Monday, April 30, 2007

Immigrants, Emigrants and Bigots

For those who bother to pay attention to the facts about immigration, it's sometimes difficult to not to believe the concerns of those who fight against it are based on something more than simply fear. In context, it's bizarre that the level of demagoguery over both trade and immigration resonate so strongly despite record low levels of unemployment. From Sebastian Mallaby in the Washington Post:

People accuse immigrants of gang violence, drunken driving and a general contempt for the law. But in 2000 the incarceration rate for immigrants was just one-fifth the rate for the population as a whole, according to Kristin Butcher of the Federal Reserve and Anne Morrison Piehl of Rutgers University.

People say immigrants are feckless and lazy. But in California in 2004, 94 percent of undocumented men ages 18 to 64 were in the workforce, compared with 82 percent of native-born men. Far from being part of a shiftless underclass, the act of coming to the United States makes immigrants among the most upwardly mobile groups in the nation, only a bit behind hedge-fund managers.
Hat Tip: Greg Mankiw. While I'd happily point to my parents and their respective siblings/siblings-in-law, as first generation immigrants who have done quite remarkably in aggregate as pretty much all accomplished professionals, there are inevitably those who cling to erroneous stereotypes.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Figuring out where to put the decimal place...

Talking numbers here, as it's not enough to try to figure out where all the conversions are, but the Chinese think in increments of 10,000 - not thousands. So to say to someone something's one hundred thousand dollars, you would actually say that something is 10 'ten thousands'. If you said it the other way around - that it's 100 thousands, they would just look at you funny, giggle and think it was the most ridiculous thing they'd heard in a while.

This isn't so much of a problem when you're talking one number or two, but when you're working on quotes and estimates and then throwing in currency conversions, it's not something you want to screw up being off by a factor of 10 - far worse than a mere metric-imperial conversion error. We've had near heart attacks in running jobs and then wondering after the fact if we'd done it properly. It's been 3 years since I started working on production in China and I'm still not used to it. This may say more about me than the job, but I digress.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Debunking Lou Dobbs

Now known more for his anti-trade anti-immigration screeds than any business acumen he once seemed to have, Lou Dobbs recently testified before Congress. Donald Luskin does a thorough debunking. I can't say, given Dobbs' history of "finding isolationism" (not unlike seemingly finding God for the man) not to mention sporting a new hairdo while he stared into the depths of plummeting ratings, that it seems to have been much of a difficult task.

Update: Club for Growth quotes Luskin as being funny but true:

"The advocates of free trade have on their side over 200 years of settled science in economics, going all the way back to Adam Smith. The advocates of protectionism have Lou Dobbs." -- Don Luskin

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Point of Globalization?

Christopher Sciacca of the "Who says Supply Chains are boring?" Blog, says:

I would prefer to be called "an emerging market" or "a cool, hip country with really smart people that want to work". Because if you are outsourcing simply for the lower wages you are missing the point of globalization in the first place.
I tend to agree - I'd even include lowest sticker price to the lower wages bit. The point of globalization is lower overall costs through comparative advantage. In working with new clients, I get two sides - there's one set that have heard of all these benefits to sourcing from China and want to jump on the outsourcing bandwagon expecting savings to simply fall like mana from the sky, but then there's the other side, a more skeptical bunch who have heard the horror stories or experienced them themselves. The same is true for some foreign manufacturers who expect to open a factory in China with ridiculous expectations and ultimately get robbed blind - especially when it comes down to day to day management. One client would used to repeatedly order from the suppliers that priced cheapest despite knowing that there would be rework in the US (I suspect it had to do with poor project accounting since they weren't the ones responsible for the cost of the rework and simply for getting the best price).

Now more than a few years ago, I encounter far more of the latter who have experienced challenges first hand. It's these clients that I hope for, since they're far "stickier" and have far more grounded expectations. On the flip side of it, it's a far longer (and sometimes frustrating) sales cycle, but all things considered, I wouldn't have it any other way - especially given the impatience it would seem of many Chinese suppliers who think they want to begin supplying overseas.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The relationship between intelligence and wealth

This is the relationship between intelligence and wealth:

Says Paul Kedrosky:

While it doesn't stand up to statistical scrutiny, an eyeball check of the above figure does make it look like there is a soft inverse relationship. In other words, maybe we should be accusing random foolish sorts among us of being smarter than they're acting: Hey, if you're so dumb, how come you're not rich?!
I think it's one of the best lessons I got from investment banking and to a lesser degree, auditing/accounting. Rich people really aren't that much different than the rest of us - I think it's a combination of luck, recognizing an opportunity, going after it in a meaningful way and then a great deal of persistance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Business Cards for Accounts Receivable Clerk?

