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Daily Archives: August 1, 2022

In Pictures: Food of Alchemist in Copenhagen, Denmark

An Artfully Composed Dining Experience with Innovative Cuisine

No.18 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022

China’s Gen Z Is Dejected, Underemployed and Slowing the Economy

The most educated generation in China’s history was supposed to blaze a trail towards a more innovative and technologically advanced economy. Instead, about 15 million young people are estimated to be jobless, and many are lowering their ambitions.

A perfect storm of factors has propelled unemployment among 16- to 24-year-old urbanites to a record 19.3%, more than twice the comparable rate in the US. The government’s hardline coronavirus strategy has led to layoffs, while its regulatory crackdown on real estate and education companies has hit the private sector. At the same time, a record number of college and vocational school graduates—some 12 million—are entering the job market this summer. This highly educated cohort has intensified a mismatch between available roles and jobseekers’ expectations.

The result is an increasingly disillusioned young population losing faith in private companies and willing to accept lower pay in the state sector. If the trend continues, growth in the world’s second-largest economy stands to suffer. The sheer number of jobless under-25s amounts to a 2% to 3% reduction in China’s workforce, and fewer workers means lower gross domestic product. Unemployment and underemployment also continue to impact salaries for years—a 2020 review of studies reported a 3.5% reduction in wages among those who had experienced unemployment five years earlier.

More young people taking roles in government may leave fewer jumping into new sectors and fueling innovation.

“The structural adjustment faced by China’s economy right now actually needs more people to become entrepreneurs and strive,” said Zeng Xiangquan, head of the China Institute for Employment Research in Beijing. Lowered expectations have “damaged the utilization of the young labor force,” he added. “It’s not a good thing for the economy.”

Pre-pandemic, 22-year-old Xu Chaoqun was prepared for a career in China’s creative industries. But a fruitless four-month job hunt has left him setting his sights on the state sector. “Under the Covid outbreak, many private companies are very unstable,” said Xu, who majored in visual art at a mid-ranked university. “That’s why I want to be with a state-owned enterprise”.

Xu is not alone. Some 39% of graduates listed state-owned companies as their top choice of employer last year, according to recruitment company 51job Inc. That’s up from 25% in 2017. A further 28% chose government jobs as their first choice.

It’s a rational response in a pandemic-hit labor market. All workplaces have been hit hard by China’s snap lockdowns and strict quarantine measures, but private companies were more likely to lay off workers. Beijing’s main employment-boosting policy has been to order the state sector to increase hiring.

President Xi Jinping may be relieved that the country’s unemployed youth are trying to join the government rather than overthrow it. During a June visit to a university in the southwestern China’s Sichuan province, he advised graduates to “prevent the situation in which one is unfit for a higher position but unwilling to take a lower one.” He added that “to get rich and get fame overnight is not realistic.”

The message is getting through: Graduate expectations for starting salaries fell more than 6% from last year to 6,295 yuan ($932) per month, according to an April survey from recruitment firm Zhilian. State-owned enterprises grew in appeal over the same period, the recruiter said.

But lower income expectations and talent shunning the private sector are likely to lower growth in the long term, challenging the president’s plan to double the size of China’s economy from 2020 levels by 2035—by which point it would likely overtake the U.S. in size.

The phrase “tang ping”—“lying flat”—spread through China’s internet last year. The slogan invokes dropping out of the rat race and doing the bare minimum to get by, and reflected the desire for a better work-life balance in the face of China’s slowing growth. As the unemployment situation has continued to worsen, many young people have adopted an even more fatalistic catchphrase: “bailan,” or “let it rot.”

That concept is “a kind of mental relaxation,” said Hu Xiaoyue, a 24-year old with a psychology masters degree. “This way, even if you fail, you will feel better.” When Hu started looking for work last August, she found it easy to land interviews. “But when it came to spring, only one in 10 companies would offer an interview,” she said. “It fell off a cliff.”

China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) aren’t all unproductive behemoths. But the weight of economic evidence suggests they are, on the whole, less efficient and less innovative than privately-owned companies. China’s economic boom has coincided with a falling share of SOE jobs in urban employment—from 40% in 1996 to less than 10% pre-pandemic. That trend could now go into reverse.

Last year, China launched a regulatory crackdown on formerly high-flying sectors dominated by private companies that previously attracted ambitious young people. Internet companies were hit with fines for monopolistic behavior, real estate businesses were starved of financing and the private tutoring sector was almost entirely shuttered.

Regulatory filings show that China’s top five listed education companies reduced their staffing by 135,000 in the last year after the crackdown. The largest tech companies have kept their headcounts stable, and Zhilian says that there were more tech jobs advertised in the first half of this year than the same period in 2021. Even so, the sector’s allure has faded.

