billions of ‘unbanked’ people, help reduce global poverty and displace the US dollar by creating a new global currency and reserve asset.

Have they been right so far? Not really. The price of bitcoin has increased 144 times faster than its use in transactions over the past five years. Its extreme volatility and limited use in transactions (not many people are buying pizza with it these days) means it fails to satisfy even the most basic criteria of a currency — to serve as an accepted medium of exchange.

Bitcoin’s long-term prospects in Asia don’t look good, either. A fundamental lesson we were meant to have learned from the Great Depression was that the supply of a country’s currency should not be fixed. When consumers …continue reading