This is pretty cool (at least for those with a somewhat warped sense of humour).

Monday, April 23, 2007

Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank

A few people have asked me what I think about what's been happening at the World Bank. When the story first broke, I was quite disappointed given the facts that were being disseminated given Wolfowitz's strong anti-corruption push. I was though somewhat skeptical given the number of people who have it in for the guy who seemed to advocate such radical ideas as accountability and good governance. The media seemed entirely complicit and continues to be - pushing the story that Wolfowitz intervened, giving his girlfriend a nearly 50% raise.

It turns out that he was setup:

The World Bank released its files in the case of President Paul Wolfowitz's ethics on Friday, and what a revealing download it is. On the evidence in these 109 pages, it is clearer than ever that this flap is a political hit based on highly selective leaks to a willfully gullible press corps.

Mr. Wolfowitz asked the World Bank board to release the documents, after it became possible the 24 executive directors would adjourn early Friday morning without taking any action in the case. This would have allowed Mr. Wolfowitz's anonymous bank enemies to further spin their narrative that he had taken it upon himself to work out a sweetheart deal for his girlfriend and hide it from everyone.

The documents tell a very different story--one that makes us wonder if some bank officials weren't trying to ambush Mr. Wolfowitz from the start. Bear with us as we report the details, because this is a case study in the lack of accountability at these international satrapies.
On the other hand, another man who I respect greatly given his books, William Easterly faults Wolfowitz for other issues entirely. I can't say that I've followed what's been happening at the World Bank beyond knowing that Wolfowitz has been challenging the status quo. While Easterly makes a good argument that his approach has lacked consistency and a focus on simplicity, I wonder if the effect of decentralizing what he describes as "the world's largest repository of development knowledge and experience", would help to develop more local organizations in a better position to fight poverty than the large behemoth the World Bank has become. Further, in carrying forward his comparison to the Iraq war, I'm not sure that Paul Wolfowitz's departure is the message to send to nations who have been dead set against even the idea that the institution requires any sort of any reform.

Lying in Chinese

Bill Dodson @ This is China! has a great series on the specific characteristics of lying in China. This has got to be one of the most frustrating aspects of working in China. It sometimes feels like everyone is lying to you - either out of sympathy, protection or deliberately with malicious intent - and it's not always easy to sort out which is which.

Working with suppliers this can be of particular annoyance because you're not quite sure what to believe - especially when goods aren't being produced on time or attempt to pass a large price increase down to you. Suppliers can come up with the most fantastical stories - but fortunately as Dodson notes, most of them aren't particularly clever about their lies that are easily resolved with better information. Of course, once you have that information and you know someone is lying, it's another issue altogether as "face" is truly a big thing and you don't want to antagonize anyone to the breaking point because you really don't know what might happen especially depending on who you're dealing with (seriously).

An employee of mine told a big lie. He did it in the attempt of hiding something that was no fault of his own but that he hoped to correct quickly and easily on his own (sorry about being vague). I can't say that I was particularly proud of myself afterwards, but I entirely blew up and publicly berated him over what I saw as a betrayal (apparently a standard western response as Dodson later points out. On the other hand, if culture is the result of both what is said, and what is not said, while I think what I did was directionally correct, the execution could have used some work. In that respect, I guess I'm somewhat fortunate in that we're a fairly young company and are able to correct some bad habits.

The implications of lying however, are somewhat far reaching - and I would argue, extend to such things as corruption (here, some are absolutely brazen in the lies they tell to coverup self dealings) and more likely than not, to financial reporting. This, I think, does not bode well for the stability of the securities industry that hasn't gone in many directions other than up in recent years.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Happy Birthday Lenin... err... I mean Earth Day

When it comes to their records on population control, Lenin or Stalin are mere footnotes compared to Rachel Carson's success at getting DDT banned. A quote from Club of Rome's co-founder Alexander King:

In Guyana, within almost two years, it had almost eliminated malaria, but at the same time the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem.
While this might be a shocking revelation to the average humanitarian, I guess that's the point, ardent environmentalists can't also be humanitarians. Environmentalists must make an implicit or explicit choice of what they value more - humanity or "the environment". I was at a meeting of donors where a radical proposal for market based primary heathcare was being proposed for East Africa and a donor asked in all serious, "what if you're really successful? what about the impact of overpopulation to the environment?" After having discussed the impact this could have on kids - especially targeted group for the intervention, I think the rest of us sat stunned for a few moments.