A graduate of the highly ranked Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, Hu was set for the tech sector—she interned at three internet companies including video-sharing giant Beijing Kuaishou Technology Co. But she has changed her mind. “People who are going to work for Internet companies are all worrying about themselves because they feel like they could be fired any time,” she said.

Instead, Hu landed a position at a research institute within state-owned China Telecom Corp. “The working hours of my future job will be 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the workload will be quite light. Internet companies are too consuming,” she said.

As well as the movement of talent towards state-owned companies, there’s another mechanism at work that can damage long-term growth. Studies by from the US, Europe and Japan have shown that the longer young people are unemployed at the start of their careers, the worse their long-term incomes, an effect known as “scarring.”

That’s the risk facing Beiya, who was laid off from an e-commerce company this year. The 26-year-old, who gave only one name because she feared that talking about losing her job could hit her employment prospects, missed out on a role with TikTok parent company Bytedance Inc. because of her limited experience.

“I’m a good candidate with potential but they want to see me in two years,” she said. “But how can I get the experience if no one gives me a job now?”

The state sector already employs around 80 million people and the figure could grow by as much as 2 million on a net basis this year, according to Lu Feng, a labor economist at Peking University. “But compared with total demand for jobs, it’s still relatively small,” he said. “We still need private firms to hire.”

That will only happen if the economy grows. To meet its employment goals, economists say China needs GDP to increase between 3% and 5% this year. Economists are predicting growth closer to 4%—with the outlook highly uncertain due to the prospect of more lockdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus. “Lack of clarity on an exit strategy from the Covid-Zero policy makes companies wary of hiring,” said Chang Shu, Bloomberg Economics’ chief Asia economist.

Beijing has launched a version of the job-support programs seen in Europe during the pandemic, offering tax rebates and direct subsidies to companies who promise to retain workers. But the amounts involved are small: The incentive for hiring a new worker is just 1,500 yuan. Provincial subsidies for graduates who start businesses are also small—just 10,000 yuan in the prosperous Guangdong region.

Even if China can return to strong growth in the second half of this year, the youth unemployment problem will persist—the rate has been rising since 2017, reaching 12% pre-pandemic. Economists attribute that to two factors: urbanization and a mismatch between the education system and employers’ needs.

The hundreds of millions of workers who moved from the countryside to cities used to return to their villages during labor market slumps, acting as an economic shock absorber. Now, younger migrants increasingly stay put when they lose their jobs, pushing up urban unemployment.

“A lot of them are not even raised in rural areas. So they regard themselves as urban people,” says Peking University’s Lu. “The constraints for the government have changed substantially, it’s tougher than in the past.”

Second, the annual number of graduates in China has increased tenfold over the last two decades—the fastest higher-education expansion anywhere in the world, at any time. The share of young Chinese people attending college is now almost 60%, similar to developed countries.

The number of vocational graduates lags far behind those receiving academic degrees. Such is the stigma around vocational education that students rioted last year when told their university was being rebranded as a vocational school. Highly educated young people are rejecting factory jobs. “That’s the basic matching problem. It is huge in this country,” said Lu.

That’s left manufacturers complaining about shortages of skilled technicians. “There are not a lot of people applying for those jobs, such as electrician or welder,” said Jiang Cheng, 28, an agent for electronics factories in central China.

Other sectors are oversubscribed. According to a 2021 study of 20,000 randomly selected jobseekers on Zhilian’s website, some 43% of the job applicants wanted to work in the IT industry, while the sector accounted for just 16% of recruitment posts.

Half of jobseekers had a bachelor degree, but only 20% of jobs required one. “There is now compelling evidence of over-education,” the study’s authors wrote, warning that the misalignment “could have profound influences on both individuals and the nation.”

In the longer term, it’s possible that government intervention may get the private sector hiring again, while education reforms and market forces can smooth the misalignment in the labor market.

China is easing its regulatory campaigns, and a vocational education law passed this year aims to improve standards. A study by Wang Zhe, an economist at Caixin Insight, found college majors that attracted a wage premium in 2020 became more popular in 2021. As applicants’ academic choices adapt to demand in the jobs market, mismatches stand to ease.

But the share of graduates from China’s nine top-ranked universities joining the private sector has fallen since the pandemic, according to research from Hong Kong’s Lingnan University. That suggests ideological shifts, and not just market forces, are at play. Some graduates at top universities are adopting “ cadre style,” according to online forums where they seek tips on where to buy the black zippered windbreakers favored by Xi.

Even in the current environment, Kay Lou, 25, would be a leading candidate for any number of private-sector jobs. She has a masters in law from top-ranked Tsinghua University and has interned for a legal firm, an Internet giant, a securities brokerage and a court.

