The Asian Insider: Unconventional wisdom for Asian business (2006) is a book related to doing business in Asia by Michael Backman. Instead of defining Asia narrowly as most books on this topic do, Michael discusses many countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, China (+Tibet), Japan, India, and Korea. The book is organized sometimes by topic (e.g. corporate governance, corruption) and at other times by country. The book is filled with interesting and spicy tidbits, anecdotes, and news from all over Asia. The book also includes a section on Islam in Asia, and takes a more positive and unbiased view of Islam than most Western journalists and media.
Despite its strengths, it needs to be acknowledged that the title of the book is misleading as it is not really a book about doing business there. Most of the book is written as an entry-level introduction to Asia for a westerner who is just beginning to learn about that part of the world. It is critical, perhaps unnecessarily, of all Asian countries, whether it is Indonesia, Japan, China, or India. For example, Indonesia is argued to have no right to existence as an independent nation, while Japan is written off as the “land of the setting sun”. China has come under criticism for its practices in Tibet and elsewhere, while India is “too democratic” to make sense as an emerging power.
I encourage people to read this book, not so much for its insights into doing business in Asia, but for learning a little more about countries that they may not know much about. Anyone who is interested in learning about other countries, whether it is Belgium and Australia or Thailand and India, needs to be ready to be confronted with a vast array of information, some of which will inevitably be confusing and conflicting. Michael’s book about “unconventional wisdom” may be a good starting point for its interesting writing style and wide range of coverage.
The Coming China Wars: Where they will be fought and where they can be won (2006) is a book by Dr. Peter Navarro, Professor of Business at University of California-Irvine about the intense competition between US and China. The book discusses the relatively rapid emergence of China as a formidable power in the modern global economy and how China’s rise is a threat to the world. He attributes China’s success to low cost labor, disregard for the health and safety of factory workers (and citizenry in general), currency manipulation, export subsidies, rampant counterfeiting and piracy, and oppression of the poor and the weak. It describes a China threatened by internal turmoils (e.g. peasant uprisings) and external problems (e.g. Japan), trapped between tradition and modernity, and unsure of the right balance between communism and capitalism. It describes the problems China faces and its inability (and in some cases, unwillingess) to deal with most of those problems. The underlying thesis of the book is that a global conflict between China and the US is inevitable and offers suggestions on the steps US government can take to win the war with China.
Most experts, analysts, and lay people around the world agree that China has emerged as a global power in the last few years. There is a general consensus that the China of today is much stronger than the China of 50 years back and that the rapid ascent of China is going to continue at least in the near future. Where people disagree is the factors that led to this ascent and the global consequences of China’s power. Professor Novarro’s book is not an unbiased analysis of the factors and consequences of China’s economic success, but it is certainly a passionate and well-written account of why China is a threat to the world. Notably, Professor Novarro is not the only one who holds the views expressed in this book, many China experts, popular commentators, and talk show hosts in the US have often expressed similar views on TV and other public forums (e.g. Glenn Beck and Sean Hannerty).
I enjoyed reading this book and I recommend it to people who want to learn more about China and its relationship with China. I do not believe, and I am sure Professor Novarro would agree with me, that the book provides an unbiased discussion of the various China-related issues. However, I do not think the bias of the author is a weakness of the book. In fact, I think it’s a strength. Professor Novarro has wonderfully articulated the views held by a sizeable section of the US people (and many in other countries) about China. He has clearly stated that most of the research for the book was done on the internet and makes no claim of looking at things from a Chinese (or non U.S.) perspective. The biases have been acknowledged, now let the conversation begin!