As a bit of disclosure on my dark descent into economic libertarianism and media skepticism, it was my interest in the environment that did me in. I began with the premise that no, not all business people are evil and that there exist rational reasons for opposing measures to save the environment. I started out pretty good, even being the co-chair of the environment club in Grade 8 (yeah I am/was a geek). In high school, with an interest in business, it became a somewhat uncomfortable point that my interests were on a collision course for what I thought seemed and felt morally right. Then I discovered Julian Simon.

I'd suggest getting acquainted with a few more environmentalists as quoted by John Berlau at Open Market to see how much you really agree with. Then consider Ron Bailey's Earth Day article on the environment from 2000 on why the state of the Earth's environment has never been better.

Then reconsider one of the first leaders of the environmental movement, a woman who some say started it all - Rachel Carson who got DDT banned and if not, severely restricted:
The World Health Organization now estimates that there are between 300 and 500 million cases of malaria annually, causing approximately one million deaths. About 80% of those are young children, millions of whom could have been saved over the years with the regular application of DDT to their environments.
In a world where lying is defined to include statements made in ignorance though one may have been intentionally deceived, what does this make environmentalists who continue to support the ban on DDT? What of environmentalists who oppose industrialization and economic liberty for fear of the mass consumerism that it would bring while intentionally ignorant of the mass poverty, hunger and strife without it?

"Sales Eats First"

I've been following this blog for a while now. This post brought something of an epiphany describing a scenario where "two senior execs at Honeywells Building Solutions group execute a turnaround that increased sales 70%." From the cited article:

It all changed the day the president of the organization stood up and told everyone that sales eats first." Madden says that one statement has allowed his salespeople to drop the baggage and stop feeling like victims of all those things that they could not control. At that point, every single sales rep knew where he stood.
Operations serves at the pleasure of sales, and sales advocates on behalf of their clients and customers. As long sales incentives are aligned with corporate goals, that's the way it ought to be. Working with Chinese manufacturers can be highly rewarding until problems arise but this lack of client focus is quite common amongst the industrial manufacturers we work with. While this is frustrating, I also recognize it is one of the reasons businesses like ours thrive. When it comes to our own organization however, while we have a long ways to go in building a truly client focused organization, I do feel we have been making progress.

More on Records and Movies

In looking for a decent place to eat other than McDonald's, I stumbled into a small CD and DVD store. I may have been a bit premature in thinking that labels and studios being entirely out of touch. I bought a legit copy of Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorite movies, for my co-workers for a grand total of 30 RMB. New DVD releases were being sold for 45 RMB, while CD's were from 20-45 RMB (you can pick up the Backstreet Boys 4 CD set - again, for legit copies - for a grand total of 45 RMB - about 6 bucks USD; though in this case, I can't say that the price was sufficiently attractive).

If it weren't for the fact that I can't watch the DVD cuz they're not Region 1's (which is such a scam) I'd be buying the real thing instead of the stuff on the streets which are hit and miss at best. It's a lesson they might learn for North America as well - and while they would sacrifice higher profits per unit, it'd be a bold move that, who knows, might more than exceed expectations in volume.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Of Fake Rolexes, Pirated DVDs, Property Rights, and Incentives

On one level, I can't say I blame the MPAA and RIAA for what they do. The ease and rapid proliferation of high speed bandwidth seem to have left the way their members have traditionally made money in the dust.

The issue is not dissimilar to the pirated brands you can get in China and, to a lesser degree, Hong Kong. I was in Hong Kong a few days this past week with a few friends. Beyond the usual tailored shirts and the like, we found a less than upstanding storefront of fake watches. These weren't the bad fakes you can quickly find on the streets of New York or on the streets of Shenzhen (though they seem to have cleaned this up some in the last few years).

To say this place was dodgy is an understatement. After first showing our passports to prove that we weren't cops, they led us behind the store front through a short hall and behind a dirty curtain, to a small badly decorated closet. There were a few stools set up and they handed us worn books with pictures of everything from Rolexes, Tag Heuers, Bulgaris, etc.. There were already a few other foreigners sitting around and negotiating. The way it worked was that you chose from the book, the "salesguy" tells a runner what you'd chose, who in turn came back with the product 5-10 minutes later. Perhaps the greatest part of the experience was watching my friends, whose fight or flight responses were obviously triggered. One refused to sit, and looked totally nervous (his wife told me he was talking about it for days as he thought we would be robbed). As a side note, I would never do this in China, but this was HK in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui.