In the end, she won a government position in Zhejiang province—where some roles attract as many as 200 applicants.

“I felt my work wasn’t meaningful,” she said. “I became increasingly opposed to the capitalists’ pursuit of wealth after I read Marx, so in the end I chose to become a civil servant.”


Source : BNN Bloomberg

Chart: The World’s Most (and Least) Powerful Passports

Source : Statista

Russia, China, BRICS Plan New International Reserve Currency

Jamie Redman wrote . . . . . . . . .

During the last month, the West has been struggling with red hot inflation and energy prices skyrocketing higher. Politicians in the UK, Europe, and the US have been trying to blame the economic calamity on a number of things like the Ukraine-Russia war and Covid-19.

Data from last month’s consumer prices in America and Europe have climbed to all-time highs and many analysts say Western countries are in a recession or about to experience one. Meanwhile, at the end of June, members of the BRICS nations met at the 14th BRICS Summit to discuss world affairs.

During the BRICS Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the five-member economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – plan to issue a “new global reserve currency”.

“The matter of creating the international reserve currency based on the basket of currencies of our countries is under review,” Putin said at the time. “We are ready to openly work with all fair partners,” he added. Additionally, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are considering joining the BRICS group. Analysts believe the BRICS move to create a reserve currency is an attempt to undermine the US dollar and the IMF’s SDRs.

“This is a move to address the perceived US hegemony of the IMF,” ING Global Head of Markets Chris Turner, explained at the end of June. “It will allow BRICS to build their own sphere of influence and unit of currency within that sphere.”

While the news of a reserve currency created by BRICS may be a surprise to some, specific accounts about the member countries countering the US dollar have been reported on for quite some time. At the end of May 2022, a Global Times report noted members were urged to end their dependence on the dollar’s global dominance.

Putin explained the following month that “contacts between Russian business circles and the business community of the BRICS countries have intensified”. The Russian President further noted that Indian retail chain stores would be hosted in Russia, and Chinese cars and hardware would be imported regularly. Putin’s recent statements and commentary at the BRICS Summit have made people believe the BRICS members are not “just a ‘talk shop’ anymore”.

In addition to South Africa, Russia has also increased foreign aid and has delivered weapons to Sub-Saharan African countries. Furthermore, Putin and other BRICS leaders have been targeting US hegemony and exceptionalism in specific statements published by the media.

At this year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin addressed the crowd with a 70-minute speech and talked about the US ruling the world’s financial system for years. “Nothing lasts forever,” Putin said. “(Americans) think of themselves as exceptional. And if they think they’re exceptional, that means everyone else is second class,” the Russian President told the forum attendees.

Speaking with Russian ambassadors in a biennial speech, Putin said the West was weakening a great deal in terms of economic power.

“Domestic socio-economic problems that have become worse in industrialised countries as a result of the (economic) crisis are weakening the dominant role of the so-called historical West,” Putin remarked to the ambassadors. “Be ready for any development of the situation, even for the most unfavorable development.”

Russia and Putin have been saying that the US dominance in the world of finance has been dying for years now. In October 2018, speaking at the Valdai forum, Putin said the US sanctioning specific countries (including Russia) would undermine trust in the US dollar.

The Russian President noted that most of the fallen empires have made the same mistake. “It’s a typical mistake of an empire,” the Russian leader declared at the time. “An empire always thinks that it can allow itself to make some little mistakes, take some extra costs, because its power is such that they don’t mean anything. But the quantity of those costs, those mistakes inevitably grows.” Putin continued:

“And the moment comes when it can’t handle them, neither in the security sphere or the economic sphere.”

Moreover, in June, Bloomberg published a report about the BRICS Summit and noted that China’s President Xi Jinping suggested that the North Atlantic Treaty Organiaation (NATO) was responsible for antagonising the Russian Federation. Xi also said that certain countries that bolster exceptionalism will falter by suffering from security vulnerabilities.

“Politicising, instrumentalising, and weaponising the world economy using a dominant position in the global financial system to wantonly impose sanctions would only hurt others as well as hurting oneself, leaving people around the world suffering,” Xi detailed. “Those who obsess with a position of strength, expand their military alliance, and seek their own security at the expense of others will only fall into a security conundrum.”

The strengthening of the BRICS nations has been going on well before the conflict in Ukraine began. For instance, in 2014, Russia fully developed ​​the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS), and later the Mir payment system was launched. That same year, in response to the annexation of Crimea, Russia started to stockpile gold in vast amounts.

China has been hoarding massive amounts of gold as well, as both countries hiked their gold reserve purchases a great deal a few years before the war. Russian banks also joined the China International Payments System (CIPS) making it easier for the two countries to trade. In April last year, China opened its borders to billions of dollars of gold imports, according to a report from Reuters.