Anyway, the reason why I mention this is that the fakes were pristine - it's like the real life equivalent of the charicature of people who break down the door only to find out the door was open all along. Excellent quality, detail and precision. I confess that another friend bought an automatic a few years ago which still runs quite well. Compared to a real Rolex, it seems to be the same weight and was indistinguishable. These fakes didn't come cheap though - at about $90-120 USD a pop (after extensive negotiations - we were there for almost an hour).

There's another prominent shop in HK that also goes to great lengths in selling their pirated software. You have to go through the colour copied covers of empty cd copies, write down the number that you want, pay the cashier about $1.50 USD/disk and then you wait for about an hour and go to the top of the stairs where someone hands you a paper bag of the software. I'm told they only operate on Sundays because that's when the cops who focus on such stuff have their day off.

Now at the bottom of the apartment complex I'm live in (in Guangzhou), there are a bunch of fake DVD hawkers. The one thing here that I find remarkable, is how professional the packaging appears for DVD's that haven't even come out on the market yet. Mind you some of them are horrible looking in-theatre copies, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the packaging that appear professionally developed

I think the lesson here for marketers who seek to control what in essence is the intellectual capital developed by music, movies and brands, is to understand the value they create and provide economic alternatives and price accordingly. For record labels and distributors, technology may have dealt them a fatal blow given their dependence on the medium, not the value of message. The disconnect/gap between the value their traditional customers have and the cost they charge is too wide. Though I think they get it, they understandably cling to what's been a profitable business.

The war on drugs also proves instructive. Burning down the fields of farms without crop alternatives/destroying the livelihoods of people doesn't exactly win hearts and minds - particularly in places like Afghanistan and Columbia. I don't believe this is to say that I think Rolex and the like price too high - given that they're selling aspirational ideas, part of the cost of doing business is enforcement but I wonder if another alternative is co-opting. What if the Rolexes of the world, (or even working with the Timexes of the world) with strong knowledge of distribution channels contracted some of these companies instead to produce a value brand watch? The machines that would be required to make such impressive fakes do not come cheap (think at least a million dollars, given the precision). As both Brink Lindsey and Hernando de Soto point out in their respective books, informal enterprises also carry significant costs/barriers and have difficulties in achieving growth, and it doesn't get much more informal than this.

China Scholars Bought and Paid For?

I'm not sure this is anything new or surprising. As per usual, follow the money.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Tax by Any Other Name...

Following tariffs on Chinese coated paper, here's an overview of what it means to American consumers:

Those who applaud the imposition of punitive tariffs on American consumers of Chinese paper products must at least explain why they don't count the higher costs caused by China's still-immature capitalist economy against the allegedly lower costs made possible to paper producers by the government in Beijing. Economic -- if not political -- consistency requires such an explanation.
If you have the time, read the whole thing. The arguments for the tariffs have seemed dubious at best. From Greg Mankiw a few days ago:
Industrial subsidies are bad policy, but they are bad policy for the country paying for the subsidy. The country buying the subsidized goods benefits from cheaper imports. Think of these subsidies as the opposite of OPEC--another country conspires to sell goods below competitive prices. For the same reason that high prices from a cartel hurt us, low prices from a subsidy help us. It is common sense that when you buy something, you would rather pay less than more for it. That is as true for a nation as it is for a household.

The bottom line: The Chinese taxpayers should be complaining about these subsidies, not the American government.
Other than in limited cases of national security, I'm not sure I buy many of the trade protectionist arguments. There's no avoiding the economic reality that a tax on suppliers becomes one on consumers (i.e. the small and large businesses who are the largest consumers and ultimately everyone else who buys from these companies). The arguments that trade is 'unfair' and is 'taking away from American jobs' might elicit sympathy if it weren't for the rock bottom US unemployment rates and growing American prosperity.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What's not been said about the Trade Deficit with China...

I've questioned before what the "trade deficit" really means. Sometimes it seems as if the media loves to hate the current US Bush Administration so much that it's willing to ignore any form of good news and portray bad news in the worst possible light. Maybe that's why people don't watch the news on TV or read it in newspapers as much anymore.

When it comes to the economy, stock markets are again soaring and unemployment in the US is below those under the Clinton Administration. But when it comes to the trade deficit with China, assuming you think it matters, there is some good news that you probably won't hear on the actual news - but to summarize:

It won't be many years before the trade balance between the two nations is roughly equal or in the USA's favour. EU's imports from China have increased at an average rate of 18%, similar to the USA rate, whereas the exports have changed at a Clinton era rate of 14% compared to a Bush era USA rate of 24%
Hat tip: Instapundit.

It's a small world after all... (Cheap calls overseas)

Every so often, the progress of telecommunications is so thrilling that you want to break out into singing "it's a small world after all..." - well, maybe not you specifically.

I discovered following a reference at It's an amazing service that allows you to spend about the same cost of long distance domestically - but you use your own cell phone or land line. The way it works is that you enter your contact numbers on the web (or also on your cell phone) and then the number of someone you want to call anywhere in the world, and Jajah will connect you by calling you first and then calling the other guy. Call quality is pretty much only limited by the quality of your own local lines (which tend to be far better than the internet here which limits my ability to use SkypeOut.

Calling from Asia overseas has been enormously expensive. Before I found Jajah, I was basically spending more than half the cost of my hotel by calling direct off my cell phone. Now the cost is generally around $0.035 cents USD - which is even better than Skype plus I'm no longer at the mercy of the connection speed! This compares to a cost of $0.40-50 USD calling direct from my cell phone even using a "cheaper" dialing prefix (17951). Another fantastic feature I've been using is the ability to use the conference call feature which lets you call a bunch of people at once. Stuff like this makes travelling and running a global enterprise far easier to keep in touch and considerably less hard on the wallet.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ching Ming "Festival"

I went into Shenzhen for meeting yesterday. In what should have been a 1 hour trip took nearly 3 hours (left at 8.30 on the train for an 11 pm meeting figuring that you just never know about crossing the border as a non-resident/foreigner). It was nuts. I would have taken a picture but there wasn't enough space to reach into my bag and grab my camera - it was that crowded.

I initially thought it was because of Easter (Hong Kong had Thursday, today and Monday off) so I thought people were just going on vacation but apparently not. I've never seen the Lo Wu station leaving on the Hong Kong side full until yesterday. This time there were several train loads of people backed up. Any respect for queues that the British supposedly left behind wasn't particularly evident either.

Such was the Ching Ming Festival - which translates into "Grave Sweeping Festival" - which incidentally, doesn't strike me as particularly festive, but I digress.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

For Peace, Love, and Liberty

McDonald's has garnered some bad press here lately and in point of fact for quite some time. I'm happy to report from Guangzhou, the source of the latest scandal that McDonald's is doing very well (but further reports to follow if I'm able to convince/force my quirky nationalist coworker to eat at McDonalds). This picture was taken at 10 pm on Thursday. (Sorry, it's a blurry, I'm a bit shy in the real world, so I took the picture and quickly hid the camera after it flashed.)

McDonald's Rocks! Forget about trying to reform the UN, the unifying force for peace, love and liberty in the world is McDonald's. I decided this as I was eating two double cheeseburgers. I'm far from the first one to suggest this, and not even the first China blogger to talk about McDonald's this year. I wonder if it's a universal second generation emigrant experience? (I wonder if Mike from ShenzhenUndercover also plays a musical instrument)

[As an aside, a tip for ultra-fresh burgers is to have them made "my way" and ask for stuff like extra pickles - of course it makes some my friends cringe and think I'm asking for the world when I do this - but that might be because I also substitute my fries for a salad with french dressing or apple pie but I take this "my way" business seriously.] McDonald's is truly a global phenomenon - as you can see from the picture, in China, you have tailored offerings - everything from the lack of queues to taro pies (ugh!).

I've been spending an extraordinary time at McDonald's - and not necessarily entirely by choice. There really isn't much convenient to me - and where I'm living in Guangzhou at the moment. Thankfully, it turns out that Morgan Spurlock lied, and I'll survive (a big Mac is far healthier than a quiche lorraine according to French nutritionists Jean-Michel Cohen and Patrick Serog). Even when I was working in New York, eating at the McDonald's next door was my favorite restaurant and far less pretentious than Rue 57. It's one of two experiences I really missed while I was East Africa.