Since World War I, the US dollar has been the world’s global reserve currency and America emerged as the largest international creditor. Fast forward to today, and the dollar is booming against a number of other currencies, and the US dollar is the most robust it has been in an entire generation. The US dollar currency index (DXY) gained over 10% this year and outpaced strong currencies like the Japanese yen.

Just recently, the euro met parity with the dollar, and other currencies like the Indian rupee, Polish zloty, Colombian peso, and the South African rand have faltered against the greenback in recent times. However, the Russian ruble has been a strong competitor to the dollar this year and has been one of the best-performing fiat currencies in 2022.

With inflation soaring and interest rates getting hiked by the Federal Reserve, Kamakshya Trivedi, the Co-Head of a market research group at Goldman Sachs stressed that it’s been a “pretty tough mix” to deal with. Despite the uncertainty, the analyst at Goldman Sachs thinks the dollar, at least for now, will remain robust. But in comparison to the greenback’s recent spike in value, most of that rise is in the past, Trivedi remarked.

“For now, we still expect the dollar to trade on the front foot,” Trivedi wrote on 16 July. “There might be a bit more to go, but probably the largest part of the dollar move may well be behind us.”


Source : The Morning

Scientists Design Skin Patch That Takes Ultrasound Images

The future of ultrasound imaging could be a sticker affixed to the skin that can transmit images continuously for 48 hours.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a postage stamp-sized device that creates live, high-resolution images. They reported on their progress this week.

“We believe we’ve opened a new era of wearable imaging: With a few patches on your body, you could see your internal organs,” said co-senior study author Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT.

The sticker — about 3/4-inch across and about 1/10-inch thick — could be a substitute for bulky, specialized ultrasound equipment available only in hospitals and doctor’s office, where technicians apply a gel to the skin and then use a wand or probe to direct sound waves into the body.

The waves reflect back high-resolution images of a major blood vessels and deeper organs such as the heart, lungs and stomach. While some hospitals already have probes affixed to robotic arms that can provide imaging for extended periods, the ultrasound gel dries over time.

For now, the stickers would still have to be connected to instruments, but Zhao and other researchers are working on a way to operate them wirelessly.

That opens up the possibility of patients wearing them at home or buying them at a drug store. Even in their current design, they could eliminate the need for a technician to hold a probe in place for a long time.

In the study, the patches adhered well to the skin, enabling researchers to capture images even if volunteers moved from sitting to standing, jogging and biking.

“We envision a few patches adhered to different locations on the body, and the patches would communicate with your cellphone, where AI algorithms would analyze the images on demand,” Zhao explained in an MIT news release.

A different approach tested — stretchable ultrasound probes — yielded images with poor resolution.

“[A] Wearable ultrasound imaging tool would have huge potential in the future of clinical diagnosis. However, the resolution and imaging duration of existing ultrasound patches is relatively low, and they cannot image deep organs,” said co-lead author Chonghe Wang, a graduate student who works in Zhao’s Lab.

The MIT team’s new ultrasound sticker produces higher resolution images by pairing a stretchy adhesive layer with a rigid array of transducers (they convert energy from one form to another). In the middle is a solid hydrogel that transmits sound waves. The adhesive layer is made from two thin layers of elastomer.

“The elastomer prevents dehydration of hydrogel,” co-lead author Xiaoyu Chen explained. “Only when hydrogel is highly hydrated can acoustic waves penetrate effectively and give high-resolution imaging of internal organs.”

Healthy volunteers wore the stickers on various areas, including the neck, chest, abdomen and arms. The stickers produced clear images of underlying structures, including the changing diameter of major blood vessels, for up to 48 hours. They stayed attached while volunteers sat, stood, jogged, biked and lifted weights.

They showed how the heart changes shape as it exerts during exercise and how the stomach swells, then shrinks, as volunteers drank and then eliminated juice. Researchers also could detect signs of temporary micro-damage in muscles as volunteers lifted weights.

“With imaging, we might be able to capture the moment in a workout before overuse, and stop before muscles become sore,” Chen said. “We do not know when that moment might be yet, but now we can provide imaging data that experts can interpret.”

In addition to working on wireless technology for the stickers, the team is developing software algorithms based on artificial intelligence that can better interpret the ultrasound images.

Zhao thinks patients may one day be able to buy stickers that could be used to monitor internal organs, the progression of tumors and development of fetuses in the womb.

“We imagine we could have a box of stickers, each designed to image a different location of the body,” Zhao said. “We believe this represents a breakthrough in wearable devices and medical imaging.”

The findings were published in Science.


Source: HealthDay