The best part of McDonald's is that it's fantastically cheap. One can easily survive living in China on less than 10 USD's a day with a healthy part of that being McD's (they just raised prices which is an indication of creeping inflation last week but a sausage egg mcmuffin meal with OJ instead of coffee is RMB 16, a Big Mac medium meal, plus two pineapple pies is RMB 26).

Heck, even though they say they hate it, the French can't get enough of McDonald's reporting revenues in France of 3 billion - McDonald's most profitable subsidiary in Europe selling over a million sales a day and that was 2003! Eating at McDonald's may be the most populist and liberating statement you can make (except for maybe this). It's become the one true common cultural denominator - particularly here across from the train station - people with suits, the threadbare, the elderly, the young, foreign, local, all appearing to thoroughly enjoy the experience. Yes, indeed, McDonald's may in fact be the second happiest place on earth and loved by nearly all (the bulk of those who don't are elitist snobs I say).

Until the Clinton Administration's illegal bombing of the former Yugoslavia, no two countries with McDonald's franchises ever attacked each other (apparently first noted by Thomas Friedman). I pointed this out to Kyle, a friend of mine who said something to the effect it "was correlation without causation" to which I responded that he was a "warmonger" and that shut him up pretty quickly - yeah Kyle (who claims to read my blog but perhaps no longer), the truth will set you free.

In recent days, much has been made by the desperate moves of Iran in kidnapping British Soldiers in some bizarre attempt to forestall war by committing an act of war. This was all entirely unnecessary. Iraq didn't McDonald's. Egypt does. Iran does not. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad do take note.

PS if you want a good analysis of why McDonald's may truly be the unifying force for peace in the world, do have a look at this link.

China in Africa: Friends one can do without...

I've not really commented here about the investment in loans, credit and aid that China has been making in Africa - particularly after the African summit in Beijing and Hu Jintao's trip to Africa. On Friday however, the Investor's Business Daily ran an editorial on Zimbabwe following the meeting of the Southern African Development Community:

African leaders often point fingers at the West for "not doing enough." [...]

Mugabe's 27 years of misrule have taken a country that was once prosperous — the breadbasket of Africa, it was called — and turned it into a poverty-stricken hellhole rife with famine, genocide and terror, and lacking rule of law. [...]

Given that performance, you'd think Mugabe would come in for a bit of criticism by other leaders in the region. [...]

At the SADC meeting, 14 leaders issued a communique in which they, as the Times of London put it, "reaffirmed their solidarity" with Mugabe. That is, they supported a murderous dictator and even called on the West to drop sanctions against his regime.
(H/T Instapundit)

Though the editorial doesn't speak specifically to China's role, China's policies have been in stark contrast to other leaders who generally have at least some sense of reluctance in providing aid to despots. The shame and culpability of France in Rwanda may prove instructive to China in thinking that any gains a mercantilist power is able to achieve may be limited and short term at best. For those who agree with China's stance, they might do well to remember the benefits of long term trade can only result from two parties free of coercion (besides, some of this "aid" borders on ridiculous including huge mostly unused stadiums in the middle of nowhere like the one on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda).

I visited Rwanda in 2002 - and stayed at Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali. This was before we knew Hotel Rwanda was coming out about this very hotel (though the hotel looked nothing like the one in the movie as I remember it). Wandering Kigali itself, there were still visible bullet holes in the walls of buildings. One other thing that was clear was the unemployment, what with a very large number of people doing a whole lot of nothing (and much to my chagrin at the time, not much to do in Kigali but the sometimes harrowing journey through canyons with an endless sea of unblemished emerald tea plants on the way down made the trip well worth it). I remember the US embassy being even smaller than the Chinese embassy at the time.

I can't personally speak to horrors of Zimbabwe (thankfully), but China ought to remember that when governments change, people aren't quite so fast to forget who their friends and enemies were. A few months prior to my trip to Rwanda, I went down to Kabale (Uganda) to see the director of an orphanage (a Rwandan) with the Canadian charity that I had been representing, and the tales he told of the time detailing the depths of human depravity were heart wrenching. A man of God, he was nearly seething when he described the role of France.

Following the new regime in Kigale, the change has been rapid with the Kagame Administration swearing off most things French - including the language. I have been told the clamour to learn English and even breaking away from the Francophonie was fast. Most recently Rwanda has broken off all relations with France.

China has been establishing itself where other aid agencies deliberately do not go. Maybe China has allowed criticism of how it treats its own citizens cloud its judgement. Whatever the reason, may it tread carefully.